Thursday, June 12, 2008

Guest Blog: It's a hard life, but someone's gotta do it

After four weeks of having a travel buddy, Dan has finally deserted me and left me for the greener pastures of Edinburgh. In his last Guest Blog, he reflects on his experiences on the road trailing a travel writer:

I've been on the road with Kim for four weeks, getting a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a travel writer. As I prepare to fly back to the UK what ground-breaking (or not so ground-breaking) insights have I had as a result?

There are good days and bad days: For aspiring guidebook and travel writers, those dreams of luxuriously jetting around the world will likely remain just that, dreams. Sure, we've spent some time in some beautiful and luxurious accommodation in game parks and on coffee plantations, but at the same time we have been in numerous low-end hotels and guesthouses which let rooms by the hour and have signs cautioning that 'women of immoral turpitude are not allowed in rooms'. There are a lot of miles to be covered, and a lot of places to be visited in the researching of a guidebook. It's a tough slog at times, but at others I haven't been able to think of where else I'd rather be than sipping on a chilled Tusker beer watching the sunset over a herd of wildebeest in the middle of a national park or watching a possum steal my bread roll off the dinner table.

Hair raising and hair conditioning: When travelling around Tanzania there have been a few hair-raising moments (often involving the condition of the road network, the speed of our driver and driving skills of other road users, but also involving a ngake kifutu (a puff adder), and a charging elephant). Travel writing will involve such moments and they add another layer to the vocation – if you are someone who needs to keep their nails manicured and hair well conditioned, this might not be the job for you.

Expert packers: The tight schedule of updating the guidebook meant we moved rapidly from place to place, often only spending one night in a place before moving on. This sense of movement is simultaneously a huge appeal of this work but also a drawback – there is little time to stop and reflect and to get to know the nooks and crannies of a place. After four weeks of movement, my rucksack packing skills have improved and I’m more attuned to the 'essential' things I need and to getting rid of the bits and pieces I haven’t needed in order to travel as light as sensibly possible.

A lonely road: The guidebook writers' lot can be a lonely one – weeks on the road by themselves (perhaps with a driver if they’re lucky) with only sporadic contact with friends and family back home. The highs and lows of the trip have been far more enjoyable with someone to share them with and I can imagine that doing this kind of work without a travel companion could get very lonely at times.

The guide book is not a bible: That dog-eared guidebook sat in your rucksack should not be taken as gospel. The time pressures on collecting information for guidebooks means the writer will not have been able to eat at or sleep in every place listed therein. Descriptions are based on visits to the establishments and the prices set at that time – but it could easily be two years or more from the research visit to the day you arrive at a hotel and things change. Treat the guidebook as a general introduction to a place and be prepared to work with changes on the ground. The number of times on this trip I’ve heard people talking about the guidebook as being the final word on a place or price has been chastening.

Thanks for sharing the journey with me Dan!

No comments: