As I prepare for the BlogWorld conference in New York, I am reminded of my last trip overseas.
Around this time last year (give or take a couple of weeks), I flew to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh courtesy of the wonderful people at Thai Airways.
It was my first overseas writing assignment.
Here are 12 lessons I learned from this amazing experience.
Holidaying and working while travelling are different things
I was quick to discover that going on holiday and travelling for work are completely different things.
For starters, I was travelling with a specific purpose and objective. I had a deadline to work within and specific writing parameters to take into consideration. My mind was focused on getting the job done.
It was also the first time I’d taken my laptop travelling with me. More care and responsibility is required when you take equipment with you as opposed to simply carrying your battered old backpack around.
I totally loved the experience of travelling and writing, something I am definitely looking forward to with my pending New York trip.
Everything is a potential story
The interesting thing about travelling for work (particularly when it involves travel writing) is that everything around you is a potential story. Everything from the people, history, culture, places, past experiences in the city and personal feelings can all contribute to an article. It made me look at things from a different perspective.
Adding a personal element was exciting and might not be something you could do if you were writing for a conventional travel magazine. Even though I had my topics pre-selected, I was constantly looking for a different spin on each topic.
Start working before you go
Having chosen my four core topics before leaving Australia, it wasn’t a case of rocking into Bangkok and thinking what I would write about.
As soon as the flight was confirmed, it was time to start researching and looking for story ideas. Naturally this included using the Internet, but it also involved guidebooks, magazines and going through some of my photos and mementos from previous trips to both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh.
Stay flexible with your plans
Research and topics aside it’s a good idea to allow for flexibility in your travel and work plan. Being too rigid with your plans could mean missing out on a great opportunity.
There was one instance where I could have experienced an amazing day trip out of Bangkok if I had asked a few more questions or thought a little more outside of the box.
Keep to a schedule
Despite being born in Queensland, I don’t cope well with hot weather. Having travelled to both cities before I was aware of how hot it could be at that time of year. To my surprise (and delight), Bangkok was quite cool. A brief cold snap had occurred only days before I arrived.
Ho Chi Minh however was a different story. It was incredibly hot. The heat lasts all day. It’s the sort of heat that zaps your energy and can leave you feeling listless. You also sweat a lot, so drinking enough water is essential.
Consequently I found myself venturing out early in the morning; stopping somewhere for lunch and then heading back to my air-conditioned room where I would work through the heat of the afternoon. Sometimes when I had a commitment in the afternoon, I would head back to my room earlier in the day for a cold shower (and on really hot days a change of clothes) and then head out again.
Since I was writing about restaurants and bars, I was back out in the evenings. Afternoons and late at night become my prime writing times.
Write while it’s still fresh
Whilst I am not sure what works for professional travel writers, I found myself taking copious handwritten notes and then typing as much detail as possible into my laptop when I got back to my room. As someone who doesn’t have the best memory, I tend to write everything down.
Though I didn’t write all of the posts in the 10 days I was overseas, I certainly had many posts in draft form by the time I arrived home.
If I had waited to get home and then started writing, I am sure the finished product wouldn’t have contained as much detail.
Internet access is important
I often read blogs relating to location independent businesses. What always interests me is the logistics of working online? In particular having access to the Internet which is obviously a must for a blogger.
The Internet access at the two hotels I stayed at was fantastic. To be honest, I could get used to having secure, reliable Internet every time I travelled. It was an utter bliss.
I used email and the Internet for ongoing research, contacting tour operators, updating this blog and sending the quick email home to let people know I was doing well. I also made the most of Skype, with one friend from Australia calling me every day to check on my writing progress.
Choose a central location
As a backpacker and traveller I have sometimes stayed a long way out from the action. Sometimes it was a matter of choosing to stay in the suburbs where the locals live, staying in areas frequented by other travellers, being close to nature and the outdoors and occasionally it was about money. Sometimes the further out you stay the cheaper the accommodation is.
Travelling alone I prefer to stay close to the action.
Both hotels on this trip were in great locations. I was close to everything that I was writing about. Taking the time to travel for long periods to and from main attractions would have eaten into my 10 day time frame. It also would have meant travelling more at night by myself.
The art of eating and drinking
Since I love trying different sorts of food and wine, this felt like a natural fit for me. With that in mind, I also appreciate there are specific skills involved in being a dedicated food writer.
One thing I found intriguing was how people looked at you when you were taking photographs of your food. It paid not to be too shy about it or you would miss out on the shot. The combination of writing notes while I was eating and taking photos of the restaurants, bars and people in them, amounted to some very curious looks from strangers and staff alike.
Having experience travelling alone was a benefit when it came to going out. While some people may feel intimidated on their own, I don’t have any problem sitting in a bar or restaurant by myself.
Photographs are part of the package
I took a lot of photographs and for a very good reason. I’m not a great photographer. My plan was to take as many photos as possible with the hope that I would get enough good ones for my posts. Thankfully that was the case.
I am sure we have all travelled with someone who loves taking photos; their first instinct is to get out their camera. Generally, I am not that person. I’m usually too busy experiencing the moment and totally forget about my camera.
This particular trip made me realise just how much I need to learn when it comes to taking good quality photographs. I also realised I have a lot to learn about night photography. Not one of my night photos (at least when it came to panoramic shots) came out correctly.
One definite plus was I learned more about using a photo editor like Picasa to bring out the best in my photos.
Get stuck into the work when you get back
Once I was back, there was no time to take it easy. I worked consistently to meet my deadline and was happy with the finished product.
Don’t forget about promotion
As I was typing this post, I realised the one key thing I should have done much sooner was promote my posts. Even though I posted each link on both my personal Facebook and Write Change Grow Facebook page this is the first time I have featured the posts together. It’s also the first time I have written about the experience in-depth.
Though the posts were loaded on the website over time, in hindsight I should have been promoting my work much earlier.
The result = 16 travel posts for you to enjoy.
I have linked below to each individual post for easy access. Alternatively you can also use the previous/next buttons at the bottom of each post to move from one to another. If you want to view the short video I put together for this trip click here.
Ho Chi Minh posts
It goes without saying; this trip was an incredible experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.
If you liked this post, please forward it to your friends.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, particularly if you have experience with travel writing. With the New York trip not far away, all insight and feedback would be appreciated.