11 Things I Did Wrong When Writing My Travel Memoir

Writing my book in Belize

My journey through the intimidating world of publishing has been just as unconventional as my life.

Here’s the short version of the story: I announced I was writing a book on Never Ending Footsteps; an editor from a big publishing company reached out to see if I was interested in working together; I had a panic attack; I began work on a book proposal; I was contacted by an editor from a separate publishing company; I sent my proposal off to both of them; they both loved it; I found an agent; we successfully negotiated a publishing deal for How Not to Travel the World. Six months later, I had finished my book and it had been sent to the printers.

For most authors, it’s a different process. You’ll finish the book first and then go about finding an agent. Together, you’ll work on a book proposal, tighten up the manuscript, and then your agent will start contacting publishing houses. This typically takes several years.

My experience was a rollercoaster ride of euphoria and terror, and I can’t believe I’m now less than three weeks away from being a published author.

To celebrate, I’m going to be writing a series of posts to share more about how the publishing process works. I’ll be sharing the biggest mistakes I made, the things I did right, and what you can expect from How Not to Travel the World when it’s released on August 13th!

First up: everything I did wrong!

Working from anywhere
This photo was taken in Placencia, Belize, three days after I received that first email. It was on this beach when I began to figure out what my book was going to be about.

Timing, Timing, Timing

When I signed the contract for my deal, my editor asked if I thought I could send the final draft of my manuscript to her within three months. I agreed, despite having not yet written the first word. 90 days; 90,000 words. I figured I could easily write 1,000 words a day and have it finished in time. Of course, this didn’t take into account editing, or sending out drafts for feedback, or the two months of travel I’d just booked.

It also didn’t take into account me throwing out my first draft two weeks before my deadline.

If I could do it again, I’d make it clear to the publisher that, aside from the two sample chapters I’d attached to my proposal, I had yet to start writing my book. I’d have asked if it was possible to push the release date back a year. I’d have started working on my book when I first announced I was going to write one.

I’m convinced that having more time would have prevented my breakdown earlier this year.

Myanmar sunset

I Didn’t Create an Outline

From the start, I told myself I didn’t have time to devise a detailed plan for my book. My proposal included a chapter outline that, in a paragraph or two, explained what would happen in each chapter, and that was what I worked from.

For the first few weeks, I was making everything up as I went along, waking up having no idea how a chapter was going to turn out. It soon became clear I was writing a haphazard manuscript that had very few consistent themes and was jumping around without a clear focus. I had to drop everything and create an outline to try to figure out how I was going to link it all together.

This should have been the first thing I did and I ended up wasting a couple of weeks because of it.

I Expected My Editors to Fix Everything For Me

I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing, but knowing my book would go through several rounds of edits helped ease my terror. Instead, whenever something didn’t read quite right, I’d leave it for an editor to deal with.

Except, often, the editor thought there was nothing wrong with those parts and didn’t touch them.

I expected the round of copy editing to result in a manuscript covered in corrections. Instead, my copy editor told me she loved the book and didn’t want to interfere with my voice, so didn’t make the thousands of changes I had been hoping for.

I was determined to fix what professional editors were telling me wasn’t broken, so I spent a full week perfecting everything I hadn’t been happy with. I’m pleased I did, because it resulted in a manuscript I’m proud of. But if I was being honest, my word changes probably didn’t affect the overall quality in the slightest.

Views of Ronda

I Made Travel Plans When I Shouldn’t Have

I can never keep still for long, so I booked plane tickets around my deadlines, apparently unaware that deadlines were made to be broken.

After three long months spent writing in Granada, I planned a celebratory trip to Ronda, only to discover my editor would be returning the manuscript to me for changes while I was there.

When there was a delay with my structural edit, I ended up having to work for the majority of my time in Madrid — yet another trip I’d booked to celebrate a writing milestone.

And when I received my final copy edit and it wasn’t as thorough as I’d hoped, I was due to fly to Copenhagen in 12 hours to start a fast-paced trip through Scandinavia.

I think I probably lost around $1000 in cancelled travel plans. It was something I had to do in order to make my book the best it could be, but the losses stung.

Lauren's sprained and swollen ankle

I Tried to Include Too Many Incidents

My original plan for How Not to Travel the World was to include every incident I’d had on the road — I had a list of 27 of them! Once I started writing, I discovered my chapters were averaging out at 5,000 words. Most travel memoirs total around 80,000 words and mine was looking like it was going to add up to 150,000.

In order to create a concise read, I had to cut out most of the minor misadventures, but to my surprise, it made for a far better read. I was able to dig deeper into my biggest disasters and discover more about who I am and why I’ve been so unlucky.

I Was Too Scared to Ask For Help

One of my favourite aspects of being a travel blogger is getting to help you guys with everything from planning your trips to conquering your anxiety. I make sure to reply to every email I receive and spend several hours of each day attempting to provide the most helpful responses I can. Why, then, am I too afraid to ask for help myself?

I have a few friends who have been through the traditional publishing process, but I was too afraid to ask any of them for help. I didn’t want it to seem as if I was only messaging them because I wanted something. I was too nervous to ask my editor questions in case I should have already known the answers. I was too anxious to ask friends if they could read a draft of my book in case they had no interest in it.

I did everything myself, which led to a huge amount of stress. When I didn’t know the difference between a structural edit and a copy edit, I spent hours researching online rather than dropping my editor an email. When I wasn’t sure how to structure a particular passage, I lost a day to googling, rather than asking my author friends for advice.

Lesson learned: I should have had the confidence to ask people for help when I needed it.


I Didn’t Prioritise Finding an Agent

One of the first things I should have done was find an agent.

When my friend Torre told me I needed to find one immediately, I sent out 50 emails and came up with nothing. I turned my attention towards to my book proposal instead, reasoning that I was losing time and risking the publisher losing interest by searching for an agent. If my proposal was well received, it would help me find an agent.

I’ve since discovered an agent will help you write and edit your book proposal. So, while I was struggling to figure out what a proposal should contain and how it should be formatted, I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to be doing so alone.

When I was contacted by a second publisher, I didn’t know what to do. Should I tell the first publisher someone else was interested? Should I tell the second publisher? Was that unprofessional? If I’d had an agent, they would have been able to help me navigate these crucial and confusing moments.

Lauren loves her macbook pro

I Became Too Attached to It

I made a promise to myself that I would not form an attachment to my words. I didn’t want to be one of those authors who battled with their editors over every suggested change. I was an inexperienced writer; the editors knew more than me; I would not fight to keep my words.

But when my editor thought the line: “There, nestled against my vagina, was the wide, unblinking eye of a fish” was too graphic, I was desperate to keep it. And when my editor suggested cutting one of my favourite chapters, I was devastated. Rather than accepting her years of expertise, I spent days wrestling over whether I should put my foot down or not.

In the end, I accepted 95% of the suggested changes and my book is far stronger for it. I shouldn’t have let myself get upset over the cuts.

diary in dubrovnik

I Didn’t Keep a Diary

Really weird confession time: I’ve travelled with more than a dozen diaries over the past four years and I’ve never been able to keep writing in them for more than a week. I’m probably the only person on the planet who feels so compelled to write in it every day that if ever I get behind and can’t catch up, I buy a new diary. I wish I was joking.

I also wish I’d kept a diary, because it would have made my life so much easier. Sure, I had Never Ending Footsteps to fall back on, but when it came to remembering the small details of my trip, I struggled. Which airport did I fly into? What did it look like? Did I take the metro or a bus or a taxi into the city? What was the name of that girl I met? What did she look like? What did we chat about? When did I lose my flip-flops? What did that dorm room look like?

I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time on Google Images to check that everywhere looked the same as it did in my memory.

Lauren and Dave at Doubtful Sound

I Let it Affect My Relationships

One of my biggest regrets is how I let my book form a rift between my loved ones and me.

The only way I was going to be able to meet my deadline was to take myself offline. I downloaded Self Control and activated it for 18 hours a day to remove the temptation for distraction. When I wasn’t writing, I was sleeping. I couldn’t find the energy to focus on anything but my book, so I ignored Facebook messages, I didn’t respond to emails, and I rarely acknowledged any of the invitations I received to hang out.

I should have done things differently. I should have let everyone know what was going on in my life, I should have put an out of office message on my inbox, and I shouldn’t have distanced myself from the people I love most.

Nobody suffered more during this process than Dave, and if I could do it all again, I’d have spent much of the past 18 months in another country. We’d been together for two years when this craziness began, which means that half of our relationship has sucked.

Dave had to deal with a girlfriend who cried every day, who had lost sight of her self-worth, who could talk about nothing but her book, and who didn’t step outside for three months. It was miserable, and I’m still working on trying to get things back to the way they were.

If you’re thinking about writing a book, I highly recommend doing it alone.

The Beach in Placencia

I Didn’t Have Faith in My Abilities

I think I’m a terrible writer and I have no idea how I managed to end up with a book deal. I’ve spent a huge chunk of the past 18 months comparing myself to other travel writers and wringing my hands in despair.

I’ve yet to receive anything but overwhelmingly positive feedback from the people I’ve shown my book to, yet I can’t stop myself from believing everyone is lying. Even when every editor I’ve dealt with has told me they love it, my first reaction is to assume they were telling me that to cover up how disappointed they were.

This self-flagellation did nothing but make the writing process even more depressing than it should have been.

What helped was reminding myself over and over that I got a book deal for a reason. Instead of comparing myself to other writers and beating myself up, I started focusing every ounce of my energy into making my book the best goddamn book possible.


And I succeeded. Despite the rough ride, How Not to Travel the World is my biggest achievement to date and I’m so freaking proud of it. I can’t tell you how it felt to hit send on that final email to my editor, knowing I was 100% happy with the manuscript. I’m so excited to share it with you!

How Not to Travel the World is going to be published on August 13th. If you’re in the UK, you can buy the paperback version from Amazon and a dozen other UK bookstores. If you’re in the US, you can buy the Kindle version from Amazon here. For everyone else, it’s available on pretty much every Amazon store, so check out your local site to do so. Thank you! :-)

Stay tuned! Next week, I’ll be sharing the 11 things I did right!

Previous Why Taiwan is My Favourite Place in the World
Next Month 48: Travel Summary and Statistics


  1. July 22, 2015

    Well done, you! I can’t even imagine how much discipline it would take to write a book… I struggle to keep up with blogging and freelance writing gigs, so I’m so bloody impressed and happy for you!

    Just wanted to say that. It’s out there.

    Best of luck with the book launch! :)

    • July 22, 2015

      Thanks so much, Hayley! I’m actually the same when it comes to blogging and freelancing, but knowing my book was going to be released whether I liked it or not, and that I had signed a contract saying I’d meet my deadlines, helped keep me focused :-)

  2. Ali
    July 22, 2015

    No, you are not the only person on the planet who does the weird diary collection. I do the exact same thing! I can’t tell you how many diaries I own with the first few pages filled in… and then nothing. That is totally a perfectionist move. All or nothing – if I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.

    Now that I think about it (and thank you for writing this so that I would think about it), it is that very diary perfectionism that has prevented me from pursuing writing in any serious way. And all of those mostly empty diaries sit around and taunt my paralysis. I’m going to tear out and keep the completed pages and then trash everything else. Maybe the problem is the medium? Maybe a computer file would be more forgiving than pen and paper. Maybe daily emails to myself would be easier to maintain.

    Anyhow, back to your book – I read many travel blogs and yours is by far my favorite. There is something so uniquely clear, accessible and charming about your voice. It makes your blog fun and easy to read. I am sure that is why the editors were not as critical as you had expected.

    Congratulations and I cannot wait to read your book!

  3. Aisling
    July 22, 2015

    Well done Lauren. Sounds so stressful but at least you got through it and its something to be proud of. Im sure Dave was happy to put up with you for those few months – goes to show you have a good catch there! Its all worth it in the end though isn’t it!

    I have your book on pre-order already! Cant wait to read it. : )

    • November 26, 2015

      Absolutely worth it! I wasn’t sure it would be, but as soon as I held my book in my hands, I was bursting with pride. Hope you enjoy the read and thank you so much for picking up a copy :-)

  4. July 22, 2015

    Lauren I cannot tell you how excited I am to read your book! Blog posts just aren’t long enough for me, I love your writing. It’s also great that so many readers have been following your creative journey and will read the finished product knowing exactly how much hard work, sweat and tears went in to it. I’m glad you’re proud – you should bloody well be proud!!!

  5. July 22, 2015

    You are pretty much my hero! I can’t imagine writing a book – even THINKING about it stresses me out.

    But I’m so excited to read yours!

    • November 27, 2015

      Awww, thanks, lovely! :-D I definitely feel that way when I think about writing a sequel!

  6. July 22, 2015

    First off, congratulations! Seriously. I can only imagine how you feel having finished your book and anticipating its release. I can’t wait to see it! Thanks so much for this post. Definitely saving it for inspiration/reminders/empathy in my future writing endeavors. I hope that realizing all of this has allowed you to get back to form as far as your relationships/health/sanity are concerned! You’ve definitely earned some time to regroup.

    And on one last note…that diary thing! I can’t count the number of times I’ve abandoned them after only a couple of entries. I have tried over and over and over to journal regularly, but I’m such a perfectionist about recording everything that I spend ridiculous amounts of time on it and inevitably give it up to, you know, live life. Ugh, the struggle.

  7. July 23, 2015

    Lauren, well done my love! I saw a couple of months back how everything was caving in on you. Well done for making it out the other end and having an amazing achievement strapped right on to you. You did it girl!

    • November 22, 2015

      Thanks so much, Alice! It hasn’t been easy, but I made it through and am feeling better than ever!

  8. July 23, 2015

    It is incredible that you navigated the process of writing and submitting the book by yourself and that you wrote it in such a short amount of time. You should be proud

    • November 22, 2015

      I definitely learned a lot and wouldn’t do it the same if I decide to write one in the future. And yep, what a chaotic few months!

  9. What an interesting post! I can’t wait to read more about what you went through while writing your memoir. What a cool behind the scenes look. And of course I can’t wait to read your memoir!! I have always been curious about the process, and I think I would make quite a few of the same mistakes.

  10. July 23, 2015

    I’m so excited FOR you!!! I love your writing style but being under pressure leads to so many doubts. And as for not asking for help, I’m sure that’s a British thing!

    I’m sure Dave understands too, I was in a similar situation with my other half as we got together just as I had taken on a business back in the UK. The first few years were really rough and I’m so happy that we got past them and now he can see who I really am! And I’m sure Dave won’t have forgotten who you are either! ;)

    You should be so proud of how much you’ve achieved by yourself, it’s incredible and I can’t wait to read your book!

    • November 27, 2015

      I think as well, because I didn’t go looking for a book deal, that didn’t help with my levels of confidence. I was never like, “I think I have this great book in me and I want to get it published!” — I didn’t believe I was a good enough writer so hadn’t even considered it! Having a publisher approach me should have boosted my confidence, but, um, didn’t.

  11. I’m so incredibly excited to read your book! Your blog is the first travel blog I ever came across and your blog is what inspired me to start blogging myself. For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought you were a fantastic writer — it makes perfect sense why you got a book deal! I’m excited for the rest of this series as well. Best wishes!

    • November 27, 2015

      Ahhh, thank you so much, Deepti! You’re so kind :-)

  12. July 23, 2015

    You don’t know how excited I am about your book coming out Lauren! I have no doubt that it will be a great read! And don’t beat yourself up about those ‘mistakes’, writing a book is an insanely difficult process and these all sound like fairly standard things first-time authors don’t necessarily know about. As a former editor, I can tell you that pretty much all of my authors had crises, meltdowns etc, and nearly all of them needed deadline extensions!

    • November 27, 2015

      That’s so much of a relief to hear that, Camille! I really wish I’d known that it was fairly normal for authors to need deadline extensions — I just about killed myself trying to meet mine!

  13. July 23, 2015

    Congratulations! That is a fantastic achievement! And I’m sure the book will be amazing!

    It sounds like you may have been experiencing a bit of impostor syndrome in the writing process, which is totally normal. Just remember no one in the world can tell your personal stories better than you, so you are the expert! (Which will be even more evident on August 13th when you are a published author!) I look forward to reading more about the publishing process and seeing your book on the (metaphorical) Amazon shelves!

    • July 24, 2015

      Thanks, Becky! Definitely a case of impostor syndrome, I agree, and hard to get over! I’m starting to get there now, though, so fingers crossed it gets lots of positive reviews :-)

  14. Katrin
    July 23, 2015

    I’m SO much looking forward to reading your book! I just read the first few pages on Amazon, they’re fantastic! Have faith and trust in yourself, you are such a talented writer. Seriously.

    • July 24, 2015

      Thank you so much for your support, Katrin! I’m happy to hear you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far! :-D

  15. Thanks for sharing these great tips! Once our following gets a little bigger I’d like to write a book too, so I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind.

    You’re a talented story teller and I’ve enjoyed following your career to date. Congratulations on this huge achievement!!! And good for Dave for standing by you too!

    • July 24, 2015

      Thank you so much, Alex! I really appreciate it :-) Feel free to get in touch if/when you decide to write a book!

  16. July 24, 2015

    just pre-ordered the book, and i can’t wait to read it! congrats on completing such a huge undertaking!

    • July 24, 2015

      That’s amazing, Veena! Thank you so much for pre-ordering and I hope you enjoy reading it! :-)

  17. July 24, 2015

    Congratulations on making it through and the book finally being ready to launch.
    I’ve just purchased one of the early released on Amazon and cannot wait to read it!
    Well done :)

    • July 24, 2015

      You’re amazing — thank you so much! Hope you love it! :-)

  18. July 25, 2015

    Are you also going to be releasing an ebook, Lauren? It would be a shame if you didn’t because I imagine many of your blog readers are also travellers. I live in Australia at the mo so a bit of a pain to buy the paperback!

    Totally feeling your pain on the diary front too. I’ve done tons of travels and after a while you do start to forget things. I take a lot of photos but often not of the most meaningful things. There used to be this lovely little corner shop I used to go to when I lived in Vancouver…I never bothered to take a picture of it (why would I?) but that shop was one of the things I missed most when I left.

    • July 25, 2015

      Yep, my publisher is going to be releasing it as an ebook, they just don’t do that for pre-orders for whatever reason :-)

  19. Good job with the book! I can only imagine how stressful the whole process was! Everyone makes mistakes so if you hadn’t made these, it would have been something else ;)

    • November 26, 2015

      Thanks, Alex! Absolutely — I’m always about making mistakes haha.

  20. Beverly Burmeier
    July 25, 2015

    We learn from all our experiences. If you can apply those lessons to future activities (not just writing a book), it will have been worth the struggles.

    • July 26, 2015

      Yep. It was definitely a struggle, but it’s over now, and I have a real book to show for it! It’s worth it :-)

  21. Annemarie
    July 25, 2015

    Wow, that is so cool that you have written your own travel memoir. I have been thinking about doing that too for months but still haven’t done it yet. Have you done self-publishing as well? Or did you go straight to a publiherr? How did you approach them in the first place? Or would you now in retrospect ask an agent? They must be expensive. Sorry, I have so many questions. I hope you can help me a bit but in any case, well done and a big CONGRATULATIONS!

    • July 26, 2015

      Hi Annemarie! Thanks so much! :-)

      1) I didn’t self-publish my book beforehand. However, I was only able to sell the rights for English-speaking territories excluding North America, so I’ll be self-publishing in the US and Canada, and traditionally publishing everywhere else. Excited to explore the pros and cons of each! :-)

      2) Two separate publishers found me through my blog! I announced I was writing a book on here (intending to self-publish), and was then contacted by two publishing companies to see if I wanted to work with them! It was pretty unconventional. And unexpected!

      3) You don’t pay upfront for an agent. They take between 15%-20% of your advance, royalties, and anything else they negotiate for you. So, if they can’t get a deal for you, you’re not out of pocket!

  22. July 26, 2015

    Ok, I have preordered your book on Kindle. While I have already read everything you have posted on your blog I feel compelled to buy the book. Not only to support you but because your stories are so easy to read. Without a doubt you are my favorite travel blogger and I hope to be half the writer you are when my travels start in November.

    Also you have given me great advice in the past. I look forward to continue to learn from your mistakes ;)

    • July 26, 2015

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Keir! And for pre-ordering the book — that means the world to me! The book contains so, so many stories that I’ve never written about anywhere, so there’ll be lots of new content for you! :-)

  23. July 29, 2015

    Lauren, I don’t read many blogs these days, particularly not travel blogs, but I do read yours. You’re an excellent writer: you know how to tell a story, you’re not afraid to spill your guts on the page (okay, maybe you are, but you do it anyway), and you’ve got a strong voice.

    • August 3, 2015

      That means so much to me, Karen! Thank you! :-)

  24. August 5, 2015

    This is more of a question to everyone, but how common is it for publishers to reach out to bloggers and request they write a book? Sounds like a very stressful ride, but glad you got it written quickly.

    • August 5, 2015

      Rare. I haven’t heard of it happening to anyone else! Agents often do, but not publishers.

  25. Sophia
    October 6, 2015

    you are such an inspiration Lauren.

    • October 22, 2015

      Aww, thanks, Sophia! :-)

  26. May 11, 2016

    Just the article I was looking for! I’ve recently come off a 9 month solo trip through Latin America and have a desire to write about it but have no idea where to start! This article has definitely helped me get my priorities in order, thank you so much :)

    Love the website layout also!

    • May 11, 2016

      Thanks so much, James! So happy you found it useful :-)

  27. Gary
    August 11, 2016

    Hi Lauren! Let me just say, “your voice is amazing!” I haven’t yet subscribed to any of your social media sites or read any of your book, but have no doubt. I will. You also touched on a lot of our fears about writing (even ones we wanta-be-bloggers/writers didn’t know we had!!). I am an instant fan. Thank you for that!!!

  28. September 12, 2016

    Really insightful.

    • September 19, 2016

      Glad you found it useful! :-)

  29. Corrine Petteys
    November 6, 2017

    Congratulations Lauren on your publication! I was so inspired and learned so much from you writing this! Love your voice. How do I find your blog? I will read your book when not traveling. I live outside the US for 2 1/2 years now. I just got my first – if you want to revise your memoir and re-submit in the spring feedback from the editor and owner, Terena Scott a wonderful woman who owns Medusa’s Muse in Ukiah, California. My travel memoir is: Mermaids, Lovers and Pirates; One Woman’s Heroes Journey through Indonesia, Central America and her father’s Alzheimer’s. Terena read it twice and enjoyed it and loved the writing, dialog, descriptions but didn’t feel my emotions enough through trauma, travels and hilarious travails. She loved the characters. So she said if I want to revise it and submit it again in the spring I can. This is a small press. I do not diary traveling and should get a website and start a blog. But am also packaging my first TV series to try to sell first in UK. So I will try to find other publishers and maybe an agent. Even Terena said other publishers might feel differently than she did. So you are such an inspiration! Cannot congratulate you enough knowing how hard a book is. I wrote most of mine in 2006 first draft but finished the first draft since the summer in Mexico in a village where no one knew me. I have spent so much time over the years in Belize! Wish you the biggest success and thank you! Corrine

  30. September 28, 2018

    Hi Lauren,

    Great post. I am currently one year into a round the world trip and have taken notes the whole way and converted about half those notes into prose, totalling about 80,000 words so far, which I post to my blog. I never really thought about making a book out of this but I guess it can’t hurt to explore the option. My question is: do you have any advice on going about getting an agent?



  31. March 7, 2019

    Thank you for your very helpful article. I absolutely love your style and look forward to reading your book.
    My husband and I sold our home and everything we own after retiring in 2014 and have been nomads every since. We spend most of our time in North America, the Caribbean and Europe. I want to turn my blog into a book and never even thought about an agent. I’m not sure how to begin. Check out my blog if you get the chance. Hendricksonadventure.com

    Looking forward to your future blog posts. Thanks for the energy you’ve given me.
    Warm regards,

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