Archive for the ‘Travel writing’ Category

The Travel Writer’s Handbook will take you there

October 18, 2012

I’ve written a bit about what it takes to be a so-called travel writer. As I tell people, I’m a writer who travels and writes about it. I write about a lot of other things, too. For an upcoming trip to Greenville, SC, I’ll be working on a travel story, an arts story, and a bicycling story, or, more specifically, a profile about a women-centric bike shop.

But of course it’s the “travel” part that appeals to most people. I’ve taught several classes on the topic, mostly about how to find outlets and pitch ideas more than how to write, and I’m often approached by people who want to know how to “be a travel writer.” I have one all-time favorite book I recommend, and am thrilled that it was again updated – “The Travel Writer’s Handbook: How to Write – and Sell – Your Own Travel Experiences,” by Jacqueline Harmon Butler and Lousie Purwin Zobel. (Agate Publishing, $19.95) The seventh edition came out this year (last update was 2007). I’m sure we’d all get a good laugh comparing the first edition, in 1980, with the current one, as the markets and the technologies continue to change with lightening speed. Louise, who created the book, passed away in 2008 at the age of 86, but so much of her writing is relevant that she remains an author, at least for this edition.

Jacqueline Harmon Butler

Jacqueline takes readers step-by-step through pre-trip research and planning, marketing strategies and story approaches. She includes information on background research, query writing, finding new angles for tired subjects, and interviewing techniques. If you really want to be a travel writer, follow the tips in this book and you have a darn good chance of succeeding. If, on the other hand, you just want to write for fun – start a travel blog! If you’re more interested in getting paid to go on vacation, as so many people seem to be, I have no idea how that’s done. When you figure it out, please, please share the answer with me!

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‘Making an Exit’ around the world

October 12, 2011

Just back from New Mexico, where we found the cemeteries there to be strikingly similar to those in indigenous northern Argentina — colorful and lively. They draw reverent yet celebratory crowds on certain days, especially the Day of the Dead. (In Taos, we hunted for and found the grave of Dennis Hopper.)

Those visits got me in the mood to read Sarah Murray’s new book, “Making An Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre — How we Dignify the Dead.” I’m ready to sign up for a worldwide death tour. (I’ve already done the Chapel of Bones swing through southern Europe.)

I first learned of Sarah’s work through her book “Moveable Feasts: The Incredible Journeys of the Things We Eat.” Sarah, a Brit and a longtime Financial Times writer now based in New York City, is a quintessential journalist — curious about everything and a terrific researcher and story teller.

In Ghana, you can have the fantasy coffin of your choosing (photo Sarah Murray)

In her introduction, she writes of her father’s death and wonders how she would like her own handled. “Writers often tell us about places we must see before we die. I want to explore some of the ones we end up in when we’re dead.” Her research took her to Hong Kong, Mexico , Ghana, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Iran, Sicily, and Bali. So this is as much of a travel book as a survey of funerary practices, all the way down to its souvenirs — Sarah ordered a coffin from Ghana, famed for its wild vessels of death. Hers is in the shape of the Empire State Building and rests in her living room.

Check out her book and her blog (with death-themed photos that are full of life) and if you’re in New York, she has events on Oct. 20 and Oct. 30. Wish I could be there, dead or alive.

Tides Hotel Waterfront? We think not

January 10, 2010

Ground view from hotel to the water

What do you think? Is the Tides Hotel Waterfront justified in calling itself waterfront even though the hotel has a busy six-lane road (US Highway 1) between it and the Indian River?

I and several of my professional travel-writing colleagues say it’s not, because “waterfront” means that a place is on the water — not near the water, across the street from it, or within view of it. That would be “water view.” When Wessel and I pulled up to the “waterfront” hotel, in Melbourne, Fla., where we had reservations for two nights, we felt we’d been tricked.

View from the waterside looking at the hotel. Be careful crossing the road!

Not surprisingly, the misleading moniker was only one of our problems with the Tides.

Overall, their claim of being a boutique hotel is ludicrous. Fauxtique is more like it. Playing club music in the lobby and decorating with fake plastic grass doesn’t fool anyone.

The worst of the offenses? The shower was lukewarm. (When we complained, we were told we should first run it for 20 minutes! Can you imagine?) The wireless service worked in the lobby but not in our fifth-floor room. (We were told it must be a problem with our computers.) The meager cold breakfast was on par with a low-end Days Inn. Every employee had a different excuse for everything. I had to argue for a partial refund.

To be a boutique hotel, one needs more than fake-grass decorations

Adding fuel to my fire, the owners, Landcom Hospitality Management in Jacksonville, won’t return my calls. In my years of consumer advocacy, whether private or public, I’ve never had a company not return my call. And this is a hotel management outfit. Wow.

Why were we there in the first place? I’m writing a travel piece on Melbourne and the “Space Coast” for the Washington Post. Part of the theme is how downtown Melbourne has come of age. After Googling around, I stumbled upon the website for Tides Hotel Waterfront and read it was Melbourne‘s “only boutique hotel,” and “luxurious” at that. I thought it would be a great example for the story. The opposite  turned out to be true.

We've seen much better at a Days Inn

In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen such a blatant case of hotel deception in the US. This will teach me to study Google Satellite and read Trip Advisor first. I would have read these earlier comments:

“It’s waterfront if you don’t mind looking across and listening to US Route 1, a six-lane road. What a bogus claim.”

View from the fifth floor. Water view? Yes. Waterfront? What do you think?

“The advertising overstated the deliverables — waterfront really meant a four-lane highway between the hotel and the water; boutique really meant remodeled with new paint, fixtures, and furniture, but the hotel still feels like a 1970s concrete block motor inn. As an example, breakfast was prepackaged muffins and pastries along with styrofoam cups for your coffee and juice. This is not what I had in mind when I saw the word ‘boutique.’ ”

I would invite Landcom to remove “Waterfront” from the hotel’s name, along with the “boutique” claims — or start living up to them. Shame on Landcom if they keep up the charade.

I’d love to get paid to go on vacation, too

May 28, 2009
A peak behind-the-scenes of a travel writer

Does this look like a vacation?

I really appreciated this piece  “Frugal Traveler” Matt Gross wrote for his New York Times blog. Titled “Research: The Traveler’s Best Friend,” it’s an exhaustive list of his favorite sources, from books to online sites to friends and friends of friends. I could certainly relate to his strategies.

But here’s what I really liked about it. As someone who teaches travel writing, and as a writer who often has to respond to people who say: “You have my dream job!” Matt’s piece gives some insight into what a travel writer actually does. Namely, a lot of researching. Sure we travel, and I’m not complaining about that. But like every “glamour job” (actor, chef, TV anchor), there are so many misconceptions about the work involved. It’s hard work, crazy hours, and a lot of behind-the-scenes dirty work. It’s work! Fun work, but absolutely work.

Diane works on her notes during a camping trip in early April

Taking notes while camping in a swamp for a story on Roanoke River Paddle Trail

So the next time someone says to me, “I’d love to get paid to go on vacation!” (like you do, Diane) well, I’ll, I’ll … send them to Matt’s post and say, does that sound like a vacation to you? And Matt was just writing about before the trip, not the hours of interviewing during the trip, the photographing and sometimes taping, all the fact checking, and, oh yeah, sitting on your butt and writing for days on end. Also, many/most writers aren’t reimbursed for all or even some expenses. Having written for the Times, where I was in fact reimbursed fully, I assume Matt is. (While it’s true that some writers take freebies, there are also some of us who don’t ever, or rarely do.)

Taking of notes never stops

Writing while riding on Tammany Trace bike trail in Louisiana. (Oops, no helmet!)

A few other morsels from Matt, these during a Q&A with fellow career vacationer, I mean travel writer, Rolf Potts,  at his blog, Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding:

Rolf: What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?

Matt: There’s no way I could do this job if I weren’t married to a woman with a good, stable job. I’d be homeless. Seriously.

Diane (not that Rolf asked me): I don’t agree that travel writers need partners, but it would be a harder life, especially if you wrote only about travel. Which leads me to another thing Matt said, which I also disagree with.

Rolf: What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?

Immersion journalism for story on hot-springs pool in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

Immersion journalism for story on hot-springs pool in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

Matt: Go into travel before you go into travel writing. You should know how to cross a land border, book plane tickets in a language you don’t speak and befriend the old lady who squints evilly from the second-story window at everyone who passes by. In other words, if you’re just after paid vacations, then you’re going to have a tough time.

Diane: I shouldn’t say I completely disagree, but what I would say is: Go into WRITING before you go into travel writing. Travel writers are writers. Writers can (and often want to) write about most anything. During different points in my 25-year writing career, I’ve written about (and sometimes still do write about): music, art, food, personality profiles, environmental issues, and more. Learning the beat, in this case travel, is the easy part. Learning to research, interview, report, fact-check, write, edit, edit some more … not so easy. 

As for the paid vacation part, believe me, if you even attempt to write about a vacation for publication, it won’t feel like a vacation anymore.

I love my work, but it’s work! So if you figure out how to get paid to go on vacation, please let me know!

India: love, hate, and avoidance

October 1, 2008
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India was built by Shah Jahan as memorial to wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India was built by Shah Jahan as memorial to wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Have you been to India?” asked an acquaintance who was soon to visit her husband, who’s teaching in southern India for a few months. I told her that I hadn’t. I also confessed that I have mixed feelings about traveling there, or to any country that is chaotic and has unsafe tap water.

It’s not that I don’t travel outside my comfort zone. I do. Such as to Morocco, Ecuador, Argentina, Indonesia. OK, yes, those places are pretty tame. See what I mean? I absolutely celebrate the rich diversity in all countries. But the older I get, the lower my “ick” threshold falls. My overly sanitized American standards interfere with my sense of adventure. I say this with shame, not pride. Of course the easy way to get around this is to stay in luxury hotels, eat in westernized restaurants, and stay off the ground and away from the common folk. But what fun would that be? What reality would that offer? I’m either going to travel sort of like a local, or stay home. So I remain torn.

Wanderlust and lipstick by Beth Whitman

Wanderlust and Lipstick: for Women Traveling to India by Beth Whitman

Someone who doesn’t shy away from India is Seattle writer Beth Whitman, whose book “Wanderlust and Lipstick” addresses women traveling solo. Beth recently published “Wanderlust and Lipstick: for Women Traveling to India,” a country she’s visited several times since 1989. Beth has seen many changes there over the years and says travel is now easier and more reliable. But still challenging. The challenges are what make it memorable, of course. Beth reports that the number of travelers to India rose from 3.5 million in 2004 to 5 million in 2007 (wow!), and that the government has launched a campaign to train hospitality industry folks about such things as hygiene, manners, integrity and safety. Of course if things get too hygienic, polite, and safe, there go the bragging rights. You can buy the book at Beth’s website, www.wanderlustandlipstick.com.

One of my favorite travel stories offers a different take on the country. In “Trying Really Hard to Like India,” writer Seth Stevenson starts his award-winning 2004 story in Slate.com with this: “It’s OK to hate a place. … Because my girlfriend wants to come back – I’m back. I’m giving this dreadful place a second chance. And this time I vow I will try really hard to like India.” And here’s the ending: “As they say in really lame travel writing: India is a land of contradictions. A lot of things to like and a lot of things (perhaps two to three times as many things) to hate. It’s the spinach of travel destinations-you may not always (or ever) enjoy it, but it’s probably good for you. In the final reckoning, am I glad that I came here? Oh, absolutely. It’s been humbling. It’s been edifying. It’s been, on several occasions, quite wondrous. It’s even been fun, when it hasn’t been miserable. That said, am I ready to leave? Sweet mercy, yes.”

Celebrating Vicenza and pal Palladio

September 18, 2008
The Teatro Olimpico was designed by Andrea Palladio as his last work and inaugurated in 1585

The Teatro Olimpico was designed by Andrea Palladio as his last work and inaugurated in 1585

I was so happy to see this meaty travel story on Vicenza, Italy, by Canadian writer Paul French in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of its favorite son, architect Andrea Palladio (born Nov. 30, 1508), who designed many gorgeous municipal structures and country villas. Said article was even in the paper I usually write for, The Boston Globe. Not only was it interesting and helped spread the word on this relatively little-known architect and unknown area between Verona and Venice, in northern Italy, but its publication meant I could finally stop feeling guilty that I didn’t write anything myself!

Piazza in Vicenza (Click to ENLARGE)

Piazza in Vicenza on a dreary fall day (Click to ENLARGE)

Wessel and I went to Vicenza last Thanksgiving, and I swore it would be a vacation for me. As a writer, it’s difficult for me to go anywhere and not write about it. Part of that is that the opportunity is there and I’m spending the money anyway, and also I like making money from stories (though often my hourly rate ends up being ridiculously meager). But above all else, I truly feel a duty to spread the word about things I think are interesting, meaningful, helpful, or just plain fun. In a way I feel I do “social work” through my journalism, trying to help those in need. While Vicenza, a fairly wealthy city, will be fine without my assistance, I do want to point people there because it’s, as the cliché goes, a hidden jewel. (I’d never use that phrase in a story!)

Diane (left) visits Federico Lauro in the mid 1980s (Click to ENLARGE)

Here’s the story of my history with Vicenza. It was 1983 and I was on the last leg of a two-month backpack trip in Europe. I started out with a group of college friends, and then went solo. On the second day of my solo stretch, I was on an overnight train from Milan to Paris. Federico, who was in my cabin, was listening to a cassette of “Speaking in Tongues” by the Talking Heads. He was from Vicenza. We bonded over music, and ended up pitching our tents side by side in Paris and bopped around the city the next day. Then we became pen pals, writing each other a couple times a year.

Enrico, Mariella, mother Valenza, Eloisa and Federico (Click to ENLARGE)

Left to right: Enrico, Mariella, Mariella and Eloisa's mother, Eloisa and Federico, in 1986 (Click to ENLARGE)

In 1986, after staying in Greece for six months with my American friend Susan Pappas (who had also been on the backpack trip), I headed to Italy in hopes of finding work in one of the large cities. Of course a stop in Vicenza was on the agenda. When I arrived, I was quite under the weather, so not only did I stay with Federico and his family, they nursed me back to health. In the end, Federico and his father helped me find a place to live and a little work teaching English. I got to know his good friend Enrico, his girlfriend, Eloisa, and her sister Mariella.

I made a Vicenza stop during travels in 1988, but Federico and Eloisa were on holiday. Then, in 1990, Federico and Eloisa, now married, stayed with me near Boston for six months while they studied English and toured New England. After that, we wrote, and then emailed, infrequently.

Villa Rotunda designed by Andrea Palladio and built in 1566

The villa "La Rotonda," just outside Vicenza, was designed by Palladio and built in 1566

So when Wessel and I visited Vicenza, it had been 18 years since I’d seen Federico and Eloisa! They have two sweet, lovely children and live next door to Enrico and Mariella, now married and with children of their own. While Vicenza had grown (I couldn’t remember the outskirts all that well) the “centro” looked pretty much the same. It was very moving to revisit my past and also share my Italian city and friends with Wessel. Vicenza will always be near and dear to me, and now I don’t even have to feel guilty not writing a story about it!

A most-unpatriotic travel campaign

August 25, 2008

For better or worse, I read most travel-related press releases sent to me. This one was for worse. Straight from a PR firm in Williamsburg, Va., where you’d think people might be a little patriotic, the ad campaign is called “Escape the Election” and encourages Americans to leave the United States during the presidential election period to stay at a West Indies beach resort. 

It reads:  “As the conventions begin and the campaigns heat up, many may want to get away from it all.” Said resort, it continues, “provides a true escape from the election with no TV or Internet access in the rooms, allowing guests to completely unplug.” Why not just go stick your head in the sand?

Now, if these masters of marketing had simply said, “cast your absentee ballot and go,” I would have been fine. But instead, the campaign promotes ignoring one of the most important presidential races our country has ever seen by offering special rates at a beach resort.

And it gets better. Or worse. During elections involving our first-ever black presidential candidate, Madigan Pratt & Associates is urging us to stay with its client Nisbet Plantation Beach Club on Nevis in the West Indies. A plantation, you say? Yes, a former sugar plantation.

That word has such a bad connotation I cannot believe how many developments and resorts still use it — as a draw! Historically, plantations have been farmed by resident laborers, i.e. slaves.

So here’s my advice. If you feel the urge to travel during the election, don’t forget to vote first. And please skip any place that calls itself a plantation, unless you visit one that focuses on history, like our own Stagville Plantation in Durham, NC, to learn how life really was for Americans with dark skin during slavery. (And, yes, we still have a long way to go.)

Ever seen a wind-powered camper?

May 15, 2008

Below is my version of a short piece on wind-turbine maker Michael Powers that appears, with Wessel’s photo, in this month’s Ode Magazine. After it ran, someone from “Weekend America” on NPR contacted me for more information, as they might do something too. That felt validating because I’d tried to sell this story to Sierra and Audobon mags and got no reply from either. The story came to be because our group of cyclists touring in Delmarva happened to camp near Michael. Only when cycling out of the park after a two-day stay did I decide I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So I did a quickie interview  and Wessel took photos.

Here’s the piece: 

Wind turbine on campsite of Assateague State ParkTravelers who visit Assateague State Park in Maryland are accustomed to unusual sights, what with more than 100 wild horses freely roaming the grounds. But last summer, something manmade captured the attention of parkgoers as well. At one of the 350 campsites along two miles of the Atlantic Ocean stood a 28-foot whirring wind turbine powering the batteries of a Coleman Camper travel trailer.

Michael Powers next to his self-built wind turbineIts creator was Michael Powers, who will return to the island park in late-July with an even more efficient version of his eye-grabbing contraption. Powers, who lives near Baltimore, got the idea last spring of providing power for the camper’s two 13.8-volt batteries. Having gone with his wife and three children to Assateague for many summers, he figured the island’s constant breeze would be a perfect spot for wind energy.

“As a child, my father and I built a solar water heater for our family pool. Since then, I’ve always been thinking of ways to make solar and wind power,” says Powers, who by day manages a computer engineering team. “For this project I had my own ideas but did a lot of research on the Internet.”

Wind turbine at campsite of Assateague State ParkHe first set up the turbine in his back yard, which, he notes, did not thrill his suburban neighbors. The whole thing cost about $80, which included a $34 permanent-magnet motor and a $25 rotor, both purchased on eBay. He used PVC piping for the mast instead of the usual metal so as not to attract lightening. The wind supplied enough energy to power the campers’ lights, refrigerator, oven fan, and water pump.

This year Powers plans to increase the turbine’s efficiency by using fiberglass for the blades and switching out the steel rotor for a lighter aluminum one. He’s even considering using the wind to power a fan that would blow air across an ammonia-based evaporator to provide air conditioning.

Once he sets up again at Assateague, Powers and his highly visible windmill are sure to draw another round of curious campers.

“Everyone stops to talk to me about it, including the rangers,” Powers says. “My family thought it was weird that I had this up, but they’re used to it.”

Dispatch: Curling and skiing in Canmore

February 25, 2008

I came to Canmore in Alberta, Canada, to cross-country ski. So Ladies-league night at the the Canmore Golf & Curling Clubhow did I spend my first evening? Curling! No, not my hair, and, OK, I was only watching it and not doing it, though one new Canmore comrade practically pushed me onto the rink. (Having gotten up at 5 o’clock that morning in North Carolina and with a two-hour time difference, I was too darned tired to even try it out.)

Here’s how it happened. When I got to this charming town, surrounded by the Canadian Rockies, I kept seeing signs leading to “Curling Rink.” I was intrigued. I’d seen a brief demonstration of curling when I was in the Northwest Territories in 2002 [Click on image to read story], but Ladies-league night at the the Canmore Golf & Curling Clubhadn’t recalled much about it. I stopped at the rink, combined with a golf course (!) and learned that local leagues would be playing that evening. I returned to the Canmore Golf & Curling Club later that evening and had a fascinating time. Not only was it ladies-league night, but the viewing area is behind glass in a room where you can have a great dinner and sip a brew. I got a great rundown on the sport from some friendly curling women, and we all went outside to watch the lunar eclipse.

The next day (last Thursday) I hit the slopes at Canmore Nordic Centre and Provincial Park. A friend had told me about it a few years ago, saying it was an amazing place to cross-country ski for people of all skill levels. Being a weenie skier, I’m always on the lookout for places that have more than a windswept golf course for novices.

Diane skiing the slopes at Canmore Nordic Centre and Provincial Park; CLICK TO ENLARGEAnd what a day it was!! The sky was bright blue and it warmed up to about 45 degrees, balmy for these parts.  The easiest trails still had some ups and downs, but for the most part I was fine. I did have to fall at one point to avoid careening over a hill when I couldn’t make a turn. This is a typical Diane ski move, witnessed by many friends. Sigh…. The scenery was freakin’ amazing, especially when the trail came to a meadow surrounded by snow-capped mountains. And speaking of snow, it was perfect. Wow, I wish I could visit there every week.

Of course my time there wasn’t all fun and games. I stopped to interview several people, Couple from Washington state skiing; CLICK TO ENLARGEincluding a couple from Washington state; local realtor Laurel Dupuis, who was kind enough to take my photo; and a woman from New Jersey who was overcome by the beauty of the place. In the late afternoon I popped into stores along Main Street, taking notes for my story. I really like this town!

The day ended on not the best note, when a water main broke near my motel and the very, very, very loud construction crew worked to fix it from 5 p.m. until 4 a.m. Argh… Meanwhile, we were without water. Luckily, I always travel with a bottle of water and earplugs! I loved that the nearby Grizzly Paw Brewing Company was pouring until it ran out of glasses, as none could be washed.

Trying to be a regular bloke

October 14, 2007

Most of the newspapers I write for don’t allow journalists to take any sort of press trips, press rates, or any sort of subsidies. The ethics of subsidized travel is a huge topic in the press and travel industry. I do think it is impossible to take “freebies” and not feel somewhat beholden to the giver. But my top argument for traveling as a traveler and not as a “travel writer” is that I want to get the full experience, as any “regular bloke” would, thereby providing, I think, a much better service to my readers.

I did go to tourism officials for non-financial assistance when I planned an early-October cycling trip with Wessel and two Dutch friends, Victor and Marlene Benard (who co-own Free Spirits, a smashing travel/outdoor store in Amsterdam). I wanted information on the route, lodging, and bike hire (“rental” for you Yanks). I said I wanted no discounts whatsoever. Because I was writing an article on the Hadrian’s Cycleway, tourism officials would have been happy to set me up with heavily discounted or perhaps free bikes, lodging, and probably even meals.

I used the bike-rental company recommended by the tourism folks. The company,  it turned out, subcontracted to another company, therefore increasing the price. Annoying!  They did know I was a writer, so in that way I realize I’m not completely “regular.” But I did ask for services and prices that “any regular bloke” would receive. Wessel and I rented bikes, while Victor and Marlene brought their tandem over on the ferry from the Netherlands.  The bikes cost $220 each for the week. I made sure they’d be equipped with water bottle cages and front and back panniers, as we would be carrying our own gear.  I also arranged transportation for us all from Newcastle, on England’s east coast, to Ravenglass on the west, and the official start of the Cycleway — that cost $550!! 

Diane packs panniers in Greenhead, UKWhen we met our driver and got our bikes, we discovered that Wessel’s bike had no front panniers or water bottle cage. Had everything been free or discounted, would I have expressed my annoyance? Maybe a little, but maybe not. But because I was a regular bloke, I felt free to raise a little hell. It didn’t get me far. Wessel went without front panniers, and Victor and Marlene loaned us one of the water bottle cages from their bike.

What I found ironic was that the bike company, which had been willing to give me a steep press discount, didn’t do for free what would have impressed me most — provide  great service.

In the end, after our marvelous trip was finished, I contacted the company and ended up getting a refund for one of the bike rentals — $220. They offered to refund both, but I felt that was excessive, and likely special treatment based on my being a travel writer. I will say that the bike company has a very good reputation and I think my experience was unusual.

Despite my pleas to be treated like a regular bloke, here’s the final irony. Although the bike company owner said he wasn’t making excuses for the service issues, he did say this: “We don’t normally do just transfers [as opposed to shuttle service *and* accommodation arrangement] because by the time we have paid for the driver, fuel, vehicle costs there is no margin to cover any of our costs. Given you are a journalist and the fact we are keen to promote our region, we were keen to help despite the fact we knew we weren’t going to make money on your tour. “

The moral of the story: when someone knows you’re a travel writer, they’re probably not going to treat you like a regular bloke, even if you ask them to.