Paul Theroux (c/o Penguin General)
Article Words : Insider Secrets | 24 October 2019

Paul Theroux shares 9 top tips for aspiring travel writers

The legendary Paul Theroux is one of the world's best-loved travel writers. Here, he lays down the law on how to become a better, more meaningful travel writer...

1. Leave your camera at home

Be in the moment. When you take photos you're not looking close enough.

2. Capture the senses

Make sure you capture the sounds, the smell, the feel of a place. That will be much more interesting than any museum you may visit.

3. Disconnect from your old world

Avoid the internet. And your family.

Inside Mongolia's Trans-Siberian Railway (Shutterstock)

Inside Mongolia's Trans-Siberian Railway (Shutterstock)

Paul's newest book sees him road trip through Mexico (Shutterstock)

Paul's newest book sees him road trip through Mexico (Shutterstock)

Be bold, be truthful and leave everything behind. This idea of disconnecting yourself is very important to me. People going to a place and phoning home, blogging, checking their Facebook... leave that all behind.

4. Don’t think you’re interesting

Remember: it’s other people who are interesting.

5. Never carry anything that needs a battery

They always need charging. And they're a distraction anyway.

6. Observe intently

Chances are, you won't be coming back.

Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari journey took him overland from Cairo to Cape Town, pictured (Shutterstock)

Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari journey took him overland from Cairo to Cape Town, pictured (Shutterstock)

In his 2015 travelogue Deep South, Paul explored Mississippi, Arkansas and lesser-visited southern states (Shutterstock)

In his 2015 travelogue Deep South, Paul explored Mississippi, Arkansas and lesser-visited southern states (Shutterstock)

As far as reading about the history of a certain place or novels, I leave that until afterwards. I don’t want to research a place intensely, I want to discover it.

7. Be friendly and receptive

Having an attitude when you travel won't get you anywhere.

8. Keep a small notebook handy

Use it to make notes immediately. You'll be amazed by how quickly you'll forget things. I use a small notebook. I don’t have a tape recorder. I take notes. Then at night, I write up my notes, write up the day. I don’t dread it, but I do think ‘I’ve got to do this.’

9. Dialogue is essential

Make your work full of human conversations. The best books are about human encounters.

For The Happy Isles of Oceania (1993), Paul travelled across the Pacific, ending up in Easter Island, Chile (Shutterstock)

For The Happy Isles of Oceania (1993), Paul travelled across the Pacific, ending up in Easter Island, Chile (Shutterstock)

Paul travelled to Xinjiang, China when writing Riding The Iron Rooster (1988)

Paul travelled to Xinjiang, China when writing Riding The Iron Rooster (1988)

Go far away, and go to places that people tell you not to go to. Take a leap in the dark is the best advice I can give. Things will happen.

Paul Theroux's latest travelogue, On the Plain of Snakes, is published by Penguin and is available to buy now.

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