Travel Blog

Where’s Andrew? At Home.

I didn’t know Andrew Evans when he set out to take the bus to Antarctica. By the time he’d been there and back, we were friends, making plans to meet on stopovers and detours. Now, we trade travel stories and advice, send each other postcards and chat online. But before all that, he was a voice in 140 characters on Twitter under the name@Bus2Antarctica. He was on an adventure I wanted to be a part of. I remember when he posted a picture of himself at a city bus stop with his pack. He was serious; he really was taking the bus all the way from Washington DC to the tail end of the planet. I was hooked, as were thousands of others who tagged along for the ride.

Because his travel stories brought me such joy, my first reaction on learning yesterday that he was going on hiatus was this: Noooooooooo!

As he wrote:

It’s impossibly hard to step away from a dream job that I built from scratch, but after nearly five years on the road, I have decided to take a sabbatical from this blog and its accompanying lifestyle. Over the next year, I intend to write my next book and spend a lot more time with my dog.

Andrew’s Bus2Antarctica project wasn’t the first time someone had chronicled a travel experience on Twitter, but it may be the first instance of a major travel publisher—National Geographic—putting its eggs in a basket that carried a mere 140 characters. Andrew’s ability to both be present in his travels and to share them in little haiku-like snapshots enchanted his followers. We wanted desperately to know what was going to happen next. Twitter was still a mystery to many of us when Andrew starting using it to share his adventures. He showed us how we could use this medium for maximum impact.

I’m one of many who, after seeing his penguin photos, asked if he could please bring me a penguin chick. When we met for the first time—after a series of missed connections— he handed me two fluffy little penguin plush toys. “This one is named Frida,” he said, “and you’ll have to name the other one.” I’d been considering a trip to Antarctica but I was hesitant. I get terribly seasick. We’d been trading email about the trials of crossing the Drake, but Andrew wouldn’t hear of my staying home. “You’re going,” he said, “and you should take them with you. You need mascots.” I went, and in one of those funny travel coincidences, I crossed paths with Andrew in Santiago, Chile, where I’d stopped over on my way back from Antarctica. We went for ice cream at an upscale shopping mall. “You were right,” I said. He did not say, “I told you so.”

Heather on the path/ Where the mountains disappear/ Ever-changing clouds.—Isle of Sky, Scotland

Another soft yawn of the leopard’s jaws, though it looks like she’s laughing at the funniest joke in the world. —Londolozi Game Reserve, South Africa

Andrew took us all over the world—to the middle of the Atlantic and up Kilimanjaro and, most recently, to the heart of Nashville. When he wasn’t on Twitter, he wrote for his blog or for the magazine, National Geographic Traveler. But Twitter was where we could always find him. A guy with more than 30,000 followers and often in demand, he made time for fourth graders, grown-ups with a sense of adventure, and like-minded friends. We can still find him on Twitter, though we’re more likely now to see him posting photos of his dog’s quizzical face—or maybe we’ll hear about his progress on the book we all want him to write.

Andrew’s (hopefully temporary) goodbye to his readers was touching and personal.

A story isn’t a story until somebody listens, so thank you all so much for listening and following my travels. I believe strongly in Tim Cahill’s sentiment that, “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Though I lost count after the first million miles, I remember all of my friends around the world, even those I knew briefly—sitting next to me on a train, behind the bar, or chatting around a campfire.

From the bottom of my dingy backpack, thank you. Thanks for reading, commenting and encouraging me in my work. I am lucky to have never been lonely on the road, because I’ve always had you with me.

No, Andrew. Thank you.


What Would Kerouac Wear?

Photo by Tom Palumbo (Creative Commons)

Dressing the part of your favorite traveler—fictional or otherwise—is a fun concept. Consider the crumpled linen of “Our Man in Havana” or Miss Lucy’s Edwardian ruffles in “A Room with a View.”  When the trend and fashion site Who What Wear published a piece on how to do exactly that, I wondered what the fashionistas advised. And hey, they mashed it up with a travel-centric summer reading list. Great idea.

We’ve heard that escapism can be a vice, but we’re ignoring the professionals for now and using our summer reading to transport ourselves to coastal Scotland, 1950s Paris, and the high seas (just to name a few) via a few of our favorite books. Even better? We’re taking style notes from these classic tales and are fully dressing the part.

It took only two outfits for my sarcastic side to kick in. For “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s classic about racism in the 1930s American South, the site recommends a $295 leather backpack. Where is the ham costume worn by Scout for a Halloween pageant in the 1962 movie? By the time I got to Kerouac ($9 for “On the Road,” $588 for a pair of shorts), I’d had enough.

I reread “On the Road” during a recent trip to California. At the beginning of the book, Kerouac—or rather, Sal Paradise— makes much of the fact that his feet are wet and cold thanks to his cheap espadrilles. Sal never has enough gear, and at one point, fellow hitchhiker Eddie makes off with one of Sal’s only shirts. When I read the book in my early 20s, I was taken with the free-spirited nature of it. Reading it again, I thought about the hard travel Kerouac describes and how exhausting being cold and hungry so often would have been.

Plus, Sal Paradise would kick you in the junk for blowing close to $600 on shorts. He’d spend that money on booze and books. Let me know when there’s a guide to drinking like your favorite literary character—that’s an idea I can get behind.

(Never mind. It exists. If you need me, I’ll be at the bar reading “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Singapore Sling, if you’re wondering.)


War-Torn Syria Courts Tourists. Really!

Destruction in the Bab Dreeb area of Homs, Syria (2012). via Wikipedia

Six sites in Syria are listed as World Heritage sites and 12 more have been nominated. The World Heritage Foundation lists Damascus as “the oldest capital of the world” and “the cradle of historical civilizations.” Descriptions of Syria’s other cultural wonders are equally lofty—Palmyra has been settled since prehistory, the minarets in Bosra are the oldest in the world. Little wonder travelers want to visit Syria. It’s a cultural crossroads rich in history, home to a spectacular array of archeological wonders. But there’s one minor issue with visiting the country: For about three years now, Syria has been in the grip of a devastating civil war.

This is no deterrent to the Syrian Ministry of Tourism (sorry, no link, their site sets off a virus warning). It launched a new campaign designed to convince travelers that Syria is a safe destination. The New Republic points out how Syria’s tourist sites have been affected by the conflict. For example:

In Homs, site of that fabled “prosperous tourist season,” Jabhat al-Nusra continues to carry out bombings that have left dozens dead. In Hama, the regime is encouraging tourism while it is allegedly using chemical weapons, especially chlorine gas

Homs was under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s government for nearly three years, The New Republic posits that a tourism campaign to the region is more about showing who’s in control than about improving the country’s devastated economy.

And this story on Fox describes the issues one might encounter when making a hotel reservation:

No one denies that logistics are difficult for holiday-makers. Hotel reservations, for example, can be iffy. The other day a band of foreign jihadists blew up Aleppo’s Carleton Citadel Hotel, drastically reducing the supply of five star accommodations in Syria’s fabled second city.

Difficult logistics indeed. The campaign overlooks the tragedy of nearly 10 million displaced Syrians. The cost of war on Syria’s precious historical sites is heartbreaking, but the toll on human lives is incalculable.

More than a decade ago, I was invited to tag along on a friend’s visit to Syria and I hesitated, nervous about my nationality, my gender, my religious upbringing. “Propaganda,” insisted my friend, “you’ll be fine.” The pro-tourism campaign is propaganda, too, of a very different kind. I prefer the other flavor. I might have needed a head scarf to show respect, but a flak jacket? Not so much so.

I deeply regret not going while I had the chance.

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Watch: Louis CK Puts All of Your Air Travel Complaints Into Perspective

This Louis CK rant isn’t new, but it never gets old, either. As one person commented: “They should play this looped in the terminals and on the aircraft all day 24/7.”

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R.I.P. Peter Matthiessen

Prolific writer and three-time National Book Award winner Peter Matthiessen died Saturday at age 86. Matthiessen was a former CIA agent, one of the founders of The Paris Review, and the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books.

He’s best known in travel writing circles for his 1978 travelogue, “The Snow Leopard.” In 2010 we listed it as one of our 100 most celebrated travel books of all time.

Rolf Potts celebrated The Snow Leopard on World Hum in 2006, writing that the book offers “a gentle reminder that life consists of what each moment brings us; that it’s futile to obsess on the workings of the past and future if you’re missing out on experience of the present moment.”

The New York Times notes that Matthiessen was “one of the last survivors of a generation of American writers who came of age after World War II and who all seemed to know one another, socializing in New York and on Long Island’s East End as a kind of movable literary salon peopled by the likes of William Styron, James Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and E. L. Doctorow.”

His final novel, “In Paradise,” is due out tomorrow.

Tags: R.I.P.

Why is This Man Walking Around the World?

Aspiring travel writers can choose any number of paths. They can start a blog, or intern at a magazine, or simply start pitching stories to editors.

But 24-year-old Ryan Newburn is taking a different approach. He plans to spend four or five years walking around the world—almost literally. He’ll hoof it across Japan, then New Zealand, then Australia, and then he’ll work his way up Southeast Asia, and that’s only the beginning.

Why?

Among other things, the Nebraska native told Newsweek: “I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, and I’ve always wanted to be a travel writer. I want to meet extraordinary people from all walks of life, all over the world, and write about them.”

Well, if he pulls off the epic trek, he’ll have one incredible story to tell.


R.I.P. Matthew Power, Writer

Matthew Power Facebook
Facebook

Journalist and travel writer Matthew Power died this week in Uganda while on assignment for Men’s Journal. He was believed to have collapsed from heatstroke while following an explorer who was attempting to hike the length of the Nile. Matt was 39.

I’ve been writing these brief, occasional obituary posts for World Hum for more than six years now, but this is the first time I’ve written about someone I’ve known personally. I first met Matt at a New York City launch party for “The Best American Travel Writing 2009”—he read his wonderful Harper’s story, Mississippi Drift. The way I remember it, I was too shy and intimidated to introduce myself. But when we reconnected a couple of years later he remembered meeting me, so I must have worked up the nerve. I went home that night and looked up his website, and decided that his career and his writing were my ideal—something to aspire to.

More recently, Matt became one of the most important people I turned to as a freelance writer for advice or help. He connected me with his editors, offered suggestions on pitching, even turned over some of his notes once when I was working on a story similar to something he’d covered years ago. More generally, he helped me believe that I was capable of doing the type of ambitious feature writing I wanted to do. He was always kind, generous and supportive beyond all my expectations, and I do not exaggerate when I say that I don’t think I would be where I am as a writer without him. Incredibly, over the last two days I’ve watched my experience echoed by dozens of other young writers across the internet—the word “generous” might be the most common descriptor. It’s hard to understand how he got his own work done, considering how much time he must have spent helping the rest of us.

Tributes are pouring in from his colleagues at Men’s Journal, Outside, GQ and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Harper’s has made his archive of stories freely accessible.

Compared to his family and close friends, I didn’t know Matt well. But it’s rare to have someone come into your life and then go out of his way to help make it better, and Matt was that someone for me. It’s clear from the response to his death that he had that same outsized impact on so many of the lives he touched. He’ll be missed.


Alain de Botton on Plane Crashes and the Meaning of Life*

Wikimedia Commons

*Note: This post was written and published before reports that a Malaysia Airlines jet carrying 239 people had disappeared Friday.

Last night at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, philosopher Alain de Botton deconstructed the news: how we consume it, how it informs us, and how, ultimately, it fails us—all topics addressed in his new book, The News: A User’s Manual.

Among the highlights of his talk, he touched on the popularity of news reports of plane crashes. An image of last year’s Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco appeared behind him as he spoke:

The other thing we love, most of all, is plane crashes. Absolutely amazing. Especially when it’s a wide-bodied airliner, many dead, sudden conflagration and a first-world airline. Again, are we crazy? No, we’re looking for the meaning of life.

De Botton noted that many people in the early modern era kept a human skull—a memento mori—on a table at home to remind them of their own mortality. Why?

There is something about the thought of death that clarifies what is most meaningful in life. We’re constantly, as creatures, losing our sense of priorities. To focus on the fact that we’re constantly at risk of accident [reminds us] therefore we need to focus on what our priorities are. This is something that happens with the memento mori of the skull. And in a way, it’s trying to poke through our interest in these sorts of scenes. These are, in many ways, the memento mori of the age. The problem, again, as is so often the case, is the news takes us to something very interesting and then doesn’t tie it up properly, doesn’t do the final thing, which is why it leaves us, very often, with a background sense of unresolved dread and anxiety. These are the emotions that have been unleashed and not closed properly, as art does.

In other words, all too often, the news media fail to provide meaning or a provoke any kind of catharsis.

RELATED ON WORLD HUM: Interview with Alain de Botton: ‘A Week at the Airport’

You can watch this at 21:30 in the video of his talk below.

Tags: Media Addict

Go! Girl Guides and the First-Annual Women’s Travel Fest

Kelly Lewis didn’t expect tampons to be so hard to find in Argentina, and she didn’t realize bra-shopping might be a challenge in Thailand. But then again, an average guidebook wouldn’t tell her that. So in 2011, she did what any hard-working, adventure-loving girl would do: She wrote one that did. In fact, she wound up launching an entire series, Go! Girl Guides.

The mission was simple: to write guidebooks that would answer the question, “What would I want to tell a girlfriend going to the same place?” The company has produced books on Thailand, Mexico, Argentina and London, and guides to Costa Rica and New York City are forthcoming. (Full disclosure: I was the lucky one who got to chill with sloths and explore the jungle for the Costa Rica book.)

But books, it seems, were just the beginning. On Saturday, March 8, Go! Girl Guides is running the first annual Women’s Travel Fest in New York City. Lewis and Fest co-founders Masha Vapnitchnaia and Mickela Mallozzi are hosting a sold-out daylong event dedicated to inspiring women to travel. Speakers include TV host Samantha Brown and writer Christine Maxfield.

“We’ll discuss everything from traveling solo in the Middle East and raising children abroad, to helping women feel excited to take on the world and reaffirm that there’s nothing they can’t do,” Lewis says.

While Saturday’s event is sold out, tickets are still available for a related workshop, “How to Work Digitally & Travel The World,” on Sunday, March 9.


Incredible Video Puts Viewer on the Beak of a Pelican

Pelican YouTube

I love pelicans. I love watching them swoop low over the Pacific, gliding along the top of a wave. I love watching them waddle around the beach.

But I’ve never seen a view quite like this. In Tanzania, someone attached a GoPro to a pelican’s beak. The results are stunning. Incredibly, the pelican doesn’t appear to be too bothered by the camera.


David Grann Talks Writing on Reddit

I’m a big fan of David Grann, so I was happy to see the New Yorker staff writer and “The Lost City of Z” author answering questions on Reddit yesterday.

A number of questions focused on “Z.” Among the other highlights:

Hi David, I’ve always wondered - how do you know when a story is a story worth pursuing? Thanks

Alas that’s the problem. I don’t always know in the beginning and I spend a lot of time trying to figure out whether a story has compelling characters and storylines, whether there are intriguing subcultures or worlds to explore, and whether the story is about something with larger import. Which is perhaps why I’m always missing my deadlines.


Related on World Hum:
Interview with David Grann - ‘The Lost City of Z’.


They Captured ‘El Chapo,’ but They Can’t Take Away His Songs

The billionaire drug kingpin captured in Mexico over the weekend was, of course, the subject of numerous narcocorridos. How could he not be? After all, the guy once escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart.

In this song, recorded after that 2001 getaway, Los Tucanes de Tijuana predicted he’d never be seen again. They were almost right.


World Hum Writers Honored in ‘The Best American Travel Writing 2013’

It’s that time of year again. The 2013 edition of the annual Best American Travel Writing anthology hit bookstores last week, and we’re thrilled to learn that three World Hum stories were listed in the notable selections: Jessica Colley’s Catching the Gist, Translating Respect by Lenore Greiner, and Bali Belly and the Zombie Apocalypse, by Linda Watanabe McFerrin. Longtime World Hum contributor David Farley also had an AFAR magazine story included in the collection.

This year’s book was guest-edited by travel writing titan Elizabeth Gilbert. Check it out.


2013 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference

Travel publishing has undergone a transformation in recent years. Countless newspaper travel sections have shut down. Venerable guidebook publishers such as Lonely Planet have wound up in the most unlikely hands. Magazines have come and gone, and the travel blogosphere continues to evolve.

Happily, through it all, the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference endures. Now in its 22nd year, the four-day conference kicks off Thursday, Aug. 8 in Corte Madera, California, emphasizing the craft of storytelling—on blogs and in essays, in books and through photography.

I’ll be teaching travel writing for the web with blogger extraordinaire Pam Mandel in morning sessions. As always, I’m looking forward to it. The conference is one of the highlights of my year. Conference chair Don George infuses the four days with a lot of heart. After the seminars and panels each day, students and faculty mix over meals and drinks well into the night. At some point, you realize you really don’t want the weekend to end. Everyone leaves feeling inspired.

There’s still time to reserve a spot at the conference. You can check out the faculty and conference schedule here.


The Atlantic: ‘How Learning a Foreign Language Reignited My Imagination’

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a lovely short essay about traveling to Switzerland to study French, and the wonder of being immersed in the foreign:

I started studying French in the summer of 2011, in the throes of a mid-30s crisis. I wanted to be young again. Once, imagination was crucial to me. The books filled with trains, the toy tracks and trestles—they were among my few escapes from a world bounded by my parents’ will. In those days, I could look at a map of some foreign place and tell you a story about how the people there looked, how they lived, what they ate for dinner, and the exotic beauty of the neighborhood girls.

When you have your own money, your own wheels, and the full ownership of your legs, your need for such imagination, or maybe your opportunity to exercise it, is reduced.

And then I came to a foreign language, where so much can’t be immediately known, and to a small town where English feels like the fourth language. The signs were a mystery to me. The words I overheard were only the music of the human voice. A kind of silence came over me. I would hear snatches of conversation, or witness some strange way of behaving—the bartender’s reply, in French, of “Service” after you thank him for a drink—and wonder would take over.

I studied four hours every day at the school. Class began promptly at 8:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m. back in New York). I nursed a nasty bit of jet lag, but wonder drove me. Hearing a foreign language is like seeing a postcard from some other land, even when you are actually in that other land. I experienced my ignorance of words and grammar as a physical distance, as a longing for something that was mere inches away. In that gap, there was all the magic of childhood.