Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers

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‘Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.’  From Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides

Spend a lazy half-an-hour searching for travel quotes on the internet and you will find oodles and oodles of them.  I do this occasionally when I am struggling with my writing and looking for inspiration for my own words; on one such occasion I discovered the quotation above.  I made a note of it because the quote resonated and seemed to have some truth in it.  Since then I have come back to it regularly and mulled it over.

It is a certainly a comforting thought that when I can no longer physically travel, I will continue to take journeys in my head.  I like the thought of being able to play voyages out over and over again as often as I like.  Those of us who have older friends who no longer travel as much as they once did will have witnessed the joy of this.  Talking about my own travels can spark memories in these friends and give them a chance to reminisce and recall journeys they made and tell me their own travel stories from the past.

Perhaps my travel memories will be particularly strong.  Being observant is part and parcel of being a travel writer, I make notes, take photographs and try and fix a place in my memory.  Once I return home I spend my time editing photographs and writing travel articles and blog posts about my experiences and what I have seen.  This process keeps the journeys constantly playing out in the forefront of my mind and they stay with me longer than if I had returned to another job.

The memories don’t disappear and therefore the trip doesn’t really end when the copy is sent to my editor or posted on the blog.  I find I can be thinking about something else / anything else and a thought comes in sideways.  I might be planning our next trip or doing something as mundane as wondering what to cook for our evening meal, a connection is made and recollections of a place will suddenly pop into ‘the quietest chambers’ of my mind.

Perhaps travel changes how my mind works and in more complex ways than I can ever explain.  My travel-related research takes in the attractions, the history, the people and culture of a region and this breadth might help my mind establish new associations, tying together the new and old experiences and journeys.  Perhaps these exciting labyrinthine links are one of the reasons that travel is so addictive.

A number of bloggers discuss travel addiction or dromomania.  Like any addiction it seems that the constant new sights and sounds that travel provides can deliver a contented high to the brain.  The brain likes this pleasurable sensory overload and will ask for more of this travel-gratification.  While loving travel can be a demonstration of a passionate and adventurous nature, needing travel to thrive could be considered obsessive and damaging.  And if this travel high only delivers if you visit new places you are on a road to compulsive journeys that take you way off the tourist trail.

I’m not concerned about dromomania.  I am happy returning again and again to the same destination, there is always something new to find even in a well-visited area.  Even in a familiar area, when we are travelling our days are packed with new experiences and this can be intoxicating.  Yet, what I love the most on a trip is the stripped-down nature of our travelling life, everything feels happily straightforward, we are mostly in control of what is happening [although not always] and have the freedom to take each day as it comes.  Whether we are an hour away from home or in a foreign country, I am always eager to relax, explore and get under the skin of a region.

We had a year travelling a few years ago and we had a ball but we both knew that we didn’t want to go for so long again.  This was for various reasons but the main one was wanting to keep other relationships alive. Travelling for two or three months at a time is our compromise that works fairly well for us both; I get my fix of travelling that sustains me through a few months at home.  Then I enjoy being where I am with my travel memories playing out over and over again in the quiet recesses of my mind until it is time to get our Blue Bus back on the road again!

 

Pat Conroy wrote many novels including The Price of Tides and The Great Santini.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Wants to Feel at Home When They are Abroad?

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I dislike feeling at home when I’m abroad, George Bernard Shaw

These words of George Bernard Shaw are in the opening scene of Widowers’ Houses, his first play to be staged in 1892.  This opening scene is set in Remagen on the Rhine in Germany where Harry Trench and his friend William Cokane are travelling.  William Cokane meets a Gentleman who does not share Cokane’s excitement at hearing English spoken while in Germany.

THE GENTLEMAN [to Cokane] We are fellow travellers, I believe, sir.

COKANE. Fellow travellers and fellow countrymen. Ah, we rarely feel the charm of our own tongue until it reaches our ears under a foreign sky. You have no doubt noticed that?

THE GENTLEMAN [a little puzzled] Hm ! From a romantic point of view, possibly, very possibly. As a matter of fact, the sound of English makes me feel at home; and I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.  It is not precisely what one goes to the expense for. 

Many travellers will relate to this, none of us want to waste the expense of going abroad and then feel like we are in the UK.  I do want places to feel different to home and in some way foreign; either the food, the language, the culture or the architecture should be shouting out to tell me I am somewhere other than home.

That said, on a campsite in another country hearing English spoken can be lovely.  Much as I love talking to my partner, after a few weeks away it can be exciting to talk to someone else in ‘our own tongue’ rather than struggling in the local language where I have only limited small talk and mostly rely on gestures and a handful of words.  Other travellers are a mine of information; they often give recommendations for good campsites or places to visit and they might have a top camping tip or know about roads to avoid or have entertaining travellers tales.

When we travelled around southern Europe for a year in our former campervan in 2009 / 2010 I was certainly very pleased to meet fellow English travellers as this sometimes meant I would find books to swap.  We had nowhere near enough room in our VW to carry all the books I could read in 12 months and I relied on campsite book swaps and other campers to get new reading material.  If there was someone from the UK around I would take the pile of books I had read round to them and ask nicely if they had anything to swap.  This approach revealed some gems and was a great opener for making new friends.

 

 

 

 

 

How to be an award winning travel writer

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The Caravan Writers’ Guild Douglas King Award crystal glass trophy

‘How did you get into journalism,’ Terry Owen, the former Secretary of the Caravan Writers’ Guild asked me.   I was visiting Terry and Alison to collect the crystal glass trophy I had won for the Douglas King Award for written journalism.  Terry’s question was a good one that deserved a better answer than the waffle I came up with on the hoof.  What I did say is that I have been practising and improving my writing for a long time.  The night school class I took in English Literature in the 1980s got my fingers itching and I learnt from others while I worked on an alternative local magazine, Preston Other Paper.  Studying for a degree in Geography and Environmental Management and a higher degree in Applied Public Health and keeping my first blog from 2009 helped to hone my writing skills so that in 2011 I was ready to dip my toe in to being paid for writing about life in a campervan.  My journey to winning the Douglas King Award has been a long one and I continue to strive to ensure that my travel articles are entertaining, accurate and informative.

I  write travel articles because my friends don’t always want to listen to my stories of my travels and the need to share the beautiful places I visit is strong.  These travel articles are not aimed at my friends, my audience, the campervan and motorhome owner [or potential owner], is always at the forefront of my mind.  In practice this means that my travel articles are not only the story of tours we have completed in our own ‘van, they include practical information about places you can park a long vehicle, where campsites or wild camping spots are and the state of the roads.

As well as improving my craft and remembering my audience I thoroughly research the area I am exploring.  Typically, I always learn more snippets of information than I can fit in to one travel article but part of the art of a writer is knowing what fits the story you are telling and what might be fascinating but is a digression and needs to be ditched.

I like to weave a thread through my stories as this helps them to hang together so that they are more than a list of places we visited.  This thread might be something personal such as a childhood memory or a visit to an area that has long been on my wish list.  For other articles I might concentrate on the weather or the local food.  Sometimes the narrative emerges from the research and I might link together literary connections or historical sites.

I am chuffed to bits when people I meet or on social media tell me how much they like a particular travel article I have written but winning an award for my journalism is a different level of recognition that has blown me away.  It is such an honour to have my writing appreciated and judged to be award winning by other professionals and I still have an inner glow from having won.

I entered the Douglas King Award for the first time a few years ago and in August this year I thought i would give it another go.  Checking through my articles that had been published in the preceding twelve months I chose to submit the article about a tour of Scotland’s beautiful west coast, published in MMM in January 2018 and a piece I was proud of.  You can find the article in the list of my MMM articles if you want to have a read.

In September we had just arrived in Spain and I got a call to tell me that I was short-listed for the award; I was over the moon at receiving this recognition for my writing but certainly didn’t expect to hear anything more.  So imagine my elation when the following month I heard that the judges had decided that my article was good enough to be declared the winner!  The judges thought the piece was a, ‘Beautiful descriptive feature’ which certainly goes to prove that you don’t need perfect weather to write a good travel article, which must be a comfort to many UK based journalists.  We were in the lovely Spanish coastal town of Peñíscola when I received this news and so I unfortunately missed the glittering presentation evening.  I was both delighted and astounded to win and only Mr BOTRA got to see my blushes.

The Caravan Writers Guild covered the award on their website and MMM published a news story.  It was a particularly big night for MMM as the magazine scooped two awards at the October presentation evening with their Road Test Editor also winning the John Wickersham Award for Video.

Both the Caravan Writers’ Guild’s awards are open to non-members and they manage these awards efficiently and courteously with the aim of encouraging excellence within the sector.  Membership is available to those who have been writing and published for at least a year, so if you’re a motorhome or caravan journalist writing in print, on a blog or producing a vlog then give joining the Guild a thought and maybe enter a piece yourself in 2019.

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Receiving the Douglas King Award from Alison Owen [photograph taken by Terry Owen]

 

 

Go the extra mile it is never crowded

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A quiet corner of the Lake District

You might laugh [please do] but when I came across this saying recently my literal mind skipped it’s metaphorical intention and took its meaning to the letter [I often do this].  My thoughts wandered to when we have walked an extra mile or so on a beach or in the hills or cycled just that bit further and felt smug as we left the crowds behind.  The saying is spot on; going that extra mile often takes us to a quiet corner and to somewhere special that we can embrace as our own for a short time.  By just taking a bit more effort I can enjoy an undisturbed experience of a location with the space and tranquillity to really see, smell and feel the place.

The quote attributed to Wayne Dyer, author and self-development guru, is, ‘It’s never crowded along the extra mile.’  After thinking about all those idyllic places we have found it eventually dawned on me that this quote isn’t to be read literally and instead encourages everyone to believe that by putting in the extra effort you can reach the top.  My mind turned to those times when I have gone the extra mile on a task.  Doing just the minimum required can be an easy option and I have times when I need to cruise through jobs because my mind is preoccupied with other stuff.  But I feel much better about myself when I put the extra effort in and give my absolute best.  And yet, the number of people who will reach the heights of the elite in any field is limited [or never crowded] and unfortunately not everyone can be outstanding otherwise outstanding becomes the average.  For myself, I don’t expect to be award winning, I go the extra mile to compete against myself, stretching my performance and improving my skills.

I consider myself a slow writer; certainly each time I write a travel article or blog post I spend hours rigorously writing, editing and re-editing.  I do this for two reasons; I am certainly terrified of the shame of making a mistake that makes it in to print [although they do and I have to deal with it] but I also want to produce work I can feel proud of.  I constantly review, learn new techniques and apply these and I feel that my writing has improved over the years.  I don’t go the extra mile for promotion or a higher salary, my editor is not pushing me to write differently, I am self-motivated to do better and throwing together a piece of writing with the minimum effort has never been an option.  By going the extra mile I might not reach the top but I do maintain my self-respect.

 

 

 

 

 

Hope the voyage is a long one

 

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I can’t resist cats, pretty tea-towels and net curtains

I heard the author Louis de Bernieres talking on the radio and {as so often happens with radio programmes] he took me to a new place – Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy.  He was sharing a poem that had changed his life and it resonated with me too.  The Greek island of Ithaca or Ithaka identifies with Homer’s Ithaca, home of Odysseus and his odyssey to return there.  Ithaka is our goal, the thing we get up for every morning or our own quest.  But like Odysseus, it is the adventures and discoveries along the way to our quest that are important and there are good reasons why we shouldn’t rush the journey just to get to the end of our odyssey.  Constantine Cavafy speaks of the importance of enjoying the road to our own Ithaka, pausing to appreciate the route but keeping ‘Ithaka always in your mind’.  We can then hope to arrive at our Ithaka older and wiser after years of learning on the way.  ‘Without her you wouldn’t have set out’, Constantine Cavafy reminds us.

Louis de Bernieres interprets Ithaka and ‘what you’re destined for’ as every human’s inevitable journey to death.  We take the first steps on this journey as soon as we are born and we all hope that this is a long and interesting journey.  ‘Ithaka’ and Louis de Bernieres’ response, ‘When the Time Comes,’ are poems that intimate that we would do best to enjoy whatever life throws at us and hope that we don’t reach the end of our journey until we are old.  Louis de Bernieres poem has become popular as a reading at funerals and I can see why.

To someone who adores to travel those words, ‘And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas, And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them’, make me smile.  Even if my own Ithaka comes tomorrow, I have been lucky enough to have found those and other treasured places … but hopefully my journey will continue a little longer. 

Ithaka, Constantine Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka 
hope your road is a long one, 
full of adventure, full of discovery. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: 
you’ll never find things like that on your way 
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, 
as long as a rare excitement 
stirs your spirit and your body. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them 
unless you bring them along inside your soul, 
unless your soul sets them up in front of you. 

Hope your road is a long one. 
May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy, 
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations 
to buy fine things, 
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, 
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities 
to learn and go on learning from their scholars. 

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for. 
But don’t hurry the journey at all. 
Better if it lasts for years, 
so you’re old by the time you reach the island, 
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, 
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. 
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. 
Without her you wouldn’t have set out. 
She has nothing left to give you now. 

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. 
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, 
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

When the Time Comes, Louis de Bernieres

When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,
As an old friend who embraces and forgives.
Sieze advantage of what little time is left,
And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives,
Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.
Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,
Think of you and them as young again, and running in the fields,
As drinking wine and laughing.
And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas
And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them,
Some other place if that should please, some other music
More suited to your taste.
Consider, if you can, that
Soon you’ll shed this weariness, this pain,
The heaped-upon indignities, and afterwards — who knows? —
Perhaps you’ll walk with angels, should angels be ,
By fresher meadows, unfamiliar streams.
You may find that those who did not love you do so now,
That those who loved you did so more than you believed.
You may go on to better lives and other worlds.
You may meet God, directly or disguised.
You may, on the other hand — who knows? — just wander off
To sleep that seamless, darkest, dreamless, unimaginable sleep.
Do not be bitter, no world lasts forever.
You who travelled like Odysseus,
This is Ithaca, this is your destination.
This is your last adventure. Here is my hand,
The living to the dying;
Yours will grow cold in mine, when the time comes.

Wherever you travel becomes a part of you

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The beautiful Valgrisenche in the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy

is it just me or do places you have visited and loved suddenly pop in to your head at random times.  I can be doing anything, totally unrelated to travelling, and a memory of a place will slip in to my head and I am once again there in that place.  There are many places I have visited that stay with me and I am sure that all of them have shaped and changed me.  The photograph above is the beautiful and remote Valgrisenche in the Gran Paradiso National Park in northern Italy.  We stayed a week in Planaval, a small and stunningly beautiful village a little way up the valley in 2009.  Valgrisenche is missed by many tourists and we followed the quiet valley road to its end a number of times.  Passing the lake, there are a few farms dotted around the valley and more abandoned stone houses.  After having hot chocolate in the tiny cafe by the car park we would walk along the trail to the refuge and the high mountains of the Alps, glaciers appearing as you turn a corner.  There are marmots here and wild flowers, berries brighten up the autumn rowan trees.  This was September and in the week we were here there were days so hot all we wanted to do was bathe our feet in the cool streams, other days the cloud came down and the fresh smell of rain made it feel like Scotland; this place has a wild and remote beauty.

Planaval itself is easily by-passed as you have to turn off the valley road to even see the village.  We were there during a village celebration and we watched a promenade play around the narrow village streets that in the local dialect was mostly incomprehensible and we listened to melancholy music that echoed around the steep mountains.  From Planaval we walked up steep tracks to look down on the village, finding bubbling mountain streams to quench our thirst from in Alpine meadows.  A long snake slithered away on feeling the vibration from our walking poles.

The beauty of Valgrisenche is deep inside me and I am sure that even if I never return the sights, smells and sounds of this stunning place will never leave me.

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Alpine meadow above Planaval in Valgrisenche

What is the best travel writer’s camera? The Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ100 is my choice

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A perfect day at Loch Linnhe on the Scottish west coast

Cameras are such an individual choice and fortunately today there are plenty of options out there to suit everyone but I am not the only person that wants high quality photographs from a compact camera.  I now own a Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ100 and think it is the perfect camera for the active traveller I am.  This camera is a million miles from the first camera I owned as a young teenager; this was my dad’s Kodak Brownie that he had been given in the 1950s and I was over-the-moon to have my own camera.  Once I was earning money I splashed out on my own 35-mm SLR camera, a Canon AE-1, apparently the first SLR with a microprocessor and a model that sold very well.  I bought different lenses for my Canon over 25-years and loved using it and it took beautiful photographs but by the 1990s we were taking back-packing holidays more and more and a bulky 35-mm camera with its associated lenses was taking up too much room in my rucksack.  Although I still loved taking photographs, it got to the point where I would deliberate whether I really wanted to take my camera out with me.

My first digital camera was bought in 2005, it was a second-hand Fuji that was still fairly bulky but I was quickly sold with the convenience of digital over film.  Never again would we lose a roll of film because someone had set the postbox alight [such as our precious wedding day photographs] or even have to limit the number of photographs I took.  Digital was the way forward for me; I could take as many photographs as I wanted, see them immediately and edit them in the comfort of my home on the computer.

By 2008 I had moved on to digital compacts and owned a Canon and an Olympus before upgrading and buying a Panasonic DMC-TZ40 Lumix just over four years ago.  At this time we were still saving up to retire and I thought the £200+ I paid for this camera was more than enough for someone who was trying to be frugal.  In this effort to save money I had not anticipated how important photography would become in my emerging career as a travel writer.  I loved using the TZ40 but it didn’t always perform as well as I would like.  There is a lesson here that sometimes being frugal can cost you money rather than save it and less than three years later I took the plunge and paid £550 for my Panasonic DMC TZ100.

I know there are more expensive cameras out there and although every camera is a compromise in some way, I now feel I have the camera of my dreams.  Although I am sure I could get even greater quality out of a more expensive camera, the TZ100 delivers great quality photographs, gives me flexibility to change settings, has more features than I will ever need to use and is small and compact and so is never a nuisance to carry on a walk.  I chose the Panasonic because of the positive reviews, for the good quality large viewing screen that I can use even in bright sun and because of my positive experience with the TZ40.  Staying with Panasonic brand also meant I could use the camera immediately as much of the functionality was familiar.

With this little gem of a camera by my side I can no longer blame the camera for poor photographs; I only have myself to blame for any hopeless shots.

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The Panasonic Lumix TZ100