Today I wanted to write about my first overseas travel writing assignment.
I flew to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh courtesy of the wonderful people at Thai Airways.
Over the years I have traveled in a variety of different ways – on tours, with friends, with a partner, and as a solo traveler. I have also traveled for work.
This was the first time I traveled in a writing capacity. Combining my loves for both writing and travel has been a long-held goal, so I was super excited when this opportunity presented itself.
Here are 12 lessons I learned from this amazing experience.
Holidaying and working while traveling are different things
I was quick to discover that going on holiday and traveling for work are completely different things.
For starters, I was traveling 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 traveling 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 traveling and writing, something I am definitely looking forward to with my pending New York trip.
Related travel content –
- 10 Tips for Traveling to New York Alone
- 12 Ways Travel Can Change Your Life
- How to Meet People When You Travel
- 13 Pieces of Travel Advice To Ignore
- 8 Glorious Reasons You Should Travel By Yourself
Everything is a potential story
The interesting thing about traveling 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 traveled 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 became my prime writing times.
Write while it’s still fresh
Whilst I’m 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’m 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 traveled. 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 traveler, 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 travelers, being close to nature and the outdoors and occasionally it was about money. Sometimes the further out you stay the cheaper the accommodation is.
Traveling 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 traveling 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.
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 traveling alone was a benefit when it came to dining 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’m sure we have all traveled 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 realize just how much I need to learn when it comes to taking good quality photographs. I also realized 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.
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.
Related post – The Importance of Hitting Deadlines
Don’t forget about promotion
As much as I hate to admit it, one of the things I did drop the ball on was the promotion of my work.
In hindsight, I should have promoted my work a lot more than I did and not left it up to the company to promote them.
Big lesson learned right there!
Promotion shouldn’t just be an afterthought, it should be a major part of the writing assignment.
I learned a lot from my first travel assignment and it was an amazing experience.
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That’s pretty cool Thea! I haven’t experienced any travel for work but it sounds like it would be a fun thing to do.
Have fun at BlogWorld. I have a few friends who are going and I look forward to what they have to say about it.
Very useful tips, Tess. If I am ever lucky enough to get a gig as a travel writer, I know I am going to remember your advice.
Can I ask how you got this job?
Thoroughly enjoyed this post, Thea, and then spent much time reading the Thai Air bloggers posts–really educational. I will be traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos early next year and your observations have (and will) helped prepare me. I have been to Bangkok and your descriptions of the sights I also saw brought back vivid memories. Thanks!
Thank you so much for your great comment. I am thrilled that you enjoyed the travel posts. How long are you going to South-East Asia for next year and where in each country are you thinking of going? It has been a long time since I was in Cambodia and Laos, I have heard they have changed a lot since I was last there. I am sure they will still be amazing though. Vietnam is incredible too. Next time I would like to go further north as well.
I look forward to hearing back from you about your trip and hope to see you here again soon.