Take Your Travel Blogging to The Next Level Through These Upskilling Techniques

If you have been in the travel blogging business for a few years, you will agree that old school writing no longer makes the cut in the present times. While good content is still valued, it is very rarely read. Most Millennials are impatient even with the blogs they read and the content they consume. Also, thanks to the boom in online content, it is hard to grab anybody’s attention, to begin with. There is no reason to lose heart, though. There are many ways to revamp your travel blog, and very specifically, your articles. Take some cues from the tips outlined hereunder.

Draw Inspiration From High-Quality Content

Most of my travel writer friends are voracious readers.
(Caught my pal from Nat Geo Traveller busy with her favourite pastime.)

Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: you cannot be a great writer unless you are an eager reader first. Get into a habit of reading well-researched, high-quality and engaging pieces. Understand what draws you to those types of articles. Is it the writing style? The in-depth coverage? Or a concept so novel that you cannot seem to ignore it? Gently try to incorporate the techniques that work best for the most widely read posts. A word of caution here: do not imitate! Try to be original in your writing style while putting all the inspiration to good use.

Make Friends With Grammar Nazis

Take time to reflect on the constructive criticism you receive.
(Deep thinking with my buddies in the hills of Prabalgad, Maharashtra)

If you are a true writer of yore, you’ll most likely be a grammar Nazi yourself. However, if you are a new-generation blogger without much of a flair for writing, you can still cultivate this art. Pay attention to some basics such as spellings and grammar. The only thing that can ruin a really good travel story with stunning photos is a poorly worded article. Not everybody is a gifted writer, but that does not mean one cannot master this skill. Do not be upset when you encounter grammar Nazis who constantly point out spelling mistakes or grammatical corrections that are wanting in your blog posts. Embrace learning even when it comes in the form of criticism.

Improve The Images That Go With The Words

It has taken me years to better my photography & editing skills, and I’m still learning.
(My click from Thimphu, Bhutan)

About a decade ago, an excellently written piece was enough to make a blog post a big hit with the readers. Unfortunately, a lot more is required today. When your post is competing with several other articles waiting to be read, (apart from other tasks lingering on the long laundry-list of the average reader’s schedule), you’ve got to up your game. High-resolution, well-framed and neatly edited photos are almost mandatory if you want to be taken seriously as a blogger, more so if you do travel blogging. Pepper your long posts with beautiful pictures that are relevant to the content. If you struggle with photography, you can always procure images from copywright-free sources.

Consider Taking An English Test Prep Course

Exams have a way of setting you on fire. You learn more when you know you’ll be tested.

Don’t feel shy about taking up courses in the English language (if you blog in English or wish to start eventually). If your trips to English-speaking countries have stoked your wanderlust enough to move or work from there, you will have to take the IELTS. I suggest signing up for the IELTS reading practice test and the  IELTS Writing Practice Test at BestMyTest. With features such as realistic simulations of IELTS tests, personalized study plans, diagnostic reports, instructor assistance and in-depth reviews of all testing sections, especially the subjective ones (Speaking and Writing), BestMyTest sets itself apart from the competition. They will even offer you 10% off all online IELTS preparation plans when you use my referral link with the code 2DEALSPOTIELTS! Your fluency in English is certain to improve when you get serious about it.

Experiment With Different Tones & Writing Formats Until You Find Your Best Fit

I’m busy blogging even as I await my flight out of Russia.

There is no golden formula for a well-written travelogue. While some talented writers focus on the destination and the locals, some others like to assume an introspective tone, sharing mostly about their personal experiences on a trip. Elaborately worded adjective-heavy sentences are a staple of certain bloggers. On the other hand, some prefer to keep their travel accounts simple and crisp. I know of blogs that provide detailed information on a place, while certain others exist only to generate curiosity, barely giving anything away. You can play around with different styles and see what works with your audience and also what you personally like. In the end, your writing should reflect a bit of you, regardless of what you write about.

Are you a travel blogging veteran with more tips to share?

Or are you new to travel writing who needs more guidance?

Let me know through your comments below.

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Sustaining a Career in Travel Writing When COVID-19 Has Disrupted Tourism: Tips on Balancing Work & Mental Health

So much has changed in the world since we took our last trips. Even though some countries and territories are gradually opening up again, COVID-19 has effected some changes that are most likely here to stay. The pandemic that brought tourism worldwide to a grinding halt (even though solo hikes and certain activities were still allowed in a few nations), has had a ripple effect on many allied careers, including travel writing. The disruption seems to have taken a toll on the mental health of many professionals. I write today’s piece not just to reflect on the current situation but to provide some hope and help to my friends and associates who are eagerly waiting for the world to get back to its pre-coronavirus times. While my advice is mainly for travel writers, some tips apply across industries.

Build Trust With Existing Clients

I remind myself how the fishermen in Kerala work together in trust.

If you are fortunate enough to still have some of your travel clients in business, go the extra mile for them. Now is not the time for hard negotiations and highhandedness. Be empathetic towards your business associates who might also have been affected by the change in various laws following the coronavirus spread. If you have fallen on hard times, reconnect with your past clients to check if they would like to work again with you. We often assume that a shut door will never reopen. But experience tells me that most businesses are happy to reconsider working with a valuable freelancer. When a couple of big names (that I used to get regular work from) were badly impacted by the global lockdowns, it was a long-standing old client that sustained me. I count myself lucky to have the rare opportunity to actually grow my savings when I thought I would run short on earnings.

Master Time Management To Balance Writing & Other Chores When You Lose Helping Hands

I sneak in some blogging notes while relaxing with my husband in a forest hideaway in Maharashtra.

One of the unique challenges most of us face in India is a result of our undeserved privilege and skewed social demographics. Before the COVID-led lockdown, many of us (including me) were used to house help who would do our sweeping, mopping and even cooking in certain cases. Now that all our maids are under stay-at-home orders, our days have gotten longer with the extra chores and backbreaking routines. It is how we deal with this added responsibility that will determine our mental peace. We had always been balancing our writing work with constant travel (when you think of the good old times). It’s time to repeat that with blogging deadlines and household chores. Time management is the key to winning this game. Divide your days into writing slots, chore slots and relaxation-with-family slots. Also, take a moment to reflect on how valuable your domestic help are. Try to be more compassionate and generous with their wages and leaves once they’re back.

Bank On Your Remote Working Skill To Scout For Work From Other Geographies

I pose at an almond grove in Chowchilla, California. I’m thankful for all the blogging assignments I get from the USA, among other countries.

As freelance travel writers, we are quite fortunate to have the liberty to work for anyone in any part of the world while residing in any geography. Make use of this advantage by pitching to clients in countries that are offering travel writing work. While the coronavirus numbers tell us one story, reality speaks another. When the UK was peeking its hospital capacity and the outlook seemed grim, I surprisingly got a chance to write for a London-based AirBnB management services company. Do not let all the morose news bring your spirits low. Many countries are opening tourism again. A bunch of European nations, some South-East Asian islands and parts of Africa will soon be launching their travel campaigns. (Now you know where to start pitching. 😉 )

Follow A Routine That Puts Your Mental Health Before Your Career

Take time off to relish the little pleasures of life such as afternoon tea and cookies.

Finally, remember that your career is not everything. It does not fully define you, regardless of how much of your identity depends on your work. When your writing career is going through a lean patch, take some time to enjoy the activities you love but are always too busy to do. Cook your favourite dishes, read the books you’ve been neglecting, watch some feel-good movies, or go for a walk if that’s allowed in your city. Also, set aside some time for exercise. A healthy mind dwells in a healthy body. While you’re busy doing this all, the world will soon start to look rosier!

Are you struggling with your career because of the economic slowdown & travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic?

Are you constantly demoralized or have depressive thoughts?

Let me know through your comments below. I will be happy to offer you a listening ear and some help or connect you to somebody who can assist materially.

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for travel stories, inspiration and some guidance to get through the difficult times.

Discover Saudi Arabia Beyond Mecca & Medina: Red Sea Reefs, Spice Markets & More

Saudi Arabia is fast becoming a popular destination among leisure travellers (apart from the usual religious tourists who go there to visit Mecca and Medina). Now that this Gulf nation has opened its doors to leisure tourism, there is an excitement among travellers looking to explore newer places with distinct cultures and people. Apart from two of the grandest destinations of Islamic worship (Mecca and Medina), which attract millions of pilgrims every year, Saudi Arabia has a myriad of surprises for other types of visitors: from magnificent shopping destinations to dive sites, Saudi Arabia has something for everybody.

A Glimpse Of Saudi Arabia

Aerial view of Saudi Arabia
Aerial view of Saudi Arabia

Even though Saudi Arabia is a desert country, there are 9,900-foot high mountains of the Asir, enchanting reefs of the Red Sea, interesting streets and spice markets of Jeddah, extensive date palms of Al-Hofuf and lots more. Remember to read the dos and don’ts before travelling to this Middle Eastern country. Dressing ultra-conservatively is mandatory here. Below are a few places that you must visit while in Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah

Scuba diving in the Red Sea of Jeddah

Jeddah is a must-visit if you are planning a vacation in Saudi Arabia. This former capital is also a Red Sea trading port and a melting pot of various cultures. The gateway for Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, Jeddah surprisingly has many beach resorts, scuba diving activities, mesmerizing street markets, open-air cafes, and lots more.

Al Ula

Intriguing rock formations in Al Ula

Scattered with golden rock formations in the northwest part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Al Ula is a stunning city. It boasts of lush citrus farms and the ruins of many ancient kingdoms, the most famous of which is Medah’in Saleh, containing 2000 years old Nabatean tomb clusters. The site remains partially open from December to March for travellers who wish to attend the winter festival of Tantora that features various musical, entertainment, and cultural events.

Riyadh

Riyadh at night (PC: lawepw)

The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is a beautiful urban sprawl with many attractions to lure sightseers. From the recently renovated historical site of Diriyah to the bustling traditional market of Souq Al Zal and Taiba, the city offers multiple enchantments. A towering plateau, known as the “Edge of the World”, is a two-hour drive from the city, and a famous hiking destination for visitors and residents. The view from this place is exquisite and the silence is imposing. Rising a whopping 992 feet above the ground, the Kingdom Centre of Riyadh is an iconic symbol of Riyadh that houses everything, from a shopping mall to a residential complex, and even an observatory. The third tallest building in Saudi Arabia offers its visitors both a figurative and literal perspective of Riyadh which is home to 5.2 million people.

Madain Saleh

Mada’in Saleh (PC: Omar A.)

Madain Saleh is a striking combination of outstanding history and gorgeous architecture. The former grandeur and importance of the city are clearly evident in its marvellous ruins of towers, dwellings and walls. An ancient Ottoman railway and the old tombs give visitors a truly ethereal feel. The city dates back to the Nabatean Kingdom, which is similar, both in design and origin, to the recently discovered lost city of Petra.

Asir National Park

Jabal Sawda mountains in Asir National Park (PC: marviikad)

With a relatively cooler climate than the rest of the kingdom, Asir National Park, spread across 4500 sqkm, woos travellers with various picnic spots, campsites and a thriving environment, apart from Hamadryas baboons and splendid birds. The Asir Mountains are also a treat and a must-visit. Jabal Sawdah, the highest mountain in Saudi Arabia, comes under the Asir National Park. Here, you can enjoy many trekking, camping, biking, cablecar rides, and much more.

Saudi Arabia’s Coastline

Tiran Island offers ample snorkelling opportunities in Saudi Arabia (PC: fabian.kron)

Contrary to the popular misconception that Saudi Arabia is a country only with deserts, the Kingdom has a sprawling coastline, both on the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. This makes the country a scuba diving and snorkelling paradise. Not only is the shoreline beautiful, but the famous sites like the Boiler wreck also provide you with much-needed solace from the crowd (since scuba diving is not so popular among the Saudis).

Najran

View of the Najran oasis from Al Aan Palace (PC: Charles Roffey)

Situated close to the border with Yemen, Najran is a vibrant city that shares its Saudi Arabian cuisine with that of neighbouring Yemen, resulting in a warm and tantalizing taste of Arabia. The city offers a bouquet of history, architecture and culture, along with a heartfelt welcome to all its visitors.

Al Habala

Habala Valley near Abha, Saudi Arabia (PC: Wajahatmr)

Built by the Khatani tribe to stay safe from the Ottomans some 370 years ago, the unique and mysterious “hanging village” of Al Habala is a place you must visit if you are in Saudi Arabia. Made from local rocks, Al Habala derives its name from a type of rope ladder known as the Habal which used to be the only way to access this series of sandstone houses that stay perched on a ledge of a steep cliff 400 meters above.

Flying to Saudi Arabia with Nesma Airlines

Nesma Airlines (PC: Björn Strey)

One of the popular airlines flying to Saudi Arabian cities, Nesma Airlines came to the fore in June 2010. This Saudi Arabian airline has grown manifold ever since, and currently operates scheduled flights on domestic and international routes. It is headquartered in Jeddah and has three operational hubs, one in Cairo, Egypt (Cairo International Airport) and the other two in Saudi Arabia (King Abdulaziz International Airport and Hail Airport). With a fleet of 10 aircraft, this airline flies to 16 destinations, including Saudi Arabia. Nesma is growing at a steady rate as passengers prefer it for its affordability, hospitality, best in-flight services, and more. Book your flights on Nesma Airlines via Cleartrip (website or app) to save a significant amount.

Have you been to Saudi Arabia?

Got any interesting stories from the Gulf?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

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If I Planned My Trips The Way I Plan My Dates…

Somebody recently pointed out to me that travelling is a lot like courtship. It is best if you try not to burden the destination (or person, in the case of courting) with a lot of unrealistic expectations. To a great degree, I agree that going on a long journey is a lot like dating. The only difference here is that you travel not to decide whether you will stay at your destination forever, whereas the ideal motive of a well-intentioned date is to see if you indeed will marry that person. The best trips (and likewise, the best dates) are those where you don’t have a rigid bucket list or boxes that need to be ticked. You begin with an open mind and discover the beauty of the unknown, slowly unfolding before you.

Should You Complain When The Going Gets Tough?

I hope I will not complain about muscle pain when I finally get to hike on the Bernese Alps.

I hope I will not complain about muscle pain when I finally get to hike on the Bernese Alps.

Before I went on my first multi-day snow trek in the Himalayas, I had an almost romantic view of trekking. I would think it was all about sleeping in pretty little tents, trudging up soft mounds of snow and looking pretty in 3 layers of winter-hiking gear. Then reality hit me like a hard slap on my face. The 70+ kilometres of walking in heavy shoes made my feet swell. When the terrain and view refused to change even after several hours of hiking, I forgot the very reason I had signed up for the trek. My peeling skin, rough hair and tanned face did not make me feel pretty anymore. But I rediscovered my joy when I realized I had pulled off the feat. Travelling, much like courtship, throws a lot of curveballs at us. While it is not a bad thing to complain, it certainly isn’t advisable to give up halfway.

The Worth of Simplicity

Will I be able to appreciate the simplicity of laidback European countryside?

Will I be able to appreciate the simplicity of laidback European countryside?

Sophistication seems to be the “in thing”, especially when it comes to luxury travel experiences. One cannot fall asleep until one knows the thread count of one’s sheets, one finds it hard to digest one’s meal if one isn’t sure the ingredients are organic, the pictures aren’t perfect till they have been varnished with filters. In my honest opinion, sophistication kills real beauty. When you let the real things just be, they are most beautiful. In the context of a soulmate, truth dwells in simplicity. External adornment may be attractive, but it is, after all, a lie.

Beyond What Meets The Eye

Journeys are more beautiful when you can see beyond your immediate surroundings.

Journeys are more beautiful when you can see beyond your immediate surroundings.

When I had first begun travelling solo, I would weigh everything at face value. If I was happy with the number of things I could see, activities I could participate in and the types of food I could eat, I would consider it a good trip. It is after years of being conditioned by long journeys that I have now become a different kind of traveller. I look to make memories, I travel slow, I talk to the locals more often and for much longer. I had contacts then. I have friends now. You may not find your date to be your potential mate at the very first meeting. But you will discover things you did not expect to find when you hang in there a little longer.

Appreciating The Little Joys Along The Way

Can you find your joy in small things? (Miniature Europe at Madurodam, Holland)

Can you find your joy in small things? (Miniature Europe at Madurodam, Holland)

If travelling is your way of getting a dose of that elusive medicine called “happiness”, then you would do well to enjoy the small things that most people think nothing of – a smiling stranger who helps you with your luggage, an extra dollop of butter on your aloo paratha, a softer bedspread than you had paid for. It is hard to be happy when your eyes are only trained on the flashy things that the billboards suggest you should lust after. So it is in matters of finding a partner. The lower your expectations are the happier you’ll be when you find absolutely anything of value in your companion.

Is It Tunnel-Vision Or Narrow-Mindedness?

There is no room for narrow mindedness, either in courtship or travel experiences, even when you cross the narrow canals of Venice.

There is no room for narrow-mindedness, either in courtship or travel experiences, even when you cross the narrow canals of Venice.

I have often come across travellers who will plan everything down to the very last detail (and that includes listing down which snack they will eat where). Then there are those who cannot stand alternate points of view or ways of doing things. Some may say that they have a tunnel-vision. But most hover dangerously close to being narrow-minded. Over planning and bucket listing have murdered the romance of travelling to a new place. We really need a culture of blind-travelling, like blind dating, where you have no idea of where you will go or what you will do even if you know where you’re going. My long trip to the USA taught me how interesting life can be when nothing is planned beforehand. #TheBlindList is a good idea to have a blind (travel) date with the world – a list without expectations.

The Best Ones Help You Rediscover Yourself

Trips are meaningful when they help you indulge in some self reflection.

Trips are meaningful when they help you indulge in some self-reflection.

Both places and life-partners play a part in helping you know yourself better. A trip worth making is one that will make you sit quietly and reflect on your life, your dreams, and where you’re headed. Likewise, a relationship is most fragrant when it makes you rethink who you are and how you serve your better half in the capacity of the other half. If our vacations are only making us busier than our workdays, we should be redesigning how we do them. There is a definite need for downtime, soul-searching and introspection.

When Things Don’t Work Out

Don't let a bad travel-date get you down. (I sulk after a particularly bad time in California.)

Don’t let a bad travel-date get you down. (I sulk after a particularly bad day in California.)

I’ve saved a vital piece of advice for the last. What happens when a long trip (or many months of dating) doesn’t end well? We must remember that travelling helps us discover a new place (and ourselves at the same time), just as dating helps us know whether a person is “the one”. The ending will only make things clear. And clarity is precious. We emerge wiser and better equipped for the next date, and to #SayYesToTheWorld on our next trip.

Do you still make bucket lists?

Wish to go on a blind-trip, knowing nothing about the destination?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more tips and insights on travelling around the world. This piece celebrates Lufthansa’s efforts to get more people to travel.

You Travel And Live Better When You Are Proactive

Many people tell me they wish to do a lot of things, visit a lot of places, but they wonder whether they’ll have enough time and money to achieve all those dreams. The answer to the first doubt about “time” is quite plain. We are living longer, and we’ll certainly have a lot of time post retirement to pursue our hobbies and wishes once we are free of our full-time jobs. The second factor of money is a tricky one. We’ll need enough to adopt a lifestyle that lets us do whatever we like. The best way to control how money works for you is to exert your control on it early. Be proactive in following a few steps, and you’ll realize how the benefits are far-reaching.

Don’t Lose Sight Of Your #LifeGoals

I don't fear heights anymore now that I know the beauty that can be beheld from the top. (The farmlands in Purushwadi, Maharashtra)

I don’t fear heights anymore now that I know the beauty that can be beheld from the top. (The farmlands in Purushwadi, Maharashtra)

Doubts appear big when you have forgotten how much bigger and infinitely precious your goals are. If you have your eye set on your dreams, it won’t matter that you have no experience of the goals that you ultimately wish to pursue. When I was growing up, I didn’t know a thing about travelling alone. I learnt on the go and gained confidence when I started doing solo trips around India and the world and discovered that the doubts were only in my head. When I did my first solo hike in the Austrian Alps, I was scared of being attacked by a wild animal or losing my way. But I returned to the base that evening unscathed. And I’ve observed a similar trend with most of my former doubts which I have lost by pursuing my dreams.

Take Help And Ask Around

Manhattan (New York) urges all to lose their inhibitions and mingle.

Manhattan (New York) urges all to lose their inhibitions and mingle.

I was all by myself in New York City last year, intimidated by the giant buildings, supersized food-portions and the swarms of people from (perhaps) every country on the world map. But I eased into the NYC culture when I started talking to the people around me. They were much friendlier than I thought they’d be. To the common man who probably fears making bad investment decisions, it would be a good idea to take advice from the experts. All of the time that I’ve spent travelling has not made me poorer financially, only richer experientially.

Put Those Thoughts Of Uncertainty Aside

The world is full of beautiful colours which you can see only when your mind is not preoccupied (Kala Ghoda Arts Fest in Mumbai).

The world is full of beautiful colours which you can see only when your mind is not preoccupied (Kala Ghoda Arts Fest in Mumbai).

Many of my friends are nervous of undertaking adventure sports because they fear losing a limb or something even worse. If you are so afraid of death, it makes even more sense to realize your dreams as soon as you can. If you are just worried about not being able to provide for yourself and your family in your golden years, plan for those times now! Only last month, Bajaj Allianz launched a unique ULIP that provides return of life cover charges for life maximizers. The product – Bajaj Allianz Life Goal Assure is designed to reward the policyholder for outliving the maturity period by returning the cost of life-cover when the policy matures. And if you choose to receive the maturity benefit in instalments over 5 years (and not lump-sum), you get a return enhancer of 0.5% of every due instalment. And of course, your money still remains invested in the fund(s) of your choice! When you have taken care of your old age, will you still be afraid of death?

Don’t Wait For Your Best Friend To Do It First

You never know how long the person standing next to you will be there for you (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

You never know how long the person standing next to you will be there for you (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

I often notice that people are unreasonably hesitant to be the first to do anything, even if it is as innocuous as watching a new movie which hasn’t been critiqued yet or eating at a newly opened restaurant which hasn’t been reviewed. Do you even know how wonderful it feels to be the first to do something? When it comes to investments though, you must be careful. Put your earnings only into a product which is managed by an institution you trust and that which has good fund managers. Bajaj Allianz Life Goal Assure lets you choose among 4 portfolio strategies and gives you the flexibility to switch unlimited times between funds (you can choose from 8 available funds). Besides, benefits are maximized for long-term investors and there’s the element of convenience, thanks to the facilities that can be availed of online through their website. Being a life-insurance ULIP, the product also gives you tax benefits under section 80C and 10D.

Experience The World With Childlike Wonder

We have so much to learn from carefree kids.

We have so much to learn from carefree kids.

The older we get the more morbid our thoughts become. Why don’t we look at children who are always excited about little things, enjoying the company of their friends and strangers, and happy with very less? They know that life is valuable and holds a lot of promise for them. If you trust your days to bring you cheer, will you still be sullen?

Are you avoiding chasing your dreams because you fear something will go wrong?

Write your comments below! 🙂

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