Roger Bluff (author) explores Istanbul
Travel for enlightenment
I understand if Mick Jagger hadn’t had a spectacular career in music with the Rolling Stones, he would have liked to have been a travel writer. Some people argue that travel writing jobs are probably the best vocational work you can get. The dream, for many, is to travel to far off exotic locations, to write about them and, of course, get paid. Ideally, it would feel like you are always on holiday. This type of work may even be more enjoyable than ghostwriting jobs.
Nevertheless, as with all writing, it is best to have a purpose, a reason for your diary or account. Ask yourself: what is it you want to tell or convey to your readers. To gain an insight into the places you visit, its history, the people you may meet and their customs are all of great interest and are worth becoming part of a journal or travel story. Location can also be an important part of a memoir that in itself provides useful material for a prospective traveller. A good example is Istanbul: Memories of a City by Orhan Pamuk. It talks about his life and growing up in this fascinating city. If you want to know what it is like to live in Istanbul, this is the book to read.
Incidentally, I do remember my visit to Istanbul. It was near Christmas so it could be a little damp at times but never cold. In the old quarter in the square overlooking the famous mosques there were plenty of opportunities to have your shoes cleaned or to buy a pictorial guidebook. Dogs and cats roamed around and if you like animals, particularly dogs, then one will make friends with you and follow you around.
I was lucky enough to gain a friend on my visit. And of course every restaurant one walked past, a helpful person would invite one in. All I would say, while carrying my guidebook with my sparklingly clean shoes was, ‘Can I bring my dog with me?’ The answer was always no, so I missed out on many of their kind offers. Well you can’t win them all.
A favourite for any visit to Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar. In this huge place are loads of leather goods. People will offer to take you away to be measured up for a leather jacket. I kept away but I understand there are good bargains to be had. Next time I will be less cautious.
However, I did negotiate to buy some Turkish delight. After some hard bargaining on my part, I got it down to a low price and closed the deal. The proprietor then brought out his family and some Turkish tea and we all celebrated by eating his moreish samples of Turkish delight. It became quite a little party. I then began to wonder how much I had paid for my Turkish delight. The lesson is one should be prepared for a visit to the Grand Bazaar.
During my stay, I travelled around on buses and local ferries. The crossing of the Bosphorus is great fun and Turkish tea is always served. I became hooked to this drink and a healthy addiction too, I would think.
One bus journey my wallet exploded with all the receipts I had gathered as I paid for my ticket. A lady traveller helped me with my debris and gave me a little bag to put it all in. An inept male visitor she must have thought. But local transport is a great way to meet people and a good way to integrate into the local scene.
A lasting memory I would like to share, however, is my crossing to the East. As we know this is a City where East meets West. After a short walk from one of the ferry drop offs, you can find Kiz Kules or The Maiden’s Tower that requires another boat trip but a shorter one this time. There is a legend associated with this fine lighthouse situated as it is in the bustling Bosphorus. But what I was told, if two people tell each other they love each other while they visit this place, then they will never be parted. All I can say is go there and try it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
How to do travel writing
This is a difficult question. Moreover, an even more pertinent question to ask, possibly, is how to do good travel writing. It goes back to what it is you want to write about and why. Travel writing prompts are particularly relevant here. For me the ultimate travel writer is A. W. Wainwright. This dedicated man spent a decade or so walking the English Lake District, climbing its mountains and detailing all the routes up those peaks. His purpose was to show people how to make the best of the beauty of, quite arguably, one of the most stunning places on Earth. His style and approach, in my opinion has not been equalled or bettered.
His method was to climb each route during the spring and summer making notes while taking loads of photographs. In the autumn and winter he would then painstakingly write up his notes and use his photos to draw exquisite illustrations of his journeys up the mountains. Little sketches of the routes were included along with invaluable snippets of information. With these travel guides, a walker could enhance the enjoyment of his hike immensely. Of course, for any exploration of a National Park in this fashion, ordnance survey maps and a compass are still essential.
A.W. Wainwright had a purpose and a goal and he achieved it and more with him going on to setup a wildlife sanctuary in the Lakes with the proceeds. He was a great man, a tremendous walker and, from our point of view, a fine travel writer.
We don’t need to spend decades on one piece for our travel writing career. Although in A. W. Wainwright’s case he produced some seven detailed volumes of his initial guides that were progressively published over the years. But what you need is an objective and a target so that as you set out to do some travel writing you have an angle you want to explore. It is worth thinking about before you set out.
Meeting people is easy
Interestingly, travelling not only broadens the mind but it can be an easy way of meeting people. As a writer, you should be receptive to people. Being a good listening is so important. It is good to meet local people, to hear and understand their points of view and to understand about their lives. It is surprising how people will open up and will tell you about what is worrying them and also probably giving you a feel what it is like to live in their country.
I have found a good way to meet people is to walk around. I have enjoyed several trips in a motor caravan with my two dogs. When I arrive at a location, I usually find a local park where I can walk my dogs. Soon I am talking to the local dog owners and I am finding out what is going on in the area. I learn what is good to see and do, etc. Sometimes I am mistaken for a local as I have my dogs with me. I always take this as a compliment.
Meeting people, involving them in your travel story can be the best part. It will add great interest. And of course for this sort of writing you need to enjoy meeting different people.
Pick your destination
As we discussed at the beginning, travel writing jobs are right up there in the desirable vocations league. But to break into this field, you need to be original and interesting. There are always new trends and fashions. You will always find people are looking for new experiences.
A good place to start is to think about your interests. You may like to enjoy short breaks that take in the history of a City, its museums and sights. Think about your motivation for wanting to go there and record how successful you were in doing all you wanted. Could this make an interesting story? Could it help others who want to do something similar? The answer is probably yes in both cases.
I have a friend whose ambition is to travel to the Planet Mars. Just think of the travel writing books that could be written about this trip. Ultimately, your choice of destination will be limited only by your imagination. You have the whole Universe to consider.