Moving abroad, for any amount of given time, can be quite scary, especially for first-timers. You’ll have lots to think about, from where to stay to how to commute, with plenty of ups and downs in between. Travel, for the most part, will be done on weekends and/or during the holiday season. Regardless of how far you get to go, here are a few pointers so as to keep your belongings safe (as well as your person), avoid accidents abroad and most important of all, try not to get ripped off...Although most countries are safe, it’s still advisable to keep these tips in mind, just in case. After all, better safe than sorry (Ok, enough with the idioms...).1) Keep an eye on your belongings
Yes, you’ve seen posted throughout the UK and barely pay any attention to the signs, but although an old adage amongst the travelling community, it is very true. If you’re inclined to take a backpack out with you, make sure you twist the lock so that it’s harder to undo; try and keep your wallet or other important travel documents in your front pockets and don’t trust anyone who gets a little too close. A cheeky smile or tale might just turn out to be a fancy way of getting you distracted.
2) Wallets and purses
We’ve mentioned this in the previous paragraph but it is of utmost importance not to keep your money/travel docs/valuables in your back pocket, no matter how deep it is. Thieves have a habit of spotting travellers and will see the buldge coming through (we are still talking about your back pocket, by the way). Keep it safe and sweet up front.
3) Put it away!
Although you might feel more comfortable carrying your camera or camcorder on your arm or across your neck, don’t. An expensive camera shines like a ruby piece to the trained mag-pie thief. It might be less hassle to take out of your bag if you’ve got it strapped around your body, but the extra effort of pulling it out will be worth it, should you find someone trying to rip it off you.
4) Choose your travel buddy carefully
Although you may not be much of an adrenaline junkie, your travel buddy might just be; as well as doing some pretty cool things, it might also mean you will be putting your belongings (or life) at risk, unnecessarily. Way up the pros and cons and think carefully before you decide on that white-water rafting trip especially if you haven’t got...
If you haven’t got any already, get some. Whether you’re looking to protect your valuable, get yourself off the hook in case something goes wrong at work or make sure you’ve got medical expenses covered, should you need it, insurance is a must for anyone going abroad, regardless of how long for.
6) Watch this space
Some people (not giving any names, here) decide to live life on the wild side. They go to underground parties and downbeat neighbourhoods, meet incredible people and make friends for life. We are no party-poopers, nor are we averse to doing a bit of exploring to get off the beaten track. However, if locals/year abroad graduates/friends/guidebooks have warned you not to go to a particular neighbourhood or watch your belongings more closely in some areas, there is bound to be a good reason. Think first, before losing something special.
7) Scan your important documents
What happens if you lose that all important piece of paper certifying your study abroad program, your flight ticket or worse, your passport? It’s a good idea to get some copies of your travel documents, however many there are and also emailing them to yourself, just in case you happen to misplace them on your merry way.
8) Get a health check-up
If you’re going away, check out the FCO’s website for travel warnings, news and info, and possibly most important of all, a list of the vaccinations and medicine you may need to go to your dream destination. It’s important you get most, if not all, your vaccinations done before hand. Although most countries will offer similar medicine, it may not be as potent as the stuff you can get back home and besides which, we doubt it’ll be your idea of fun to have a yellow fever jab on the highway in Peru, just before you hit the jungle. With debatable hygiene from the nurse. Your call.
9) Keep your cash and cards separate
It’s a good idea to invest in a money belt when you go away - though it may remind you of your Dad/1990s plane magazines/a bit of an old fart. In all seriousness, you could get away with having various stashes of money conveniently located for you, badly located for a thief, scattered around your person or belongings.
10) Typing in your personal details online
If you’re planning on sharing your personal details, think well before you hand over your account details or passport number. Check the website before you buy and look for the ´Secure Visa’ sign. Don’t use your card in an internet café, even if you trust the owner. Viruses, scam devices and trojans can easily pick up your details and use them to ill effect.
1: Have a clear storyline
A trip is not a story in itself, it’s just a series of events. Some of these events will be interesting (you made it up Kilimanjaro!) and some will not (you arrived back at the airport on time*). As a writer, your first job is to decide on the particular story you want to tell, and the events which make up that story.
To see the kinds of stories that get published, look at the bold line of introductory copy (known as ‘standfirsts’ in the trade) of articles in papers, magazines and websites. Try writing the standfirst for your own story, and then use it as your brief.
*Actually, that might be interesting, but only if your story was about how everything ran late in Tanzania.
2: Have a goal
Some trips have a physical objective (reaching the top of Kilimanjaro, crossing Costa Rica, seeing a tiger) that gives your article direction and purpose. The reader (hopefully) sticks with you because they want to know if you’ll achieve your goal.
But many trips don’t have an obvious goal; they are more about discovering a place, unpicking its history or meeting its people. In this case, create a personal goal to give your reader a sense of where you’re taking them. Sentences like “I wanted to discover…” or “I was keen to understand…” give readers an idea of what’s to come, instead of you simply plunging them into the unknown.
3: Edit your experience to fit your story
Stories have characters, dialogue, pace, plot, suspense, drama – they need shaping and organising to hold the reader's attention. Once you know your storyline, gather the experiences that fit it – and dump the rest. Most travel articles will be 1,000 to 2,000 words: that’s only 10-20 paragraphs. You don’t have time for detours.
4: Write an irresistible first paragraph
You can start a travel article any way you like, as long as it grabs the reader’s attention. You can use drama, humour, dialogue, (or all three) – but those first sentences must grip like glue. Most travel articles start in media res – in the thick of the story – and then backtrack to explain how you happened to be in this situation.
5: Include dialogue
“Look! There! The lions are on the prowl,” whispered Joseph. Or: we could see the lions heading off hunting. Which sentence is more interesting to read? Dialogue brings a scene to life, gives personality to the people in your story, and allows you to convey important information in a punchy way. Whenever you travel, make notes of what people say and how they say it.
6: Show and tell
‘Showing’ and ‘telling’ are two everyday storytelling techniques you probably use without realising. Showing is when you slow down your writing and describe a scene in detail – what you saw, tasted, heard, felt: you are showing the reader the world through your eyes. Telling is simply moving the story along: ‘We returned to the tents for a well-earned rest’.
Articles typically switch repeatedly between the drama of ‘showing’ and the practical economy of ‘telling’: you need both.
7: Aim to entertain, not impress
Novice writers often try to pack their writing with literary phrases or recherché nomenclature (like that). Good writers tend more to follow Hemingway’s maxim: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” That doesn’t mean you can’t be playful and experimental: just don’t do it at the reader’s expense.
8: Use vivid language
Travel articles are peppered with meaningless words and phrases: stunning, incredible, pretty, diverse; ‘land of contrasts’, ‘melting pot’, ‘bustling’. Any of these could be applied to thousands of destinations worldwide. Try to use language that is specific to what you’re describing, and which allows readers to paint a picture in their mind’s eye.
9: Leave signposts
If you’re wandering around a strange country without a guidebook, you look for signposts. So do readers as they travel through your story. Every few paragraphs tell them where you’re going next, and remind them of your ultimate goal.
For example, you could write: ‘The next day we travelled from Tokyo to Hirosaki.’ Or you could signpost things a little, by writing: ‘It was tempting to linger in Tokyo’s restaurants, but my search for Japan’s best sake would next take me deep into the countryside.’ Aha, thinks the reader: I can see where this is going, and why – I’ll keep tagging along.
10: Give yourself time to finish
In an effort to include every fascinating tidbit, too may travel articles finish like a high-speed train hitting the buffers, leaving readers dazed and confused. With a paragraph to spare, put the brakes on and start setting up your conclusion.
Show your readers that the end is nigh. Think about where you started, and reflect on the journey. Try to sum up the experience. And – please – come up with something more inspiring than ‘I would just have to come back another time.’