Tag Archives: travel writing

Remembering a Globe Trotter.

He traveled from here to Timbuktu and lots of other places.

He traveled from here to Timbuktu and lots of other places.

A particular piece of news caught my eye last week when I read about the death of William Haeseler III.

Who, you might ask?

For most people, the name probably doesn’t ring a bell.  It didn’t ring a bell for me either but the fact that he spent his life traveling around the world did.  The fact that he spent his career as a travel agent did, and the fact that he wrote about his travels in a weekly column got my attention.

Except for obituary mentions, when I googled Mr. Haeseler he doesn’t show up anywhere.  I looked for Mr. Haeseler on Facebook and on LinkedIn but didn’t find him there either.  It’s possible he had a presence on those social media sites and that his profiles were pulled down quickly, but I don’t think so.  What he did have was a presence in the travel industry.  Along with his wife, he led tours to remote destinations like Antarctica and Timbuktu. You never hear of anyone going to Timbuktu.

He also won National Geographic’s geography contest.  The prize? Around-the-world vacations for him and his wife.

Mr. Haeseler knew his stuff.  Originally from North Tonawanda, NY, he traveled to over 150 countries.  He even wrote a book, My Whole Life Was A Vacation.  His weekly column, Globe Trotting, ran for more than 20 years in his local paper.  This guy clearly lived and breathed travel and used his position as a travel agent as a platform to shout about it. That, I’m sure, generated a boatload of business for him within his local community and perhaps even further afield. No one told him it was part of his job, no one told him it wasn’t.  I suppose it just seemed natural for him to share his experiences and love of places.  It was a passion and when something becomes a passion it injects desire, discovery and inspiration into your personal and professional life and you want to share it.  He died at 83.

We could all learn a thing or two from Mr. Haeseler.  Travel agents who toy around with writing about their experiences need to come out of the shadows.  Be bold, take the first step, trip, fall, get up and do it all over again.   Just keep at it, make it a habit. Sound your voice.  It may or not be squeaky but the only way to know is to share it.

It’s easy to cuddle up in the arms of resistance but it’s a dangerous place to live if you want to stay relevant in this ever-changing industry.

Thank you Mr. Haeseler for your exploratory spirit on and off the page.  Thank you for sharing and for showing us how it’s done.

Read more about William Haeseler III.

Fall Into It.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

If summer’s about escapism then autumn is all about back to business. But for many, fall is the time of the year when a lot of us hightail it out of here.   The crowds are gone, the roads are clearer and we can have places more to ourselves. But what’s travel without a good book? More specifically, without a good book about travel?

Depending on the direction you’re headed, some travelers prefer total immersion. And as most travelers know, any good travel tale is not without its fair share of ups and downs.  With that in mind, here are a few recommendations for all you travel advisors and travelers to inspire travel reading, travel writing, but mostly…travel.

theoldwaysI like a guy who likes to walk so I’m looking forward to The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert McFarlane. Shortlisted for the 2013 Warwick prize for literature makes it another good reason to pick it up. A literature professor, McFarlane leads us along the paths of the British Isles in England and Scotland, where he meets people and learns the history of these places. Step by step, he experiences the meditative bonus of walking, the thinking that goes with it and shares how exploring a country on foot is one of the best ways to enjoy travel. For anyone who’s hooked on their Kindle app and can’t get away, or for travel advisors who want to check things out, you can use Google Earth to track his path and see what he saw as you read along. Pretty cool.

Collection-of-Sand-Essays-Pe“…the most important things in the world are the empty spaces,” writes Italo Calvino. In one way or another, the 38 essays that make up A Collection of Sand focus on Calvino’s visual experiences and how they inform travel. Around his pleasures and fascination of maps and books and how certain places, in this case Japan, Mexico and Iran led to contemplation on space and time and civilization. Beautiful writing.

 

robberofmemoriesSeems only fitting that since there’s a chill in the air that you should have something chilling in your hands, or on your iPad. In which case, The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Columbia may be right for you, especially if you’re heading in that direction. Michael Jacobs takes us with him on his adventure up Magdelena, a river that runs through the heart of Columbia where he charts its course geographically and emotionally. Like most first-world travelers who go it alone, he sheds himself of life’s modern comforts. His journey is challenging and dangerous but his tale, where South America is the central theme, serves up a different perspective altogether.

alexandriaEgypt might not be the first place you think of going to these days but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of what it once was. A long time ago, in a land far away, an old flame turned me on to The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and this masterpiece has stuck with me ever since. Made up of four small novels, it’s a lush and seductive tale of friends and lovers in Alexandria before WWI. Its central theme is love conveyed across the different viewpoints and experiences of the characters that make up these stories and whose common ground is the city.

BehindBeautifulForeversBehind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo. I suppose the title pretty much sums up it up but don’t let that get you down. Boo won numerous book awards for this story and any traveler worth their salt knows that the closer to the bone you get to living in a country, the sweeter the meat. A journalist for the New Yorker, Boo takes us into the slum of Annawadi and its underworld of characters that make up the citizens who do what they can to make a life for themselves and their families who live on the other side of life in the shadows of shiny corporate hotels.

urbancircusAnother glimpse into the lives of others, The Urban Circus: Travels with Mexico’s Malabaristas by Catriona Rainsford takes you on a wild and wacky ride. Rainsford joined a group of young, itinerant street performers on a two-year journey across the country where she learned to live hand-to-mouth with them. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, this true story will give you a chance to see beyond the tourist zones and into the everyday lives, genuineness and character of Mexicans.

If you’re into adventure travel, or have customers who live for it, then this gripping and heart-stopping story is the perfect companion. The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko is the harrowing tale of three guides who ride the Colorado River through the heart of the Canyon.  Check it out:

There’s loads of stuff out there. Are you reading any good travel stories these days, fiction or otherwise? Let me know, I’d love to hear about them.

Trick Of The Eye.

English: Aerial view of Everest. Picture taken...

This past week, on May 29, marked the 60th anniversary of the first successful British expedition to Mount Everest.  These days we’re able to travel easily to pretty much any place on the planet, yet Everest still represents a challenge to anyone who attempts to climb it.   That’s a good thing.

We all have our Everest.  It might be something we’ve already accomplished or something we’re still aiming toward.   We may keep it private or choose to publicize it.  Whether we’re taking baby steps or moving fast, the point is we’re moving.  That’s also a good thing.  Writing is like this, and for travel agents and advisors with any interest in using this medium to create value for themselves, and their customers, taking advantage of the opportunities that expose them to travel experiences is key.  Sometimes you need to have “soft eyes” to see the opportunities.

What are soft eyes?  If you’ve ever been on safari, you know what they are.  If not, well…it’s
kind of like separating the forest from the trees, literally.  Everything looks like the same color out there on the savannah but the place is teeming with animals, large and small, yet many times you can’t see them.  So you try really hard to find them, and you can’t…but they’re there.  Opportunities that connect you to travel can kind of be like that and I recently found one.  It’s not always possible to get away, so I’ve come to have soft eyes about where I get my travel kicks.

Stray cats...how many can you spot? (Photo by author.)

Stray cats…how many can you spot? (Photo by author.)

The Times, Mount Everest Expedition report, May 1953.  (Photo credit:  The Times)

The Times, Mount Everest Expedition report, May 1953. (Photo credit: The Times)

Ever read Pax Britannica?  If not—no worries.  I haven’t read it either, but I do know who Jan Morris is—she’s the author of that book.  She also accompanied the first British summit to Mount Everest, except at that time she was a man.  In 1953 Morris was a journalist for The Times, and was assigned as an embedded special correspondent with Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on their trek to Everest.  The rest—as we know—is history, and that summit also made Morris famous.  Morris had never climbed a mountain before that epic journey but was a very ambitious person and saw the opportunity for what it was.  Years later Morris became a well-known, and well-respected, travel writer.  In April, I worked an event at the Times Center and noticed that she would be in New York City for a Times Talk interview as part of GeoEx’s far-flung journeys.  I immediately booked a ticket.

A few weeks later, sitting in the theatre, listening to Jan Morris’ English accent, it almost felt like we were at home with her in Wales as she retold her travel tales.  The only thing missing was the pot of tea.  The questions focused on Everest but eventually settled on traveling and writing.  It was good to hear that she writes for her own pleasure.  So many times you hear of writers who slog it out, but writing—especially when it flows—is extremely pleasurable.  Sure, as a journalist, she may have had a head start but she still had to experience a sense of place to write about the destinations she visited.  And so it goes with travel agents.

Jan Morris in Wales.

Jan Morris in Wales.

For those who have no writing experience, where do they start?  The place we all start, at the foot of the mountain. There is no other way.  When asked how she takes stock of a new place, Morris quoted from The Bible, “grin like a dog and run around the city.”   Travel agents who go away on their company’s dime often travel with industry colleagues and adhere to an itinerary, but that doesn’t mean they can’t break away from the pack.  The best moments to write about often come from meeting up with locals or finding your own special spot.  It’s about capturing all the experiences—large and small—that happen along the way and mining your notes for the gems.

Those who climb Everest, or any mountain, don’t fix their eyes at the top.  They put one foot in front of the other and take it step by step. They rest, they watch, they climb. They collect information all along the way.  It’s about soft eyes.

What kind of travel opportunities do you see these days?

What’s On Your Nightstand?


Reading on the Beach

Reading on the Beach (Photo credit: cmcgough)

The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

What was the first book you read as a kid?  I don’t mean the first book your mom or dad read to you but the first book that you read.  You know, the first one that you actually enjoyed because something about it clicked for you.  The one that did it for me was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.   I think most kids read this book but in case you didn’t, it’s a coming of age story about two teenage rival gangs from opposite sides of the tracks. The book is loaded with emotion and it was easy to identify with the characters. I savored every page and didn’t want it to end.  The bonus was finding out that S.E. Hinton was a woman—actually she was a teenager when she wrote the novel—and the story’s narrator is a boy.  In fact, the majority of characters are boys.  That pretty much blew me away.  It was my first real understanding about a writer’s voice and style.  It also led to a greater understanding that to write, you need to read.

Do you like to read? I hope so because reading is probably one of the most important things that will contribute to being a writer—and a good one.  The two pretty much go hand-in-hand.   I’m not talking about just reading travel writing.  I’m talking fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, and print or digital magazines.  If you drive to work, audiobooks make it easy to plow through books. They also make great cooking and workout companions.

Forest Hills Audio Book Month Display

Forest Hills Audio Book Month Display (Photo credit: mySAPL)

The reason I’m asking is because no matter what it is that you read, you’re learning.  Whether you realize it or not, you’re learning the art of writing in its many forms and styles—good and bad.  Much like some people have an ear for music, reading helps to develop an inner ear for writing.   If you find that you pretty much read the same type of literature, step out of that comfort zone and explore other genres.   See what’s out there.

Many times, what you may be reading at a certain point in time can trigger an idea for a story.  I’m not an architect, financial analyst or a man, but when I’m in a doctor’s office waiting room, I flip through the magazines geared towards those subjects to check out what’s happening.  I usually come away having learned a few new things and, oftentimes, an inspired thought for something I’d like to write.

reading by the fountain

reading by the fountain (Photo credit: jaroslavd)

The beauty of reading is that you can do it anywhere, and e-book readers, audiobooks and laptops make it easier than ever to access information.  These days, there’s almost no excuse not to read.  Much like the handy notebook to jot down your ideas and observations, it’s always good to have a book or other type of reading material with you.  Maybe you already do.  A Kindle is great but, like smartphones, they’ll eventually run out of juice.  Like the notebook and pencil, books are loyal travel companions wherever you may be.  I recently spent two hours in line at immigration at JFK airport.  Every once in a while when I looked up from my book, I heard people moaning and groaning about the wait.   If I hadn’t had my book, I’d have been flipping out right along with them.

Con el Kindle en todas partes

With a Kindle everywhere.  (Photo credit: edans)

Similar to travel writers whose columns you admire,  you may have already adopted a certain style of writing cultivated from your favorite authors.  That’s a good thing, because it may have already contributed to helping you define your writing style.  If you don’t read a lot then you may want to pay a visit to your local library where you can easily borrow all types of materials, including audiobooks. It also happens to be Celebrate National Library Weekanother good reason to visit.  Oddly enough, today marks the launch of the Digital Public Library of America which makes books, images, historical records, and audiovisual materials available to anyone with Internet access.  If you prefer to buy your own, there’s no need to spend tons of money when there’s plenty of used books stores around—you can even get them on Amazon.com. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s kind of a cardinal rule to writing.  If you want to write—and write well—you’ve got to read…a lot.

Stephen Kings says, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order.”   As far as I’m concerned, that pretty much sums it up.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 12.42.30 PMRight now I’ve got the current issue of Outside magazine in my handbag and can’t wait to tear into it.  The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr is on my nightstand.  What are you reading or listening to these days?  I’d really like to know.

Make A Date With Your Writing Mojo.

One of the challenges when it comes to writing is finding time to actually write.  If you’re like me, or the rest of society these days, your life is broken down into chunks of time that we sync up to like robots.

Depending on your lifestyle these activities will vary but here’s a list where most of us probably share some crossover.   Things like—walk the dog, feed the cats, have breakfast, get your kids to school, surf the web, get to work, surf the web, do your job, eat lunch, surf the web, do your job, surf the web, travel home, make dinner, surf the web, go to the gym, practice yoga, go to school, veg on the couch, watch mindless television.  I’m exhausted just going through that list but you get the idea.

Finding your writing voice is a beautiful thing but finding the time to write so you can discover it is a whole different story.   You know you have it in you but some bizarre quirk keeps you from making time to do it.  To add to that, since you’ll be writing about your travel experiences you’ll need to have them fresh in your mind.   But what if the last trip you took was a few months ago?  Unless you have an amazing sense of recall, or have kept a trusty journal, this could get tricky.

Travel Guides

Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

What excites you about the countries you love?  What foods have you tasted in your travels that make you wish you lived there?  What intangible bond connects you to a destination so much that you want all your friends, family and customers to experience it?

Let’s make it easy.  To find your voice you have to write.  To develop your style you need to write.   To recount the details and descriptions of a trip, you’ll need to write.  Take a look at your day.   Where can you fit in writing?  This isn’t meant to be a complicated question but I’ll bet there are things that take up space in your day that can easily take a back seat so you can get writing.

Identifying where in your day you’ll commit to writing will be different for everyone.  For me, it’s usually first thing in the morning.   Right now I’m sitting at my table with a glorious bunch of daffodils in my face, listening to sparrows chirp on my fire escape.   Observations and ideas also come to me when I ride the iron worm—aka the NYC Subway system—and I jot them down.  Planes and trains are perfect opportunities to gather the details and descriptions you’ve noted along a journey and start playing around with ideas.

WRITE anyway

WRITE anyway (Photo credit: sbpoet)

Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to get started.  If you need that kind of inspiration then check out Do the Work by Steven Pressfield.  It’s a short, quick read and Steve’s got a great voice.  Reading his stuff is kind of like hanging with a friend but the kind of friend who calls you on your stuff and won’t let you hide behind your wall of resistance.   After reading it, finding the time to write might get easier.

Whether you do it at sunrise or sunset, over your morning coffee or sitting in the park eating lunch, identify a particular time to write and do your best to stick with it. Maybe commit to 15 or 30 minutes to start.  If you keep an appointment calendar then schedule that portion of time into it.   It doesn’t matter when it is so long as you find the time.  Like all of the other stuff we do, it’ll become a habit—and a good one.

None of us do things unless we want to – and want is the operative word here.  So if you want to write, then it’s time to get busy.  Make no excuses and take no prisoners.  Punch insecurity in the face and shove your resistance aside.

The information and experiences you possess about your travels is valuable.   It’s time to get your writing mojo going.   Have fun with it and let me know how you make out.

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way Out.

People will tell you South Africa will change your life and it will.   It’s something people told me the first time I visited.  It’s something I now tell first time visitors.  I’ve gone back twice since and each visit brings a new revelation.

As a museum and World Heritage site, Robben Island is one of those places on South Africa’s list of places to see.  I’d wanted to check it out on previous visits but for one reason or another hadn’t gotten around to it.  I’d be in Cape Town managing a conference and built in the opportunity to take a group there, so off we went.

You travel to Robben Island by ferry and you want to go when the sea is calm–which is hardly ever–so it’s best to get the first transfer of the day.  We arrived the waterfront early, boarded the boat and settled in for the thirty-minute sail across Table Bay.  A private group tour had been arranged and an eloquent and engaging gentleman from South Africa Tourism greeted us.

Robben Island tour bus. (Photo credit:  Claudia Santino)

Robben Island tour bus. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

He led us on to a small, white bus with the slogan “Driven By Freedom emblazoned across it.  We sat silent as our guide recounted the story behind this isolated island once used as a leper colony and hospital but whose main function, and what earned it notoriety, was as a prison camp.

You can see Cape Town from Robben Island but for the men imprisoned here it must have seemed a million miles away. The waters that surround it are rough and uninviting.  It was sunny, about 50 degrees but chilly, as the bus rolled slowly along the sandy roads through the rocky, bone-white limestone terrain.  Seagulls swooped and screeched overhead.  A clear blue sky contrasted against the brightness of the island rock and sand and there wasn’t much shade.  By all accounts it was a beautiful day for us but it wasn’t difficult to imagine the desolation felt here.  It must have been hell for the men confined to this unforgiving environment in bitter cold winds or in the high heat of the African sun.

Our guide spotted a group of jackass penguins and the bus stopped so we could snap photos of these little creatures with their donkey-like bray.  With their black-webbed feet, they waddled around the acacia shrubs like they were on their way to garden party.  For a moment it was easy to forget what this place was all about.   The protection of mammal and bird life on Robben Island contributes to its status as a World Heritage Site.  It would have been a plus to see the other wildlife but our time was limited and we were here for the cultural significance.  We were here to see the maximum, security prison that held Nelson Mandela.

About five square meters, we could only enter the cell two at a time for about a minute.  On the floor, a thin mat served as his bed.  A bucket served as the toilet.  A small, barred window offered a meager view.

Nelson Mandela's Cell

Nelson Mandela’s Cell (Photo credit: mr_mayer)

It felt strange to stand here and one by one the collective mood turned somber.  Being confined to this space had to change the way you looked at things but there was no way I could fathom what Nelson Mandela’s life was like here for one second, much less 18 years.  “My bathroom’s bigger than this,” observed one of our group members in disbelief.  Our guide recounted the dehumanization and degradation endured by Mandela and his fellow political prisoners.  We all had a general knowledge going in of what happened here, yet to learn the details while moving within these walls somehow made it different.  The bleakness of it was overwhelming.  Standing there, it was almost impossible to reconcile what happened on Robben Island with the man we’ve all come to know through the media.  With the graceful man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.  With the man who would go on to become the president of South Africa in 1994.

“Take a look to your right, that’s Robben Island University,” instructed our guide.  We saw nothing, just a pile of rocks.  But what only appeared to be a lime quarry to us was the underground college Mandela developed through limited conversations with other high-level prisoners.

Lime Quarry and memorial stones

Lime Quarry and memorial stones (Photo credit: B.T. Indrelunas)

On top of all the other hurt and humiliation, they were deprived the most basic but essential human connection—communication. Those men worked that rock in severe heat, biting wind, driving rain, and at the same time found a way to secretly discuss and engage in a discourse on free will, apartheid, their constitution and all sorts of literature.  They learned self-respect, how to practice it and how to earn it.  That this could happen said so much about the human spirit and spoke to the understanding that the cultural rules and expectations of how to navigate life and opportunity only apply if you think they do.   I recalled the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and realized the strength of that simple phrase.   It got me thinking about freedom, what is really means, what it really is and how Nelson Mandela experienced more freedom in his mind then most of us ever will.  It also got me thinking about education, the price we pay for it in the U.S., how it’s taken for granted, and how those men most likely got the true essence of its best information but at a very high cost.

Robben Island has become a return trip my mind takes every now and then.  It’s the sort of place everyone should visit.  The time and lives lost by the men imprisoned there because of apartheid can never be made right.  It’s a sobering experience but it also shows the light and spirit man can discover within himself, and others, in the hardest of circumstances and that is a beautiful thing.   The words “driven by freedom”  echo many meanings to me now.

How will South Africa change you life?  That’s something you’ll discover when you get there.    Already been?  I’d love to hear your story.