Thoughts and Truths on Travel Writing


A dhow trip in Musandam, Oman

It is my belief that the days of freelance travel writers doing a quick tour of a place, sponsored by this airline, or that hotel are over. Finished. Dead in the water.

Future travel guides are likely be written by a local since all things considered, sending a travel writer out from London or Sydney, to write about somewhere, thousands of miles away, is curious. Even arrogant. And certainly costly.

Travel writers must accept there are good regional journalists, both local and/or expatriate, who need only follow the publishing brief. And should their writing fall short, it can always be polished by an editor.

The best way to eat a picnic on Tahaa, Polynesia

A former travel guide writer, I was always conscious that ‘Joe Public’ normally only gets one annual holiday. I therefore made damn sure my advice was correct. In Bali, I once drove 50 miles to check an hotel when the owner didn’t even offer me a drink. And I waited an hour to meet the owner of “Rick’s Café” in Casablanca. Ditto.

Such energies were not always supported by the publisher. As writer, I had first refusal to an update when due to editorial ignorance, I was not always free. Like requiring a revision on a Muslim country during the Ramadan fast. Or a giving me a three week deadline to update Malaysia, during the rainy season (typical of the AA Essential Guides).

Cycling backpackers East Coast of Malaysia

A major UK publisher went ahead, without my knowledge, and reprinted my Seychelles guide, three years after the original printing. The new edition bore my name, but it had not been updated. The reason given was that it was not cost effective…

I had a similar experience with a guide to Oman, a country whose development I’ve followed since 1975. The publisher – Insight Guides – did a reprint, eight years after the first edition which I only discovered while browsing in a London bookshop. When I called to query what was going on, the editor said they’d done a ‘desk job.’

A desk job! On a country such as Oman where change is like a thunderbolt. I will say no more, except to suggest that comments made by the paying public on an internet site tend to have more credibility that many a guide-book.

Breakfast on the terrace, Riad Zamzam, Marrakech


About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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8 Responses to Thoughts and Truths on Travel Writing

  1. It's true, I'm far more likely to look on TripAdvisor than in a guidebook. However I do really enjoy the more "experiential" travel writing, so I don't think that everyone should just stop :)

  2. CO says:

    Thanks for dropping in Rachel. Travel narratives are a far cry from a guide-book. One is written in an advisory capacity, the other is pure personal experience and is often quite subjective which is the difference since a guide must be totally objective in the information provided. If you enjoy travel experiences, you may be patient enough to wait till I finish my own book – nearly there now.

  3. Mimi Forsyth says:

    Personal, subjective writings are valuable when the author has experience and insight. There's a lot of fluff out there..and thus your writings are all the more precious. Looking forward to your book!

  4. Hello,I came across your website and found it very enjoyable. I just had a couple of questions so if you could e-mail me back that would be great!

  5. CO says:

    Hi. You are welcome to contact me. My email is on the homepage of

  6. cobweb says:

    Seems you have been busy while I was away and this slipped by me.Personally I think the advantage of articles written by visiting travellers have a totally different take than something written by a native or local dweller. For me the impact on the visiting writer is always more interesting since they often see with new eyes events and local facts no longer subject to the locals attention. I also think one can relate to the experience of a visitor rather than to a local reporter. So for me and for these reasons I hope sending travel writer to report does not stop or those already travelling submit articles and are taken up by editors and published in lieu of sending their own correspondent. Your personal detailed accounts have always won my admiration and respect for their exactitudes.

  7. Anonymous says:

    There is travel writing and there is travel writing…some is not worth the time to read and rare others, like your original writing in Morocco, are a treasure. Quality writing and experience still count in some places! Don't give up the fight…formats are changing.

  8. Christine O says:

    Thank you so much whoever you are. Such a comment is encouraging.

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