A Conversation with Cindy Fan

Cindy Fan is a Canadian expat living in Laos. She is a freelance travel writer and photographer who writes for outlets like The Toronto Star and she blogs at somanymiles.com. In our interview today, Cindy talks with us about how living abroad has helped her writing, how she got into freelancing, and what she hopes to do from here. Check out her portfolio of published work here!

How did you get started in travel writing and photography and what’s the journey been like?

A rabid love of travel, adventure and the outdoors collided with an unshakeable need to write stories about the people and places I’ve encountered. One day I sat down and wrote about Ha Giang, a remote region in Northern Vietnam, and sent it to the travel editor of The Toronto Star along with my photos. Two years and 15 stories later, I can’t imagine doing anything else right now.

It’s been wacky. My recent writing trip to Australia is a good example of how varied my job is. One week I’m being chauffeured around the Barossa in a car once used by the Queen, staying at one of best hotels in the world, the next I’m living in a campervan and jumping out of an airplane. It doesn’t matter if it’s lux travel or backpacking, a modern city or remote village, I’ll find something I’m interested in and try to capture that with words and my camera.

You’re currently based in Laos right now. How did you end up in Laos and what has living there done for your freelancing career?

I first travelled to Laos in 2009. It was one of those places where you go, “Wow, wouldn’t it be amazing to live here? I don’t want to leave.” I had that feeling about Laos but I certainly didn’t think that two years later I’d actually be living here. After one year of freelancing as a hobby, I got a gig with a travel company as their “Digital Nomad.” I got paid to travel Southeast Asia and blog, tweet, snap and scribe my journeys.

I’m not sure that Laos specifically has done anything for my freelancing career. I think the point is you can freelance almost anywhere in the world, as long as you have internet. Laos the right place for me at the moment and the initial gig in Laos led to gigs writing for other blogs and travel companies. So here I am, a “guns-for-hire” travel blogger and marketing consultant.

It’s been a great base for exploring this side of the Earth. In one year I’ve ventured to the Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and of course, all over Laos. Somehow during all of that, I also managed to drive across Australia.

What advice do you have for a freelance writer who is looking to submit his or her work to a place like The Toronto Star or other established media outlets?

Be original. Avoid cliché dribble. If you’re writing in first person, have a voice – don’t be afraid to add some personality and colour. Work on a piece, walk away, come back to it, polish it until it sparkles, then pitch it to a publication that would be the right fit.

As both a writer and photographer, I’d like to ask you about how you balance your writing and photography. In our contemporary market, do you believe—as I’ve often been told—that travel writers must also be photographers (and even vice-versa?)

It’s helpful. Great photos will make your work more desirable and of course, more profitable. I owe some of my success to the fact that my writing and photography come as package.

But be truthful about your abilities. Don’t say you’re a professional photographer if you’re not.

If a close friend asked you for advice on breaking into the freelance travel writing business, what advice would you give them and why?

I’m the last person to be giving advice! I blinked and suddenly found myself working from a beach chair in Thailand.

I have to believe that if the writing is good and the story is interesting, then eventually an editor will take notice. So focus on being an exceptional writer. And if you think travelling is the easy part of the job, think again. You’re working and it requires journalistic skills – interviewing, transcribing, photographing, researching and fact checking. So hone those skills. Then there are the intangibles, like having the instincts for a good story and having the balls to pursue it.

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Cindy Fan is a Canadian travel writer and photographer prone to mischief-making and misadventure. Her passion for storytelling has led her all to far-flung lands. Her story “The Door of No Return in West Africa” was recognized by the North American Travel Journalist’s Association. Read her blog So Many Miles and her published work at cindyfan.com

Interview conducted in February, 2013 by Kristin Mock.

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