Travel Blog: Life of a Travel Writer

Tim Cahill: At Home in Montana

The Wall Street Journal visits the veteran travel writer at a cabin in southwest Montana where he does most of his writing. Says Cahill: “It’s often hilarious to me that I’m writing about Tonga or some tropical place and there’s a blizzard outside and the cows are on their backs with their hooves in the air.”

For more about Tim Cahill’s writing process, check out his remarks on creating literate adventure stories. (Via @Gadling)

Paranoid and Isolated in North Korea

Photojournalist Sean Gallagher looks back at a trip he and writer Mark MacKinnon took to North Korea, both posing as regular tourists. The details in the post—quizzes about science and history from government minders, fears about bugged hotel rooms—are fascinating, and the post ends on a thoughtful note:

As much as I would have liked to, getting close to the everyday person proved to be almost impossible. Hence, my photographs from this journey have a sense of isolation about them. It is an isolation probably born from my own feelings while being there. People are dwarfed against the mighty, imposing communist-era architecture, small and insignificant against the overbearing size of the buildings.

For me, my images from this trip have raised more questions than answers.

(Via @markmackinnon)

Will Ferguson on Travel and the Art of Not Writing

The Canadian travel writer, well past deadline on a new book on Northern Ireland, has found a new form of procrastination: Writing entertaining op-eds about the agony of writing—or not writing—to a deadline. Here’s a sample:

While I wrestled with the title (the wrestling of titles also being an excellent reason for Not Writing) the book itself had stubbornly and - it must be said - ungratefully refused to write itself. It lies buried somewhere in those boxes of paper, breathing, waiting for me to unearth it. I don’t need a word processor; I need a pitchfork. I need a secretary. I need - a coffee, that’s what I need. So off I go.

What do Travel Writing and ‘Street Fighter II’ Have in Common?

In an excerpt from the forthcoming 2009 installment of “The Best American Travel Writing,” series editor Jason Wilson explains.

The Critics: ‘Confessions of a Travel Writer’*

So “Confessions of a Travel Writer” debuted last night, and the response—at least from the commenters on our interview with host Charles Runnette—has been ... colorful. But what did Runnette’s fellow travel writers think? I dipped into the blogs and my Twitter stream to find out.

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A Travel Writer Gets Dumped

A Travel Writer Gets Dumped Photo by hjl via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by hjl via Flickr (Creative Commons)

By his old passport, that is. Like other writers before him, Lonely Planet’s Leif Pettersen says goodbye to his traveling companion of five years: “It ended so suddenly. One minute we’re jet-setting along as ever, the next she had simply run out of pages ... Oh sure, I’ll get another passport. She’ll be new, thin, have perfect skin and, ideally, will have never been with another guy, but it just won’t be the same.”

Don George Writes his Commencement Address

In the span of a recent week, Don George attended his son’s high school graduation ceremony and his daughter’s college graduation ceremony.

He writes:

“[I]t made me want to write my own Commencement Address, to synthesize into some permanent word-granules whatever wisdom I’ve accumulated in my five-plus decades on this planet. In some ways it felt like my last opportunity to convey something essential, important, life-bonding, to my kids.

And so he did. His five lessons, all gleaned from his travels and applicable in all aspects of life, are in the new issue of Recce, which also features a classic Tim Cahill tale.

William Least Heat-Moon on Travel, Twitter and the Call of the Open Road

The author of Blue Highways theorizes why the United States is “the most mobile nation the planet has yet seen” in an intriguing essay in WSJ magazine. Here’s the part where he addresses Twitter and our era of self-absorption:

For the past three decades, travel—especially when it gets written down—often has at its center a defining solipsism: the Self in search of itself in strange places promising to cast a different and edifying light on the Quest. In an era of self-absorption and self-gratification—Facebook and Twitter may be the ultimate in narcissism—such is to be expected. On a stretch of open road, a driver can roll along with his window reflection laid over the landscape ahead so that he must see through himself to see the territory—call it windshield therapy (it’s probably as effective as any couch counseling and certainly cheaper and more accessible, no appointment necessary). On the road, where no one knows your name or your past, the miles can efface one’s identity and make a traveler ready for reception.

I love the kicker to the piece: “In America, our prayer wheels come with vulcanized nonskid treads.”

‘How Does Travel Inform Writing?’

The Sicily Papers author Michelle Orange fields that question in a Q&A at The Virginia Quarterly Review. Here’s the last part of her answer:

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Tom Swick on the Freelance Writing Life

Last summer, Tom Swick was laid off from his job as travel editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Like so many newspaper editors around the nation, he fell victim to the changing tide of publishing economics—which isn’t to say he was unhappy about the move. Given his shrinking travel budget, he was relieved.

We, of course, were happy to bring him on as a columnist, and he continues to file a couple of compelling pieces for us each month. But as he writes in the Oxford American, his move to freelancing hasn’t been entirely pleasant. Take his experience with emailing stories and pitches to editors.

[T]he immediacy of e-mail rarely translates into prompt replies. Actually, it often contributes to silence, as messages get pushed down out of sight—and, subsequently, mind—by the onslaught of new ones.


This makes life difficult for any writer, but especially for one who was recently an editor. And even more so for one who was a writer/editor. For nearly two decades, I assigned myself stories, turned them in to my unwavering approval, and then got back to myself immediately regarding publication dates. Being your own man pales in comparison to being your own editor (which, among other things, allows for the former).

If nothing else, I hope other freelance writers find some comfort in Tom’s frustrating experience—if it’s happening to him, it really is happening to the best of them.


Where in the World Are You, Alicia Imbody?

The subject of our latest up-to-the-minute interview with a traveler somewhere in the world: World Hum’s new intern, Alicia Imbody.

Where in the world are you?

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‘A Zen Level of Patience’: Matt Gross on Air Travel

ipod on flight Photo by The Shane H, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by The Shane H, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

When I fly, I follow a simple rule: I always ask for a window seat as far towards the front of the plane as possible. I love to stare out of the window, and I prefer the front of the plane because it’s a smoother ride (the tail bounces more) and, once the plane arrives, you get to deplane sooner.

But I was curious to find out what rules and feelings about flying another traveler might have, so I called up World Hum contributor Matt Gross, the man who writes the Frugal Traveler stories for the New York Times. We caught up while he was on assignment—on a train, to be precise—in Europe. He estimates that he’s been on about thirty flights in the past year, all of them in economy.

He told me he loved flying.

“How can you not love flying? You get on a plane somewhere. You sit down; you try and relax. I relax relatively easily. You know, four to twenty-four hours later, you’re somewhere else. It’s pretty cool. I like the anticipation of it as well. The trip has not yet been ruined,” he said, laughing. Gross laughs a lot, a good quality for a traveler to have. “Hopefully it hasn’t yet been ruined.”

“You’re about to go somewhere. You have all this time to gather your thoughts and emotions and everything and get ready for the adventure,” he added.

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Travel Writers Pick the Best Travel Books of 2008

Let the “Best of 2008” list season begin! In the Guardian, Rory MacLean asks several writers to choose their favorite travel books of 2008. World Hum contributor Rolf Potts is among the authors polled.

Catching Up With Rolf Potts

World Hum columnist Rolf Potts has been busy. He recently hosted a Thanksgiving-related show for the Travel Channel called “American Pilgrim,” which aired Monday. He’s been touring in support of his new book, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There. And he was the subject of a recent Poets & Writers profile, penned by World Hum’s book editor, Frank Bures. The story just became available online and it not only offers insight into Rolf’s writing career, but it nicely describes the travel publishing landscape at the moment. Writes Bures:

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R.I.P. Forbes Traveler

Media Bistro reports rumors that the pub is folding, and a contributor tells us an editor there confirmed it today. What a shame.