ARE YOU a budding Bill Bryson, a future Paul Theroux or perhaps a potential Peter Mayle? You could take your first major step towards a career in writing - and win a long-haul air ticket - by entering Britain's most prestigious student travel writing competition.

The winner of this year's competition not only has his or her work published in the Independent, but also has the opportunity to contribute to one of the best- selling Rough Guide series.

The winner of the first prize in the Independent Student Travel Writing Competition receives a return ticket to the value of pounds 600 to any city in South-east Asia, Africa or South America, and pounds 500 spending money provided by the Independent. Second prize is a return ticket to the value of pounds 400 to any city in North America.

The air tickets for the winner and runner-up of the competition, which the Independent is running in conjunction with Trailfinders and Rough Guides, will be donated by Trailfinders (42-50 Earls Court Road, Kensington, London W8 6EJ: 071-938 3366), one of Britain's leading specialists in independent travel.

Three further prize winners will receive Eurotrain rail tickets from Campus Travel (52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1, 071- 730 3402), one of the leading companies in student and youth travel, to the European destination of their choice, as well as a selection of Rough Guides.

Prize details

The winning student will receive a Trailfinders long-haul ticket to the value of pounds 600, and a selection of 10 Rough Guides. The Independent will provide pounds 500 spending money. The winner will also receive a commission to contribute to a Rough Guide. The winning entry will be published on the travel pages of the Independent.

The runner-up will receive a ticket to any city in North America to the value of pounds 400, and a selection of five Rough Guides.

The next three prize winners will each receive a selection of five Rough Guides and a Eurotrain Explorer rail ticket of their choice.

Eurotrain features rail services to a wide range of destinations, from Paris to Moscow. Details are available from student travel shops and Campus Travel.

What you have to do

We would like entrants to demonstrate their travel writing skills in summing up the ambience and style of any city outside the UK by writing no more than 500 words on the theme of 'Impressions of a City'. How you write the piece is up to you - it can be as funny, colourful, poignant, historic, tragic or strait-laced as you like - it should, however, be interesting.

Write no more than 500 words. All entries must be typewritten, double-spaced, on one side of the paper only. We regret that entries cannot be returned (please take a photocopy before you send it to us). Entries must not have been previously published. The Independent retains the copyright of published entries. The competition is not open to relatives or employees of Newspaper Publishing, Rough Guides, Trailfinders or Eurotrain. No correspondence can be entered into about the competition.

Entrants must have been in full-time education until the end of the 1993 academic year. On their entries, they must include details of their academic establishment and the course they have been studying.

On the first page of their entry, all entrants should write their name, address and age. A daytime telephone number as well as a home telephone number should be included. Closing date for all entries is 30 November 1993. The winners will be announced in the Independent in February 1994.

Where to write

Entries must be sent to: the Independent Student Travel Writing Competition, Weekend, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.