Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen

Tom Swick: On what might happen when a travel writer takes the podium

05.04.10 | 10:16 AM ET


I‘m very honored to be here.

I know, all speakers say that. But I mean it. I’m a travel writer. We don’t get invited to speak that often. When people are looking for writers to address their groups they think of novelists, or poets, or playwrights, or memoirists: men and women who suffer, and then make art of their suffering.

Travel writers—we’re seen as the folks who go off on vacation all the time. And people don’t find that inspiring. They find it annoying.

Though you should know that we find it annoying that everybody sees our work as vacation.

I’m here to tell you that travel writers suffer. There is the physical pain of flying in coach, and there is the psychological toll of never winning a Pulitzer.

But that doesn’t concern you. I can see it in your eyes. You’re sitting there looking at me and wondering if I can give you the name of a good, inexpensive hotel in London.

I can’t. But I can give you the essence of the city in 2,000 words.

Maybe even 750.

Hell, I can even tweet you Samuel Johnson.

I know. You have a limited budget and you would like some practical advice. News you can use. Best-kept secrets. Deals with wheels. Nobody’s going to give you a discount for quoting Dr. Johnson.

Can you see me suffering right now? I feel like an imposter. I don’t have the information you want. You came here looking for tips and all I’ve got are anecdotes, impressions, observations, apercus. I see one gentleman has already nodded off.

Does anybody know of an inexpensive hotel in London? Please share it with the group. What about a good cruise line?

OK, I just remembered. A few years ago I stayed in a little B&B named for Edward Lear. It’s a very literary city, London. The place sat just back from Marble Arch and I shared a bathroom and paid about ‬‬$100 a night. That was 15 years ago, so it’s probably more expensive now.

Does that help? I haven’t been back to London since. In fact, I don’t know why I call myself a travel writer. My last trip was to Baltimore. Actually, I stayed in a fine hotel downtown—very near Hamid Karzai’s brother’s restaurant—and the receptionist claimed that it was the first YMCA in America. In addition to the hotel, it now houses a culinary school, and students would hang around the lobby in sauce-stained clothes.

Actually, I’m not sure they were sauce stains. It’s hard to tell about those things, even when you’re a travel writer.

How much more time do I have?

I like Oceania Cruises. I’ve never sailed on one of their ships but I did go to an excellent luncheon they recently hosted.

Spas I’m afraid I can’t help you with. I know, what the hell do I do when I travel? Ditto for golf resorts. Though I did have a cheeseburger in the Tap Room at Pebble Beach a few years ago. It was pretty expensive but I thought: This will make a good story the next time I give a talk.

Tom Swick

Tom Swick is the author of two books: a travel memoir, Unquiet Days: At Home in Poland, and a collection of travel stories, A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler. He was the travel editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 19 years, and his work has been included in "The Best American Travel Writing" 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

8 Comments for Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen

Kathleen 05.04.10 | 2:49 PM ET

Now that’s what I like - a darned good travel writer being a darned good humorist.  You made my day!

Chelsea Bridge 05.04.10 | 7:39 PM ET

Ugh - yet another navel-gazing piece about the inner life of a travel writer, which WorldHum seems to be getting increasingly fond of. Can you please just go back to running inspiring pieces about actual destinations and journeys? And not all by the same 7 celebrity authors?

david miller 05.04.10 | 9:26 PM ET

and dude, no kidding, the recaptcha ‘secret code’ to leave a comment right now is ‘famous buffering’

which seems to have levels of irony and almost a literary ‘value’ in the context of responding to this piece.

Eva Holland 05.04.10 | 10:52 PM ET

Hi Chelsea - Thanks for the feedback. Did you happen to catch the five-part series about a West African road trip from a week or so back, by Frank Bures? A couple of other recent narratives you might enjoy: The Leap at Crater Lake, by Amy Eward, and An Unexpected Trip, by Katherine Lonsdorf - both first-time writers for the site. You’ll find them all on our recent features page. 05.05.10 | 8:39 AM ET

Ah yes, the inner life of a travel writer—how all of us know it well!  The piece was humorous.  It’s good to break up the “type” of posts that are written.  Otherwise, your website is just another travel site about destinations, experiences, blah, blah, blah!  Creativity is welcomed!

David Page 05.05.10 | 10:33 AM ET

I do think Eva’s point in the comments on David Miller’s piece on fallacious arguments (linked above) is a good one. Satire is really a different genre, I think, subject to a different set of rules and standards of authenticity than those we might apply to straight non-fiction. This, the way I read it anyway, is more like those shouts and murmurs things in the New Yorker, which always seem to me not much more than intellectual (and fundamentally empty) gamesmanship, more tee hee hee than real emotional bellylaughing, which, you know, whatever… Fact is, satire is not much in vogue these days, for reasons that might be interesting to explore. It may not do anything for you (or me). But to take it to task for its logical fallacies? I don’t know.

Dave Sem 05.14.10 | 10:48 PM ET

Great stuff! Thanks to World Hum for bringing us original voices like Tom Swick, Jeffrey Tayler, and Peter Hessler.

Levinson-Axelrod 05.27.10 | 11:40 AM ET

Great reading this post. Enjoyed your way of words and the personality that exudes from your writing.

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