Welcome to The Great Affair’s Resources page!
I’ve been traveling and living abroad since 2008, and supporting myself as a freelance writer and illustrator since 2011, so this page is where I’ve brought together all of the resources and recommendations that have helped me over the past nine years.
Firstly, you’ll find a section of my free eBooks available for immediate download. There are also three areas I’m asked the most questions about — how to start travel sketching, how to get started as a travel writer, and how to create a life of travel — so I hope the following links will help you make those new experiences happen. Finally, I’ve created a condensed archives section, organized around some of the themes and places I write most about here, in case you’d like to read more of The Great Affair.
Table of Contents
- Free eBooks
- How to start travel sketching
- How to get started in travel writing
- How to create a life of travel
- The Great Affair archives
And as always, if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to write me at [email protected]
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1. Free eBooks and PDFs
Branding for Writers
I created this eBook for my morning workshop on branding for writers at the 2016 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference, to help you define your vision, voice, and value as a writer and create a deeper emotional connection with your readers.
Writing for the Web
At the 2015 Book Passage conference, I taught about writing for the web, specifically covering what stories do well on the web and why, the art and science of pitching, and online outlets that pay above $100 for stories. Learn how to find more homes for your stories online.
Travel Sketching 101
After six years of being a sketch artist, I finally pulled together everything I’ve come to know and love about sketching and put it in one place: A free, 50-page ebook called Travel Sketching 101.
It’s chock-full of tips, sketches, and some of my favorite quotes about sketching, but most importantly, there are three key parts to help you get started: Sketching process, sketching supplies, and rewards of sketching.
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2. How to start travel sketching
When I first started travel sketching in January of 2011, I could never have imagined it one day becoming an integral part of my vocation. All I knew was that I loved the traveler it made me into — how it slowed me down, opened up my senses, and helped me connect with people in the places I was visiting. If you’re looking for a way to create your own unique record of your journeys, I hope the following section will inspire you to bring a sketchbook and watercolors along on your next trip.
I recently wrote a post for National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel site called Travel Sketching 101, where I outlined in-depth the supplies I use and recommend. Here’s a quick run-through of the supplies you might want to try out, including links to the specific brands and sizes I’ve come to love over the years:
- Pencils – Derwent sketching pencils, specifically with a hardness of HB
- Erasers – extra soft vinyl erasers, such as this Vanish 4-in-1 artist eraser
- Drawing pens – Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens (I prefer the extra fine nib)
- Watercolor kit – Winsor & Newton Cotman Compact Set or their professional-grade Artists’ Watercolor Compact Set
- Brushes – Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor brushes (I use round sizes 2 and 4), and a synthetic squirrel hair brush by Mimik (round size 6)
- Sketchbook – Canson Montval wire-bound watercolor pads (8.5” x 5.5”) or their hardcover watercolor field book (10” x 7”), as well as Moleskine’s watercolor notebooks (I recently started using their 3.5” x 5” pocket notebook)
- Water container
- Bag (any one will do, really, but I’m a particular fan of Quotable Cards’ 7”-square pouches)
As I’ve discovered through my own journey as a sketch artist, practice may not make perfect but it certainly makes better, and I strongly feel there isn’t a more effective way of growing as an artist than by simply spending some quality time with your sketchbook. But the following books might also be of help — providing inspiration as well as as technical advice.
This book was written by Gabriel Campanario, who is the Seattle Sketcher for the Seattle Times as well as the founder of Urban Sketchers (which I’ll share more about below). In addition to sharing tips and techniques for sketching, it includes over 500 illustrations from artists around the world, giving you a broad idea of sketching styles. He has also released two shorter Urban Sketching handbooks, one on drawing architecture and cityscapes, and another on capturing people and motion.
Written by veteran art teacher and illustrator Barbara Bradley, this is the book for you if you’re like me and find people the most difficult subject to sketch. A good friend and fellow artist recommended it to me, and I spent a lot of time last year working my way through it, listening to podcasts while I practiced figure drawing. I’ve still got a long ways to go towards feeling comfortable sketching people live on-location, but this book definitely helped.
Organizations and workshops
As I wrote above in regards to attending writing conferences and workshops and the power of connecting with people face-to-face, I feel similarly about plugging into groups and organizations devoted to sketching. While I often enjoy sketching on my own, in order to stay open to serendipitous encounters with those around me, I also love joining up to sketch with fellow artists, as I never cease to be inspired by the way we interpret the same scene in our own unique voice and style.
I discovered Urban Sketchers not long after I started sketching, an international organization devoted to the art and practice of sketching on-location. Not only do they organize a symposium once a year (which in the past has been held in such diverse locations as Singapore, Barcelona, and Paraty, Brazil), but they also offer workshops around the world and have regional chapters in 35 countries, as well as in nearly 20 cities across the U.S. Many of these regional chapters host monthly ‘sketchcrawls,’ or group sketching events, and are an excellent way to connect with and learn from fellow sketch artists in your hometown.
Another organization that offers a series of video-based workshops is the online art school Sketchbook Skool, which seeks to “inspire creative storytelling through illustrated journaling.” Each course lasts six weeks and covers topics such as seeing, stretching, storytelling, and playing. While my love for sketching has always been tied to travel, I appreciate how the Sketchbook Skool encourages you to sketch on an everyday basis, drawing inspiration from even the seemingly ordinary objects in your home.
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3. How to get started in travel writing
Before I serendipitously typed “Masters in Travel Writing course” into Google one evening in 2010, my only knowledge of the genre of travel writing came from binge-reading Bill Bryson. Once I discovered such a genre exists, however, I swiftly set out on a self-education, learning as much as I could about travel writing — all of which I’ve tried to round up in the following section.
Now in its third edition, this book by renowned travel writer and editor Don George truly covers everything you need to know about pursuing the profession of travel writing — from crafting a meaningful travel story, to getting published both online and in newspapers and magazines, to honing the essential qualities of a travel writer. Also woven throughout the book are interviews with top editors, writers, and agents, as well as exercises and examples of great articles.
Literary travel anthologies
While you might be more familiar with the myriad guidebooks Lonely Planet publishes, every year they also release a collection of literary travel stories and essays, edited by Don George as well. If you’re looking to write narrative travel stories, these anthologies are a perfect place to begin immersing yourself in the genre — from The Kindness of Strangers to An Innocent Abroad. Bay Area-based Travelers’ Tales is another publisher of literary travel anthologies, including annual volumes of The Best Travel Writing and The Best Women’s Travel Writing.
In my own experience, getting started in travel writing was a huge exercise in self-education, reading and learning as much as I could on my own — and yet conferences have also played an essential role in helping me become part of the industry. Not only are they a great way to interact with other people in your field, but they’re also a chance to meet your heroes face-to-face — and you never know where those connections could lead.
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of this celebrated conference, co-founded by Don George and renowned photographer Robert Holmes and held every August in Corte Madera, California. Lasting four days, each morning is devoted to in-depth workshops on topics such as personal essays, article writing, and writing for the web, and afternoons are organized around multiple panel sessions. I’ve attended Book Passage three times as a student and taught there twice as a faculty member, and I can safely say that being part of the conference has changed my life.
While Book Passage is focused on travel writing, if you’re interested in learning more about the in’s and out’s of travel blogging, check out TBEX, short for the Travel Blog Exchange, versions of which take place three times a year in North America, Europe, and Asia. Breakout sessions are organized around the themes of Content, Commerce, and Community, meaning that you can focus your conference experience on the topics you would most like to grow your knowledge in.
Once you’ve started building your portfolio as a travel writer, this is a third conference to consider, whose model is also different to Book Passage and TBEX. To attend Travel Classics, you’ll need to submit a list of recently published articles and two clips upon registration, but you’ll also have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with commissioning editors from top travel publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Condé Nast Traveler, AFAR, The Wall Street Journal, Sunset, and American Way.
Workshops and classes
Besides attending conferences, joining a weekend or weeks-long travel writing workshop can be a perfect way to delve into the genre and hone your craft. I’ve divided this section based on workshops available in a few key cities, but you can also start by searching for workshops in your hometown, as well as online.
The Gotham Writers’ Workshop offers both an in-class and online versions of its ten-week travel writing workshop.
At the start of every year, Don George teaches a six-week travel writing intensive at the Corte Madera branch of Book Passage. Similarly, Larry Habegger — another long-time faculty member at the Book Passage conference, and co-founder of Travelers’ Tales — teaches a seven-week travel writing workshop every fall.
Veteran UK travel writer Peter Carty offers two versions of his travel writing workshop — either a full-day experience or a set of four nightly workshops. Travellers’ Tales (not to be confused with the aforementioned Travelers’ Tales) also offers a variety of workshops, from a half-day session on travel blogging to a weekend-long masterclass on travel journalism. After I moved to London to study on my master’s course, I attended the Travellers’ Tales masterclass as well as Peter Carty’s workshop, and can highly recommend them both.
Every July, the Paris American Academy holds the Paris Writing Workshop, where Rolf Potts and Dinah Lenney teach the creative nonfiction track, a central focus of which is travel writing.
Seattle-based travel writer Naomi Tomky offers a ten-week online travel writing course through Writers.com called Travel Writing: From Press Trips to Punctured Tires.
As important as it is to attend workshops and conferences, another key way to grow as a writer is simply to read great writing — as author Dani Shapiro says in her book Still Writing, “fill your ears with the music of good sentences, and when you finally approach the page yourself, that music will carry you…It will exhort you to do better. To not settle for just good enough. Reading great work is exhilarating. It shows us what’s possible.”
A few online travel writing publications I recommend checking out (and pitching stories to):
- BBC Travel
- Compass Cultura
- Roads & Kingdoms
- Vela Magazine
- Wanderlust by GeoEx
- [Wherever] Magazine
- World Hum
And if you’re interested in writing for yourself online, check out these great travel blogs, all of which feature strong storytelling:
- Audrey Scott and Dan Noll – Uncornered Market
- Brenna Holeman – This Battered Suitcase
- Christine Gilbert – Almost Fearless
- Jodi Ettenberg – Legal Nomads
- Kim Dinan – So Many Places
- Matt Kepnes – Nomadic Matt
- Mike Sowden – Fevered Mutterings
- Shannon O’Donnell – A Little Adrift
- Torre DeRoche – The Fearful Adventurer
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4. How to create a life of travel
While I’ve shared many of my own favorite travel sites below, I also highly recommend checking out the resources pages that Jodi of Legal Nomads and Nomadic Matt have put together, both of which are incredibly comprehensive.
When it comes to finding flights, these are two my go-to sites — I especially recommend Kayak for its Explore tool, where you can enter your departure city and view prices for destinations across the globe, which just might inspire you to visit somewhere you hadn’t considered. I’ve also recently become a huge fan of Norwegian Air, who offer extremely affordable transatlantic flights between the U.S. and Europe (a one-way flight from Orlando to Oslo for $217 was my favorite find of the year).
Once I’ve arrived in a new destination, my favorite way to explore the region is overland, especially by train. This site offers in-depth information for train travel across the world (as well as bus services, where traveling by train isn’t possible), covering everything from routes and timetables to conditions once you’re on board.
This is the site I always visit first when I’m considering a new place, especially as it includes great budget accommodation suggestions. There are two other features in particular that I’m a fan of — the “Get out” section that recommends nearby off-beat places, islands, or villages to visit, and as a woman often traveling on my own, I also appreciate the “Stay safe” section, as there are notes about precautions you can take in that city, which neighborhoods to avoid, etc.
I will always be a budget traveler at heart, so my first stops when looking for accommodation are HostelWorld, HostelBookers, and the above-mentioned Wikitravel. This year, however, I started using AirBnb for the first time when searching for long-term accommodation options, and I have to say it has proved quite helpful (especially when it helped me find this casita to rent on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala for $620/month).
I couldn’t end this section on traveling recs without mentioning The Adventurists. If you’re looking for an adventure to remember, especially one to undertake with a couple of friends, this is the company to check out — whether it’s driving a rickety three-wheeled auto-rickshaw 2,000 miles across India or a vintage Ural motorcycle across Siberia in the frozen heart of winter, the myriad (mis)adventures they offer will ensure you have no shortage of stories to impress your grandchildren with one day.
In my own experience, working abroad was how I found my feet as a traveler. Not only did it mean I didn’t have to save up a huge amount before I left, as I would be earning once I arrived in each new country, but it was also a great way to get to know the culture on a deeper level. The following are a couple of ideas of how I found work opportunities around the world.
My first experience of working overseas was made possible by a work-exchange company called BUNAC, which was once short for British Universities North America Club and is now owned by STA Travel. Although the scheme I was able to work in the UK through has since been retired, they still offer a wide range of opportunities, from an Intern in Britain program, to working holiday packages in Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland (see more about these below), to a marine conservation internship in Mexico.
Working Holiday visa programs
Another opportunity I didn’t learn about until I started traveling is the working holiday visa, a residence permit that is often good for a year and available to travelers ages 18-30 (or in some cases, 35). For Americans, the available countries are Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, but Canadians and other nationalities have even more opportunities. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of working holiday visa schemes listed here.
If you’re looking to volunteer while traveling, this is one of the best sites to begin your search at. The site’s founder, Shannon O’Donnell (who also runs the blog A Little Adrift), is passionate about helping travelers invest their time and resources in community-based organizations that have real lasting local impact. To do so, she has put together a comprehensive database of volunteering opportunities around the world, as well as a list of social enterprises and small businesses to support along the way.
Another option for volunteering is WWOOF, a network of organic farms in more than 100 countries. The basic premise of “wwoofing” is that volunteers spend a few hours a day helping out with small tasks in exchange for accommodation and food. While many of the hosts are looking for people to help with quite traditional farming tasks, you never know what opportunities you’ll stumble across through WWOOF — I once spent three weeks on a black pearl farm in French Polynesia. Similarly, WorkAway is also a great place to find free exchange opportunities around the world.
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5. The Great Affair archives
Since I started this site in 2008, I’ve published nearly 400 posts on a myriad of themes and places. In case you’d like to spend a bit more time reading here, I’ve distilled the past seven years into 50 posts that I feel best represent the stories I strive to share. In addition, I’ve organized them under three umbrella categories — adventures with a sketchbook, adventures on the road, and adventures in life — in the hopes that you won’t have to spend too long poking around to find the posts that interest you.
Adventures with a sketchbook
Although I began sketching in 2010, it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I discovered my sketchbook’s greatest gift — the way it helps me connect with people. These stories all celebrate the serendipitous encounters that have unfolded through sketching.
October 2013 – Cider, songs, and serendipity in a Dublin pub
December 2013 – Poinsettias and post office revelations
September 2014 – Drawing connections in Cartagena
March 2015 – Drawing connections in Girona
Sketching Southeast Asia and Japan
In the spring of 2013, I put together my first official sketching trip — Sketching Southeast Asia and Japan — during which I spent six weeks sketching my way through seven countries, drinking my weight in bubble tea, and connecting with locals.
Sketching Eastern Europe
After winning a flight to Prague through a writing contest, I then organized my second sketching trip, which found me weaving my way across Eastern Europe, pulling out my sketchbook at every possible point en route to Istanbul. And for a few tips on traveling through the region, check out my Great Affair’s guide to getting off the beaten path in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
September 2013 – Sketching the Czech Republic: Serendipity in a cemetery
September 2013 – Sketching Austria: Magic in a Viennese coffeehouse
September 2013 – Sketching Hungary: In search of the sun in Hortobágy
September 2013 – Sketching Bosnia and Herzegovina: A million little moments in Mostar
October 2013 – Sketching Croatia: Chance encounters and island wisdom
Sketching the yurt life on Salt Spring Island
The start of 2014 pleaded for me to slow down and build more stillness into my life. As an answer, I found a cozy yurt to rent for three months on rural Salt Spring Island in western Canada, where I loved sketching my new home and daily rhythms.
March 2015 – Introducing the yurt: A watercolor housewarming
March 2015 – A watercolor wander to Burgoyne Bay
April 2015 – The eternal circle: An illustrated history of yurts
April 2015 – Notes on sketching the places we call home
Adventures on the road
The Rickshaw Run
In 2011, I dropped my card into a raffle drawing and was shocked when my name was drawn — not only had I just won a trip to India, I was sent off to drive an auto-rickshaw 2,000 miles across the country, as a part of the infamous Rickshaw Run.
September 2011 – Stayin’ alive: Surviving the Rickshaw Run
September 2011 – Loaded up: A week in review of the Rickshaw Run
September 2011 – Finished? or, the end is just the beginning…
September 2011 – Top ten landscapes of the Rickshaw Run
October 2011 – Good eats on the Rickshaw Run
Further adventures in India
After my first three months in India in 2011, I knew I needed more time there. In August of 2012, I returned to Delhi and spent an additional six months working and traveling around the country, a place that left me forever changed not only as a traveler, but simply as a human being. If you’re thinking of traveling to India soon, check out my guide to traveling alone as a woman in India, as well as a guest post I wrote for Nomadic Matt in 2013 on staying safe in the country.
January 2013 – Consider the pigeon: Notes on taking flight
February 2013 – Grateful in Goa: The greatest gift we can give ourselves
August 2013 – Notes on traveling alone as a woman in India
The Evliya Çelebi Way
To round out my time in Eastern Europe in 2013, I spent three weeks walking a 350-km solo trek through Turkey known as the Evliya Çelebi Way, an experience that was as emotionally challenging as it was physically. If you’re thinking of trekking the route yourself, be sure to check out my Great Affair’s Guide to Trekking the Evliya Çelebi Way.
November 2013 – Notes from the Evliya Çelebi Way: Days 1-4
November 2013 – Notes from the Evliya Çelebi Way: Days 5-9
November 2013 – Notes from the Evliya Çelebi Way: Days 10-14
November 2013 – Notes from the Evliya Çelebi Way: Days 15-20
November 2013 – Notes from the Evliya Çelebi Way: Days 21 and 22 to Simav!
Adventures in life
On pursuing our dreams
The process of pursuing our dreams is far from a simple one — when should we be patient and wait for life to move? When is it time to take action? I’ve loved exploring these questions over the years in some of my most personal posts on the site.
August 2013 – Notes on living with an open heart
December 2013 – Decisions are like dominoes, and other lessons
January 2014 – Notes on shifting gears and slowing down
July 2014 – Notes on listening to the flow
On moving beyond our comfort zone
Life change — there isn’t anything I dread more and yet take so much delight in, especially when it comes to writing about it. These posts form another series of more personal essays, which I hope might encourage you on your own journey.
October 2010 – On life outside our comfort zone
January 2012 – Life change: The good, the bad, and the terrifying
August 2012 – On [not] doing that thing you most want to do
August 2013 – Onwards, onwards: Notes on five years of travel
On walking through doubt
To be human — especially one engaged in creative endeavors — is to be open to periods of darkness, loneliness, and doubt. From staying present to failing forward, these posts explore the more difficult moments along our journeys — in travel and in life.
December 2011 – Be here now: On living in the moment
March 2012 – When decisions meet disasters
May 2014 – Notes on walking in the dark
July 2014 – The day I lost my travel mojo
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How else can I help?
If you have any other questions I can help with, don’t hesitate to send me an email [email protected], and if you’d like to receive free weekly updates from The Great Affair, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter here.
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