Six things I’ve learned about travel writing after submitting 1000 posts for Gadling

SOmaliland, Sean McLachlan, travel writing
My blogger dashboard tells me, “you have written 465,451 words in 1,000 posts since you started publishing 1,048 days ago.” Wow! I’ve been working for this wonderful blog for that long? It’s been fun and I’ve learned some important things about travel writing.

The subjects are endless
I got into travel writing years before Gadling hired me, but working for a daily blog made me worried that I wouldn’t have enough material. Boy was I wrong! There’s always a new place to explore or a new exhibition opening or a new archaeological discovery. Instead of having too little to write about I’ve discovered that there’s too much to cover.

For some people, your work is a blank slate
A playwright I know complained to me that, “Some people will use your work as a blank slate on which to project whatever they see in the world.” While the vast majority a Gadling readers understand what they read, there’s a vocal minority who see whatever they want.
A couple of years ago I reported on a smoking ban in Egypt. The comments section erupted with dozens of tirades against the U.S. government restricting our right to smoke. Only a couple commenters acknowledged, “I know this article is about Egypt, but. . .”

It got so bad that one reader exploded:

“THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT EGYPT!!!!!!!! EGYPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NOT THE USA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALL YOU SMOKERS STILL HAVE YOUR RIGHTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO SHUT UP AND TALK ABOUT EGYPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Nice try, buddy. Nobody listened to you.I also did an article about the Loch Ness Monster going extinct. With tongue firmly in cheek, I wrote, “In the United States, liberals are saying Nessie died of shame from being called a ‘monster’ instead of the more politically correct term ‘evidence-challenged endangered species.’ Conservatives claim Nessie was the first victim of the death panels set up by Obama’s America-hating, terrorist-loving national health care.” Everyone got the joke except for some Obama supporters who piled on me, assuming I was some Bush-era devil. I even got messages in my public email account screaming at me about that one.

My public email address is easy to find if you Google me. I’m always happy to hear from readers. I had an interesting conversation about the Kensington Runestone just last week. The reader disagreed with my debunking it, but he was civil and cited sources. If only all such emails were so polite. I’ve been called a patriarchal Christian, a godless atheist, a fascist, a communist, a stupid American and an America-hating foreigner. Send me a nice email and we’ll chat. If you email saying you want me to be eaten by cannibals then the next time I go to Africa I’ll mock you and block you.

Want to cause controversy? Challenge basic assumptions
Sometimes I like poking the public with a stick by challenging long-cherished beliefs that have never really been thought through. I’m ornery that way and I like watching my editor’s hair turn gray. Saying stuff like “God should be referred to as and ‘it’ and not a ‘he,‘” or “you don’t have to bring your camera when you travel” challenges so-called truths that most people have never questioned. The knee-jerk reactions are predictable and fill up the comments section and my inbox.

I’m doing this less and less, because it has the opposite effect from what I intended. Instead of getting people to question their assumptions, most simply react angrily and strengthen their preconceptions rather than think about them.
I still might do a post on “Top ten reasons not to travel.” :-)

The more obscure the destination, the more they pay attention
When I wrote my series on Ethiopia and Somaliland I received a wonderful surprise — the wave of positive feedback from those countries. I got lots of happy comments and emails from Ethiopians and Somalis, and several local websites and even a Somali newspaper picked up my posts. These two nations unjustly suffer from negative stereotypes and so the locals were glad to see someone writing about all of the good things they had to offer.

An even more amazing response came when I wrote about the Athens War Museum as part of a series of how the Greek tourism industry is dealing with the economic crisis. I mentioned how I was disappointed because I couldn’t buy a copy of “A Concise History of the Balkan Wars 1912-1913” displayed at the counter. They didn’t have enough money to reprint it and so the last few copies were reserved for veterans. Only a few days later I got an email from a major in the Greek army offering me a copy! I have it on my desk now and it’s an excellent read.

Locals are your best coauthors
Before I go somewhere, I usually ask for tips from the Gadling team, other travel writers, and friends. Posting questions at the end of my articles always gets some great feedback from well-traveled Gadling readers. While this is all useful, the best help always comes from the strangers I meet while traveling. This works best when I stay put for a while, like when I lived in Harar, Ethiopia, for two months. Everyone was eager to tell me about their culture and show me the sights. People love it when you write about their hometown! They make my job easy.

Travel writing is important
Despite the many frustrations of travel writing and the (ahem) low pay, I think it’s more important than my history and fiction writing. This is such a divided world, filled with hatred, ignorance and fear. Chipping away at that negativity by showing people all the wonderful things other cultures have to offer is a noble profession, and I’m grateful to Gadling for giving me the chance to do it, and I’m grateful to all of you for the support I’ve received for my last 1,000 posts.

Round the world trips for every budget

Round the world tripFor many people, booking a round the world trip is a distant fantasy, up there with “win a Grammy” and “marry Ryan Gosling“. But as most seasoned travelers know, there isn’t just one way to travel, and global adventures can be had at multiple budgets.

Our friends over at BootsnAll recently profiled 11 travel bloggers to uncover the real costs of round the world trips, getting them to spill the beans on itineraries, expenses, and travel tips.

On the low end of the per diem spectrum were Warren and Betsy, a married couple in their 40s who spent $34 per person per day on their round the world trip. They traveled through 11 countries in South America, Western Europe, and Thailand for 396 days, spending a grand total of $28,826. The couple stretched their dollar by using frequent flier miles to book tickets, and by taking a boat from South America to England. Their budgeting advice? “Take 2-3 minutes each day to track your expenses for the day. It will help you to know how much you are spending, but more importantly what you have left.”

Justin Troupe and his wife were a little less cautious about their spending, burning through $116 per person per day on their round the world trip through Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. The 150-day, 24-country adventure cost a total of $35,000. Their speed of travel was admittedly one reason for the high cost. Justin advises, “Slow the pace down, my trip was quite expensive because we did 26 countries in 4 months. It was expensive if you look at the cost per day, but not it you look at it from a per country point of view. $30,000 divided by 26 countries works out to $1250 per country, which is not bad.”

He continues: “The craziest part of Round the World Travel is that so many people think it is out of reach for them. Yet people waste money constantly on things that don’t make them happy. In life, you can buy things or you can buy experiences. I have found that experiences make me much happier. For the cost of a used car, you can actually go see the world. All it takes is the courage to dream big and then set goals and make it happen.”

With a little bit of planning, there’s no reason you can’t embark on your own round the world trip. You’re on your own with the Grammy and Ryan.

[via BootsnAll; flickr image via Steve Cadman]

Blogger Jessica Festa

Introducing another new blogger at Gadling, Jessica Festa…

Where was your photo taken:

On Manganari Beach in Ios, Greece

Where do you live now:

Long Island, New York, but planning to move into the city by the end of the year

Scariest airline flown:

To be honest, I have never been scared to fly, even on really turbulent flights. If you asked me what my scariest plane ride was, however, I would definitely say the one right before I skydived in New Zealand!

Favorite city/country/place:

That is really tough, as I love every place I have ever traveled too for a different reason. However, if I had to choose I would probably say Sydney, Australia, because I studied abroad there and really felt like I got to know the city having an apartment there, a job, a gym membership, my favorite cafe, etc… The street I lived on was filled with bars, galleries, restaurants, shopping…It was just such a lively area. I also never got sick of walking to Darling Harbour in the mornings, sitting by the water, strolling through the Botanical Gardens, and passing by the many street markets in Sydney.

Most remote corner of the globe visited:

Hmmmm, I’d have to say in Chiang Rai, Thailand, when I stayed in the Akha Village. Just to get to our teaching placements, which were also in very rural areas, we had to walk 2-3 miles each morning. I absolutely love getting away from the big cities, though!

Favorite guidebook series:

I have actually only used guidebooks to plan one trip, as I usually wait to get to a place and ask locals as well as other backpackers what they recommend, or sometimes I’ll read some travel blogs. However, I will say that I love Rick Steve’s guidebooks. I used his as well as two others when I backpacked Europe and I felt that his recommendations and advice were a lot more useful and thoughtful than the other books.

Hotel, Hostel, or Other:

I’m a huge fan of hostels! Not only because they are cheaper (even if they were more expensive than a hotel I would stay at them) but because they are so social and fun. I have met many other backpackers in hostels that I have ended up traveling with in other places. I will also say that I am a big fan of home stays. I have done two of them and loved the experience of really getting to see the region I am in through the perspective of a local.

How did you get started traveling:

Growing up my family always liked to do road trips to different states. Then when I was around 15 my best friend Jenn and I got our families to plan a joint cruise to Bermuda, and from there we ended up going on cruises every summer together until we graduated. I got started on international travel after I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, backpacking on the weekends and stopping in New Zealand and Fiji on the way home. I literally became addicted and started planning my next trip (which ended up being teaching English in Thailand backpacking South East Asia, China, and Hong Kong) immediately.

Most Recent Trip:

I actually just got back a couple weeks ago from Ghana in Africa. I did some orphanage work there, which I absolutely loved, and also got to travel to some of the historical as well as natural areas of the country. What was really appealing to me here was the rich culture of music, dancing, and drumming. I seriously wish people in New York danced in the streets more, and that there was always music playing in the background.

Worst Hotel Experience:

It was actually in a hostel. My FIRST hostel, of course (and honestly, I have not had a bad experience in the 100 other hostels I have stayed in, go figure!). My friends and I were in Brisbane, Australia, staying at this hostel that immediately seemed really sketchy when we walked in. There were clumps of hair all over the bathroom floor and everything seemed damp and had bugs. It was so bad that I refused to pee all night. The people in our room seemed a little shady as well, and at 2 AM I was woken up to a drug deal going down on the bed below me. Let’s just say I slept hugging all my stuff the entire night.

Books by Gadling bloggers

books,Gadling bloggers are a busy bunch. When we’re not posting the latest travel news or accounts of our adventures, we’re writing for newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. Many of us have written books too.

David Farley takes the prize for weirdest subject matter with An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town. So what’s Catholicism’s strangest relic? Nothing less than the foreskin of Jesus!

Some of us have jobs other than writing and this is reflected in our work. Talented photographer Karen Walrond has published the only photo book so far by a Gadlinger, The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit. Flight attendant Heather Poole is coming out with Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet in March 2012. Foodie Laurel Miller is coauthoring Cheese for Dummies, coming in 2012.

Sean McLachlan will become Gadling’s first novelist when his historical novel set in Civil War Missouri, A Fine Likeness, comes out in October. When he isn’t traveling he’s writing history. His military history books for Osprey Publishing include American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics, Ride Around Missouri: Shelby’s Great Raid 1863, Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896: the Italian Disaster in Ethiopia, and Medieval Handgonnes: The First Black Powder Infantry Weapons. He’s done three books on Missouri: Outlaw Tales of Missouri, Missouri: An Illustrated History, and It Happened in Missouri. He dipped into medieval history with Byzantium: An Illustrated History.

Given that we’re all travel writers, it’s no big shocker that we have a slew of travel guides between us. Andrew Evans wrote the Brandt guides to Iceland and Ukraine. Pam Mandel wrote the Thomas Cook guide HotSpots Hawaii. Matthew Firestone is a Lonely Planet regular. His titles include Costa Rica, and Botswana & Namibia. He’s contributed to several other titles. McLean Robbins contributed to the Forbes (formerly Mobil) Travel Guide (Mid Atlantic). Melanie Renzulli shares her love of Italy with The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy: Florence, Rome, Tuscany & Umbria and Frommer’s The Irreverent Guide to Rome. Libby Zay has coauthored three VIVA Travel Guides: Quito, Ecuador; Macchu Picchu & Cusco; and Guatemala.

Don George takes the cake for travel writing. Not only has he given us all some good tips in Lonely planet’s book on Travel Writing, but he’s edited a long list of travel anthologies such as Lonely Planet’s Lights, Camera, Travel!, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, By the Seat of My Pants, Tales from Nowhere, and A House Somewhere. Besides his LP titles, he’s edited Salon.com’s Wanderlust and Travelers’ Tales Japan.

So if you in the mood to read something offscreen, pick up a title from one of these talented authors!

[Image courtesy Yorck Project]

Gadling t-shirts go on adventure travel around the world

wildlife, adventure, adventure travel, Gadling, ostrich
One of the best things about blogging for Gadling is seeing where my coworkers are off to next. Like me, they’re sure to pack that essential item for every adventure traveler’s kit: the Gadling t-shirt.

We’ve collected photos of Gadlingers flying their colors in some of the most remote parts of the world, and some places that are not so remote but equally rugged, such as the waiting area at JFK airport. Above we see Mike Barish in Rotorua, New Zealand , with his new girlfriend an ostrich who looks very jealous of Mike’s stylish choice in adventure apparel. Check out the gallery for a photo of him getting up close and personal with a lizard on the Tiwi Islands, Australia.

Mike says, “Something about my Gadling shirt seems to attract wildlife (sadly, that has also included mosquitoes). These two critters behaved themselves while I posed with them, but neither seemed particularly thrilled to share the spotlight with me.

Also in the gallery you’ll see Annie Scott on the Zambezi River, Zambia, and at JFK; Jeremy Kressmann at Kuang Si waterfall near Luang Prabang, Laos; Sean McLachlan in Somaliland and the Jesse James Farm, Missouri; and Tom Johansmeyer heading to the airport.

We’re all busy planning our trips for 2011, so if you have any place you’d like us to write up, drop us a line. Our dance cards aren’t full yet and we’re a pretty flexible bunch. At least that’s what the ostrich says about Mike.

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