Category Archives: Thinking

How to make ANY editor like your work

Just came across a post called How to make travel editors like your blog – which talks about their ‘OCD nature’ in looking for good voice, tight production skills, social media presence and community engagement, tech know-how and broad range of material.

As a web editor (non-travel), I couldn’t agree more. Their list of wants are true across any subject where people want to write professionally (and when I say write, that is just shorthand for all content: video, photos, audio, etc).

I’ve had a number of professional writers approach me for online work but when I go to look them up they’re not just not active online and don’t have a blog or anywhere else I can see their writing. Whereas that one person who has a regularly tended blog with interesting content and links to other online presences tells me that they ‘get it’ and this fact alone is far more likely to get them hired.

We’re living in a ‘show don’t tell’ world.

Read the full story: How to make travel editors like your blog

Life’s a beach – except for gingers

Beach day -3

Blue sky, sunshine and a temperature that is perfecto for gingers like me (average 24 degrees), meant today had to be a BEACH DAY! Better yet, the beaches were near empty. I love it how off-season for other people is when I can go outside and actually sunbathe. June-August is often a frightful bore for the fair-skinned, but the cusp of autumn/winter is just right for old Goldilocks here.

It’s given me the idea for a series of features based on The Ginger Calendar – where is good to go, with temperatures in the early 20s for most of the day and with a sea that isn’t too chilly? Please feel free to post your suggestions/experiences below.

Personally, I think it’s very easy to get wrong and have felt quite restricted on some trips abroad. For example, I once went to the Greek Islands in June and couldn’t go to the beach until 5pm when the sun finally turned the heat down. In reaction, I then made the mistake of going in October, when the beach was only warm enough from 11am-3pm and the sun set at 6ish.

Although the shops at many resorts were mostly closed, let me recommend the South of France in late September, early October. Today we took a picnic to Leucate (pictured) then went for a snooze on Le Racou beach in the far South-west of France, just a hour or two from the Spanish border, and it was lovely. The water could have been warmer and the waves slightly calmer, but the sun strength was just about right. One or two applications of Factor 50 and no frying skin.

Cool.

Travel details: this journey to Toulouse and beyond was part-sponsored by Bmibaby.com. More posts here.

I’m a travel writer with a fear of flying. WTF.

England!

Three weeks ago I was on an overnight, long-haul Emirates flight that hit turbulence somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Even the crew were told to strap in.

After repeating my usual mantra of “cobbled street, cobbled street” for a bit, I realised that this was going to go on a while. I was shivering uncontrollably and feeling a rising anxiety. It didn’t help that I was in a seat on my own, away from the family.

Then I remembered how tired the captain had sounded when he made his pre-take off announcements. This wasn’t good.

Time to go to Defcon 3 – Meditation. I’ve often found a good tactic is to take long, very slow breaths and count them in rounds of ten. I counted four lots of ten, and another five, before the worst of it was over. About 20-30 minutes in total. (The counting is a distraction from thinking about either the imminent crash dive or the sharks circling in the water below.)

After the turbulence started to ease off, I looked around me to share the relief only to find everyone around me fast asleep.

This is what is so utterly annoying about fear of flying. It’s a private hell.

Still, there and then, I decided I’d never fly again.

***

It’s three weeks later. I’m at Gate 52 at Manchester Airport. It’s 6.20am and I’m about to board the flight I promised myself I would never get on.

Because although during that seemingly endless half an hour of turbulence, I was ready to cough up for a Eurostar ticket and a TGV down to the south of France to visit family, once my feet were on firm ground, my irrational fears seemed ridiculous and laughable.

Besides, how cowardly would I be to back out now? For the rest of my days, I would be forced to look back at this moment and see it as a yellow-bellied turning point in my life when I finally gave in to my fears. Worse than that, I could pretty much say goodbye to my travel adventures and writing work.

There was another factor. Bmibaby were offering to fly us anywhere on their network for free. How churlish would it be to turn that down? Especially when all they were asking was that we went and had a great time and blogged a bit about the trip.

***

It’s hard to explain fear of flying to anyone who doesn’t have it.

The anticipation of flying can be crippling, wiping out all enjoyment until you land. There are crash dreams ahead of time and imaginary or media images of crash sites that pop into your head mid-flight.

But that’s just the start of it. I personally check the plane’s exterior for cracks in the fuselage before boarding. I also run-through all members of my family as the plane powers up down the runway to the point of no return – just in case.

Uncalled for, I remember Concorde, Lockerbie, 9-11, last month’s plane crash in Nepal.

I cross my fingers, fidget and say a prayer to the Catholic god of my childhood.

After take-off, I count 22 minutes until I feel safe – the time of a crash I once heard about on the news.

I uncross my fingers, and have to sit straight up in my seat, while simultaneously craning my neck out of the window to see that we are actually moving forward. My ears are on animal alert for changes in engine noise.

Talking with other passengers or even my own co-travellers is an annoying distraction as it breaks my concentration. But books and magazines aren’t engaging enough for my crash-focused brain. I remember Red Dwarf’s emergency procedures of taking out airline magazines and intently reading features on, for example, Turkey’s blossoming wine industry.

Since 2001 and a bereavement, I’ve also taken Valium to get me on the plane.

It’s horrible the emotional wringer flying puts me through. And it’s exhausting.

Fortunately, there is a ‘but’…

***

I think it is important to keep facing this phobia and not to let it shut me down. So despite everything I still get on the plane.

I do this knowing the fear will be gone once I’m there. And the nausea will be forgotten – at least until next time. I’ve probably failed in explaining how debilitating it can be, but it is what it is, and I have to deal with it.

So here I go again. A travel journalist with a phobia of flying.

Ironic, isn’t it.

***

Kiss the captain! A big, big thankyou to Captain Mark Dixon of BMIbaby, who navigated high cross winds on takeoff to cruise us smoothly onward to Toulouse, landing the plane safely an hour and 35 minutes later. Now at last I can enjoy the holiday.

As if there was anything to be worried about really. :)

And thankyou to also to Bmibaby.com, who have sponsored this trip. Trip info and prices to come in a future post.

Meanwhile here are some photos I took of the transfer from Birmingham to Manchester Airport at 3am today (now shifted to a separate post ‘Every journey starts with an airport transfer‘) – it’s time to feature all the bits that a travel writer rarely covers.

How nice is Toulouse Airport, for example!

Birmingham, meet Birmingham!

Birmingham welcome sign at the Amtak stationThe great thing about not having a traditional print commission is that:

  • you can publish the end article in a format of your choice.
  • you can don’t have to write for a set demographic.
  • you can have an altruistic motive because, let’s face it, payment for travel features is so 2008.

So, last month I spent a day in Birmingham, Alabama. Being from Birmingham, West Midlands, I thought it would be a funny stop-off point and that Brummie folks back home might like to read about their namesake.

But the traditional print idea of ’24 hours in Birmingham, Alabama’ for a regional Midlands audience didn’t do it justice. And, for the three reasons above, my travel feature has transmuted into more connective material.

To answer the three bulletpoints above:

  • Chosen format: a theme blog
    I picked this because there were so many overlaps and connections, and fun stuff – from the entertainment districts of Five Points vs Five Ways, to Malfunction Junction vs Spaghetti Junction, to discussions over their version of Benny from Crossroads – that a single blog post wouldn’t have done the content justice. Similarly, a series of posts here would have been diluted by general musings on travel journalism. The end result is that a tale of two Birminghams is now a blog unto itself. Well, a Tumblr, because it was easier. It is currently named Birmingham, meet Birmingham – and I have around 32 connections just for starters.
  • Potential readership: Brummies and Bhammies
    So the potential audience is 1,250,000 – that’s the sum of two Birmingham populations, although the figure would be more like 5,000,000 if counting the Birmingham metropolitan area and Greater Birmingham, rather than just the cities themselves. The readership is not tied to a demographic but to a subject of interest – our two hometowns and how we benchmark with each other.
  • Altruistic aim: foster connections
    Travel journalism is a happy field. We present aspirational destinations and stories about those places that people want to travel to. At best, travel advertisers hope that readers will book their product off the back of reading a published feature. However, as I connected with Bham natives via the internet and then IRL, it seemed to me that there were more interesting outcomes than tourism. What if, for example, like an aunt at a singles party, I could introduce Birmingham to Birmingham? What if Alabama’s coworking space could connect with my local coworking space in Moseley, or Birmingham Museum of Art (AL) could talk with BMAG (UK) – could they share connections, swap ideas, learn from each other, have fun? Could businesses even start to trade, offering pathways into international expansion?

Ok, so the idea took off in my head and will probably have nothing to do with how users actually consume the content.

But at the same time, why the hell not? At the tweetup they held to welcome me to Birmingham Alabama, I discovered they’d heard of Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – one of the more well-known (and irreverent) guides to Birmingham UK. They also knew that Birmingham City Council had used the ‘other Birmingham’s’ skyline to illustrate a recycling leaflet. An easy mistake in some ways – after all, we get each other’s search results all the time. We had also nearly organised a Skype linkup last year as their BarCamp was on at the same time as ours.

So perhaps we could do something with this. Like the British Airways-sponsored MetroTwin, which connects places, sights and entertainments in London and New York, and also now London and Mumbai.

But the connections don’t just have to be limited to the touristic.

Why not ‘metrotwin’ Birmingham with Birmingham on many levels?

The information is out there on the Birmingham Match Tumblr, or will be by degrees. What people do with it is another matter.

Ok, so exactly what is a tourist and what is a traveller?

It had to be done. People are searching for the answer to this question and finding this blog, naturally enough. So feel free to post your definitions. Because I’m not sure I know what the difference is. Budget, attitude, destination, length of holiday, courage, individuality, all of the above, none of the above?

Answers on a postcard… or even below. As you wish.

Oh yes, and here’s explorer Benedict Allen’s take on it when I asked him at a talk recently – it’s all about the note-taking and recording it for others.

Egypt tourist

A great pic from David Evers/Flickr

Tourist vs Traveller – the difference according to Benedict Allen

How important is it to record your travels? This is the question I put to the explorer and Unbreakable tough guy Benedict Allen at the Travellers’ Tales festival in London this Saturday. I’m also interested in other people’s takes on this, and why they keep personal travel diaries?

Firstly, though, here’s Benedict Allen’s response:

It is crucial to record. The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller simulates that experience (for others) and records it.

Explorers like travellers are in the business of reporting back and, increasingly, this is a justification for going. We can no longer see the world simply as a playground (I was pretty self-indulgent when I started out). I feel better looking back that I recorded my expeditions: through writing, filming and photography.

You have to remember that is it s privilege to travel – many can’t do it (for financial and other reasons) – but by sharing it you give others a chance to get out there.

Of course, Benedict Allen has been on some pretty unique and far-flung trips. He added that the Niowra tribe he stayed with knew that their way of life was disintegrating and wanted him to record their Crocodile Initiation Ceremony for posterity.

But is there much value in the rest of us contributing our travel writing to others, especially if we aren’t adventurers but say backpackers following a well-trodden trail – or playground as Allen calls it? Is there anything for the world to learn from us?

Are we breaking down prejudices through our travel writing or are we just underscoring them?

And why are we so driven to record our experiences beyond the tourist holiday snap? Why, for example, do I have around 40-50 travel diaries locked up in a trunk in my house!?

(Aside: I did it so that I would have my best memories in writing for if I ever lost my memory. But also there were ideas of having published books, being the new Anais Nin, and let’s not underestimate the sheer habit of it.)

Finally, is ‘recording the experience’ really a difference between tourists and travellers? Or is it just that travelling types are often on long journeys with hours to kill so out comes the diary/blogging platform – or do you think you can you still be a ‘traveller’ on a weekend in the Lake District?

Of course, the irony of staying up late to blog my weekend of travel writing isn’t escaping me. I’m also reminded of Jack Kerouac who recorded the beat years while Neal Cassidy was the person who fully lived them.

So my finally question I’m pondering is how would my travels have been if I hadn’t stopped to record them – would I have live more fully in the moment, or is it worth saving some back to relive them later on?

More from Travellers’ Tales festival: See the list that keeps Benedict Allen alive

Girl with diary

A (wannabe) travel writer takes notes in a leather-bound diary at the Travellers' Tales festival, London (Feb 2010)

Travel articles remixed?

Could there be a trend for releasing journalistic research or unused data for others to ‘remix’ – as I suggested when I released the ‘behind the scenes’ source material for two of my online travel features?

It’s been happening in music for a while with the likes of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails releasing downloads of his music for fans to remix – check out Remix.nin.com. [Thanks to TTV Pete for the heads up.)

Digital journalists like Joanna Geary have bookmarked source material in Delicious and shared them at the end of their features for transparency. Meanwhile more and more people are uploading their research and original writings to Scribd.

But reworking traditional journalistic product ? With a growing DIY culture online, why not.

After writing up my ‘Behind the scenes of a travel feature‘ series and opening out the source material, I was interested to discover that I’m not the only one testing the water of transparent research with the additional invitation to create something new from it.

The BBC has just released footage from its series on The Virtual Revolution, inviting viewers to make their own documentary from the film:

We are providing unedited professionally filmed footage from the series, for you to use. This includes interviews, aerial shots, graphics and music. Download them for free under our permissive licence, and mix them with your own ingenuity.

I wonder if tech journalist and presenter Aleks Krotoski was behind the decision? She writes on her blog that she wanted to ‘keep the process as transparent as possible’ and agreed to take part in the series because it was a multi-platform event. In fact, she released her interview rushes with the web elite back in November 2009 and invited readers to ‘Steal this!’ In her post, she says:

Each link below takes you to the Digital Revolution page that hosts the video. On that page, you can watch and – crucially – download the content to keep for your very own. No, really. So when I say ‘Steal This!’ in the headline, I mean it (obviously with caveats…). With this content, you can mix it up, mash it up, create your own story of the Web. More on that in a forthcoming post. For now, I will leave you with the goods.

People share their creative endeavours with each other online all the time. It’s interesting that working journalists are now (finally?) doing the same. I’d love to know if anyone know any other examples of this, particularly in the travel genre. And I’m wondering could this be the start of a trend? What are its possibilities? What are its limitations? And how can we experiment with this stuff?