Tag Archives: Writing

Even Bishops Do It.

Salisbury, England.

Salisbury, England.

Ibn Battuta, a 14th century Moroccan explorer, wrote, “Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Considered one of the greatest travelers of all time, accounts of his journeys were published in the Rihla.

I'd like to follow in his footsteps.

I’d like to follow in his footsteps.

Two weeks ago while roaming around online looking for some spiritual inspiration, I came across Huffington Post’s live Lenten blog. I wasn’t looking for any religious instruction but what I discovered was an inspiring, travel related, surprise.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lent, it’s the 40 days of observance, beginning with Ash Wednesday, leading up to Easter, and probably the most significant and spiritual season for Christians. It’s a time of repentance and fasting. In the self-denial department you can go big or small but chocolate, desserts, smoking, dieting, cursing—these are usually the big ones on the Lenten hit list. And that’s how I came across Bishop Edward Condry of the Diocese of Salisbury.

Salisbury's most famous house draws loads of visitors.

Salisbury’s most famous house draws loads of visitors.

Forget the sweets. The Bishop went big and put some thought into his Lenten challenge by ditching his car and committing to serve his rural community by bike, by foot, and limited public transportation. Granted, he is an avid biker but anyone who’s ever visited a city in England like Salisbury knows it’s not easy to traipse around from one end to the other without a car, but the bishop was intent on doing this for several reasons. The first is for the traditional Lenten observance of fasting, the second is to call attention to climate change, and the third is to be more respectable of nature’s gifts and resources.

The coolest thing is, he’s blogging about it daily.

And that brings me to travel. Specifically to travel agents and travel ambassadors everywhere. Every place you go, including your own backyard, is an opportunity to share your experience. The bicycling bishop may be pedaling around town inspiring others through his unique choice of Lenten observance but his travels are generating ideas and he’s finding inspiration to write about them.

Because that’s what travel does, it generates ideas. Towards people, food, wine, arts, fashion, architecture, sports, culture, politics, the environment, or religion. No matter how near or far we travel, it stimulates us in some way. Bishop Condry was stimulated by his faith to look around and approach abstinence in 2014 from a different perspective. The view from his handlebars stimulated him to write about it.cropped-ed-cycling-email

If you’re not used to writing it may feel a bit daunting at first, as in—who am I to write about this? But I’d ask—who are you not to write about it? I have a feeling the bishop would ask you the same thing.

Once you brush your fear aside and get your thoughts on the page you just might discover that you have a lot to say. You can start as big or as small as you like. There are no rules, so don’t make any. Bishop Condry didn’t.

In this world of user-generated content, travelers everywhere contribute to thousands of travel sites. If you’re afraid to take a big leap, start small. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo, are great outlets to share your travel experience through words and photos. Just find the one that works for you. Skittish about social media or afraid to click the publish button? No sweat, just break out the old pen and paper, it works every time.

Travel agents who might think there’s no way they can write just might surprise themselves. Speak with your owner or manager about doing a piece on your next trip and publishing it on the company website. If your agency has a marketing department, ask a colleague for guidance to help craft it.

ed-static-with-lock-emailBishop Condry’s goal is to clock 2,000 miles without a car and he’s halfway there. His daily blog posts are musings on his Lenten experience, and about nature, wet clothing, climate change, the people he meets along his travels, and about transportation. Through this observance he’s discovered a few new ways to spread the good word and share it. He’s certainly inspired me to ride and to write. The man is one cool dude.

Whether you hop on a bike or a plane, take a page out of the bishop’s book. Don’t be shy.

Interested in riding along with the Bishop Condry? Click here.

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Burns & Frozen Pipes.

The weekly snowstorm.

The weekly snowstorm.

The snow is falling fast in huge clumps outside my window as NYC gets socked with yet another snowstorm.

The sound of shovels scrunch, scrunch, scrunching away along sidewalks and the intermittent rumble of snowplows serves as yet another reminder of why I don’t want a car. Ice pellets bombard the window and somewhere out there in the driving wind I hear the honk of a local blue jay. He’s high on a branch pecking away at some late morning breakfast. What the hell is he doing out there? Then he flies away in the blizzard’s whiteness. How lucky that he can just fly away and go anywhere.

A friend is enjoying a holiday south of the border and I think of her with a mix of envy and delight. Good for her that she got out of Dodge without any hassles and is missing the nuttiness that comes with a snowstorm and the travel delays that follow.

It seems like everyone I speak with grows more pissed off by the weekly blizzards. They are done with this weather.  Would it be nice to be away on an island or chilling out in some laid back haven enjoying the sound of the surf and getting toasted by a Caribbean sun? Hell yeah. But I love the winter and appreciate the snowfall. I take advantage of it to hunker down and do the things I won’t do once the windows get flung wide open again.

Writing is another matter. Finding inspiration when you don’t travel brings its own challenges. But like the tiny flower buds that peek out from the dark cluster of leaves in the cyclamen plant on my windowsill, you have to reach for every ray of light to grow your ideas.

Local things. There are loads of local things to spark ideas and I’m a huge ambassador for investigating your town, city or state. Living in a metropolitan area gives city dwellers easy access to arts, culture, and parks. There’s always something out there waiting for us and sometimes you have to look at it from a different point of view to find the creative angle to find your story. For folks who live in more rural areas, the access to mountains, lakes, woods and wilderness has its own rewards. Music, movies, food, wine—travelers journey for these interests and whether you live in the city or suburbs, we all have them in our backyard which means we can write about them. It’s all about reaching for the light from a different angle.

Burns, favorite for a reason.

Burns, favorite for a reason.

Earlier this month, I traveled upstate for a Robert Burns Night and for one brief evening was transported to Scotland. Burns, a poet and lyricist, was Scotland’s favorite son and although he died in 1796, his birthday is celebrated every year in Scotland and pretty much anywhere Celtic culture is appreciated. The night’s all about tradition, with pipers, haggis (pudding made from sheep’s heart, liver and lungs—blech!), lots of Scotch whisky, and lots of tartan plaid. It was on ribbons and bows, skirts, shirts and dresses. There were men decked out in kilts, with turned down kilt hose, garters clipped to their socks and daggers tucked into them, discussing their sporran and what is was there for. And there was lots of poetry, speeches, and silliness.

If you’re looking for a way with words, the Scots found loads of inspiration in one supper. There’s an order to this night, and it starts with the drone of pipers welcoming in the guests. From then on, there are opening ceremony blessings for the supper and a special one for the haggis. Then they stab it, cut it up, and serve dinner. There are speeches and poems, a toast to the lads and a toast to the lassies. . It all ends with Auld Sane Syne, a song which no one knows the words to except for the main bit. The Scotch whisky is flowing and the snow is blowing.

There was snow, lots and lots of it. It snowed from the moment I woke that morning, until long after I drove back to Phoenicia in the falling snow that night to the house I was staying in. The house with the frozen pipes.

Trying to write when you haven’t traveled can kind of be like frozen pipes. Sometimes you’ve got to blast a blow dryer on them and that still doesn’t work. It’s hard and it’s laborious but if you want things to flow, it’s got to be done.

Since last night, 2,400 flights have been canceled nationwide. Whatever your weather conditions, don’t let it keep you down.

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.

Seeing the Awe, Not the Ugh.

Take me to the river. Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest.

Take me to the river.   Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest.

Back in the fourth grade one of the assignments given to my class was to research the history of a country.  I wanted England.  I was nine years old and I was really into English novels and all things British.   England was mine.

The teacher passed a hat around and asked us to pick a folded slip of paper from it and pass the hat to the student behind us.  My turn came and I dipped my hand into the hat, closed my eyes and willed England.  Instead, I got Hungary and the only thought that went through my head was—you gotta be kidding me (actually it was something else).

I asked my teacher if I could swap Hungary for England.  She said, no.  She was the teacher, I was the student, and this was Catholic school.  Back then, no really did mean no.   So I had myself a little pity party on the way home, got over my bad self and sucked it up that I was stuck with a country that I had no interest in, much less to write about.

I thought of that experience recently when I met with a group of travel counselors to discuss the value of them writing about their travels.   Many of them don’t think that they can write or they’re uncomfortable with the idea of it.  For others, there’s no interest or they just don’t see the value in it.  I get it, it’s not what they signed up for, it’s not in “the box” that’s their profession.  Throwing foreign stuff into the game of what we do every day and what we think we know can be startling and icky.

Recently, I wrote an article about developing your skills and interviewed career coach Kathy Gonzales.  She told me, “The thing that repulses you has gold inside.”  What exactly does she mean by that?  Basically, that we put roadblocks in front of ourselves that might prevent us from seeing an opportunity.  We assign an “ugh” instead of awe to an opportunity.   She also offered this advice, “Do something that you don’t want to do. Do something that you’re afraid to do because in the process of doing that you’ll open yourself up to removing certain blocks, you’ll open up perspectives, and you’ll learn something new.  Mostly, you’ll learn something that you thought you knew but don’t know.”

I get that doing something you don’t want to do is uncomfortable.  I also know that travel agents who take the first step and put pen to pad will discover a world inside themselves they didn’t know existed.  They’ll see the gold.

I reluctantly researched Hungary and the more I learned, the more I burned with curiosity about the place.   I begged my mom to make goulash but that wasn’t happening in our house.   In the end, I turned in my paper and turned out an A+.  It felt good, I felt good, I was on fire.

Decades later, I found myself in Hungary gazing at the magnificent stone, Széchenyi Chain Bridge that reaches over the Danube River connecting Buda to Pest.  I felt a connection to this place.  I also remembered my stubborn, younger self.  Funny how things shake out.

Yea, sometimes we have to push ourselves kicking and screaming into doing something we don’t want to do it.  But try it.  Give yourself a chance.  You just may discover you’re on fire.

Sweet Stuff in Toronto.

Toronto skyline.

Toronto skyline.

Visiting friends or family who live in different states or countries offers up a different perspective to experience the local scene of a place. It’s a double-trip because we can check out highlights we might be curious about and capitalize on insider info. We often take these visits for granted, they’re sometimes done out of obligation, but they can be loaded with gems. Travel agents who spend time with far-flung friends or relatives can use the opportunity to hone their writing. Interviewing their hosts, and any friends or neighbors, can expose you to a bird’s-eye view on a simple slice of life. I lived in Toronto over 20 years ago, and back then the town would roll up early. Sundays were like being in lock-down, and you couldn’t buy a thing—or a drink.  After several years, I paid a visit and surrendered my control freak nature to my sister Sandy and my brother-in-law Greg, and enjoyed a different experience of the city.  Today, Toronto pretty much operates 24/7 and the amount of construction with all the high-rise development around the waterfront area answers the question of why there’s a crane shortage. It’s crazy.

Local chill out at Sugar Beach.

Locals chill out at Sugar Beach.

Toronto was in the grip of a heat wave, so my hosts recommended we check out Sugar Beach. This former parking lot on Queen’s Quay is now a two-acre urban beach for city dwellers. Bright bubble-gum pink umbrellas, white Adirondack style beach chairs, candy-stripe rock outcroppings, a mini boardwalk, and artificial sand offer a welcome respite for locals and tourists and a tree-lined promenade runs through the park. Our visit coincided with the Redpath Waterfront Festival, a four-day experience of nautical history, digital storytelling, extreme watersports, concerts and the Tall Ships’ 1812. Food trucks and barbecue stands catered to the crowds and reps from Tourism Prince Edward Isle offered up a cup of their famous mussels and fries if you entered their five-day getaway drawing. I submitted an entry form and quickly went from feeling like a local to a tourist but it was all good. Under a beach umbrella, we enjoyed the scene and listened to the band.  Later, we cranked up the air-conditioner and they turned me on to a sugar kiss.  A fruit that’s a cross between a cantaloupe and honeydew melon, and its sugary sweetness was pure, thirst-quenching delight. That evening we grilled black cod and sweet corn they’d picked up earlier from the famous St. Lawrence Market, where you could easily plan a day trip and experience a major food orgy.

Some major decisions are made at the St. Lawrence Market.

Some major decisions are made at the St. Lawrence Market.

A Cabbagetown house.

A Cabbagetown house.

My family lives in Cabbagetown and it’s a gem of a neighborhood. It’s the largest area of preserved Victorian houses not just in Toronto, but in North America, and strolling though it is like being in a fairyland. The Irish settled this area in the 1800s and grew loads of cabbage, hence the name. Today, it’s the picturesque architecture of the brick homes with front yards of pale peach to scarlet red rambling roses, exploding hydrangea bushes, lavender, azaleas and rhododendron that creates what feels like an exclusive haven. “I’ve never sat out here,” my sis said as we settled on her front steps, breathing in the garden’s scent and sharing intimacies on life, love and the pursuit of happiness. We typically hang out in their backyard but I guess it took this Brooklyn girl to remind her of the pleasure you get sitting on your stoop. Later, we went into the night to find the Supermoon that had graced the planet but we must have looked like zombies as we staggered through the quiet streets with our heads craned trying to glimpse it through the lush trees arches.

The next evening, we enjoyed an after dinner stroll and stopped to chat with neighbors who were enjoying their own stoop. We exchanged introductions and got talking about the city and the area. Tony grew up in Pakistan during British rule and immigrated to Toronto when he was younger. “Because of my ethnic background, things were very challenging back then,” he said. But times have changed and he and his wife Holly, from Montreal, love their life in Cabbagetown. My sister mentioned that she moved to Toronto 38 years ago from New York. “Back then it felt like a small town, and it was conservative and a bit uptight. It was mostly Scottish, English, and Irish, now there’s an amazing ethnic mix,” she said. Toronto has most definitely grown into a cosmopolitan city. The Danforth is the Greek area, there’s also a Little Italy, a Little India, Little Portugal, and Chinatown. Not to mention a dynamic food scene, shopping, music, arts and all the other ingredients that contributes to a city’s cultural vibrancy. “It’s a great city, it somewhat reminds me of New York now. And then there’s lovely Cabbagetown, which is kind of like, you know…I know the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker,” she said. Greg’s American too, and originally came to Toronto on a research project. “I was disappointed Canada didn’t feel like a foreign country” he said. But two years later he set roots down and established himself as a professor of economics at the University of Toronto. These folks are all retired now.

Hidden lanes in Cabbagetown.

Hidden lanes in Cabbagetown.

We moved on and meandered through the neighborhood’s secret lanes, strolled through small Riverdale Park where locals walked their dogs, or just enjoyed the twilight hour on a bench. Across the park is Necropolis Cemetery, a lush and historic resting place. In front of a grand home we glimpsed feet on the top rung of a ladder that disappeared into a glorious tree whose branches spread across all directions of the garden and street. Looking up, we noticed it was a cherry tree rich with bright red drops of fruit. I asked the guy trimming it if they were edible. Then I heard a snap and he handed us a two-foot long stem, loaded with cherries. We enjoyed the sweet and juicy offering all the way home.

With the heavy heat came heavy thunderstorms. My flight was canceled and I had to spend another day with family, but it was all good.

Stay tuned for more on things to see and do in Toronto.

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?

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.