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Monday, March 3, 2008

That was then, this is now: how we travel

How differently we travelled when we were younger, when we tripped about the planet as 'travellers' rather than as professional travel writers. We've just finished four consecutive days of travel between three countries (we've just finished updating four books), involving four hotel stays, three rental cars, one border crossing, and two (delayed) late night flights. As I've been queuing at X-ray machines and passport control counters I've been thinking about how differently we travel now in terms of the choices we make:
* THEN we would pack our backpacks as light as we could, knowing we'd soon be filling them with souvenirs and other bits and pieces, NOW we cram as much into the Samsonite wheelie bags as we can - clothes for all seasons, guides, books and research materials, and every bit of technology imaginable - offloading things when we're done with them, leaving bags about the globe with friends, posting things back to family, and paying excess baggage when we have to;

* THEN we would take overnight buses and trains if we could to avoid forking out the cost of a hotel room for a night, NOW we do anything to avoid the late night trips and (when we have a choice) will happily pay more to travel at a more civilized time;

* THEN we would store our luggage at the hotel and wander around the streets for hours and hours killing time until our departure (and have sponge baths in bus stations if we had to!), NOW we will happily pay extra to get a late check-out so we can make more productive use of our time (and avoid sticky journeys!);

* THEN we would hang out in the departure lounge and read a book if we had a long wait for a connecting flight, NOW if we have to transit we head straight for Information to find out if there's a business lounge we can pay for to work at for the day - with their showers, internet access, complimentary drinks and snacks, and free magazines (hint: just peel off those "don't remove from this lounge" stickers), the lounges can actually be great value;

* THEN we would take public transport from the airport into the city to save money, and explore places by train and bus, NOW we hire a car straight from the airport and explore on our own wheels, purely for the convenience and freedom it allows;

* THEN we would see as much as we could in the time we had available, even if it meant travelling to a different town or city every second day or so (you know, "If it's Tuesday it must be Barcelona"), NOW we stay as long as we can in the one place, preferring to rent apartments over hotels if the project allows, and getting to know one destination more deeply than many places superficially;

* THEN we would get up early, race around and see as much as we possibly could and go to bed as late as we could (not much different to researching a guidebook actually), NOW (when possible, i.e. when we're not researching guidebooks) we prefer to take it easy, only seeing what interests us and instead doing what the locals do, even if it means heading out to eat at 11pm and sleeping in late.

While most of the changes to how we travel now are driven by work - the neverending deadlines, the need to work anywhere anytime, to not waste a second - I wonder if some are also the result of getting older and wanting to take things slower. Have you changed the way you travel?


Prêt à Voyager said...

Wow! What I life! I still want to see your notebooks sometime.


Anonymous said...

This comes at such a great time!
I am researching hotels for an article for a great newspaper back home in the States (will also pitch it to some travel mags as well) I was just confirmed for a great hotel in Bangkok! I plan to only carry three dresses and a pair of jeans during my two week stay in Thailand. My style has always been to travel as lightly as possible, I'll see what happens. Thanks for the insight, you always provide great tips!


Lara Dunston said...

Hi Anne - you wouldn't be able to read my writing! But we're working on a book about our 2 years (and climbing) on the road and I'll include excerpts in there... so you'll probably have to wait until the book comes out! :) Or maybe a blog... that could be an interesting blog actually... the rambled cryptic notes of a travel writer on the road...

Hey Felicia - yeah, I don't have a problem packing light if I'm doing a trip that has a start and end date. The difference is when you're permanently on the road, when you're jumping from one commission straight to another.

What's worst clothes-wise is when one is in the southern hemisphere and the other in the north. Summer, no problem, summer clothes are light, but winter always weighs down the baggage with a coat, sweaters, thermals, etc. Then there's the shoe predicament - I never feel like I have enough and yet I have knee-high leather boots that I never get out of in winter and they're wonderful whatever the occasion, but then there are hiking boots for walks/treks, a pair of flip flops and - because we eat in so many fine dining restaurants and have the occasional gala party, a snazzy pair of heels.

But the real weight is in the technology - laptop, airport express, back-up drives, cameras, cables, adaptors, i-pod, etc, it all adds up (for my poor husband, tech gear takes up half his bag with all his heavy hard-drives, tripod, light stand, umbrella, etc) - and the research material...

When you research a guide book on a destination, you gather so much paper: other books, guidebooks, maps, phrase book, dictionary; you take all you can from the tourist offices, you collect brochures from every museum, gallery and archaeological site you visit, hotels give you whopping big press kits (mostly paper - we love the ones who give us little drives), you steal menus, matchboxes, business cards, and you - or rather, I, end up with a big heavy carry-on and - in this case, as we're updating four books at once on two countries - two or three extra shopping bags or paper. And then you have to keep all that stuff until you're finished the write-up in case you need something... because while there's a lot of stuff online now, not all hotels/restaurants/sites have web presences... so many countries are so not tech-savvy, it's just not part of their culture.

I love the moment when I've submitted the manuscript and I can throw it all out. I just pray that during the author query period I don't get a question relating to something I've discarded... eek.

Enjoy your trip!

Anonymous said...

You're amazing. Thank you so much!


Prêt à Voyager said...

Wow! Well, it's more how you take notes, mark up maps, collect things that interest me. But man, I CAN'T WAIT to read the book documenting all your travels/adventures. Best of luck! You're so inspirational!


Lara Dunston said...

Anne, I've just written a couple of fun little blogs (fun for me anyway) inspired by my notes made during a recent visit to the ruins at Knossos in Crete. I was looking for ways to do a blog on my note-taking for you, and then came across my notes on Knossos - our visit was rather a bizarre experience, partly because I spent so much time people-watching due to the guards behaviour. I don't think I've quite captured the combination of proper note-taking and people-watching that actually goes on when we visit places, as this experience was a little bit out of the ordinary... but I do promise to write a more serious blog on travel research soon.