Student Travel Writing Contest Offers $500 For Best Essay Of Student Life Abroad

Travel Writing ContestAre you a student who is aspiring to be a travel writer? Now’s your chance to strut your stuff and perhaps win $500.

Transitions Abroad has announced their 2013 Travel Writing Contest. It’s billed as “the only student travel writing contest to cover studying, working, interning, volunteering and living abroad.”

The contest is open to all “currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students, students who have graduated within the past year, and students currently on leave from school.” The judges want to see essays of 1,000-2,000 words that offer solid advice for adjusting to student life overseas. Check out their guidelines carefully before putting pen to paper.

First prize is $500; second prize is $150; third prize is $100; and runners-up get $50. All get published in “Transitions Abroad” print and webzine. Deadline is April 15.

It’s always a good idea to check out what won in the past. Last year’s winner was “A Foreigner in the Middle Kingdom: Living, Working, and Studying in China.” My personal favorite was the practical and insightful “A High School Summer in Egypt Studying Arabic: Practical Advice and Tips.”

Thanks to the excellent online writing newsletter Writing World for bringing this to my attention. Check out their site for tons of free advice of value to aspiring and experienced writers.

[Photo courtesy Sarah Rose]

Six things I’ve learned about travel writing after submitting 1000 posts for Gadling

SOmaliland, Sean McLachlan, travel writing
My blogger dashboard tells me, “you have written 465,451 words in 1,000 posts since you started publishing 1,048 days ago.” Wow! I’ve been working for this wonderful blog for that long? It’s been fun and I’ve learned some important things about travel writing.

The subjects are endless
I got into travel writing years before Gadling hired me, but working for a daily blog made me worried that I wouldn’t have enough material. Boy was I wrong! There’s always a new place to explore or a new exhibition opening or a new archaeological discovery. Instead of having too little to write about I’ve discovered that there’s too much to cover.

For some people, your work is a blank slate
A playwright I know complained to me that, “Some people will use your work as a blank slate on which to project whatever they see in the world.” While the vast majority a Gadling readers understand what they read, there’s a vocal minority who see whatever they want.
A couple of years ago I reported on a smoking ban in Egypt. The comments section erupted with dozens of tirades against the U.S. government restricting our right to smoke. Only a couple commenters acknowledged, “I know this article is about Egypt, but. . .”

It got so bad that one reader exploded:

“THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT EGYPT!!!!!!!! EGYPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NOT THE USA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALL YOU SMOKERS STILL HAVE YOUR RIGHTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO SHUT UP AND TALK ABOUT EGYPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Nice try, buddy. Nobody listened to you.I also did an article about the Loch Ness Monster going extinct. With tongue firmly in cheek, I wrote, “In the United States, liberals are saying Nessie died of shame from being called a ‘monster’ instead of the more politically correct term ‘evidence-challenged endangered species.’ Conservatives claim Nessie was the first victim of the death panels set up by Obama’s America-hating, terrorist-loving national health care.” Everyone got the joke except for some Obama supporters who piled on me, assuming I was some Bush-era devil. I even got messages in my public email account screaming at me about that one.

My public email address is easy to find if you Google me. I’m always happy to hear from readers. I had an interesting conversation about the Kensington Runestone just last week. The reader disagreed with my debunking it, but he was civil and cited sources. If only all such emails were so polite. I’ve been called a patriarchal Christian, a godless atheist, a fascist, a communist, a stupid American and an America-hating foreigner. Send me a nice email and we’ll chat. If you email saying you want me to be eaten by cannibals then the next time I go to Africa I’ll mock you and block you.

Want to cause controversy? Challenge basic assumptions
Sometimes I like poking the public with a stick by challenging long-cherished beliefs that have never really been thought through. I’m ornery that way and I like watching my editor’s hair turn gray. Saying stuff like “God should be referred to as and ‘it’ and not a ‘he,‘” or “you don’t have to bring your camera when you travel” challenges so-called truths that most people have never questioned. The knee-jerk reactions are predictable and fill up the comments section and my inbox.

I’m doing this less and less, because it has the opposite effect from what I intended. Instead of getting people to question their assumptions, most simply react angrily and strengthen their preconceptions rather than think about them.
I still might do a post on “Top ten reasons not to travel.” :-)

The more obscure the destination, the more they pay attention
When I wrote my series on Ethiopia and Somaliland I received a wonderful surprise — the wave of positive feedback from those countries. I got lots of happy comments and emails from Ethiopians and Somalis, and several local websites and even a Somali newspaper picked up my posts. These two nations unjustly suffer from negative stereotypes and so the locals were glad to see someone writing about all of the good things they had to offer.

An even more amazing response came when I wrote about the Athens War Museum as part of a series of how the Greek tourism industry is dealing with the economic crisis. I mentioned how I was disappointed because I couldn’t buy a copy of “A Concise History of the Balkan Wars 1912-1913” displayed at the counter. They didn’t have enough money to reprint it and so the last few copies were reserved for veterans. Only a few days later I got an email from a major in the Greek army offering me a copy! I have it on my desk now and it’s an excellent read.

Locals are your best coauthors
Before I go somewhere, I usually ask for tips from the Gadling team, other travel writers, and friends. Posting questions at the end of my articles always gets some great feedback from well-traveled Gadling readers. While this is all useful, the best help always comes from the strangers I meet while traveling. This works best when I stay put for a while, like when I lived in Harar, Ethiopia, for two months. Everyone was eager to tell me about their culture and show me the sights. People love it when you write about their hometown! They make my job easy.

Travel writing is important
Despite the many frustrations of travel writing and the (ahem) low pay, I think it’s more important than my history and fiction writing. This is such a divided world, filled with hatred, ignorance and fear. Chipping away at that negativity by showing people all the wonderful things other cultures have to offer is a noble profession, and I’m grateful to Gadling for giving me the chance to do it, and I’m grateful to all of you for the support I’ve received for my last 1,000 posts.

Morocco travel writing contest

Have you been to Morocco? Did you love it? Now’s your chance to tell the world and make a little money. Hey Morocco, the Morocco travel blog, is sponsoring a Morocco Travel Essay Contest.

The rules are simple. Submit one essay or journal entry of at least 750 words about an experience in Morocco or an aspect of Moroccan culture. Entries must be previously unpublished and become property of Hey Morocco, meaning they can publish it even if you don’t win. Full rules are on the site. First prize is $125, second prize is $75, third prize is $50. Deadline is August 31.

Writing contests are a great way to hone your skills and get your work noticed. Not sure how to go about it? Check out this article on how to win a writing contest written by a contest judge.

Photo courtesy Luke Robinson via Gadling’s flickr pool.

Win big with Trazzler’s travel writing contests

Do you ever read Gadling and say “I can do that”? Well, travel website Trazzler is looking for new talent. This July and August they’re accepting submissions for their On the Road Writing Contest.

They’re looking for short (about 65-120 words) pieces about “the in-between places, quirky attractions, scenic drives, irresistible pitstops, natural oases, sleepy forgotten towns, places of pilgrimage, roadside enigmas. . .” You get the picture. Prizes include free stays at luxury Fairmont hotels and freelance contracts to write for Trazzler. If you want to break into the crazy business of writing, a paying contract is a damn good prize.

To get some inspiration, check out their writing guidelines and some of the sample entries on the website. Don’t forget to read the rules carefully! A consistent complaint editors and judges have is that writers don’t read submission guidelines carefully enough, leading to otherwise good entries getting rejected.

Trazzler is also hosting a Smart Travel Writing Contest and the Mendocino Writing Contest. Both have some cool prizes. It looks like Trazzler is the place to be for budding travel writers.


Photo courtesy user ohad.me via Gadling’s flickr pool.

Cast your vote in Trazzler’s big summer contest

Trazzler, a website that provides travel inspiration through destination descriptions submitted by users and freelance writers, runs a monthly contest that usually offers a prize of $250, and a contract to write 10 trips for the website. For their summer contest however, the team at Trazzler decided to up the ante.

They’ve teamed up with NYCgo, AKA Hotels, and jetBlue to offer one lucky winner an amazing prize – a 2-week writer-in-residence contract in New York City (including free flight and accommodations), and $10,000 to write 30 trips about his or her experiences in the city. Over 800 entries fitting the theme “oasis” were submitted. 200 moved on to the semi-final round, in which the public can vote on their favorite. The ten trips with the most votes when the voting ends (Monday at 7:59pm Eastern time), will move on to round three, where a panel of judges will choose the grand prize winner.

I entered the contest, and have made it to the semi-finals, where I’m fighting to stay in the top ten. You can vote* for my trip, check out the others in the top ten, or “trazzle” through the site to find your perfect travel inspiration.

*To vote, you need to register for the website, which is easy to do if you sign up with Facebook. Then just click “wishlist” under the trip to vote. You can only vote once per trip, but you can vote for multiple submissions.