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An Interview on Travel Writing

Mt. Bromo, Indonesia

Ma’am Hope asked me if there is a travel narrative I could include in a book on creative nonfiction she is working on. I had “Tales from the Lake” (a narrative on Lake Sebu) or “We Are Called Langitnon” (a narrative on Dinagat Group of Islands). I labored a lot on these two. But she opted for “On Being a Dark-Skinned Filipina Traveling around the Philippines,” a rant more than an essay. Haha!

I modified some of the answers and shared them here.

1) How did you start off in your career as a travel writer and journalist?

Oddly, it started with the absence of poetry. I thought poetry left me for good, so I traveled. Poetry came back after a long drought. But it later dawned on me there are pieces demanding to be written in prose.

2) What is the best way of establishing yourself if you’re just starting out in your career as a freelance travel journalist?

It is rather hard especially in a country that has a gaping absence of in-depth travel narratives and embarrassing abundance of badly written travel blogs. I could not say my ways are the best: I tried to keep a balancing act between the soul and bread kind of travel writing. I blog. I write. And I never lose sight of my own writing intentions. So perhaps that is it: never lose sight of your own writing intentions.

3) As a freelance travel journalist, how do you get the numbers to add up in terms of an income?

To fight against my own intellectual snobbery and elitism—which is rather embarrassingly common in the literary world—I started travel blogging. We always hear complains, say, there is no money in writing. The soul kind of writing, to some extent, does not yield to financial happiness. But travel blogging as a medium is rather lucrative. When you have the needed skill sets, there is always a place for you in the digital world.

4) What tips would you give to budding travel writers?

Read. Read. Read. Read. My personal mantra is: write like you are your own god. Edit like you are your own demon. Never assume your travel narratives are good enough. Ego will lead you nowhere.

5) What are the most common mistakes that travel writers make in their copy?

For in-depth narratives on places, some do not read history—what is “now” but a consequence of the past?

They mistake travel writing for travel features found in glossy travel magazines—too many unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, too many exaggerations. This is also a note to self.

6) How did you get your first travel literature title published?

For my published works, be it poetry or travel narratives, I started with SunStar. One tip for any struggling travel writer is to always seek out and email travel editors. There is no harm in trying. Pitch a story. Accept rejection emails. Move on. Pitch another story.

7) Do you think it’s important to have an agent?

This practice is rather Western. The literary community in the Philippines relies on connections, luck, and talent. Having an agent can be considered a privilege, a much welcome one, so the writer can focus on her/his craft.

8) Are you in a better position as a travel journalist because of your ability to provide photographs?

I do not know if it is a better position, but most of my earliest travels were solo. So I used my own takes to accompany my text. For travel journalists writing for newspapers and magazines, to have good photographs accompanying the text is a plus for two reasons: 1) you do not have to split your salary with the photographer 2) there are stories that can only be conveyed in photographs.

9) Have you written for genres other than adventure travel? Does having a specialisation help or hinder finding work?

Each genre has its inherent joys and struggles. I have been writing poetry, short stories, and travel narratives for the past years; and I would say, doing so does not narrow my field rather it expands it. For the fun of it, I wrote a travel narrative, a short story, and poem bearing the same title.

10) What, in your opinion, constitutes ‘good’ travel writing?

For me, good travel writing has an excellent sense of place. By sense of place, I mean, the narrative
should make the place alive and living through a well-reasoned and well-executed employment of the
place’s sounds, sights, taste, and people. It tells a story. It should tell a story.

11) What constitutes ‘bad’ travel writing?

A combination of too much adverbs, adjectives, and lack of research can make a piece sloppy and lazy. And too much romanticism.

12) What are the rewards to travel writing as a career?

For in-depth narratives, the rewards steam from sheer vanity that you have accomplished your own writing goal.

To have a little space in glossy travel magazines, and in travel content writing industry, is more lucratively practical.

13) What has been the downside for you?

I discuss racial politics in a happy place called travel—travel, in general, is perceived as escapist.
For someone trying to carve out a career in travel writing—whose definition is limited to glossy
travel magazine writing—it is advisable to dismiss or ignore serious issues like the connection between race, gender, and travel. Discussing such will turn off possible exchange deals and travel partnerships.

The mad writer in me clamored for decolonized travel writing; but the practical voice reminds me that, hey, you need food to fund, to fuel the mad writer. Do not be a fool.

This has always been a dilemma for me—I do not fully belong to, do not fully belong in one place.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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