Are you inspired to write a winning travel story?

To your keyboards! It's time to enter this year's Independent on Sunday/Bradt Travel-Writing Competition. And to help get those creative juices flowing, we publish extracts from previous years' prize-winning stories to show you how it's done
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The Independent Travel

Winner 2004


By John Wilcox

Theme: If Only I'd Known

To prove a point about piranha teeth, our guide picked one of the finny victims from the bottom of the boat. He told us once again how they never attacked humans. These were nearly his last words. The second captive had had enough of seeing his cousin tortured for education. In a last defiant act, he leapt fully five feet from the bottom of the boat and lodged his gnashers deep in our lecturer's index finger.

The blood began to fountain out. The fun fishing trip had suddenly become darker and more dangerous. The guide was in shock. The boat was an hour from base. The boatman didn't speak English. There was no first-aid kit. Suddenly, I could see the value of health and safety officers.

Winner 2005

Devout, defiant. The forest of crosses will never stop growing

By Sara Evans

Theme: We've Come A Long Way

Simple wooden steps snake up the green hill. Countless Lithuanians have ascended before me. From towns and villages, they have travelled through the dense pine forests that typify central Lithuania's evergreen landscape to this small hill surrounded by fields. Once here, they have planted crucifixes. Thousands of them.

This is the hill of crosses. It is estimated that well over 100,000 crucifixes stand on this hillock. Rising up and over the top, they spill endlessly into the meadows below. Yet such are the numbers that they seem compressed, almost vacuum-packed. As if in holy gridlock, crosses, large and small, vie for space. Under large crucifixes, smaller ones are stacked high in unsteady piles. Off the arms of crosses hang yet more crucifixes, tiny and fragile, wedged tightly against each other like clothes on a sale rail. And, where a small tree or bush has managed to grow, crosses are draped off these too, or planted under their boughs.

Winner 2006

The coldest miles: traversing North America on a sled

By Polly Evans

Theme: The Road Less Travelled

By now I was growing to love these creatures [huskies] and to know each of their characters. Sonar, in the lead, was diligent in the harness but at night she grew cold and miserable, and left her dinner untouched. Her partner, Pelly, was docile, biddable and happy to eat for two. Terror would chew off his booties at every opportunity, but when I came to replace them he'd gaze at me so adoringly that all was forgiven. Val was light and lithe with a nasty habit of chewing the lines, while Log worked with an energy that was almost unfathomable. As we crossed frequent patches of glare-ice he'd run so hard that he slipped, but even as he rolled on his back and turned to glance at me with horror, his eager legs would still be pumping. And finally there was Alex. Large, loving and perpetually thirsty, he liked to snatch mouthfuls of snow as he ran.

We came down from the hills and continued through forests of spruce towards the Stewart River. Every now and then the dogs' heads would pivot and they'd accelerate wildly, following the scent of a rabbit or a grouse. It was dusk, the air was growing cold once more, and the time was ripe for shadowy thoughts. My mind shifted to the terrible tales I'd heard about moose: when they encounter a dog team they sometimes charge, causing injuries and even death.

Winner 2007

The Boatman

By Louise Heal

Theme: A Chance Encounter

An old man wearing an orange shirt and dark dhoti poled a wooden canoe along the opposite shore to the shelter. A young girl walked out from behind the shelter and climbed aboard. The old man put down his wooden pole and took hold of the rope. He pulled until the boat pointed towards me. Then he pulled hand over hand on the rope and they came across the river. The girl paid him and jumped out. The old man tied his boat up and sat down in the shelter next to me. He nodded in greeting.

I looked at him. He had a white moustache, a white beard with flecks of black, and black hair with flecks of white. He sat cross-legged and the veins on his calves stood out. I could also see the veins on the backs of his hands. He was no more than 5ft 4ins tall and his frame was tiny, with no evidence of body fat. At home, I would have estimated his age at 70, but in India it was harder to tell.

Winner 2008

The Perfection of Improvisation

By Kate Megeary

Theme: The Heart Of The City

The uneven dirt streets gave way abruptly to newly laid cobbles and opened out onto Plaza Catedral. The limestone cathedral was weathered by centuries of hurricanes. Fossilised sea-creatures were embedded in its walls, as though the building itself had risen, fully formed, from the sea. Waist-coated waiters served over-priced mojitos to tourists wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, expensive cameras slung around their necks.

A band played "Guantanamera". Ancient ladies with their life stories etched on their faces wore gaudy satin flamenco dresses and flowers in their hair. They posed for the tourists, huge Cuban cigars dangling, unlit, from their lips. I bought an ice cream from the window of someone's house and rested on a bench. A good-looking young man sat down next to me and asked where I was from. We talked, he in broken English, I in tentative Spanish. Suddenly, he stood up. I turned and saw a policeman standing silently nearby, arms across his chest, staring at the man as he walked away.

Winner 2009

The Night Kitchens of Zeida

By Andrea Kirkby

Theme: Destination Unknown

This is a nowhere town. Low buildings of breezeblock. A single long road. Somewhere between Azrou and Midelt, in the blank space in the map in my guide book. I can't even find out what the place is called. Nondescript by day, it seems the place comes alive only at night, when every bus travelling from Fes or Meknes stops here. Every stall facing the road is as brightly lit as a stage. In one, a sweaty man moulds minced meat into brochettes, pinpointed by the light in his grid-like box. (I'm reminded strangely of a Vermeer.) In another, a butcher cleaves a joint in two. The smell of blood is oddly heavy and sweet. Outside the next stall, a half carcass is hanging, the bull's tail still attached. A man comes, buys a half kilo of meat, sees it carved off the bone, and takes it next door to be cooked.

How To Enter

Don't miss your chance to enter this year's Independent on Sunday/Bradt travel-writing competition. The first prize is an exciting holiday for two to Malta and Gozo, the chance to get your winning travel article published in The Independent on Sunday's travel pages, and a commission from the newspaper for a later article from your prize trip.

We have again teamed up with Bradt Travel Guides, which publishes pioneering guides to offbeat destinations, and guides with unique perspectives on more popular places. The theme of this year's competition – which is open to all writers, published or unpublished – is "The World at My Feet" and entries must contain a strong travel element. The maximum length is 800 words. Entries must be received by noon on Friday 14 May 2010, see rules to find out how to submit your article.

The first prize has been generously sponsored by Visit Malta, the five-star hotels Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort in Gozo, and The Palace in Malta. Tucked away in the idyllic countryside of Gozo, the Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort is an enchanting hideaway in a traditional Gozitan building set in beautiful gardens with four swimming pools and an award-winning spa featuring an authentic Ayurveda centre. The Palace is a charming contemporary boutique hotel located in an historic setting in Sliema, offering three restaurants and a spa.

To encourage new writers, the competition also includes a prize specifically for those who have not been published before – a place on an overseas writing weekend provided by Travellers' Tales (

In addition to the official competition judging, all entries will be posted on the GeckoGo travel-planning website ( to allow users the chance to make a separate "People's Choice" vote. The most popular entry voted on the GeckoGo site will be featured on the GeckoGo and Bradt Travel Guide websites.

The competition judges will be Hilary Bradt, Donald Greig and Adrian Phillips of Bradt Travel Guides, Jonathan Lorie of Travellers' Tales, and Kate Simon, travel editor of The Independent on Sunday. The final winners will be selected by journalist Matthew Parris and announced at a prize-giving ceremony at Stanfords in London on a date to be announced.

Rules, terms and conditions

1) The competition is open to all writers over 18 years' old, both UK residents and non-UK residents, other than current employees, or regular contributors, or their immediate families, of Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, Malta Tourism Authority, Travellers' Tales and Stanfords, their agents or anyone else professionally associated with the competition. No purchase is necessary. 2) There are two categories in the competition: one for "published" writers and one for "unpublished" writers. "Unpublished" means never having been paid for any piece of writing which has appeared in print or on the internet. There will be a winner in each category, one of whom will be judged the overall winner. In the event of an unpublished writer being judged the overall winner then he/she will be given the holiday in Malta and another unpublished writer will be chosen and given the place on the travel-writing course. 3) Only one entry per person. 4) For full instructions and to submit your entry online visit /travelwriting. Alternatively entries can be submitted by post. Posted entries must be sent to Bradt Travel Guides (Travel-Writing Competition), 23 High Street, Chalfont St Peter, Bucks SL9 9QE, UK. 5) The essay must be no longer than 800 words and if submitted by post must be with single-line spacing on one side of an A4 page. We cannot return entries. 6) For postal entries, the essay must have a single identifying tag word (not your name) at the top right-hand corner of each page. You should also write this word on the front of a sealed envelope, together with the word either "Published" or "Unpublished" indicating the category you want to enter. Inside the envelope should be a sheet of paper with your name, address, email address and telephone number. 7) Your details may be shared with the competition partners unless otherwise requested by you. 8) All entries must be received by noon BST on the closing date, Friday 14 May 2010. 9) Your entry must not have been entered in any other competition anywhere in the world, or have previously been published. 10) The article must be the original work of the entrant who must be the sole copyright holder. 11) The writers of the two winning entries and any runners-up agree, by entering the competition, that The Independent on Sunday and Bradt Travel Guides shall have the right to publish, distribute and syndicate the essays whether in print, electronic, online or any other medium, on any website and in any database, archive or library, online or offline, and in any media. All entries will be posted online on the GeckoGo websites. One entry shall be chosen by the public as the People's Choice. This entry shall be publicised online on the Bradt and websites. 12) Once the winners are announced, entrants other than the winners can use their pieces in whatever way they choose. 13) The competition organisers reserve the right to withhold prizes in whole or in part if, in the sole opinion of the judges, the standard of the entries so warrants. The Malta Tourism Authority reserve the right to withdraw any prize should it later be found out that the terms and conditions were not adhered to. 14) Details of how to enter form part of the terms and conditions. It is a condition of entry that all rules are accepted as final and that the competitor agrees to abide by these rules. The judges' decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into concerning the final choice of winners. 15) The commission for the article based on the prize-winner's trip to Malta shall be subject to payment of the appropriate fee and to The Independent's standard freelance rights terms (click here) and will be published at the Editor's discretion. 16) The winner will win a four-night stay at the Palace Hotel in Sliema and a three-night stay at the Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort in Gozo, each on a bed and breakfast basis for two adults, to be taken consecutively. The prize includes: return flights to Malta with easyJet from an easyJet UK departure point (subject to availability); transfers between the hotel and the airport in Malta. Transport to the departure destination in the UK is not included. The prize does not include travel insurance, personal expenditure and other incidental costs other than those mentioned. It is the responsibility of the prize winner to ensure they and their travel companion have a valid passport and to obtain any necessary visas and vaccinations for their trip. The winner and their travel companion will make details of their travel documents available to the Malta Tourism Authority or its agents connected with this competition. All elements of the prize are subject to availability and are non transferable. There are no cash alternatives. The winner must be one of the people travelling. Prize cannot be redeemed during the months of July, August and September, Easter, bank holidays, Christmas period and other school holidays. The prize must be taken by end of July 2011. Once flight arrangements are booked, the winner will be sent the e-tickets via e mail. It will not be possible thereafter to amend any dates or details. 17) The winner may be required to participate in publicity. 18) One entrant shall win a place on an overseas writing weekend subject to availability. Transport is not included. Terms and conditions as stated on Travellers' Tales website apply. Refer to 19) Events may occur that render the competition or the awarding of the prize impossible due to reasons beyond the control of the Promoter and accordingly the Promoter may at its absolute discretion vary or amend the promotion and the entrant agrees that no liability shall attach to the Promoter as a result thereof. 20) The shortlisted entrants will be notified by phone by 7 July 2010, and the winning article published in The Independent on Sunday at a date to be confirmed.