How to write for travel guides
By: Roger Norum (justin) 2013.01.27
How to write for travel guides is shrouded in myth. We appear to be free spirits who dine at four-star restaurants, who on a whim jet over to lush Pacific resorts, where exotic beauties massage us while we shed a tear for our old friends in the real world - then take another sip of a fresh mango lassi. Our lives are your spring break. We have never seen the inside of a cubicle. Problem is, the myth is just that: a myth. Writing guidebooks isn't all it's rumored to be - the deadlines are tight, the pay is nothing to write home about, and the research necessary to do the actual writing makes the possibility of a relaxing vacation virtually impossible. Which isn't to say the job doesn't rock. Writing for Rough Guides has been a great way to see the world, meet people, and practice my language skills. Bar none, the best job I've ever had.
The best way to break into the business is to write a detailed letter to a guidebook editor describing a trip you took using their book; editors often recruit people who contact them with well-penned letters. Make an effort to point out the guide's benefits and drawbacks, suggest possible improvements and additions for the next edition. The most important thing is to write well: Be clear and pay attention to the little details - no easy task when you're being awed by historical monuments and frustrated by language barriers.
HERE'S A TYPICAL DAY: PALERMO, SICILY
6:45 a.m. Wake up at the dingy one-star Olimpia Hotel to beat crowds at Monreale's Duomo. Spill scalding espresso on my crotch as I flee cafe to flag down departing bus driver.
8 a.m. Spend an hour, neck cranked back, gawking at gorgeous mosaic ceiling. Search for local tourist office to ask about cathedral renovations.
9:30 a.m. Realize tourist office is closed. Realize I will have to come back tomorrow. Realize I'm so over Monreale.
11 a.m. Spend a leisurely hour at one archeology museum and a hurried hour at three more, noting recent changes and asking people about their experiences at local restaurants and hotels.
1 p.m. Struggle to make myself understood at fish market, as I interview locals about the Sicilian Mafia. Receive blank stares and the evil eye from dialect-speaking fishmongers decapitating coolers full of grouper. No one wants to talk, and in any case, they can't make out my lackluster Italian over noise of blaring horns and zipping Vespas.
2 p.m. Now reeking of fish, seek refuge in a tiny cafe and try to edit chapter on northern islands, due at end of week.
5 p.m. Lug weighty backpack to new hotel, a sterile three-star that sets me back 70 euros out of my own pocket.
7:30 p.m. Eat dinner at touted new Argentine steakhouse, even though I'm a vegetarian.
8:30 p.m. Eat second dinner at touted new Sicilian restaurant, which only has fish tonight.
10 p.m. Spend three hours in room writing up day's research.
1 a.m. Venture out to study nightlife. Hit a few bars, contemplate one-liners I'll use to describe them: Puts the dirt back in dirt cheap. You'll be hard pressed to get out without hearing "That's Amore". Sleek, buzzing lounge popular with the spoon-fed crowd.
2:30 a.m. Hit sack, set alarm to wake me up in five hours so I can catch bus to Monreale, again.
Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, Let's Go (written exclusively by Harvard undergrads), Footprint Handbooks, and Moon are some of the best guidebook series for the budding budget travel writer. Travelwriters.com has a good active forum.
Photo by Jeff Booth