Posts Tagged 'travel writing'



Top Three Travel Secrets: A Chain Letter for Travel Bloggers

It reads as ominously as a middle school chain letter. Except, in the end, failure to perpetuate the chain isn’t sworn to result in untimely death or spinsterhood (which are more or less the same thing when you’re 12). Rather, in this chain, compliance results in access to a treasure trove of travelers’ secrets. And probably some new friends.

I was hit by two writers in the TripBase Blog Tag, spreading through the travel blogosphere like hot gossip around a lunch table. Or a dirty note during Math class, light-up sneakers in a mean game of duck-duck-goose. (The analogies could go on forever.) The idea is you write a post about your top three travel secrets: out-of-the-way towns, little-known restaurants, unheard-of hotels—“hidden gems” that lay glittering in the dimness of obscurity. Until now, that is.

Aside from amassing an ass-kicking list of previously unknown spots around the world, the other objective of the TripBase Blog Tag is to be build community and get folks involved. I can get down with that. In addition to the awesome ladies that tagged me—Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travel and Abbie from Miles of Abbie—I’ve already discovered some new writers on the TripBase list of bloggers tagged so far. (Best blog names? Dirtbag Writer and Snarky Tofu. Fuck yeah.) My hunch: the final list won’t just expose travel secrets, but also some bad-ass writers I hadn’t encountered yet.

They say you’re only as sick as your secrets. Here’s to travel health:

End of the hike: waterfall into the Pacific

#1 Palomarin Hike, Marin County, California

My work friend had been telling me about “the secret hike” for months. Huddled over our staff meals in the cramped bus station, she made rope-swinging into the clear lake, and the coastal waterfall at the trail’s end, sound like a dream. Or at least a damn good fantasy.

We finally coordinated a day off together in August and headed up to Marin to the Palomarin Hike. We grabbed sandwiches and drove up past Stinson Beach to tackle the 11-mile hike. And I gotta say, it was just as killer as she’d described.

The hike starts through rather typical dusty California coastal terrain, taking you past sweeping Pacific vistas us locals have grown accustomed to. After about 45 minutes, the foliage and trees thicken, and you eventually get to Bass Lake, a frigid-water lake that’s biggest draw is an old-school rope swing. You could while away hours here, but, seeing as though it was August in the Bay Area and foggy as hell, we were too cold to partake. We continued on, and ended up at the trail’s end, where a waterfall tumbles into an isolated coastal cove.

The good news: the hike, although long, is gentle and not too strenuous. Which means just about anyone could do it—including my smoke-a-pack-a-day friend and me, who was then recovering from swine flu (yes, really).

The bad news: the Palomarin Hike is a total word-of-mouth Bay Area secret. As is the way with Marinites, locals don’t want outsiders to know about their secrets or have access to them (see also: why BART doesn’t run to Marin). Locals take down street signs and signposts, meaning that you’ve pretty much gotta go with someone who’s been there. So if you’re headed to the Bay soon, just hit me up; I’ll take you.

Ahhh...

#2 Legzira Plage, Atlantic Coast, Morocco

Okay, if you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ve already heard me gush about the most deserted and beautiful beach I’ve ever been to: Legzira Plage, Morocco.

Talk about tucked-away: from Tiznit, take an hour bus ride, hop off at the faded roadside sign, and hike down 20 minutes. It’ll really just be you, a couple stray tourists, some fisherman and their donkeys—and the sandstone arches that dive red earth into blue water.

Among the handful of pink building that cascade down the cliff into the main beach, there’s two hotels that offer relatively cheap rooms. I went high-class and got one with my own shower, squat toilet (doin’ big things), and a window that opened onto the ocean view—for under $20.

Another bonus is the Moroccan street harassment factor, and the fact that Legzira Plage doesn’t have one. After a couple weeks of solo backpacking, sweating in long sleeves and fending off the barrage of “bonjour”s, it felt pretty damn sweet to strip down to my bikini and wave-hop in peace.

Kids on their way to school

#3 El Congo, Venezuela

The story goes that, when Europeans first arrived in what is now Venezuela, they came to the Lake Maracaibo villages, perched on stilts amid the marshes and water. Watching the village folks traverse the “streets” in handmade rafts reminded the Europeans of Venice—and they dubbed the place Venezuela.

El Congo, Venezuela is the most other-worldly places I’ve ever been. It’s only reachable by boat, a 30-minute ride through the hazy flat expanse of water, and you’ve gotta book a tour to get there. But surprisingly, the town isn’t the main draw of the tour. The Catatumbo Lightning phenomenon is what draws most people—mysterious, thunderless lightning that occurs almost nightly in the skies over Lake Maracaibo.

The road to Los Llanos was flooded when I was in Merida, so I opted to take the Catatumbo tour in its place. I hadn’t heard of El Congo, but it ended up being the highlight of the tour (the lightning didn’t really happen that night). The town had everything—a school, a fire station, a convenience store, even a Plaza Bolivar—all erected on stilts. Rumor had it there were a couple old folks still living in the town who’d only ever stepped foot for dry land to bury relatives.

It wasn’t an untouched Eden: El Congo was extremely isolated, making inbreeding a huge problem, and the town was quite poor. Sanitation was a major issue, with most refuse and human waste going directly into the water. Owning an actual boat was a sign of privilege. The less well-to-do had to construct their own floatation devices—this girl tied a piece of wood to some leftover styrofoam, dug a stick down into the mushy lakebed, and propelled herself along that way.

The thing that really bummed me out were the poor yapping dogs chained to the “front porch” of some of the houses. So much for getting a walk, little buddy. But hands down, El Congo was the most unusual place I’ve ever traveled to—and so far off the beaten path, there wasn’t a path at all.

So that’s my top three, scrawled not-so-jaggedly into the margins of a wrinkled note. Now to fold it up and shove it into another sweaty, unsuspecting palm. This could get good…

Reaching Out My Tentacles

The inky arms of this blog have stretched out, past the confines of this page and onto other travel sites.

Voureen Taylor over at The Travel Nerd asked me a couple weeks ago if I’d like to be the first interviewee in her new weekly series profiling budding travel writers. Seeing as though I was the girl who, at 12, was convinced she’d be interviewed on Oprah by 16 for writing the great American novel—um, yes, I’d love to be interviewed.

The questions really made me realize how far I’ve come in a short period of time, and just how much I love both writing and traveling. Plus, I got called a prodigy—who doesn’t like that? You can check out the full interview here.

Matador Abroad editor and kick-ass writer Sarah Menkedick asked if I’d be into having an edited-down version of my recent post “The French Won’t Save You” published on Matador. I was especially stoked because Sarah and her man Jorge’s blog is one of my favorites. The slimmed-down version went up today, and I was happily surprised to see so much of the original post remained: my Oakland references, my back-handed throw-down to Futurism, even some profanity survived the editorial process. I’m super interested to see what kind of discussion the post generates.

And finally, Girl’s Getaway republished the post I did on my emotionally brutalizing day in Marrakesh. “Marrakesh, You Broke Me Down” appears in full, even with some of my own photos (though the girl pictured in the header is most definitely not me). It’s been rather life-affirming to read the other ladies’ comments. And you know how they say that writing is the ultimate revenge? Well, sometimes it is.

I was surprised when the editor at Girl’s Getaway approached me about the Marrakesh post, since it seems like a bit of a deviation from the other articles on the site. But it was encouraging to see, in both republished articles, that there’s a place for some of my less servicey pieces.

My next narrative piece for Girl’s Getaway will be a lighter, more cheerful one: when Melissa, Georgina, Alicia and I, sick of the incessant street harassment of Puerto Vallarta, snuck into a cheesy package resort and spent the day amid the overweight middle-management dudes and their budget trophy wives at the swim-up bar. Just in case you need a sneak preview…

This should be a good one… one more written appendage reaching out, grasping at the invisible sparks of web pages and wireless signals, submission guidelines and editors’ emails—and finding something to grab on to.

Notebook Digging

DSCN3935

Yep. Traveled with all 3 of these guys.

Recrafting prose or polishing turds?—you make the call.

I’ve put it off long enough. I’ve finally embarked on the task of digging through my last trip’s notebooks. I’ve set out on a spelunking mission through the email addresses, phone numbers and crudely drawn street maps that fill the stained pages, excavating hieroglyphic scrawling and jagged phrases in search of literary gems I just know are in there, buried amid the recesses of black ink/bat feces.

As per usual, these disembodied stanzas and half-poems don’t seem quite as brilliant as they did in the moment, but some aren’t so bad. I plan on bugging some writing friends of mine for feedback (that means you, Jacob), then packaging up what survives in a nice electronic bow and sending it to Literary Bohemian, a site I have a crush on. What’s left will be put on here.

Don’t think of it as a literary scrap heap, but rather that first post-Thanksgiving plate of leftovers—before you’ve gotten sick of turkey. At least that’s the spin I’m putting on it.

One of the great things about my last trip was how much I wrote. I was on fire. It’d been a long time since I’d felt that way, completely consumed, possessed. It’d been a lost couple of years, basically not writing at all; I could feel it all swimming around in there, very far beneath the conscious surface, but nothing would come out. Literary constipation. As uncomfortable as it sounds.

To my delight, I actually wrote a fair amount of poetry on my trip. Which feels more like writing to me than first-person narrative—I don’t know why. I love narrative, but it sometimes feels too easy. Just me mouthing off, you know. Of course, I find my witty insights endlessly amusing and fascinating, but I still love the rawness of writing poetry, the way an image will overpower you, how the best poems feel like they write themselves. It’s a tough place for me to tap into these days, and it sometimes feels like traveling is the only way to give my poetic prowess the necessary kick in the ass. Shock therapy via passport stamps.

In any event, here’s a fragment I wrote in Tangier about, well, writing and feeling like you’re in the pocket. And there’s plenty more where it came from…

I’m writing again

all the time

even when there’s not a pen in my hand,

always, in some back basement

of my brain, a hunched figure

banging typewriter keys,

smoke-shrouded

with only a street level window

silhouetting it

against the endless passing of feet.

I can’t keep up

with the furious clatter,

the singing of the keys,

their persistent tapping,

not for permission

but to be unleashed.

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

DSCN3924

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?

The Trials of Trying

DSCN3637I´m learning to become a travel writer—which has a lot more to do with learning to travel, and travel differently, than it does learning to write.

Sure, it´s its own genre, a new craft to negotiate. And, yes, it involves hours hunched over a notebook or a computer, weaving images and experience and attempting to capture the whiffs of a place, the strange sentiments it evokes—those vague stirrings that Viriginia Woolf lamented go “fluttering through the nets” of even the best writers.

But, for me, the tricky part has been the first half of the phrase, the “travel” part of “travel writing.” It means traveling in a different way, pushing myself more beyond my comfort zone and inherent shyness in order to experience more—more interactions and more adventures mean more to write about. It means forcing myself to follow those little nudgings, those whispers to, say, delve into that shadowed medina alleyway or say yes to going out on the town when I´d really rather sleep. Fuller travels equal richer content; everyone wins.

I knew on the on-set of this trip that it´d be different for me—my first long trip since getting serious about travel writing. And I set out blazing—tromping around, joyfully holding hands with serendipity, taking feverish notes and spending long hours at cheap internet cafes, searching for punctuation marks on foreign keyboards. I was feeling positive, productive, learning more each day to let go and follow my hunches, the random doors that open.

Then came Lisbon.

I loved Lisbon. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe its bittersweet melancholy sunk in a little too deeply. It´s hard to say. But I spent my last morning woefully walking its steep streets, ruing in a mosaic of regrets not too dissimilar from the sidewalk stone designs.

Vibing well with my hosts, I´d stayed a day longer than intended, and still felt like I´d wasted my time, hadn´t used it well enough—missed out on a chance to go to my first football game, didn´t make the trek to a huge experimental design expo, didn´t go inside a cool-looking vintage toy store that probably would have made a killer (and sellable) story. I´d dropped so many balls, as my friend Katie would say, you´d think I was trying to dribble.

I´m not sure why I fell off so steeply, as precipitous as the seven hills of the city (at least I´m making some anaolgies out of it). It´s possible I´m just being hard on myself. I´m a person that always feels like I should be doing more, working harder, being better. I´m excellent at rallying, at pushing myself—working six days a week for months, saving money to travel. I told myself that for every place I visited on this trip, I´d come out with at least one story. This didn´t happen in Lisbon, and I think there´s a lesson somewhere in there.

I arrived in Lisbon tired. Exhausted, and it wasn´t just the six hours of broken sleep on an overnight bus. I´d been power-traveling for over a month, never sleeping in the same place for more than three nights. My clothes were filthy, my chest blossoming in a recurring stress-related rash. I´d had on-and-off-again diarrhoea for almost two weeks, but hadn´t had a period in over six. My last day in Marrakesh was emotionally draining, and I was ready to relax. To hang out with fun people, to eat pasteries in a shady park and watch trashy American movies. Which is what I did. Rejuvenating? Yes. Fodder for great travel writing? No.

There´s no use in wallowing in regret; all I can do now is try to learn something from it. And while I need to continue to push myself to take risks while traveling—to push open those cracked doors, to go into that toy shop—I also need to go easier on myself. Working as hard as I could got me sick for a month with summer (with swine flu, a whole ´nother story); similarily, traveling as hard as I can will burn me out. It´s tough, cause my time is so limited and my resources are so meager, but I need to move a little slower. Schedule in down time. Take moments to breathe.

Of course, it´s a spiritual challenge as well as a travel writing challenge, a lesson I´ve had to have beaten into me repeatedly. Maybe this time, I´ll finally learn.

The Glamorous Life of a Budding Travel Writer

Internet cafes usually lack the "cafe" ambiance

Internet cafes usually lack the "cafe" ambiance

Sure, I wandered the cobbled streets of Tarifa’s old city, took a walk along the deserted pebbled beach, sipped cafe con leche and watched the comings and goings from a streetside cafe. I also holed up in an internet cafe for over two hours and wrote. Some of it was catching up on my blog, some of it was checking bank accounts and responding to emails, and some of it was writing an article on credit card rewards programs.

I know, I know—you’re jealous, and it’s wrong of me to rub in your faces the glamour of the profession I’ve so haphazardry embarked upon. But this is the truth of it, from what I’ve acertained and thus far experienced: the majority of writing a travel writer gets published, at least on the on-set, is service-oriented and, well, kind of unexciting.

But it’s extremely useful—I’ve advised friends on how to make the most of rewards programs, and I’m certain other travelers will find value in this nuts-and-bolts type of article. I get to plug my own blog, make connections with editors and readers, and add one more piece to my portfolio. Is it earth-shattering, thought-provoking or emotionally stirring? No. But is it a start; is it still my name in print and a little more experience? For sure.

With that long-winded intro, you can check out the article, published on StartBackpacking, here.

I’ve been puttering through Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, written and edited by Don George, co-founder of the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference I attended, a heavy-weight in the industry and all-around nice guy. The book includes a lot of great information; I’ve especially been enjoying the author interviews. All of the the folks interviewed, well-established and successful travel writers, say the same thing: there’s no glamour or money in travel writing (I’d extend that to most types of writing). You’ve gotta do it for the love of it, cause you can’t think of any other way to live your life.

If that’s the case, I suspect I might be on the right track.

The Itch for Ink

My new article came out on Matador Nights, just as I was taking off. I was so bummed about missing the London Tattoo Convention (by two weeks!) that I wrote a quick round-up of tattoo travel destinations I´m currently stoked on. More than anything, it´s a list of places I´m already in to, or what to go to. (Milan´s kinda random, but sounds fresh.) There was a fair amount of editing and word change, but I can still hear an echo of my own voice.

Of course, I should have specified that these were modern tattooing destinations; the first comment makes a good point about traditional tattooing destinations missing. And, um, what´s up with the fourth comment? You don´t sound very educated yourself, uncle whatever.

Check out my picks, and the comments, here.


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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