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On-the-ground reports from the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Denver

Since you couldn’t be with us in Colorado for our workshop, I asked David Morgan – a freelance writer and photographer – to fill you in on what we’ve learned. You’ll find his report here below.

–Lori Appling
Director, Great Escape Publishing

The first evening of the 2006 Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop just ended.

Let me tell you, I wish you could have been here in Denver with us. Yes, I realize I say that every time I have the opportunity to write you from an AWAI travel conference. The good news is, I mean it every time.

The bad news? Tonight was extraordinarily special, and I know you would have gotten a great deal out of being here. But as you couldn’t join us I’ll do my best to recount what I can…

*** Dreamer to Adventurer: Story of a National Geographic Photojournalist

Victor Englebert, the final speaker for the evening, told us blow-by-blow how he got published in National Geographic… not once, but nine times.

It was if, in the room tonight, he took us back with him on his first journey. I felt like I was a character in a black-and-white film, watching and waving as he climbed aboard a freighter in Antwerp, looking over his shoulder one last time with a farewell nod to family and friends in post-War Europe.

He had chosen the adventurer’s life, trading work for passage on a boat headed for the Belgian Congo, where a new, wild world awaited. This is the stuff great fiction is made of. But it’s no fiction – this voyage marked the beginning of Englebert’s life as a travel writer and photographer.

His family called him a “Boy Scout who wouldn’t grow up,” and even worse, the “pros” at the time told him, on several occasions, that he had no talent. But in the end he triumphed, exploring the planet with camera in hand, and winning accolades by traveling to the fringes of the “known” world.

What is the lesson Victor wanted us to gain from his story? Most anyone can be a travel writer and photographer if that’s what they really want. You must simply ignore the critics who tell you you’re wasting your time and, instead, apply yourself.

In other words, it’s time for you to get busy living the life you’ve been dreaming about.

My name is David Morgan. My job is to sneak a few travel-writing morsels from the workshop to you at home. This task is especially difficult tonight, given all that I’ve seen and heard. Too much material to sift through and process. On the one hand, I’d like to tell you everything.

On the other hand, I’d also like to get some sleep. So, in the interest of getting this to you sooner rather than later, let me simply pass along a couple highlights.

*** It’s Getting Harder and Harder to Find an Authentic Adventure

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more comfortable I like to be when I travel. That rules out Saharan sandstorms. And wandering around in the Afghan borderlands while a war rages in Kabul? Though I did exactly that in my early twenties, looking back, it seems more than a little mad.

I still like to wander with neither guide nor guidebook through thatch-hut villages, use my natural senses to lead me through a bamboo forest to a hidden beach. Or even take the rental car on a “journey without maps” Graham Greene-style around some island in this ocean or the other.

But then I want to relax by the pool, enjoy a full meal and maybe even a massage (on the house, of course). I don’t want to sleep in the youth hostel and I don’t want bedbugs, even if they are free.

Call me soft. I’m an adventurer of the Explorer Light persuasion.

With the help of cowardly satellites, there are no longer uncharted territories to map. You’ll find no “here be monsters” next to drawings of sea serpents, indeed, no empty white space at all on any map these days.

How convenient that the wild frontiers of the world should diminish at the same time I grow up to be a New Age weenie.

What does this have to do with travel writing? Everything.

You see, we live more and more in a world of “been there, done that.” And when we travel, often we do our absolute best to pretend there aren’t any other tourists around. Some tourists travel with the complete expectation of being disappointed, yet yearn for a surprise.

It’s harder and harder to find an authentic adventure.

What I heard repeatedly tonight is this: The world has been explored. No longer will traversing the Sahara astride a camel with the Blue Men automatically land your story in print.

That leads us to your first free writing tip of the 2006 Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Denver:

Develop a unique angle for every article you write.

Tom Scheuneman, editor of the Traveler, said tonight: “The world has been well explored. So in your articles, work to find your own voice… your own view of the world.”

That is wise advice. And that’s where you now have a competitive edge. If you can manage to portray your unique view of the world through your writing, filtering the sights and sounds of a place through your personal experience, you will be miles ahead of the writers who simply report the facts in a monotonous drone.

Even your shortest six- or ten-sentence long fact-oriented articles will take on new life if told from your unique viewpoint. As Jennifer Stevens, architect of The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program, told us tonight, “Pay attention to the details: I want to know the colors, smells, sounds, and textures of the place you’re writing about. I want to be there with you.”

Writing and traveling this way, as Tom put it, “opened up my eyes. Now I travel with the constant question, what am I going to say about this place…?”

As a travel writer you live in a world where nowhere is boring. Instead of being a jungle explorer, your adventure lies in exploring your own perceptions and opinions of any particular place you end up, then portraying that in writing in a way only you can.

That’s great news, if like me, you’d rather dream about dangerous travel then actually do it. I’ll confine my adventures to the spa, thank you, and report my experience there in my own unique (and enthusiastic, after a complimentary massage) way.

So what’s the best way to develop your own unique voice in your writing?

Easy: Keep writing. Then write some more. Sooner or later the “you” will shine through your work.

And, as an aside, it will be really important for you to temper your voice for the particular audience you’ll be writing for. If your subject matter and use of language don’t fit your target publication, don’t waste your time – find a publication that’s a better fit for your work

We actually talked a great deal about targeting articles for the intended audiences and publications here tonight. and the good news is you don’t have to miss out, we recorded everything that we heard this evening. In fact, we’re recording the whole program through this weekend.

Until tomorrow,

David Morgan
Freelance writer and photographer

P.S. Be sure to tune in tomorrow when I’ll be your eyes and ears on the ground to relay insights from an industry insider — the Travel Editor of the Denver Post.plus much, much more. Stay tuned.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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