In the age of the internet, discount airlines and google earth it is safe for a travel writer to assume that everyone has seen everything. You are not going impress readers with your discovery of the Taj Mahal or Vietnamese beef noodle soup. You will paddle up some obscure Amazonian tributary to investiage a tribe who ritually licks the back of an hallucionegenic frog only to find a gang of New-Agers there waiting for you, having followed the blogs of the lot who visited last year. In fact, I sometimes suspect that the recent revival of travel writing is due to the fear that very shortly everywhere will be much like everywhere else, and we should valorize variance when and wherever we can.
Now, you may wish to write purely for money or the very moderate notoriety that comes with having your name on a book cover or in the by-line of an article. If so, you will need to practice until you have reached a first-year university level of competence, you will need luck, a few good contacts and the energy to self-promote, and you will eventually get what you want. However, if you want to write the kind of work that matters, that lasts, then the travel writer, and the travelling writer (I am more the latter) must meet two primary challenges ...
The first, is the need to relay some genuine and unique experience to your reader. That is, to write because you have something to say, apart from the surprise that you have turned up in what for you is an unusual place. Famously, the Koran does not make any mention of camels – local colour can be your enemy as well as your friend, and if your book or article begins to look like the amazed journal of a 18th Century Botanist, then you will lose a readers's belief in your authority, as well as bore him or her to tears. Likewise, making up for a lack of action with historical scaffolding i.e. I sat down and had a coffee. It was here that Voltaire first proclaimed ... can be a very dicey business – decent readers know when you have nothing really to offer apart from your travels on the internet that happened to have occured in another country.
Secondly, you must tell the truth. This might seem an obvious thing. But if it were as obvious as it seems, I think we would encounter it more often. I don't mean you can't fudge the odd bus trip you didn't make, or put words in the mouth of someone which were said by someone else, but you must not be afraid to say things that do not sit with the prevailing orthodoxy. The truth is not always comfortable, but the transmission of it is the only reason literature exists at.
I have fallen foul of many a cultural gatekeeper with my most recent book, because I told the truth of a particular situation rather than refract my experiences through the middle-class Anglophone sensibilities of my audience. I make no appologies for this, for what kind of writer would I be if I kept the truth to myself? Now, it may be that a certain amount of ideological propoganda is necessary for a society to function. The ideology espoused by Australian soaps are, I am sure, a positive socialising influence. And my advice to readers who would prefer to read books that confirm what they already believe about the world is to close their eyes, walk into a book store and buy a copy out of the first stack they fall over. But as a writer of the kind I assume you want to be, you must learn to strip away all you've learnt, all you've heard and been taught to believe about a certain place, people or thing and see it as it is. This is a difficult, perhaps impossible, task. But when you are doing it as well as you might, you will truly be gaining expereince, and then, if you are lucky, you will have something to bring down from the mountain to the tribe, rather than merely rehash the natterings, gossip and desires of the tribe itself.
Pensees - spelling and punctuation mistakes and all ... I believe at least three quarters of what I say. ... And the good stuff only stays posted for an hour or two.