I don’t want to write travel guide books

I love the idea of being paid to travel, as I am sure most people that travel do, and I have been thinking about how to achieve it. With vague interest, I recently looked into what it would be like to write travel guides. A different country every month, eating out for every meal, accomodation and travel costs covered by your employer, it sounded brilliant!

In my research I came across the article ‘How to become a Lonely Planet Travel Writer – An interview with Simon Sellars’. Simon Sellars, a freelance writer and Lonely Planet travel guide contributor, was interviewed by Chris Mitchell of Travel Happy. Read it here.

I think the article is brilliant. Mitchell asks well-worded questions to extract interesting responses, and Sellars gets straight to the point. I find myself revisiting the page frequently.

Sellars’ answers instantly squashed my naive daydream of an all-expenses-paid round the world trip, and brought me back down to earth: “it’s more a case of being paid to collect brochures and bus timetable info…much of the job is gathering facts and figures”. I had not actually thought about what the day to day reality of being a travel guide writer would be, and his no-frills description made me instantly drop the idea. I realised that I don’t want to write travel guide books for somebody else.

Of course you do not choose where you are sent or when, and when you are there your time is not your own. So what is the point? I want to enjoy travelling, I do not want it to become a chore.

I do not wish to misrepresent Sellars by focusing soley on the negative aspect he highlights. Writing for a travel guide company has provided him with experiences which I am sure were unforgettable. He has been able to visit little-known places and form his own opinion of “regions that are generally ignored in favour of lazy cultural stereotypes.” He is very well-travelled. However, he paints a realistic picture of doing what you love for someone else. I do not mind the idea of doing what I love for someone else – that is called having a job that you like, but I want to still love what I am doing.

I like the freedom to go where I like and to stay there as long as I want. According to Sellars, for a travel writer “financial constraints make it almost impossible to linger at leisure for days on end like some kind of bohemian flaneur”. I have my own blog and my own agenda. I suppose that I am that “bohemian flaneur” and I relish every moment of this lifestyle. Travelling independently (and solo) means that I am the boss, and that is how I like it.

When describing his personal holidays, in contrast, he states “It’s just such a relief to be able to ‘follow your nose’ and instinctively uncover a city”, which I do every day when I am abroad. Sellars suggests that he has little time for such freedom when guidebook writing. Travelling to write guide books just doesn’t sound like my idea of travelling.

I found myself agreeing with Sellars’ approach. To learn about a new place he stresses the importance of possessing “A good pair of ears. I like to merge into the background and observe and listen to conversations as much as possible.” I love to people watch, to simply walk down the street and observe the locals. What are they wearing? What are they doing? What are they talking about? How do they react to me? I try to learn about local life and “a place through close observation of its social interactions”, as Sellars appears to too.

This article helped me to realised that I love doing what I am doing and that I don’t want that to change. Inspecting toilets and testing hotel mattresses all day long is not my idea of fun. Although I know full well that no job is perfect and although I do not make money when travelling, I travel for myself and I want to keep it that way. Instead of going where an editor sends me, and having to follow their brief, I go where I like and write about what interests me- how I feel, what I see and do, cultural differences and social observations. I write accomodation reviews and give (what I hope is) sound travel advice, based on experience. I would be thrilled (and shocked) if blogging could support my travels and permit me to continue, but for as long as it does not, my trips away will be shorter but my own.

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One thought on “I don’t want to write travel guide books

  1. I totally agree with everything you have said in this post. I too once had a dream of writing guidebooks but I’ve learnt recently that honest and personal accounts of a place go a lot further – people actually enjoy to hear the negatives of a destination too!


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