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.