The life of a travel writer; Dry paper required

Article originally published in International Living Magazine in Jan 2014


There is no time clock but you work 24-7. No cubicle but you must have a computer. Your commute occasionally takes 10 to 12 hours, and sometimes it takes days off your calendar. You must be fluent in hand gestures and you better have a strong stomach and a good memory.

Spread out over your house are mountains of books with titles like Thailand, Australia, Puerto Rico and Italy, in addition to the history books, city guides and, in my case, wildlife books, national park guides and trail maps. There are also the deadlines for assignments about an eco-lodge in Sumatra and about exploring the ruins of the antique Roman city of Jerash, in Jordan.

As a travel writer you might ‘rough it’ in a majestic national park in the Appalachian Mountains exposed to dangerous vistas or at a beach side cottage in the west coast of Jamaica. You might be exposed to the oppressive heat of Singapore after eating a delicious but spicy chili crab –a popular dish– or you might have to wake up in Tokyo at ungodly hours of the morning to have breakfast at the Tsukiji fish market, the largest in the world. Two very early mornings in a row.

While enduring these ‘hardships’ you must pay attention to detail. The elaborate craftsmanship of the columns of a temple might be relevant, for example, or the texture of that particular new fruit you tasted for the first time in Costa Rica so you can describe them later to the readers.

Late one night after a long day of exploring the fascinating markets of London, totally exhausted and with an early morning wake up call you take a hot shower and it suddenly hits you! That perfect punchline, the perfect theme for your story just surfaced in your brain. With no pen or paper at hand you try hard to remember it, but without a piece of dry paper to capture your thoughts they dissipate, they slowly flow into the drain with the soapy water, gone forever.

Writing about your experiences forces you to be in the moment, to write down the smells, colors, and sounds. You must let things happen naturally and listen to your sense of curiosity. You follow its lead, down a narrow alley, following a local recommendation in search of that hidden spice shop. Your sense of adventure takes over and you often find the unexpected, like an invitation to a cup of sweet tea in the Wadi Rum desert with the local Bedouin tribe.

Most importantly, travel writing provides a voice to people and places. You can tell a moving story, relay a message or extend an invitation. Your words and pictures might help persuade a reader to go ahead and buy those airplane tickets, or pull the trigger on a deal for the new property in a different continent.

Traveling is ultimately about following your passions. and sharing them. It is about exchanging more than money for trinkets. It is about shedding fears and getting comfortable in your new environs. It is about learning what it is like to live in different parts of the world.

As a wildlife lover I’m also compelled to travel to places like the Galapagos Islands and write about the beauty of the natural world. Travel writing has helped me subsidize that passion. You probably have your own interests to follow. The world is full them. Just remember to buy waterproof paper and keep it near the shower.

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