How did you get into travel writing? A friend of a friend had too many writing assignments on his desk and he contacted our mutual friend, who said, “I can’t do it, but I have a friend who’s a writer and here’s his phone number”. I took on all of California Gold Country and Sacramento, which is a huge area, for a meagre US$400, the mistake only a newbie would make. I covered the whole territory and turned in the work, which led to more work and so I took the writing test with Lonely Planet about a year later and I wound up in their stable.
Is it the best job in the world? Everything has its dark side. It definitely has its high points, which are dizzyingly high, and its low points are devastatingly low. So definitely its got its bright side.
What are your top three places in Oz? I would have to say, Melbourne, Sydney and the Great Ocean Road.
And your favourite place in the world? That’s so hard, in the last year I would say Sardinia, it’s like someone lopped off the top of the Sierra Nevada mountains and plunked them into water that’s warm like the Caribbean and blue like Lake Tahoe and scrub, that sort of dry deserty brush, like Southern California, Santa Barbara wine country. The food was fantastic, the wine succulent and it was just such a sensual experience.
What can’t you travel without? Other than my passport, screw-in dimmer switch and votive candles because so often I stay in lousy hotels and it’s amazing what good lighting will do for a lousy hotel room. And an eye mask and ear plugs, good ear plugs, and an extra pair in case I lose them.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done on the job? Trying to go skiing in Morocco. I took a donkey to a ski lift, rode up the highest ski lift in Africa, got off the lift in a very wet snow storm and I started to ski down the mountain. It was a big mountain, a 300m vertical drop – a 1,000ft vertical drop – that’s a lot, that’s serous. Skiing a mountain in wet mash potato snow with lousy rental skis, very wet heavy snow that’s hard to negotiate, with no ski patrol and nobody around. I started cooking down the hill and I wiped out, really kind of seriously – not terrible, I didn’t hurt anything. But I had a big wipeout and they are filming me from up the hill and I’m was like, “I’m okay, I’m okay,” and I looked down the hill and I suddenly freaked out. I thought, “the guys with the camera don’t know how to ski, they are going to leave me up here”. I’m doing something really dangerous, there’s no ski patrol and there’s nobody else on this mountain and I thought, “I’m so screwed if something happens”. So that was scary. I made it down, but I was kind of freaked out.
Cripes. Is there anywhere left on your wish list? Off the cuff, Antarctica. It’s the most exotic place I can think of and it’s the ultimate snow experience. I like flipping the seasons, I would like to go skiing in the Andes during the North American summer, because very few people would ever do that. I mean come summer, people are just so happy for the heat, but I like the idea of going to the opposite season. I wish I had time to go skiing in New Zealand…
What are the best travel writing perks? Its greatest shortcomings. I set my own schedule, I have the freedom to create my own world, that takes a great deal of responsibility and dedication, not wearing the golden handcuffs of a 9-5 job. You can fly free, but you can also fall fast and hard if you play it wrong. So discipline is my bugaboo, it’s the hardest thing for me. The opportunity to be hedonistic is the best pro and the worst con.
Any tips for getting into travel writing? I would say create a travel blog, because it’s hard to get your first gig. Anything that shows initiative, that shows you can write, with colour and flair and authority and that you are completely accurate and that you have your finger on the pulse. Have all those basics in place and then you polish and specialise. I would say just start practising.