Travel writing has never really occurred to me, apart from in dreams of when I was a multi millionaire and didn’t have to worry about money. No way did I have the funds to go out on my own and build a portfolio without becoming part of the hive mind of 9 – 5 business people. So when I stumbled across CTR (City Travel Review), which is an amazing opportunity for young people who are on a gap year, or have just finished uni, or have quit their desk job to follow their dream. The scheme – which has won quite a few awards – allows you to be a travel writer for between 1 – 3 months at one of the cities they have on offer (Edinburgh, Berlin, London, Madrid, Lyon, Barcelona). The website looked great, but after much internet trolling the only other reference I could find to the scheme was on a blog a few years old. I’m not sure whether it just wasn’t explained very well in the blog, or whether it was simply out of date, but after reading it and experiencing it I was totally unprepared for it.
What do I do exactly…?
Now, this is a question my team and I were asking ourselves right up until we handed in our project. Your entire aim of the course is to produce a travel guide. You will be working in a small group – about half the size of the actual project group (10 max). When you have your first meeting you will meet the two editors who are your ‘guides’ along the way. They are there to listen in on your meetings, but mostly to provide feedback on your own personal writing style and to answer any questions. Or, if you really get off track with the project, bring you back to where you should be. The rest is entirely down to you.
There are three groups within your small team: layouters, editors and writers. Everyone is a writer, not everyone is a layouter or editor.
Layouters are theoretically meant to volunteer for the role, as editors are, but usually Lutz (who is the coordinator of the project) asks you to raise your hand if you’ve had experience in graphics design or layout before. In which case you’ll be put on that team. If there are left over spaces others will be asked to volunteer for the role. You will need to bring a laptop with you, it should be a very modern one as you will be asked to download a programme onto your laptop to do it. It’s a free trial you will get for a week (unless Lutz has taken to heart our complaining and finally brought one). It is a very stressful role, but you are in charge of the whole look of the final project. It’s demanding, and you need to work well with others. There are three positions for this group.
Editors nominate themselves for the role. Their function is to proofread the reviews sent in by writers, send back recommended changes and generally make sure the tone for the whole thing is coherent and doesn’t sound like it’s written by 10 different people. It’s difficult but it’s good fun. You’ll need to set deadlines for the rest of the group and most likely hound them for their reviews so they are on time. Within the editors group are two special roles. There is the Photo Editor, whose job it is to collect all the photos for the reviews and to select the best ones and tell writers to go out and take some more. The photo editor also works with the layouters to get any extra images they feel they need e.g. cover photos, headers, writers pictures. Then there is the Editor-in-Chief. I was very lucky and honoured to be given this position. This is the only position which is elected by the whole group out of the editors – or someone falls into the role. I kinda fell into it. This person needs to be extremely organised as you’re going to be coordinating with the writers, editors and layouters. You make the final calls when arguments start – and trust me they will. You also keep the meetings on track, check over all the other editors work to make sure they have done it right, and you will also probably be good with excel as you will need to keep track of who is writing what, who has handed in what, and whether it has been edited and is ready to be put into the magazine yet. It’s a hard job but very rewarding.
Writers are self explanatory really, but just to outline what a review should actually be might be helpful as we sure as hell didn’t know what to do. Each writer is expected to have written eight reviews by the end of the month (unless you are a layouter then you only have to do six). You can do more, but you can’t do less. You will be given the Essential Review list on your second week. These are places around the city they want you to include because a travel guide without them would be silly. These are mainly the historical places most of you will think are boring, but they include a few lakes and entertainment parks which are hot tourist places. Writers will divide this list up between them. We ended up with four essential reviews each that we had to do – some of us took on a few more because we already wanted to review those places (history nerd over here holla). You write between 150 – 200 words per review. The other four reviews are entirely up to you – you can do anything you want to.
Features: As well as writing reviews you will write features – there are ‘essential’ features. You don’t have to do them, but you will probably want to include them. It’s things like accommodation, transport, a survival guide, a brief history of the city. You’ll probably divide these up as well – two people tend to work on it together. Then there’s features you pick for yourself, if you want to write a features. Features are longer between 400 – 600 words and have a more personal tone to the more formal review structure. Your editors will talk to you more about it but they are a fun and different thing to do especially if you don’t have another position on the team.
Language Lessons: Alongside all of this you will be doing daily lessons in the language of the country you are in (Berlin, Barcelona, Lyon, Madrid). They don’t do lessons in English as they expect you all to know English in order to write the guide. They have beginner and experienced lessons, sometimes more groups if you are in a bigger group.
A typical day in the life of a writer ~
So know you know the basic structure and aim of the project, what does a typical day look like for you? Well, you’ll have a lesson in the morning – either a language lesson or a writing workshop. Then you get the afternoon off to go and do your reviews – whether it is writing them or going to visit the site. Mondays and Fridays you will have an excursion somewhere around the city which is paid for by the project. Weekends are free – the group tends to go out somewhere or do something, or use the time to visit another place they review. You will have to manage your own time, which is a crucial part of being a travel writer. Remember to balance fun with work – this is work experience after all.
Where will I be staying?
Accommodation is provided for in the cost. I don’t know what the flats look like in other cities, but in Berlin you will be staying on the East Side of the city in old Soviet Union flat blocks (seriously, if you visit the East Germany museum and see the old Soviet flats yours looks identical). It’s not the most glamorous of places, but it’s clean and comfortable and the ones in Berlin have balcony’s! They are two bedroom apartments but the bedrooms are twin rooms – this means you will be sharing a bedroom with somebody else unless you pay for a single room.
Admin things you should know.
Transport: You should know that you have to pay for your own transport to the country or city you will be writing in. On arrival at the station or airport, someone from the team will come and pick you up and take you to your accommodation. They will pay for this transport. On the way back however, you’re on your own. You will find that people from the group will leave around the same time as you from the same places so you can buddy up and head there together. It’ll get a little emotional on the goodbye!
Just a note – people tend to arrive mid morning/afternoon on the first day, and the leaving time is schedules for around 2pm. However, you can leave earlier and most of us did because we weren’t told by the organisers -derh-. At the end of the day go for the cheapest flights but thought I would give you a heads up.
Internet: Accommodation does NOT have internet at any of their locations apart from in the offices you have your lessons in. Even this is limited – it’s a little dongle and it’ll be used up pretty quickly with 20 + young adults hungry for contact with the outside world. You will need to get your own internet through your own dongle or otherwise for the accommodation. You will also become very familiar with the local internet cafes and libraries – trust me!
Guests: You’re not MEANT to have people over but your flatmates don’t usually mind and as long as nobody tells the landlord you’ll be fine. Nobody will ask really. They won’t have anywhere to sleep however, so you may need to get an airbed or something similar. Alternatively, I used my guests as a great opportunity to try out some hotels and air BnB places around the city for the guide.
Recommend it to a friend?
I most certainly would recommend it to a friend. It is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a new culture – my German is so much better now than when I did it in high school. It is also a chance to experience working in a real life environment, on your own. It gives you a great independence boost, and great time management skills. My month on this project has been one of the best of my life – it truly is a fantastic opportunity to experience what life is like as a travel writer.
I hope that’s answered any of the main questions you’ve had – if you have more feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply. I have only been on the Berlin one so I can better answer those questions, but generic ones I can probably at least give you a good idea on how it’ll be.
With love, Berlin xox