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What You Absolutely Must Do as a Travel Writer

You know the saying “live a little”? Well, as a travel writer, you get to live a lot!

That’s true whether you’re writing a travel nonfiction book, keeping a travel blog or writing travel articles for a magazine.

Any way you look at it, travel writers get to explore the world at levels most people never will – sometimes literally if their treks involve climbing mountains or going deep-sea diving. And even without such extreme sports, there’s still the thrill of planes taking off one place, leaping into the sky to deliver you somewhere else…

Of seeing new sights and tasting new foods and meeting new peoples…

Of living so close to the edge so many times over by climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and looking down that long, long way; by eating raw puffer fish in Japan and living to tell the fishy tale; and by petting absolutely adorable lion cubs in Tanzania while their mothers watch close by.

Incidentally, that last activity should be supervised. By trained safari guides. Who you promise to listen to at every turn and right away.

Because, throughout all that extreme “live a little” activity, you absolutely need to be careful not to live so much that you die. As this week’s dead-serious Writing Challenge puts it:

Don’t get yourself killed as a travel writer.

Between 2013 and July 2018, 132 people died by selfie. Considering the greater global population, 132 is pretty low, of course. But it’s still worth noting, particularly when it comes to the topic of writing a travel book.

Most travel books are, by their very nature, going to include lots of pretty pictures. Those snapshots in time and place are important to give readers the richest visual experience possible. But as beautiful as they can be, your life is more valuable. So don’t take stupid selfies. And avoid these other inexcusable travel-related blunders too.

This includes:

  • Biking through known terrorist territories. Back in July, two Americans, one Swiss and a Dutch cyclist were trying to bike through a swath of the world when they reached Tajikistan, a country that has been known to make deals with Iran, restrict its press and feature areas known for their terrorist strangleholds. There, not all that surprisingly, these four carefree travelers were intentionally run over by a terrorist-filled car and then stabbed to death on the side of the road.

  • Traveling into no-go zones. I’m genuinely not trying to be controversial here, but no-go zones throughout Europe DO seem to exist according to both Swedish and German officials at least, no matter how many circles they run around their affirmatives or how many initial reports on the subject are deleted, as seems to be the case with The Washington Post. No-go zones are areas filled with mostly or completely Muslim migrants and immigrants who have taken over. As such, local authorities have deemed them unsafe for even armed police to enter. This makes it even less wise for a tourist to enter, whether as a travel writer or not.

  • Ignoring your guide on safari. There are too many instances of people being badly mauled or mauled to death on safari by not following guidelines and rules. I’m sorry to imply ill of the dead, but if you’re warned not to roll down your car windows while casually cruising past lions, then don’t roll down your windows!

Part of your job as a travel writer is to see the sights and take in everything you can about your countries of choice. But another part of your job – the most important one, really – is to stay alive.

That means you take care to learn about the peoples and places you go to see as much as possible before you go. It means you learn local customs ahead of time in order to make as few embarrassing or insulting blunders as possible to your host nations. And it means you study the lay of the land through Google maps and tourist sites.

And, whatever else you do, it means you don’t get yourself killed as a travel writer.

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