An introduction to my thoughts on travel
This is the first in a dedicated and ongoing series of posts in which I will talk of travel — of what makes it special, of how to do it right (for you), of where to go, what to take, and why to do it at all.
As it is now over five years since I left my home nation of Scotland, I think it’s high time to share my thoughts and experience!
I will also discuss slow travel, how to work remotely and, although I dislike the term and what it has come to represent, of being a digital nomad — and how you can do these things too.
Instead of ‘digital nomad’, I prefer ‘globally feral’ — it seems to fit me better, and maybe you? Maybe you long to escape a farmed, desk-based, office-life existence, to learn to live out in the wilder, wider world, and find homes in every corner of it? Or perhaps you have already made that break?
I came up with this phrase as a personal alternative but please, do feel free to tell people you are globally feral, or would like to be.
And what globally feral means in your case is entirely up to you — language is not owned, it is a wild thing.
Table of Contents:
Why read this?
Maybe you are planning an adventure of your own, scouring the internet for bargain flights to, well, just about anywhere? Or perhaps you are pondering overland travel, whether in a van, on a train, or even by bicycle. And don’t forget the sea — there’s a lot of water and tens of thousands of boats out there!
Maybe you are earlier in your journey, only just beginning to consider a life of roaming and adventure? You know it’s something you want to do, but you really haven’t got a clue how to start.
Or maybe you were one of the many millions who found themselves suddenly confined to a very small area, working remotely from home for the first time, as Covid spread across our world. Maybe that gave you a sense that, actually, you quite liked working from home and you realise that maybe you’d also like working from anywhere on the globe. When your office called you back in, the things you thought you’d missed turned out to be shallow, less engaging, shadows of their former selves. Those after work drinks, or gossip around the water cooler no longer felt as substantial as they once did.
Perhaps you are already travelling, and want to see a different perspective, compare notes, or find fresh ideas?
Or perhaps you just enjoy reading travel tales and seeing beautiful images of our fantastic planet?
All of these are good. There is no right or wrong reason for being here — we all seek different things, in everything we do. I am just glad you are reading.
Why I haven’t shared this before
At the point of writing, I have been away from my home nation of Scotland for over five years, which includes the entirety of Covid. When I initially flew out of Edinburgh, I was intending to follow the route of the travel blogger, share as many posts and social media crumbs as I could, bring in the traffic, monetise the site, and make more cash through affiliate schemes. I was considering applying for and heading off on press trips, advertising myself and my skills, freelancing, and, essentially, get paid to keep sharing my adventures.
However, that did not happen.
There are several reasons for this, which shall be discussed in this series of posts but I think the two most important ones are these:
- I had too much imposter syndrome.
- I saw what some other travel blogs and, especially, influencers, were doing to the world, and I did not want to be a part of that.
Imposter syndrome, for me, is very real (and, interestingly, goes hand in hand with a definite fear of success). It took me a long time to be able to say yes, I am a good writer and, yes, I have a good eye for a photograph.
My problem, at that time, more than five years ago, was that I compared myself to others — which is a big no. Do not do that, in whatever endeavour you are trying to achieve. Only measure your success against yourself. This is true whether you are writing a piece about where to eat in Lisboa, or whether you are trying to be stronger, fitter, faster. Most of the time, comparing yourself to others can only be a negative experience — even if you think you are better than someone else.
Back in 2017, I realised the travel blogs I enjoyed, the ones which were most informative, freshest, constantly engaging and always delightful, were all tended by writers who had been travelling for years. Most blogs by new travellers were of little to no interest to me — the pieces and places they shared were derivative and sparkless, boring, and often ill-crafted. I foolishly assumed mine would be the same for other readers, without considering the number of followers and engagement those blogs developed, simply by existing and sharing content. We all start somewhere, after all.
I did not consider what I had to offer that those others did not, which should really have been my first port of call. We are all different, and difference is interesting.
I was older, for a start (and now, with the way time usually works, older still)! Many of the blogs I tried, then ignored, were by people almost half my age. Through no fault of their own they simply did not have the years of life and writing experience I possessed; they had yet to find their own voice — a big reason I often found myself turned off reading their work, it simply echoed someone else and felt neither individual nor unique.
(I am sure I don’t need to point out that this is not always the case — there are very young writers who are truly gifted, who work incredibly hard at making their thoughts leap onto the page and who sound like no one else but themselves, rather than whoever they are reading at the time. Generalisation is another big no.)
Why do I travel?
To push myself and grow.
Growth works best when you are a little scared, pushing toward the edges of, then beyond, your comfort zone. Travel enables this, constantly. It’s a terrible cliché but, having been raised in the UK, I am easily embarrassed, easily out of my depth, and at times horribly, painfully shy. These things do get a bit better with time, with more travel — but they are always there, and it’s good to keep me on my toes.
I like to learn new-to-me things, I like to push my boundaries further and farther, faster, deeper and higher, and travel is a fantastic way to do so.
My angle on travel was also different. I look at the world through an array of different prisms and from many different angles, heavily influenced by the fact I am first and foremost a writer — of fiction, of narrative non-fiction, and of fact. I was perhaps not as concerned with where to get the best Mai Tai, or which beach was best to bake myself, as others were (but there is certainly a time and place for a Mai Tai on the beach!).
Instead, I find I am more attracted to the natural, the cultural, learning about a people’s history first-hand and, indeed, understanding their prehistory. I wanted to learn why their food tasted like it did, how their traditional farming systems worked, or why a beach was this colour and texture, what was the geological process behind it? And did I mention the food?
I ask many questions in life, reading and observing, noting and listening — the problem is that I do not always then share the answers I receive. I honestly did not consider this until relatively recently, did not realise that others might actually be interested in the same things, despite the fact I read blogs which do precisely that. Having now sent nearly fifty editions of my Not A Travel Writer newsletter, with a subscribership which keeps growing, I realise other people really do seem to be interested in what I have to share, now, rather than spun into fiction years in the future.
The dark side of travel blogging
The second major reason I did not proceed as planned was because the more I saw of our world, the more I read, heard, or witnessed, the more I realised that travel blogs and what is now known as influencer culture were not always a force for good.
We live in an age connected as never before. I can get anywhere on the planet in a fraction of the time it would have taken me even a generation ago. I can instantly talk to someone, anywhere on our globe, with very, very few spots out of reach. Word travels fast, and so do we.
When you look at a photograph on a travel blog, you are only seeing what the photographer wants you to see. You don’t see the truth, but you don’t exactly see a lie, either.
Compare these two photographs, of a beach on Phuket, taken a day apart after a storm tide which hid all the plastic — which do you think would appeal the most, get the most likes, the most engagement, the most website clicks and, therefore, potential income? (Obviously the blue blue sky and sea in the second would help too!)
Often, a certain view is now so popular that there is a queue of people waiting their turn to snap it. Rarely does anyone turn the camera the other way. Excessive footfall, and the damage from, for example, sunscreen to corals, are very real issues.
A place of great natural beauty, ‘discovered’ by a (predominantly) western blogger and shared far and wide, can very quickly go from a wonder to a sad reflection of its previous self.
A perfect example of this is the famous Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh in Thailand. The book ‘The Beach’ became a self-fulfilling prophecy, with everyone who read it and especially those who saw the movie wanting to head to the same location. It was, in short, ruined. There are others in similar danger, too.
How to share the places I visited became a thorny issue, one which I struggled with, thinking long and hard — pondering whether I wanted to contribute to these problems, exacerbate footfall and damage, pull in other tourists and travellers and potentially ruin what was so special in the first place.
At a birthday party in Chiang Mai, I met a woman who was applying for a research degree to study this exact issue. That conversation stuck with me. Yes, tourism and travel are of vast importance, for the traveller and for the local, but the question and answer of how to talk of locations ethically, with great care, is one few bloggers and even fewer influencers like to share. (Again, not all — there are blogs which are fantastic at this.)
I looked at the places I loved — those beautiful ‘secret’ places, not yet ‘discovered’ and I imagined the long lines of travellers, the litter, the noise, the impact on the local people and nature — and I decided no, I did not want to share them, despite how many clicks they could potentially generate.
There are other reasons why I chose not to share my adventures as I had originally planned, but those two are perhaps the most important.
As I write this, I am highly aware that time is ticking, I have ideas and a lot to share, and I don’t want to become one of these ‘people’ (taken from one of my top ten books of all time):
Slow travel and where I am now
I am a slow traveller. I still see myself as a slow traveller now, even though technically I (and my wife, Aurélie, and daughter, Ailsa) have a home base in the French Alpes where we’ll be for a wee while.
The world has changed a lot in the last five years, travel became difficult and then impossible, and many bloggers were forced to head homeward, to stay with friends or family, and try and ride out the storm of Covid, their income streams suddenly vanishing, almost overnight. No one wants to read of that Mai Tai in the best cocktail bar on a certain tropical island when they are stuck in an expensive tiny apartment doubling as a prison cell, unable to visit relatives, let alone explore more widely.
My wife, Aurélie (who I met in Thailand, more on this in a future post), and I moved to Portugal just before the first lockdown (finding an apartment about two weeks before), and we stayed there for a year. The plan had been to use it as a base to travel, one which was more central than South-east Asia, with fewer long haul flights needed and options to see new places without flying at all (hello, northern Africa, hi, Europe!). Obviously, thanks to the virus, this became virtually impossible.
After Portugal, we moved to France for a number of reasons. This is where Aurélie is from and we had chosen to use this pause in our ability to travel to not only get married, but also have a baby, and the idiocy of Brexit had successfully screwed up my ability to travel through Europe as I’d like. It made sense to move here before the cut-off date for UK passport holders resident in France, I’d already spent time here, getting to know Aurélie’s family, friends, and French culture.
Why do I travel?
Literally — I love food and drink, love to try things I have yet to eat, to ask questions of why something tastes like that, how it is made, and when it was first created. Travel exposes you to the world’s palate, it brings a thousand thousand scents and sounds of cooking, shows you where your limits lie (I think, for me, it’s probably Hot vit lon, or Balut — duck embryo) and helps demonstrate just what a remarkable planet we live on.
I am first and foremost a writer, and travel adds substantial depth and substance of flavour to my words, my stories both real and made up. My series of fantasy novels and novellas — The Lesser Evil — are undoubtedly considerably richer thanks to my own travel experiences.
We writers are hoarders of observation, keeping notes, remembering the little details. These things are stored away until they reappear, subtly altered, percolated, ready to enhance a story.
I love France. It has its problems, of course it does — as do all places on Earth, but it also offers many benefits. It is, however, considerably more expensive to live than Portugal or, for example, Vietnam.
This is one reason I am revisiting the idea of travel blogging. In short, I would like to not lose money on this site, but actually gain it, add another stream of income, diversify, side-hustle, whatever or however you wish to call it — at no cost to the reader.
Add to this the fact I now know I have a LOT to offer the traveller, whether someone sitting at home planning that epic first adventure of their own, or someone who has been on the road longer than I. I have also realised I can share plenty of posts, even specific places to visit, without feeling like I am adding to the issues of over visiting. I simply have to be careful and selective with these locations.
Take, for example, this location.
La Grotte de Choranche
Deep underground in the Vercors of France, this remarkable experience limits visitors for the sake of the caves: too many will damage the sensitive site. It is high up on a cliff, at the end of a road, and you are unlikely to take that route unless you are going there in the first place. Visiting these caves that made me realise I could share destinations in an ethical way and, in a future post, I will share more details and photos of this fascinating location.
It feels good to be writing blog posts again.
I have shared stories on the internet for a very long time now, both anonymously and under my own name, both on my own sites and social media and also where I got paid for work, and this feels like a return to something I have missed.
As I mentioned, I have a newsletter, which goes out at least once a month and, for the last few years, the only things I have posted here have been backups of these letters, to make them easily accessible and webcrawler friendly.
If you wish to sign up for my newsletter, please just follow the link — it is all free, and always will be. It is also the best place to keep up to date with the projects I am working on (I shall be sharing a link to this piece in my next letter, for example, as well as the details of fiction I am writing), and it always has pretty pictures in it.
Why do I travel?
To find my home.
My family and I moved from England to Orkney, the islands off the north of Scotland, when I was eight. Then, when I went to university ten years later, they moved the opposite direction. This, in essence, left me without a home. A place to stay in the holidays, yes, but gone was much of my support network, the friends and locales I had built up and invested with memory over a decade.
However, as I travelled, one thing I noticed was how certain places felt more like home than others — if somewhere is windy like Orkney, for example, I feel more at home, Gruissan, in the south of France, is like that, the Cape Doctor, blowing through Cape Town, felt similar. The wind is a home. And there are others I have discovered — islands, beaches, deep woodland, pub quizzes, and more.
I have many homes, and travel constantly provides me with more.
It really does feel good to be back here too — a return has been planned for some time, but to actually get to this point is like coming home, wherever home may be.
Finally, do please leave a comment, pin, or share this post if you found it interesting. As an introductory piece to what is to come, it is unlikely to bring in much in the way of new traffic, but it is a start and, I hope, will prove engaging, now and in the future.
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by Alexander M Crow
Not a travel writer, but a writer who travels. A writer’s notebook of sorts: nature, culture, words and kindness. Stories crafted with a nomadic heart and wandering feet. Sometimes actually is a travel writer. Globally feral. A little bit Snufkin.
I share this free newsletter at least once a month, sometimes more. If you sign up, you gain a password to a protected page on notatravelwriter.com, which allows you to look behind the scenes of this space, learn what it takes to create, share, and monetise travel writing, with in-depth statistics and monthly income report.