Archive for the 'Successes' Category



Trudging the Road to Travel Writer-dom: Struggles, Successes and a Couple Happy Dances

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The ole ball and chain

It’s been an exciting, exhausting week in my journey (bad pun alert) to become a travel writer.

It’s pretty counterintuitive when you think about it—trying to become a travel writer. As Tim Cahill said, travel writing is a forgiving genre, “because as soon as you step out the front door it’s travel writing.” By the same token, the moment your fingers start scribbling or typing, you’re writing. So, bingo-bango—I’m a travel writer.

But when it comes to the more pressing business of business, of embarking upon building a profession around overlapping passions, in an industry so tumultuous seasoned experts are scrabbling to make due—well, that’s another story. I’d like to say I’m writing that story, but I suspect that this is a story that’s writing me.

First with the successes. They say bad things come in threes, but I’m convinced good things do too. The travel-writing stork delivered three little bundles of joy to my laptop this week.

My run of good luck started on Tuesday, when a StumbleUpon link to my blog generated 346 pages views, making the day’s total 494. My previous record had been 97, so, yeah, I was a little stoked. I knew it would only be downhill after that (indeed, the downward slope in the line graph is a little sad), and the busted link-back kept the original Stumbler a shadow-shrouded enigma. But I was tickled nonetheless. There may or may not have been a happy dance involved.

Wednesday I discovered that a local TV station’s website had published an excerpt from my Dia de los Muertos post, along with a link to my blog. This is the closest I’ve come to being on TV. (Happy dance #2)

Thursday, the editor from the new female-oriented travel site Girl’s Getaway contacted me to see if I’d be interested in writing for them. Um, yes. While I brainstorm ideas of girlie stuff to do around the Bay, my post on getting hassled and humiliated in Marrakesh will be appear on their site (guess my grand entrance will be on the bummer-ish side). I’m now listed on their writers page, which evoked more of a happy giggle than a dance. My feet hurt—it’d been a long night at work.

Which brings me to the “struggles” side of things. I don’t mind the long hours at the computer, and taking my laptop over to the cafe and eating cake while I work may or may not be the highlight of my day. But that’s also indicative of the adventure level of my life right now. Which, even if you don’t want to be a travel writer, is pretty lame.

Here’s the scenario: this week, I wrote the post on Dia de los Muertos; worked on a sizable, ongoing freelance project from NileGuide (fun with regional descriptions); continued reading the Pico Iyer book I’m deep into; spent hours online reading and commenting other people’s blogs; wrote an article on Caracas—and worked full-time. This means that pretty much every minute I wasn’t at my actual job (the one where I make enough to support myself), I was at the computer, doing what I love. Now, I love writing, but this scenario doesn’t leave a lot of time for friends, for going out, for doing the kinds of things that generate compelling writing in the first place. If great writing is the end product of great living, this ain’t cutting it.

Something’s gotta give, and I don’t think it’s gonna be the writing. I’ve been grappling with financial insecurity this week, on working up the nerve to release my grip and leap into the unknown.

I face, of course, the American Dilemma. No, not Gunnar Myrdal’s—I mean health insurance. If I cut my hours at work, I lose my health insurance. I can stay on the company’s plan and pay out of pocket for up to 18 months, but the last time I did that, it cost me nearly as much as my rent. But wait—if I cut my hours at work, how will I afford another monthly bill? Ah well, who needs thyroid medication anyway? Oh wait—me.

So I’m working (in addition to working) on letting go of my comforts, and getting comfortable with the idea of less security. Or no security. Careers that offer security don’t appeal to me—thus the debauched grant writing stint. Sometimes, a lot of times, I wish they did. But we don’t get to pick what we love, now do we?

I read an excellent interview with writer and fresh lady (and perhaps role model) Daisann McLane, in which she talks about how scary a life without security can be, the life of a travel writer. But, she says, “when you travel to so many different places, and you see how people live outside of your little bubble, you realize how ridiculous the very idea of security is, from a global perspective” (Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, p. 140).

Well, amen, sister. But now I’ve got some margaritas to sell… do you take salt?

Livin´ La Vida Português

Beach from a bus window: NOT the way to be enjoyed

Beach from a bus window: NOT the way to be enjoyed

Nearly a week into my Portuguese travels, I am convinced of two things. One, Portugal is a country best enjoyed by car. Two, Portugal is best a country enjoyed.

On my second day in Lisbon, my Couchsurfing hosts and I chased the sunset along the granite coast, driving through increasingly posh, and beautiful, suburbs where tan bodies gleamed in beach coves, green parks and umbrellaed cafes. My hosts, recently relocated Hungarians, had spent a month driving around the country, stopping in at whatever little village or beach enticed them. As we curved down the coastline, in pursuit of their favorite sunset spot, they told that Portugal was best explored by car. Infrequent and/or nonexistant bus service cuts you off from a lot of the country, they told me; cars mean the usual freedom from timetables, but also a better glimpse into Portugal. I stared out the window, at the pinkening sky and grey sheets of cliff, and nodded—I certainly wouldn´t be feasting on that sight if it weren´t for my hosts´car. Of course, traveling solo, renting a car was far out of my budget, but I lamented my inability to see more of the country, to get off the beaten path and into the dying villages the speckle the green countryside.

But as we climbed out of the car and scurried along the rocks just in time to snap photos and sigh at the insane beauty of it all, another thing occured to me: the Portuguese know how to enjoy life. They don´t initially bowl you over with siestas and late-night partying like their neighbor; coming from a night in Seville, Lisbon actually felt a little tame. While the Spanish are a bit more flamboyant in their lust from life, the Portuguese have a subtler, but equally infectious, approach to living it up: they´ve got the beaches. And the pastelerias. And futbol and fado and seafood and port. And all of it´s twinged with this hint of melancholy that really gets under your skin.

Old folks in Obidos

Old folks in Obidos

The theories converged and cemented today, as I treked off to Obios. The medieval village wasn´t initally on my itinerary, but two Portuguese guys and my hosts assured me it was the most beautiful town in Portugal, that I had to go there. An expensive touristy place to sleep, I booked a hostel in a nearby beachtown, filled with shirtless, sunbleached Austrialian surferboys. As they tossed their towels over their shoulders and headed out a day in the waves, I walked to the bus station. And waited.

The bus ran every two hours and, when it came, made a winding route through narrow streets, stopping at what felt like every crossroad. I got to Obios and, well, was a little underwhelmed. It was pretty, had a castle and cobbled streets and lots of stores selling lace and ginja, cherry liqeuor. I wandered amid the elderly tourists and billowing bougainvillea, half-heartedly snapping photos of the lush rambling countryside and gold-dripping cathedrals. Meh.

I´d been thinking about trying to make it over to another village, only about 30 km away. It sounded even more boring, but was home to a medieval monastery with a gruesome history—gruesome in the way Quentin Tarantino meant when he wrote the line, “I´m gonna get medieval on your ass.” Murals depicted scenes of the monastery´s founder ripping out and eating the hearts of the people who murdered his forbidden beloved, while making memebers of the court kiss her decomposing hand—metal enough to put Lords of Chaos to shame.

But, alas, the bus to Alcobaça only ran once every three hours, and would put me in town only an hour before the monastery closed. I debated: wait around in pretty-but-dull Obios for the bus and try to squeeze in one more sight, or head back to my hostel and do like the Portuguese: hit the beach. I´ll let you guess what won out.

Freshly shaved and bikini-clad, I took my crappy travel towel and joined the fat old men and tattered fishing boats along the gentle coast. The water was cold at first, but soon I was breast-stroking and wave-hopping with the best of em. I´ve been told the Portuguese love their beaches and escape to them at every available opportunity—and now I can see why. Rockless and clear enough that I could see my feet, it felt pretty heavenly. I stretched out in the sand, soaked up some sun, and stopped for an ice-cream cone on my way back.

I may not be making it out to the remote hilltop villages, and I may be spending hours twittling my thumbs at bus stations, but I´m starting to get the hang of this Portuguese living thing. And you know, it´s not so bad.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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