Melissa Shales

About Melissa Shales

I started travelling at an early age (I'm the small round one on the left) with my mother and sister in a 1960s Mombasa rickshaw.

I started travelling at an early age (I’m the small round one on the left) with my mother and sister in a 1960s Mombasa rickshaw.

Personal stuff

Although born in England, I grew up in Zimbabwe before coming back to England to┬ástudy History and Archaeology at the University of Exeter. Much as I loved it, my course taught me that I’d make an appalling field archaeologist and I spent much of my time as a student playing with the brand new and very exciting university radio station.

Melissa hand-feeding a giraffe

I’ve been all over the world and made all sorts of friends, such as this amazing giraffe at Nairobi’s Langata Giraffe Centre.

Let loose in the real world, I succumbed to the predictions of all my teachers and went into publishing. After many years of living in London, I moved to Colchester in Essex in 2011, where I now share a pink medieval house with my partner, Mark, a shaggy dog called Cello and a loving but slightly psychotic cat called Muesli.

Career Path

After university, my first job was selling advertising and handling circulation for two small art magazines, but I soon moved over to the editorial side and life really began a couple of years later when I was offered the job as editor of Traveller magazine by Wexas International, a wonderfully imaginative quarterly magazine that was, at that stage, the UK’s only dedicated travel magazine. I stayed there for five years, leaving only because I was desk-bound and needed desperately to travel myself.

Going freelance was a huge risk but I was lucky enough to set out my stall just at the time when the great guidebook boom began. I started by writing the first ever guidebooks to Zimbabwe and North-West Spain before linking up with the AA and Thomas Cook to series edit the first 54 titles of the hugely successful Travellers Guides (still going strong) followed by 15 titles for Thomas Cook. In my long freelance career since then, I have written, co-written and updated over 30 guidebooks and edited or project-edited well over 100 for companies including Insight, Globetrotter, Fodors, Frommers, Michelin, Berlitz and Dorling Kindersley.

I have also written numerous articles for magazines and newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent, CNN Traveller, Woman & Home, ABTA Magazine, Traveller, Travel Africa and specialist magazines such as Msafiri, Where2, Interval, Selling Long Haul, RCI Holiday and many others.

Melissa with two women at a Kenyan disability workshop

…and I’ve met some truly inspirational people such as these trainee seamstresses at the Shenza Disability Workshop on Kenya’s north coast.

With the arrival of the internet, I moved online, both as a writer and editor, providing expert content for sites such as,,, while contributing to many sites and apps including,,, Columbus World Travel Guides and the new WOW Holidays app. I was instrumental in creating, building and editing two versions of the British Guild of Travel Writers‘ website (a new version is in the process of being built by others) which has given me a good grounding in web structuring and CMS. I also run two blogs of my own, Steel-Safari, and World@Large.

Beyond Travel Writing

2009/2010 proved to be watershed years in my life. In 2009, I was lucky enough to be awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, allowing me to do a fabulous series of journeys across Africa researching the social history of the railways. I finally had the opportunity to do the type of writing I had been dreaming about. The following year, I moved up to Colchester and decided to spread my wings a little, training to teach English as a foreign language at the Colchester Institute (Trinity Cert Tesol).

Since then, I have been combining my writing with teaching, meeting a fascinating array of people from Gurkha wives to Iraqi refugees, Turkish district governors and Italian and Spanish teenagers. I am teaching old ladies to read and write for the first time in their lives and discussing creationism with Muslim politics students! It’s fun and I am learning an immense amount about the English language and how to use it in the process.



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