At a cross-roads of life & travel writing inspiration from the MWF 2014


So, I’ve already shared the AMAZING reading list I gathered from Tony Wheeler and Don George at the Reading On The Road session I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival last Friday night, which I can’t wait to start collecting and reading! I thought today I’d also share a couple of pieces of wisdom I took from that session, as well as the BOOK PASSAGE session I attended on the Saturday morning.

I really wanted to share this stuff because I felt.. a little bit transformed after them. Yeah, I know, sounds cliche and a bit lame and cheesy, blah blah blah, but these sessions came at the exact, exact moment that I needed them in my life. Has that ever happened to anyone else? Like the universe has somehow just given you not only what you wanted, but exactly what you needed at the exact time you needed it?

Like everyone else, I’ve had my ups and downs in life. I’ve always dealt with them as well as I knew how at the time. Long story short, I always knew what the life I wanted was, but I never actually thought I’d be able to get it. I didn’t think I had it in me to make my dreams real, I didn’t think I was special enough, because it does take a special kind of person to do that. For a long time, I thought that just surviving one day after the next was good enough. But eventually, with hard work and sheer stubbornness, it all got easier. I decided I wanted to thrive instead of just survive. And so I did. I’m not sure how it happened in all honesty, but it did.

Now I’m at another cross-roads. I’ve started turning my dreams into real life, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I want more now. I’m also at that point in life that other people seem to find it appropriate to weigh in on my life and the choices I’m making, not just questioning though, but judging. The fact that I don’t want to be a mother and have children, the fact that I just have a “boring, pointless” job instead of a big, fancy career, where I live, how I spend my time, even what I eat. A few years ago, I’d have been reduced to tears at every comment. Again, I have no idea where it’s come from, but I just don’t care anymore. My life is too damn short and too damn precious to waste worrying about what other people think. No one but me knows how far I’ve come or how hard I’ve had to fight to get to where I am today, so I’m done wasting time giving weight to the opinions of everyone else now. So where does that leave me? I know I want to travel, and I know I want to write; they’re the only two things that I’ve always been passionate about, the only two constants in my life. So that’s what I’m trying to direct my time and energy towards now.

Back to the point of this post, what I took from the sessions I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival; listening to those people speak inspired me and motivated me. If they could do it, why not me? What’s ever really stopping any of us from living the amazing? For people like me, afflicted with wanderlust, why shouldn’t we get out on the road and experience real life? Is there anything more incredible? According to these guys, no, no there isn’t!


Session 1: Reading On The Road:
Founder of Lonely Planet, Tony Wheeler joins legendary travel writer Don George to discuss the pleasures of reading travel books. Discover their favourite travel writers and books and how reading has shaped the journeys of two of the best-travelled men on the planet.
– “A great writer can take a not necessarily good story and turn it into a transporting experience” – Don George.
– The point of travel writing is for the writer to make sense of reality, their lives, and the journey, and to then share that with their readers to give them a sense of discovery.
– More wisdom from Don George – he mentioned that it is a deep human impulse to want to explore; even if we physically can’t for whatever reason, books can help us to escape and explore.
– When asked about what they read on the road, Tony said that he doesn’t usually have time to read, and Don said he’ll often read a novel set in the place that he is visiting, which is an idea that I really love. I did that in Vietnam, reading The Quiet American, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I think I would have reading it at home.


Session 2: Book Passage (morning session):
Jump start your travel writing career with advice from leading voices Don George, Tony Wheeler, Steve Braunias, Emma Ayres, Tim Cope and more. Topics include finding your story on the road, longform travel books and inside a travel writers life – with plenty of time built in for questions.
– From Emma Ayres, the musician who wrote the book Cadence, about her time cycling from England to Hong Kong: she said at the start of her journey, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do, just what she didn’t want to do, which I think resonates with a LOT of us! She also shared something she was told when she started writing her book, that you should write the book you’d want to read.
– From Tim Cope, who wrote On The Trail of Genghis Khan, about his 10, 000km journey on horse back from Mongolia to Hungary: the beauty of travelling for him was that no one knows you on the road – you will meet people who have no preconceptions about you or who you are. He was told by his editor that “just because this stuff happened doesn’t mean it needs to be in the book,” which helped him to edit down his original draft; I think that’s really great advice for other aspiring writers, too. He also said that he read a lot before travelling to learn about the history of the places he was visiting, and had also been studying Russian for many years which helped him communicate on the road.
– From Steve Braunias, who wrote Civilization, his stories about 20 small and unknown towns in New Zealand: His book was written by just flying into small cities where “nothing had ever happened and nothing probably ever will happen,” with no research, to find out as much as he could from talking to the locals. One of his best tips was to speak to people, and to then ask them who else they thought you should talk to – I thought that was fantastic advice. He also suggested checking out a popular vista and asking a local what you were looking at, for a fresh perspective.
– From Robin Hemley, a prolific writer of books such as Do-over, Invented Eden and The Field Guide to Immersion Writing: he shared a quote he’d heard – “no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” He said it was important to not know it all first, that it is better to have no preconceived idea of your story before you start your travels, and to just let it come to you. He’s also a huge advocate for always carrying a notebook and pen, and in fact had a notebook and pen that he took notes with throughout the session, which really impressed me!
– From Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet empire and all-round lovely bloke: Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: “if you don’t make big mistakes, you haven’t been trying hard enough.” I loved that. He also said that the best thing to do as soon as you arrive in a new place is to drop your bags off at your accommodation, and start walking. No map, just walk and get lost!

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