Two years ago, if you had told Christine Retschlag that borders would be closed and travel banned, she would never have believed you. Having worked as a Freelance Travel Writer for almost 17 years, and as a Journalist for more than 30, she has always loved packing a suitcase and filing stories from fascinating destinations around the globe. But not even a global pandemic could stop Christine from creating wanderlust-inducing travel content and supporting an industry in crisis.
Christine shared her experience as a Travel Writer as part of Telum’s Post Lockdown Travel Journalism series. The series, featuring comments from journalists across Australia, explores the current travel content landscape, as it emerges from a global hiatus. The series will run across several alerts this week.
From the newsroom to business class
Christine fell into writing after a trip to Singapore. She was a Senior Journalist at The Courier-Mail, and following months of reporting on a particularly gruelling case involving a child in foster care, her Chief of Staff suggested she needed a break. A business class flight and a cruise up the Malacca Straits saw her cross paths with a group of travel writers, a meeting Christine fondly recalls as "one of the turning points" in her life. "I thought, why am I sitting in miserable courtrooms, reporting on child abuse, poverty, sexual assault, and murder, when I could be out in the world reporting on the positive side of life?" she said. Since then, Christine has made a name for herself travelling the globe, chronicling her adventures for publications in Australia and abroad.
Her favourite destination
For Christine, narrowing down her favourite place to visit is almost an impossible task. She has enjoyed some of the best times in the worst places, and some of the worst times in the most glamorous places. One trip she will never forget was a walking tour with polar bears through arctic Canada. "One polar bear was about 400 kilos and he came within 10 metres of us," she said. "He was so gentle and we just stood on the ice and we cried."
Rather than let the COVID-19 border closures completely stop her from creating travel content, Christine decided to "embrace it and travel as much and as far and wide" as she could in her home state of Queensland - from places she hadn't been for many years, to new places she had never considered visiting. In the last 18 months, she has completed 14 trips around Queensland and published stories on many of them. She has also taken the time to "upskill" in areas, including digital content creation, that she didn't have time for while out on the road.
Putting pen to paper
When it comes to the nitty-gritty of writing, Christine said she likes to suspend her ego. "There's a lot of writers who write from a first-person perspective - and there's nothing wrong with that - as long as you somehow invite your readers along on the journey," she said. According to Christine, keeping her audience in mind is key. "You've got to remember - the readers don't care that you are in a beautiful Outback spa under the night sky, looking at a thousand stars. You somehow need to write a story in a way that puts them in that bath under the stars," she said.
Christine also believes good travel writers will now look beyond the to-do lists and bucket lists. In recent years before COVID-19, she was drawing on her experience reporting on social issues to inspire her content. "I was trying to seek stories which told the characters behind a destination," she said. One example was when she encountered SASANE, a social initiative created to empower female survivors of human trafficking in Nepal. "They're the stories that make my heart sing," she said.
Travel writing - it's not what you expect
Travel writing isn’t all poolside cocktails and business class plane tickets, as Christine can attest. "You're on the go from the minute you arrive at your destination to the minute you leave. I often used to say in Europe, I would work around 20-hour days because when the European day was winding down, the Australian working day was just starting," she said.
For a Travel Writer, it's not uncommon to be dragged from pillar to post by people with vested interests, who want to show you things they think would make for a good story, but in reality may not cater to your audience. "You have to sometimes travel with people you may not wish to travel with, and put up with some big egos. You never get to swim in a hotel swimming pool - that's what taking the holidays are for. But would I swap it? Not for the world," Christine said.
Working with PRs
When it comes to travel-related PR content, Christine said there are too many "cut-and-paste jobs." She wants to see pitches that go a step further. "For me, you would send something that was very social-issues based or spiritual or involves luxury with a twist - not just your stock-standard story that goes out to every single travel writer," she said. She also noted that flexibility is important, so everyone involved can get the best possible outcome and keep all stakeholders engaged.
Tips for budding writers
According to Christine, travel writing comes down to discipline. "I am renowned for sitting on a flight at three o'clock in the morning, while everyone else is dead asleep, and I'm already writing my stories for when I land," she said. For Christine, it's important to get the story written while it's still fresh, and before the demands of normal life start to creep back in.
And her top tip for emerging travel writers? "Don’t forget your notebook. The best things will happen the minute you leave your notebook back in your hotel room."
Where to next?
While she has never been a big bucket list person, as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, Christine said travelling anywhere right now would be a pretty attractive notion. "Where is next? Wherever the next great story is and wherever that is, I hope you'll find me there soon!"
Answers submitted by Christine Retschlag, Freelance Travel Writer