How to write a Lonely Planet guide

How to write a Lonely Planet guide

This evening I was lucky enough to attend a seminar, How to write a Lonely Planet guide, hosted by Intrepid Travel and featuring acclaimed author, journalist and presenter, Frances Linzee Gordon.

What she said:

[true sentiments on ‘travel’]

“Travel is addictive because of the adventure, self discovery, serendipity, fun, opportunities and stimulation that every day brings.

Travel is like making a new friend – you always listen out for the place in the news, you want to return, and you care about what happens there.

To write about a place you need to be saturated in it – learn some of the language, speak to/interview everyone, understand general costs of living etc.

Keep an ‘as you go’ diary to note down fresh impressions so when you’re tired and go to write up a feature you don’t forget things. Include details, colour, a local feel. Use the writer’s muscle – the more you use it, the better you are.”

[writer / traveller action points]

  • Keep a Diary – for fresh impressions on the road.
  • If you don’t have writing experience, consider taking a course.
  • Photography course – a great idea because your stories are more marketable with images. Also, you can sell to image libraries (eg. Getty, Lonely Planet) for extra income (because a travel writer’s income is limited).
  • Learn a language(s).
  • Enjoy the moment (adhere to the concept of ‘mindfulness’)– it’s easy to worry about money, going home, terrorists etc. – but stop and take in the amazing things you have in the moment.
  • Choose to support local businesses and industry.
  • Try everything – dance, eat – go outside your personality.
  • Enjoy – be safe without being paranoid, don’t be budget obsessed, be inconspicuous and be open to everything.


[Keep in mind]

  • Beware: check local conditions before travel (eg. Disease, weather, crime).
  • Double check passport / copies accessible.
  • You’re more vulnerable to local threats if you look like a tourist. ‘When in Rome’… and be aware of what different clothes, or smoking / drinking in public may represent in some areas of the world.
  • Support is often not readily available so understand what emergency services etc are/aren’t available.
  • Arrange all relevant health vaccinations, dentist etc. 6 weeks prior to leaving.
  • Travel insurance – critical – but also check your insurance covers your proposed activities (eg. If you are going skiing, diving and so on, carefully check the terms because you can be caught out).
  • Research where you’re going.
  • Pack carefully – make a list then pack in ten minutes to avoid unnecessary extras.
  • Be aware of scams.
  • Always tell someone where you’re going.
  • Leave valuables behind, only carry money.
  • Stay in touch with home / leave an itinerary.
  • Make friends with the hotel manager – they are good for safety tips, local information and many other things.

[some final tips]

1. Especially in ‘hot’ places keep an eye on local press and talk regarding what’s going on – they’ll pick up on issues or uprisings etc.  before national or international press.

2. Visit local tourist organisations and introduce yourself, say where you’re going, what you’re doing and ask for a letter for introduction. It can come in handy in sticky situations or if you’re in trouble.

3. 3-second rule (trust your gut) – look someone in the eye for three seconds, make a character judgement – stick with that impression no matter what.

4. Be careful when taking photos – you’re often not concentrating on what’s happening around you in order to capture ‘the shot’, so in pairs keep an eye out for each other so that no one is being robbed while they are photographing something.

5. Photo tips – make people laugh, use alternative angles and look for different places to take photos of famous landmarks (i.e. alternative vantage points from where most tourists are directed to take shots). Always ask for permission before taking someone’s photo.

6. When in a restaurant write notes – you look like a food critic and are more likely to receive better service!

How to write a Lonely Planet guide

Serious about being an author for Lonely Planet? Their recruitment notes on how to write a Lonely Planet guide state:

  • All applications are read:
  • You must demonstrate passion for travel
  • You must demonstrate destination knowledge
  • Writing experience required
  • Evidence of ‘special expertise’ (eg. Language, rock climbing, diving, other special interests, e.g. Lived, travelled, written; any evidence of independent travel)
  • Always meet deadlines and word count
  • NB. LP publications use simple sentences and language – be mindful they’re usually translated.


[This is a re-post from the archives. Originally posted July 13 2011, London]
When travel comes to an end – what to do when the adventure is ‘over’

When travel comes to an end – what to do when the adventure is ‘over’


Musings from 1 December 2011: Sitting in a darkened coach (which once upon a time I would have called a ‘bus’ – inside joke, ask Steve our Welsh Expat Explore driver ;-), on my way back from beautiful Whistler Village in British Columbia.

As I stare back at my own reflection in the window, unable to make out the Sea to Sky view into the black night, it hits me all of a sudden. It’s the day I knew it would nearly be all over, just a few days before we head back to Australia.

When travel comes to an end – what to do when the adventure is ‘over’

It’s hard to not feel a little overwhelmed by this realisation, as all the memories of packing, goodbyes and new beginnings during our first week staying in Bloomsbury come flooding back as if it was all just yesterday. What will I do when travel comes to an end?

I began updating my old Sugoi blog space a couple of years ago in 2009. Our very first entries document when we came up with a grand plan to drop everything and start a new life in London for a year or more (a smart or brave thing to do in our thirties?). We talk about plans, excitement, challenges, apprehension but most importantly the adventure that lay ahead.

Whistler in Canada

Since then I’ve had all manner of fodder to write about – new jobs, new homes, snow, Starbucks, dogs we’ve met in the park (or cafes, street or just about anywhere actually), first-times for everything from visiting European cities to being stuck in airports, and having to work out where to buy groceries and linen.

It’s been 16 mesmerising, special, amazing and unbelievable months. We’ve made new friends, embarked on adventures I never dreamed possible and visited places abroad that I never ever thought I’d have the opportunity to go.

I no longer shed a tear at the thought that I’ve ‘missed out’ on travel – feeling like I’ve lost the chance to gaze up at the glittering Eiffel Tower as it lights up into the evening or missed out on falling in love with Prague as I watch from the castle above the city.

I have had a chance to smile down at the Gondoliers as they calmly float on by through a Venetian canal, and be chastised by the Gladiators in Rome for taking a photo of them outside the Colosseum without paying my €5. There are so many things that make me smile now – memories that are mine and Cooper’s, not just scenes from a film.

Lighthouse Park Canada hiking outdoors

A couple of years ago for some reason I thought I’d lost all chance to follow my dreams of living and working overseas, but fate stepped in and opportunities arrived seemingly out of the blue. I’m super excited to go home – it was sad to leave our parents, siblings and dog. I can’t wait to give them all a big hug.

My brother now lives in Australia after being away in Japan for five years. It was really sad to literally pass him as he came back into the country and I decided to leave. Since we’ve been gone a new baby nephew has come into the world. What a happy little guy he looks to be; he’ll be sick of me kissing him by the time Christmas rolls around (as will my other 5-year-old nephew, come to think of it). It will be nice to have a ‘home’ base again, at least for the time being. I mean, I think even my computer is getting tired of moving around, with its flickering screen that keeps crashing every few minutes – makes getting through work very frustrating, but I can’t be too upset, it has seen me through travels and work from the Gold Coast to Cairns, London to Paris, throughout Europe, Scotland, Dublin and across to Prince Edward Island, down to Boston, across to British Columbia and beyond.

How though, do I come to terms with the end of life as I presently know it, where every day brings somewhere and someone new across my path? When I was in London I saw another travel writer Tweet something about this and I’ve saved his feature on file… somewhere… I remember the key message though. He was discussing his life as a traveller and a journalist and how each day abroad is addictive, intoxicating − especially for some personality types: the drug of a new day and the exciting type of challenges that the lifestyle brings.

When he touches back down at home and is planning to be there for an extended period sometimes it’s challenging in itself to get back to the ‘real world’.

The lesson, he pointed out, is that travel and adventure should teach us to bring the new found love of exploration back home. Explore places in your backyard that you might not usually go to or that you take for granted. Write about it, film and photograph, share tips, tricks and strike up new friendships that you would if you were a tourist.

Travel in Quebec and Montreal

My adventure has provided me with so much insight into what can be done – by me and others. I have a feature on the topic in the pipeline for a very fabulous Aussie national monthly women’s consumer magazine (out mid 2012), I’ve learned the value of blogging and social media from my time in London; I have learned to love and be inspired by music again (also thanks to London) and I have ideas and inspiration regarding the future.

Once upon a time I had looked on this day as the ‘end of the adventure’, but now I maintain the hope that it’s really only just beginning. Next year I have the privilege of going back to England as the new Blogger for Back-Roads Touring – something I would never have had the tools or knowledge to even consider entering in the first place but for this time outside of my comfort zone.

Following some supremely inspiring interviews with a series of women aged between 30 and 40 who all decided to do the same as me – take a mid-career pause to live, work and travel overseas – I realised that not one of us for a single second regret taking this ‘time out’ to pursue some kind of crazy Eat Pray Love dream.

In fact, each agrees that regardless of any fears prior to leaving ‘home’, all have returned with a greater sense of inspiration and knowledge we can do so much more than we ever thought possible. Certainly some, like myself, feel just a little bit broken hearted about leaving what became a ‘new home’ (whether it was London, Paris, Vancouver…) but we don’t believe the adventure is over. It’s life changing, both for what’s happened in the past and what will be directed to happen by us in the future.

When travel comes to an end, what to do when the ‘adventure is over’? Start a new one.

USA and Canada top travel tips and sites

USA and Canada top travel tips and sites

I thought it pertinent to stop by with a few quick tips based on our experiences because in all honesty, I’ve spent hours researching how to travel this side of the world on a budget.

I always thought it would be quite simple to ‘backpack’ through North America. Unfortunately it is much more expensive than I had anticipated, and the spaces between places we want to visit is much more vast than I originally understood. Cooper Dawson travel America

For example, it’s been a struggle to find a way to get out of Prince Edward Island (Canada) that is time or cost-effective (time over, I would have done this location first, then booked a flight long before to get a good rate; or taken a train out across to Montreal, rather than doing Toronto and Montreal first).

Also, the theory that it is ‘cheaper and more efficient’ to fly rather than ‘train’ or ‘bus’ it here is true. I’ve literally spent hours (if not weeks) investigating numerous possible routes and paths through to various cities, as well as accommodation options.

USA and Canada top travel tips and sites

a) Greyhound services are not great (that’s putting it mildly).

b) Amtrak services aren’t that terrific either – but I suppose I’ve been a bit spoilt for choice in Europe and the UK because the rail services there are excellent.

c) Hiring a car is more difficult than you would expect – if you want to hire a car in one place and drop it off in another, the prices are exorbitant, which defeats the purpose in the end.

Hiring a car isn’t such a bad option if you are happy to travel in a loop, back to the original destination. If you’re driving and want to camp, some mates made us aware of which offers details on free places you may set up camp. Sarah Blinco travel America

d) I always compare reviews on sites, and if in general the reviews address your individual requirements (eg. we don’t mind if somewhere is a bit older, as long as it is clean and close to public transport) then the place is probably worth a go.

I’ve found accommodation to be very expensive, especially in cities like Toronto, New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, so shop around and compare. I have generally been flicking between,, and comparing reviews on these sites against I’ve also begun adding reviews in on properties – it’s only fair to share your experience with others who may benefit in the future, and also to give a ‘thumbs up’ to properties that deserve a good review.

e) Throughout America I’ve found that Southwest Airlines is pretty good value (price and baggage). We also had a fantastic experience flying AirTransat (operates budget flights between Europe and Canada).

Alternatively I’ll shop around for flights on Also we’ve found to advertise inexpensive flights that are booked out – only you find this out after inputting credit card details and regardless of a message to say you’re not charged, I have random ‘tax’ charges on my credit card for transactions that were ‘cancelled’ which I’m yet to follow up.

f) Finally, if you’re in Canada, ViaRail is a decent option – relatively inexpensive, and even the economy seats are pretty good – large, there’s a power supply for computers etc. and on most journeys there is WiFi. The food car is reasonably priced too, but I’d still advise taking some of your own snacks.

In summary, probably best to choose a section of North America and travel it ‘bit at a time’, as it has proved an expensive exercise to hop from one side to the other. Still, keep saving because regardless of higher prices we adore this part of the world!

We love travelling around America and Canada! So fun and diverse.
By Sarah Blinco


That’s all folks – goodbye London Fields

That’s all folks – goodbye London Fields



Well, that’s it then.

After all that it appears it may already be over. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m writing this on my last morning in the UK. I never thought that on my way towards Canada (my ultimate travel destination) I’d feel despondent; I feel a bit like a broken-hearted girlfriend not ready to let it all go. Moving to England had its challenges and certainly it took us a good six months to settle in. Overcoming it all is part of the ultimate achievement though; in April we found a ‘home’ in a chic London Fields neighbourhood, settled in, the weather was sweet and I fell a little in love with London.

Apparently all good things must come to an end and although I’m grateful to finally get to travel to Canada again, I am sad to think it might a long while before I return to my ‘mother-land’ (which originally I had joked about, but I literally just discovered the sentiment to be true in a cool twist of history this week). Here is a land where I’ve fitted in, where the shopping is great, the people fun, surroundings energetic, buildings like The Tower of London are old and amazing and history of The Tudors and co. are everywhere in a contemporary setting, media and travel opportunities abound, and the pub culture is something that I actually enjoy…

Isn’t it ironic when you feel more at home somewhere else than ‘home’. Sounds like a song.

In preparation for this day, I’d compiled a list of my favourite things about England, specifically London. So, in celebration of the good times (which more often than not were at Bar Soho with our mates Nicole and Iain, Janice and Craig or the Fairbairn’s) I give you:


The things I love most about living here (ongoing list compiled 2010/2011):

1.It’s so cool (weather-wise) that I can wear my hair out (and grow it)! A simple pleasure but one that is difficult to enjoy in Queensland’s humidity.

2.Being able to wear hats, scarves and boots (special mention to Accessorize, and the accessories at Camden Markets)!

3.Darren Hayes and Gillian Anderson live here – awesome!

4.Seeing dogs bemused by squirrels in the park haha. And on that note, Squirrels score their own mention – I love ‘em. Have you ever noticed how they seem to play in pairs? So cute.

5. Grabbing a Starbucks latte on the way to the Tube.

6.My truly, genuinely nice bunch of Sparkle girls.

7. London Fields, Middleton Road, The Pub on the Park, Broadway Market.

London Fields

8.Dog people – everywhere!

9. Having the opportunity to meet inspiring writers, journalists, and people from all walks in general who are just really good (and accomplished) at what they do.

10.That people say ‘Bless You’: from others outside the UK it sounds a little out of place (except for my mum, she’s cute and has always said this); but many people say ‘Bless You’ affectionately here. I think it’s sweet, and quite ‘English’ in my experience.

And an honorary mention to Tesco, Saisburys, Waitrose, Boots and Superdrug – I miss you already.

It’s with a lump in my throat that I bid farewell to my ‘other’ home, all gloomy weather and grey skies that you generally may be. I hope to see you again sooner than anticipated. In the meantime who knows where we’ll end up? I only hope that the wishes we made upon superstitious monuments in various parts of Europe come true: that we continue to live happy, healthy, inspirational and adventurous lives. But shortly – time for a maple syrup fix! x




Alight Here (series): Green Park and London Bridge

Alight Here (series): Green Park and London Bridge

About Green Park and London Bridge

With only a few weekends to explore the parts of London we haven’t been to (and those we’d like to see again) we ventured out early to see how the ‘other half’ live in the wealthy Mayfair district. We researched the precinct and discovered that the majority of ‘tourist’ action and celebrity spotting occurs at the historical but chic Shepherd Market, a charming little piazza developed in the late 1730s, hidden away between Piccadilly and Curzon Street (just a few minutes walk from Green Park station; not far at all from The Ritz where Rhonda and I recently dined). The main road near the tube was buzzing and busy (as it usually is) with tourist buses stopping every few minutes to collect visitors for their trips around the city; and artists who were setting up dozens of paintings for sale along the walled entrance into Green Park itself.


We wandered down a signed old London alleyway that pointed the way towards Shepherd Market but unfortunately when we arrived there wasn’t much happening, so we stopped for a latte, meandered around the square and admired the old Victorian pubs and quaint boutiques for a while, then consulted the trusty BlackBerry for alternative Saturday exploration options.

We’re on a budget at the moment so looked up ‘free London attractions’. Of all the options, the Kensington Roof Gardens seemed like a great idea, although apparently they’re closed until mid-week (so stay tuned for that update); we decided instead to head back onto the Jubilee Line to London Bridge where I’d seen some interesting old shops and pretty cafes a few weeks earlier.

As it turns out, London Bridge is absolutely humming on Saturdays because of the famous Borough Market – a gathering that we’d even seen featured on The Travel Channel but had never been to because we rarely ventured to this side of London (until moving to the east in April). The whole area was loud and busy, with motor vehicles, train traffic, and thousands of people all out to score a delicious bargain at one of the many poultry, fish, curry, wine, cake, bread, cheese, fruit and vege stalls – a trading tradition that dates back beyond 1014!


We were in our element, sampling all manner of delights, and even found a stall that was promoting local wines – for a mere fiver we sampled six glasses (rosés, whites and reds) that are ‘home made’ in the UK, and learned about the history thanks to our lovely wine connoisseur, Dominique – a special shout-out to for this experience, and FYI we did choose to purchase a lovely bottle of Biddenden Gribble Bridge Rosé (budget… out the window again this weekend!).