As an author who is disabled and medically unable to travel to a lot of places, I know the difficulties of trying to do research on a multitude of subjects without the ability to properly investigate them. Also on a tight budget – being unable to work a “regular” job and relying on disability and my royalties only – I don’t have the funds to travel the world or even the rest of my own country just to research locations.
Here are a few handy tips I’ve used over the years to help me get the locations, sights, sounds and atmosphere of the many cities, countries and jobs that I’ve used in my stories:
This is a great resource for “viewing” a specific location. Though not technically perfect, because the videos will either be advertising, home videos or from holiday sites, they will allow you to get a sense of atmosphere, location, sounds, colours and such. This is especially good if you want to use a resort or popular holiday destination as your location, as there will be a wealth of information at your fingertips.
If you’re looking for something a little more obscure, it never hurts to try. I once needed detailed information of what it would be like for a character to walk through a Cairo marketplace. Just by typing in ‘Cairo market’ YouTube offered about 124K results.
Using the same search term as above – Cairo Market – Pinterest offered an array of images that would help me get a good “view” of how the markets are set up, whether they are crowded or empty, the way the light affects the colours, how it looks at night and what the people behind the stalls do at all times of the day.
Again, it will never be as perfect as being there and experiencing it for yourself, but if you’re looking for a cost-time-health alternative, then this is the perfect choice. You will get the occasional “related” but useless item (such as Cairo fashion, landmarks and gifts) but they are few and far between. This is a great time to pick and choose the images that make the biggest impact on you, then save them in a folder that you can refer to frequently.
This is a great resource for that “personal” experience. Though all reviews are different, the beauty of a review site is that you get the good and the bad. If you want your character to be a little snooty or to have an awful experience, you can search only the bad reviews and find those nit-picky things to point out or elaborate on. If you want details of food offered at certain restaurants, hotels etc, then you can check the reviews for those kind of comments. Or, you can visit the hotel/restaurant site directly.
Typing in my search term – Cairo – without choosing a specific location, TripAdvisor offered 35K+ photographs, nearly 36K reviews for hotels, 38 reviews for holiday rentals, flights, nearly 40K “things to do” reviews, over 23K reviews for restaurants and over 10K forum posts. All for one location. If I had whittled it down with a more exact request, I could easily find enough information to write more than a few pages on the subject. Whether you need your character to be a local, a tourist or whether you just want a casual observer, you can find so much information to help you write a realistic vision of the location you want to choose.
The bonus to TripAdvisor is that you often have photographs attached.
Now, you might have noticed that I mentioned ‘jobs’ earlier. That’s because you can use these three sites to investigate different jobs in a variety of ways. While writing my story – Forged in Fire – that is based on an army soldier and his husband, I needed to know how often army recruits trained, what they did and so forth. The most helpful information came from a British Army recruitment video that interviewed not only the recruits but the instructors. I found all the information I needed from one video that was a little over 16 minutes.
These are the sites I use, but if you are in a non-UK country, you might want to use an alternative.
Of course, with the wonders of the internet these days, there are a wealth of websites that you can use to find the information you need to help you write a story that you might not otherwise be able to research adequately. If you don’t have the funds, time or health required to do a lot of travelling, then never underestimate the kind of rich, detailed information that can be found with a little hard work and a clever use of Google.