Ian Belcher won the coveted Consumer Writer of the Year title at last year’s Travel Media Awards. Here he tells us how he finds the human heart in his stories, the importance of thinking laterally in difficult times and how travel writing might evolve.
Make sure you enter your own work into the 2022 Travel Media Awards before 29 April — it’s free and simple to do here.
What does it mean to you to have won a Travel Media Award?
Freelance writers often work in something of a void, with little or no feedback, so it’s always good to learn that someone somewhere (besides your parents and gran) finds merit in your articles, particularly when those judging them are in the industry. The fact that the category was decided over five features also suggests you’ve managed to hit a level of consistency while displaying a variety of styles across a range of titles. That said, it’s still a surprise to win — there are so many decent writers out there. Of course, given the past year, it’s also pleasing to remind editors, PRs and fellow hacks that you’re still alive and kicking, or rather scribbling.
What were your biggest challenges in the past year?
Like every other writer, it was a year marked by restricted borders and the second guessing of government decisions. Add in home schooling, a period of illness and helping to look after a vulnerable relative, and what travel I did was focused on the UK. It was tough but not impossible. You had to think laterally and, where feasible, provide a fresh slant on a destination from pre-lockdown travels.
What makes a really good travel story?
People. A story without a human heart and voice is sadly lacking. People can tell you so much about a place and its daily life, reveal fresh and wonderful details about a destination and help to instil elements of narrative and humour. Quotes, used sparingly and tightly, add the colour that helps an article leap off the pages. Naturally, you also want a distinctive tone, a fresh eye and a clear structure without a cliche in sight. That should just about do it.
Which destinations are on your travel list for 2022?
Certainly more UK stories, along with Europe by train and — as it’s somewhere I once lived and have returned to write about repeatedly over recent decades — southern Africa. I love Alaska and western Canada, particularly the Yukon, but will now be aiming to restrict long-haul travel. As my own children grow up, I’m also aiming to write more family stories, although making them entertaining, with an appeal to a wider audience, is fiendishly tricky.
Do you think travel writing will change over the next few years?
Definitely. Although the basics of interesting and appealing travel writing remains the same, the industry has to become more inclusive by embracing writers from different backgrounds and cultures. If it fails to evolve, it will be increasingly irrelevant. Climate change will inevitably have an impact, too. Why always fly someone to a destination if you have good, knowledgeable writers on the spot, or close to it? They’ll provide more context for less carbon.