Monday, 26 January 2009

The Glamour of Travel Writing

Not so much a tip today as an insight into the life of a travel writer. I wrote this piece for a while back. I thought I'd republish it here, as I think it serves as a superb put-off for anyone thinking that the life of a travel writer is all glamour...

Day spent trip-planning. Have articles to write on Spain, France, Monaco and Morocco and somehow have to pull them all together in one trip. This involves interminable negotiations in three languages I don't speak with five separate tourist boards, booking flights from odd airports at ungodly hours and praying that it all comes off. Please let the tourist boards offer me free hotel rooms and please don't let them fill every minute of the day with guided tours of really boring places that no-one would want to read about.

Currently researching a guide to James Bond film locations across the world. Getting the info on where is easy enough, the problem is needing to know what happens in each film. And that means watching every single bloody Bond movie, all 21 of the buggers, in the space of a fortnight. Today it's Licence to Kill and The Living Daylights.
Conclude that Timothy Dalton was a somewhat underrated 007, then set about finding out exactly which place doubled as the Mujahideen hideout in Afghanistan. It's Morocco, apparently.
Google my own name, partly to see if anyone's printed my stories yet and partly out of sheer vanity.

I've been putting it off for ages, but at some point I'm going to have to write that 2500 words on a stunningly average Italian city that I felt about as much affection for as I do for rocket salad.
Just a few vitally important things to do first ... like read every newspaper on the Internet, do some shopping, clean the bathroom, watch the entire fourth series of Peep Show on DVD, Google my own name seven times, book a random flight to Lithuania. Damn. How did it get to 7pm?
Watch Roger Moore mug his way through Octopussy and The Man with the Golden Gun.

My editor wants a piece on wacky theme parks around the world. I hate theme parks, haven't been to one since I was 12 and don't know of any suitably crazy ones offhand. This, naturally, means a whole day of typing vaguely useful phrases into search engines and hoping something good comes up.
This is our dirty little secret — half the time we're not jaunting off around the world seeing weird and wonderful places, we're hunched over a computer, copying everybody else's lists.
Bear this in mind next time you see a piece on the world's Top 10 Beaches or Luxury Hotels. The writer has probably been to two or three of them at best. And on the menu tonight, Moonraker. No, I just can't do it. There's a line and that line is Moonraker.

Just about finish writing about a place I went to six years ago, have virtually no memory of and took no notes about. It's a triumph of vague, flowery description, cheap jokes and meandering tangents that really have nothing to do with the place.
Pack in a blind panic and rush to the airport. Once there, realise I've left my coat, gloves and hat at home and my flight and hotel details in my coat pocket. Desperately phone a friend, begging him to hack into my e-mail account and tell me the names of the hotels and the e-ticket reference number.
Finally arrive in Bratislava at about 11pm. It's minus six degrees, with a wind-chill factor of minus 13. Feel like crying and wonder if there are any shops open that might sell big coats and furry hats. There aren't.

Wake up at 6am in the hotel that still thinks it's 1962 and the Communists are still in charge. It really is the most ugly, repulsive Soviet-era monstrosity imaginable and has service to match. But it's cheap and so am I.
Powerwalk aimlessly in the direction of the train station in order to get to Brno in the Czech Republic. Get there with seconds to spare, internalising my anger towards whoever makes Slovakian signposts.
Spend much of the day in Brno looking for the technology museum, which appears to be hidden behind a barrier of tower blocks and dual carriageways. After three hours of fruitless hunting, I give up and retire to an Internet cafe. Have been offered a freebie jaunt to a hotel at a business park in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. That's as glam as it gets...
Spend a bit more time Googling my own name. Anything to avoid having to go back outside into the Siberian blizzard for a look around the castle. This is my karmic payback for that freebie villa in the Cook Islands, isn't it?

Arrive in Vienna, a city I've never had any previous affection for. Haven't lined up anything in advance for once, so I'm freestyling like a proper traveller. Decide to go and annoy the woman at Tourist Information by asking if there's anything "weird" I can go and see. She looks puzzled and then suggests the Haus der Musik, while handing me a mountain of leaflets.
This is part and parcel of the job. It's no good writing about Vienna's musical heritage, lovely architecture or famous dancing horses. They've all been covered in staggering depth before. My job (well, it is if I want to make any money out of it) is to find a new slant.
Mercifully, the leaflets are far more useful than the woman. How can you possibly respond to a request for weird attractions and forget to mention a Funeral Museum? There are a few more along the same absurd and bizarrely specific lines, too, so the whole day is spent hopping between wacky museums. And a more fabulous, career-affirming day I couldn't wish for.

1 comment:

David Atkinson said...

This sounds all too familiar to me. I have prided myself over the last year on saying 'no' to those assignments I could see would become a nightmare. Let's just hope I'm brave and resourceful enough to keep saying no this year amid all the economc gloom.
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