Travel Writing Tips for Fiction and Nonfiction Writers by Katya Cengel

Katya Cengel

Welcome guest columnist, Katya Cengel. Katya is a travel writer, a journalist, and a teacher. Check out her cool offer for a special copy of her book about baseball for WFZ readers who sign up for her upcoming course at UC Berkeley Extension. And enjoy her useful travel writing tips for fiction and nonfiction writers.


I was 21 when I headed to Latvia with all the necessary items I thought I would need to last me a year. An L.L. Bean coat and my childhood teddy bear, Boseys, topped the list. The certified note from a police station saying I had never committed a crime was a late edition obtained at my new employer’s request. I didn’t pack light bulbs like the American reporter who preceded me, but I did pack a dozen disposable needles. Growing up in the 1980s in the Bay Area had made me a bit paranoid about AIDS.

Two months before I had never heard of the Baltics. Now I was going to the frozen former Soviet Republic of Latvia, one of three Baltic countries, to live and work as a reporter for an English language newspaper. I didn’t have a phone number at which to reach my new employer if he failed to greet me at the airport. I had never held a hard copy of the publication in my hand and I knew absolutely no one in the country. I had no idea what I was getting into.

Fifteen years, a revolution and several hospital stays later, I know a little more about what to pack and a lot more about reporting from abroad. Boseys usually gets left behind, but never the Cipro (short for ciprofloxacin, a prescription antibiotic medicine that treats a variety of things but most importantly completely plugs you up if the local food and water make you sick). A small flashlight, an unlocked cell phone, a plug adapter and travel locks are next on the list.

Whether you want to tell the story of a Vietnamese refugee growing up in East Oakland or cover basketball in the Republic of Georgia (, U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Cross Cultural Reporting workshop ( will help you get there. Learn the ins and outs of reporting and writing about different cultures both at home and abroad. Workshop your written pieces to perfection.

If your adventure takes place more on the page than in the bush, than find inspiration for your next story from guest lecturer Sandy Close, director of the Bay Area’s New America Media and former China editor of The Far Eastern Economic Review. A swash buckling female foreign correspondent always makes a nice heroine, especially when the writer gets the details about the correspondent’s base in Hong Kong correct. Make your fiction more powerful and your non-fiction more intriguing by delving into different worlds at home and overseas. Learn more about the world and a writer’s role in bringing its diverse people to light through lectures, readings and writing workshops.

Workshops begin April 6th so register before then to ensure your spot. The first two friends to sign up from the Writers Fun Zone blog will receive signed copies of University of Nebraska Press Bluegrass Baseball: A Year in the Minor League Life voted one of the top ten non-fiction books of 2012 by Shelf Awareness and East Bay Express.

U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Cross Cultural Reporting Workshop begins April 6th. Learn more and sign up


Katya Cengel headshotKatya Cengel
has written about everything from retired dancing bears in Bulgaria to the world’s largest machine gun shoot in Kentucky. She spent half a decade reporting from the former Soviet Union for English language newspapers and the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal and Marie Claire. She has reported from Africa, India, Europe, the Middle East and Haiti and spent eight years as a writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal. More at her site: On Facebook: Katya Cengel. On Twitter @kcengel.

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