Writing about travel for the last 15 years has taught me three important lessons. To experience life fully, try walking in someone else’s shoes for at least a day. Travel is the great mind opener, your imagination will expand. Never judge a book by its cover; unknown worlds lie within those pages. Travel writing has also taught me that clichés are rife.
It’s a useful tool when describing well-known destinations but clichéd nonetheless, hence the three important lessons listed above.
Trying to differentiate from what is the travel story norm; step one, bring the reader along for the ride with a first paragraph that captures their attention, step two, cite the location and/or place to satisfy the accommodating host, step three, describe various experiences, preferably in gung-ho fashion to verify ‘travel writer’ credibility and step four, bring the message home with a ringing endorsement to keep the host and advertiser happy, I can honestly say that most travel writing is crushingly dull and formulaic.
I know as over the years I’ve contributed to the contemporary paradigm. Why travel writing is contrarily ordinary considering the world’s wonders and extraordinary people means to me the writing shouldn’t be dull.
Writing about travel
The voice of experience in mainstream media is whispering in my ear as I write this.
In an attempt to rectify the conundrum I launched my own online magazine so I can write about travel from a nakedly honest perspective.
But I always had a hankering to do more. How could I offer readers something other than descriptive prose? How could I deliver the goods I describe in my stories? How could I take readers along for the journey… for real?
New York Musings
A year ago I met someone in New York City, a random introduction organised by a mutual friend. The friend said, ‘You’ll like her, she’s interesting and you two have a lot to talk about.’
Trusting my friend’s usually sound instincts (she’s only let me down twice before) I rocked up to the Algonquin Hotel, expectations raised high because of the hotel’s illustrious literary connections (I’m a travel writer after all), I found myself connecting with a like mind.
She’d been travelling the world for a few years, met some amazingly inspirational people, stayed in some of the world’s most beautiful villages and she was wondering how she’d go about sharing her knowledge with other (preferably paying) travellers.
Intrigued by her enthusiasm and clearly sound business sense, I agreed to meet in Australia the following month to discuss how we may work together.
Cutting to the fast track, I now find myself co-directing a new tour company.
Far as I’m aware, none of my colleagues have moved between writing about travel and running a travel company. It’s a steep learning curve but steep as the learning curve may be, I find I love doing more of what I already love to do.
I help choose the destinations for our guests. I have the luxury of time spent with like minded people in those glorious destinations and to top off the trifecta of win, win and win, I get to write about it all.
What’s not to love?
Roll out the clichés my friends. I’m here to inform that running a successful tour business isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Much as I enjoy the company of like minded people, the interpersonal dynamic changes when I am responsible for their safety and wellbeing.
Knowing a little about the exigencies of contemporary travel beforehand, I realised security issues, transport problems and occasional illness would be problematic from the get go.
I was prepared to the best of my ability, which is to say I winged it a lot of the time just as I do when I travel solo.
I learned that a firm belief in spontaneity as the path to travel enlightenment isn’t necessarily the same road all travellers follow.
A valuable lesson learned; be proactive and manage expectations so as to avoid disappointment.
Another important lesson learned is the needs of the guest are paramount. For a change, I ride in the back seat to allow everyone else the better view.
Our first tour was to Mexico, one of the world’s unique cultures, a source of many foods the world takes for granted (chocolate, tomatoes, corn and avocadoes to name just a smattering of them), a fascinating history and people who are rightly proud of their artistic, culinary and literary heritage.
We took our group to Ajijic, a 15th-century historic village brimming with murals, bright colours and far from Mexico’s narco-gang troubles.
On the shores of Mexico’s largest lake, Chapala, we had front row seats for one glorious sunset after another. We provided them with entry to numerous private homes filled with stunning art collections.
We brought them to the annual non-profit Feria del Maestros del Arte, Mexico’s largest artisan fair established to help artists find an international audience. We took them on a private tour of a Tequila distillery, greasing cobblestone paths all the way to make for a smooth ride.
In short, we tried to expose Mexico to a bunch of experienced travellers in ways they wouldn’t discover without our help.
What isn’t so widely known about Mexico is how different its people truly are. Concepts around time, place and space vary widely to what people from Anglophone backgrounds know.
Herein lay the challenges.
Moving between writing about travel and running a tour company is proving to be one of my life’s most interesting metamorphoses. And I’m working on losing the clichés.
Next column I’ll share some of those challenges.
See Big Yellow Suitcase for more information about upcoming small group tours to the world’s most interesting places.