A wise man once said: “The fastest way to ruin something you love is to turn it into a job.” I don’t know who that was exactly, but this week, I can understand a little about what he means. See, I love travelling. Always have, and always will. The reasons include the obvious (new cultures, beautiful scenery, wonderful people) and the not so obvious (the thrill of impermanence, the adventure I find outside my comfort zone, the modern gonzo). But what happens when travel, truly, and indeed-ly, becomes a job? What if you are told exactly where you can be, what you can do, who you can meet, even when you can eat? What if the bus to Good Times heads south, but your ticket is on the bus heading north? Is this still travel? Perhaps travelling without moving? I was asked this week, in an interview, what is the biggest myth in travel writing? My answer, as I have come to learn, is that people believe that travel writers are perpetually on holiday. Join me this week in Tunisia. It’s a beautiful country in North Africa, with friendly people and an overwhelming history stretching back thousands of years. We’ll visit stunning ruins, labyrinthine funky old medinas, colourful ports and comic-book characters. We’ll also visit the reality of being a travel writer at the end of the largest, biggest, most mindblowing granddaddy assignment of them all. It’s the end of the road for Word Travels, episode 39 out of 39. And all those many roads, flights, trains, boats and buses, have led to Tunisia.
First, some facts:
1. We were supposed to go to Syria, but that country proved to be a Banana Republic slap bang in the Middle East. I was thrilled to learn, just a few days prior to the visit, that we had been diverted to Tunisia. It’s a country I’ve wanted to see for years.
2. I write articles for newspapers, magazines, and online portals. Over the years, I have proudly become something approaching an adventure writer, meaning, I chase adventure, I write adventure, I live for adventure.
3. Television, let someone finally confess, is not real life. Television crews require permits, time, equipment, and schedules. Writers do not abide by the same rules that apply to television. Television hosts must be engaging, honest, communicative, and fun. Like Dude Lubowski, writers might or might not abide by these rules.
4. As per my unique pressures as an adventure writer and TV host, it’s worth pointing out that there is plenty adventure to be had in Tunisia. Down south, in the fine, dusty sands of the Sahara. But I rocked the desert just two weeks ago for our Egypt episode, and besides, we are locked into a schedule created by the Tunisian Tourism Board, focusing on the North, and the archaeological circuit containing Roman ruins and more Roman ruins. Show me the Gonzo? The Edge? The….OK, fine, yes yes yes I’ll get back on the bus, when did you say, 5th century BC, wow, that’s old….
39 episodes, 39 weeks of filming, spanning three years, six continents, and 36 countries. I remember my first press trip, meeting a large group of jaded middle-aged writers, travel veterans who had seen it all before, twice, and were going through the motions. I was a few months off backpacking, still sleeping on couches, many physical and mental years younger, happy just to have a hotel room to myself. I simply could not believe that anyone could become jaded with travelling for a living. And yet I read the last few paragraphs and realize, painfully, how it must look. Here is a guy getting paid to see the world, and he’s bitching about…well, something, I’m not sure. A hotel room has become a hotel room, life out of a suitcase has become as crumpled and untidy as the shirts packed within it. Today we’re looking at 2nd century AD Roman ruins, tomorrow a UNESCO Heritage Site. Take some photos, get back on the bus, off we go.
“But Mr Mohsen (our boisterously enthusiastic, highly educated guide, bright-eyed and bushy-mustached), I need to find some adventure, these ruins are great, I got some awesome photos, but I can’t write about them, there’ just no…no…no Gonzo!”
“Hmmm, OK, OK…lets visit some more ruins.”
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