A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I got roped in by my publisher to help with launching Rough Guides as a travel guidebook series in America. I say ‘roped in’. I mean ‘flown to New York, put up in a swanky hotel and asked to drink white wine with beautiful people’.
Can you really see a capital city in a day? Usually I’d say no, but I suppose in the end it depends on the city. And when the city in question is the small capital of a small nation, suddenly the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The thing with the job of travel-writing is the number of people who want to do it. I am the expert, it seems – by virtue of being an actual travel writer – and therefore must be in possession of knowledge which can help others become actual travel writers.
Up early. Coffee on the terrace with a view of the Picos de Europa mountains. Piercing blue summer skies, the barest wisp of cloud, and a sun that is already warm on the skin. Perfect summer walking weather in northern Spain. You’d think.
Let’s not worry too much about why I was in Ibiza. Not really my kind of place I’d always thought, until it turned into exactly my kind of place by virtue of the bargain airfare and the promise of some winter sun. Still not really my kind of place I thought as we exited the airport past posters for clubs featuring DJs called things like XXXMixx and not Disco Dave.
Not much moves on a scorching hot summer’s day in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi. Even the tarmac melts, and when there’s a breath of wind it’s like an oven door opening. Which rather makes you wonder where Elvis Presley – whose hometown this was – got the energy to curl his lip, let alone wiggle a hip.
We all know what they mean – just take a look at their Twitter feeds, these travellers, nomads, backpackers, wanderlusters, roamers and adventurers. You’re a tourist. They’re a traveller.
If you had to pick a word to describe the kind of traveller you are, what would it be? Spontaneous, nervous, restless, organised, solitary, inquisitive, confident, relaxed, outgoing, interested, adventurous, accident-prone – or none of these? (If it’s accident-prone – tell me it’s not accident-prone – may I suggest adequate travel insurance.)
Travel guidebooks are useful, insightful, helpful and informative – but they can also be infuriating, misleading, out of date and sometimes just plain wrong. I should know, I write them. So here’s an insider’s view on how to get the most out of your travel guide.
This is where you get to take a peek at the first chapter of my new book, Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfield) – I’m hoping it grabs you and sends you scurrying to Amazon right away, but even if you’re just dropping by for a moment or two, I send you warm wishes from Takoradi and Huddersfield, wherever you are!
Search on Amazon – All Departments for ‘Takoradi’ and I sit proudly at #1, there not being a lot of products in the world with Takoradi in the title (though, at 381, probably more than you think).
Christmas – a time for family festivities and home comforts. Or, if you’re a travel writer – make that a not very well organised travel writer – a time for ending up somewhere a bit odd, that you hadn’t quite planned.
You have to jump through all sorts of hoops to publish a book with Kindle Direct Publishing, but in the end it’s fairly straightforward and there are lots of tools to help you promote your book and keep track of its progress. But with a brand new book, there’s not a whole lot they can tell you straight away.
What would you never leave home without? Here’s my list – and best of all, they don’t cost a penny.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who love the ‘Outlander’ TV series and books. And – no, hang on. Surely there’s only one kind of people in this world?
For most of my travel-writing career, coming up with a book title wasn’t an issue. Here’s how it usually went.
Me: I’ve finished that book you sent me to write, on Sicily.
Rough Guide Editor: Great, thanks, we’ll call it The Rough Guide to Sicily.
There is a certain amount of snobbery attached to travel writing, especially applied to those of us at the bus-timetable-and-opening-hours end of the business. In fact, writing guidebooks is somehow regarded as Not Proper Travel Writing.
Here’s why, how, what and where to eat the best tapas in Spain – or my top tips for a tapas tour (and try saying that after a glass or three of vino).
The Irish giant of myth and legend Finn MacCool built stepping stones across to Scotland to avoid getting his feet wet – a thing that all giants hate, or so it’s told.
To get to the lush Cameron Highlands – home of Malaysia’s best-known tea plantations – you go through the old tin-mining town of Ipoh. And to get to Ipoh, you used to have to go through my dad, who was stationed there as a conscripted National Serviceman in the early 1950s.
We’ve got wildlife in the UK, though it’s more at the deer-and-badger end of the spectrum than lions and tigers and bears (oh my).
Do you always make a beeline for a city’s best-known sights, or do you give them a miss, preferring to seek out the less ordinary, the off-beat, the – oh go on, I’m going to say it – hidden gem?
Here’s a 64,000-euro question – which bar in Dublin serves the best pint of Guinness? Luckily, you don’t have to give me 64,000 big ones – I have selflessly been and gone to Dublin to check out the contenders. You’re welcome!
Hundertwasserhaus doesn’t so much line the street as pour along it, in a sinuous wave of colour that shakes a fist at conservative Vienna and shouts, “Baroque? No chance, this is what people want!”.
Summer is fighting season in Virginia. And if you didn’t know better, you’d swear that the whole Civil War had been fought over the vexed question of facial hair.
“And one more thing”, says Callum, the scuba-dive instructor. “I don’t want to hear anyone calling these flippers and goggles. They’re fins and masks. This isn’t splash time. It’s serious stuff”.
They call it the most beautiful sea voyage in the world, which is some claim. But it’s probably true and it’s probably not where you think.
The inky depths and prevailing currents offshore from Kaikoura, New Zealand, attract a large number of giant sperm whales, making this just about the best place there is in the world to go whale-watching.
How did I end up in a café in Vienna eating the best chocolate cake in the world? The truth is that – like so many of my ‘discoveries’ – it was here all along and I stumbled upon it. I am a shameless Christopher Columbus in this respect.
Most travel bloggers travel because stuff is ‘awesome’, because they don’t want a 9 to 5, because social media makes it possible. But why do they really travel? Why does anyone?
I was at King’s Cross Station recently. That’s a long line for a train, I thought, until I spotted that I was waiting next to Platform 9 ¾ …
Here are the 6 things I’ve discovered about travel-blogging so far – excluding the fact that no one – seriously, no one? – calls it trogging.
My friend, Glynis Charlton, a very talented creative writer, has found a fabulous place in Umbria for her writing workshops – and to find it, you just turn right at Tuscany.
Of all the cities in Malaysia, it’s Melaka (Malacca) on the west coast that has my heart. It’s an on-foot, by-bike, by-boat kind of city – definitely my kind of place.
There is a land, far, far away, where travel writers spend more time than they should. Its siren call lures travelling hacks to an oasis where mere everyday words are not enough to describe the awesome wonders that confront them.
I’ve eaten pizzas all over the world, but sooner or later you have to take a stand. They serve the best pizza in the world in Naples, Italy. They just do.
Ready for a Lake District micro-adventure? Then sit back and enjoy the trip to Skiddaw House – England’s most extraordinary youth hostel.
Kumasi has the largest outdoor market in West Africa. It’s big in the way that towns are big. It’s basically a city in its own right, and you can get lost in a heartbeat.
I have been on a lot of flights to a lot of places. Statistically, I suppose, not everything is going to go to plan all the time, but even so I have always got there and back in one piece. Still, I could have done without these announcements from the cockpit.
Feel free to play ‘Travel Writer Bingo’ next time you read a travel feature, and see how many of the following crimes against clear, inspiring writing you can spot.
The buildings, the streets, the walls – the very physical essence of Pompeii – you expect. But the art? This – for me – was an intoxicating surprise.
I took my first trip to Australia in 1998. That’s so last century. No smart phone, no digital camera, just a point-and-shoot compact. Put the photos in an album and never really looked at them again. Until now.
I like the bars and restaurants of Glasgow’s West End – but I love the Botanical Gardens, a little slice of Scottish tropicana since 1842.