How To Be A Travel Writer – Maybe!
Hey there travel people, I have got an absolute beauty today on How To Be A Travel Writer, but it’s not what you think! Today I’ve got an interview with J.M. Porup (I think his first name is Jens!), who has been a travel writer for many years and has written a number of Lonely Planet guides, including ones I’ve used personally like South America on a Shoestring. Others include Colombia, Venezuela, and the Carribean Islands. They all sound like pretty good destinations to me!
Anyway, he contacted me recently to say that he wasn’t going to offer me a free junket abroad, but he made me chuckle anyway. He has recently published a book titled The United States of Air, which is heavily influenced by his time in Colombia and makes fun on The War on Drugs/Terror/Wikileaks. In fact, check out the bio from his website, which says he is American by birth, Australian by choice, Colombian by marriage and Canadian by accident. Anyway, here it is!
Just bear in mind, there is some strong language here and your perceptions on travel writing will probably be changed forever! Mine are!
The How To Be A Travel Writer (politically incorrect version) Interview
The Travel Tart: Hi J.M., thanks for the chance to talk. Now, the first question that I’m sure loads of people are wanting me to ask is how the hell did you get the gig to be a Lonely Planet Writer? That’s because this title portrays an image of this being an ideal job! Any tips that you would like to pass on?
J.M. Porup: I applied through the web site. Seriously. Everyone seems to think it’s some sort of nepotistic secret Shriner’s handshake sorta thing. Nope. You need to be either a great writer and a good traveler, or a great traveler and a good writer. Preferably both. The ideal time to work for Lonely Planet as an author was probably the mid- to late-90s. These days you can expect donkey dung for pay, and about the same from management in the respect department. As you can probably guess by now, working for LP was disillusioning. God only knows what naive nonsense filled my head at the time. I was going to “tell it like it is,” write guidebooks I could be proud of, that travelers would talk about for years to come. Bollocks.
Ever watched “The Office”? Lonely Planet is like that, except it’s the guidebook business. Any sufficiently large company degenerates into a backstabbing, brownnosing, buck-passing idiotocracy. Worse, corporate management–like all corporate management-wants to prevent failure. But in the process of preventing failure you also prevent excellence, resulting in the increasingly inferior guidebooks they currently produce. I call it the Lonely Planet mediocrity mill. The problem is I take hypocrisy personally. Not good for your sanity, let me tell you.
Remember 2008? Hope! Change! Barack Obama! Nobel Peace Prize!… a man who now tortures, spies, and engages in mass murder in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.” The Leader of the Free World (or in my book, “the Food-Free World”) is a war criminal. For a brief moment in time I thought there was a chance that America’s Evil Empire phase would end, or at least pause for four years. Now I know better. That’s why I wrote this book.
Do you believe in America? Well, you might as well believe in eating air. In The United States of Air, our hero, Food Enforcement Agent Jason Frolick, believes in America. He believes in eating air. He struggles to get the food monkey off his back. As part of the Global War on Fat, his job is to put food terrorists in Fat Camp.
When a pizza dealer gets whacked in the park across the street from the Thin House, the Prophet Jones himself asks Frolick to investigate. For the first time ever, Frolick solves a murder–but what he finds out shakes his faith. Will he ever be able to eat air again? (See how deftly I changed the topic to egregiously pimp my book?)
The Travel Tart: Yes, very good pimping indeed! By the way, I think a lot of places in the corporate world are like the office to be fair! Anyway, what’s the travel guide writing culture like in the industry? Is it something of a cut throat experience, or is it more like trying to gain inspiration by drinking copious amounts of alcohol? Do you need to be just a little bit crazy to do it?
J.M. Porup: Insanity. Yes. That. Why would you bust your balls eighteen hours a day for less than minimum wage, going weeks on end with not enough sleep and a constant hangover? I think guidebook writers have a choice. You can try to do a good job, fight for your readers and your destination, and genuinely try to produce quality work. This will lead to frustration, fights with incompetent editors in-house, and your getting the sack. The alternative is to do the bare minimum, make up s**t if you have to, and play corporate politics. As for the reader and the destination–who the f*** cares? They don’t pay your salary.
To misquote the proverb: People who respect the law, enjoy sausage and think guidebooks “tell it like it is” should not watch any of the the above being made.
The Travel Tart: Wow! I do send some of my material to the LP site – for free ;). Believe it or not, I was offered a travel writing gig from another travel guide book series and knocked it back because of the pay, so I can see where you are coming from! Anyway, I’m sure there has been some mishaps during your time as a travel guide writer. What was the funniest experience you had when trying to gather the information for one of the guide books you wrote? The more politically incorrect, the better!
J.M. Porup: I once hired a prostitute as a tour guide. The Dominican Republic is wall-to-wall whores (Lonely Planet cut my preferred phrase “Whore-O-Thon”). I was in Puerto Plata and desperate to find the hotels listed in the guidebook, but the map from the previous edition was all screwed up. When you’re updating a guidebook on the time frames LP expects, every half an hour counts.
So this hooker comes up to me while I’m puzzling over the map. Usually I just told them to bugger off (as politely as possible), but this time I was desperate. I asked her for directions. She offered to show me around town.
Whore: “Happy ending?”
Me: “No, thanks.”
Whore: A shrug. “It’s OK. It’s two in the afternoon. I got time to kill.Maybe you change your mind?”
Me: “No, sorry.”
Whore: She laughed. “Alright, where we go first?”
I wound up paying her ten bucks for her help. Saved me hours of time. Worth every penny.
The Travel Tart: Inspiration often sometimes comes from the most unlikely of places! In your book, you take the piss out of world politics today (note, politics is made up of two words – poli =many, tics = blood sucking creatures’). Are there some lines that you feel meet the great quality of Team America World Police? You know, phrases like ‘if that happened, it would be like 9/11 times 100 – you mean 91,000?’
J.M. Porup: Well… I could tell you about the suicidal flying Twinkie rapists… or the National Sewer Agency’s warrant-less eavesdropping on the world’s toilets, in their search for food terrorists going poo-poo… or the military’s network of Fat Camps, where ferrners and food terrists learn about Truth, Justice and the Air-Eating Way…
But probably the best one-liner that sums up the book is this:
“Who knows why these crazed food terrorists do what they do?” They hate us for our freedom. Our freedom to eat air. That’s why, and you know it.”
The Travel Tart: One of the funniest travel stories I’ve heard is an (Australian) friend of mine who was joking around one day when he was on the road overseas and met someone who said he was from ‘California, USA’. As you know, we really don’t take ourselves too seriously and he replied ‘Oh, where’s that?’ as a joke. Unfortunately, he took this seriously and was dumbfounded and actually believed he had never heard of the USA before! What is your best trick or ‘porky’ you’ve played on someone?
J.M. Porup: Americans take themselves way too seriously. I say this as a recovering American. It is, unfortunately, a difficult disease to cure. I remember when I first moved to Australia in 1999. People were constantly taking the piss out of me. I was really uptight about it at first, until I realized that Australians take the piss out of everyone! It took a couple of years, but I learned to just get the f*** over myself and laugh at myself and the rest of the world. I am so much happier now. Life’s a real piece of s**t sometimes, but if you can’t laugh at it, you’d go f***ing crazy!
My sense of humor underwent major surgery while I was living in Australia. This book is evidence of that. It’s one giant piss-take of the US and the so-called War on Terror.
The Travel Tart: You’ve lived in Australia for a while, so can you translate this sentence for me: I’m as dry as a dead dingo’s donger and I’m also so hungry that I could eat the arse out of a low flying duck.
J.M. Porup: Bloody facking hell, mate! Means you’re frumbullgumping your chazzwazzer. If you’re not careful, that could lead to a granklepazzled seppofopo. I recommend seeing your local dental veterinarian immediately.
The Travel Tart: Ha ha, gold! What’s the most feral tasting and looking food that you have tried that hasn’t left you sitting on the toilet for a week?
J.M. Porup: A Four-and-Twenty pie.
The Travel Tart: I second that. They’re not much chop! Back to the travel writing. Have you got some advice for anyone who wants to follow travel writing/blogging as a career path?
J.M. Porup: Buy a gun and use it on yourself? Or maybe get your hands on a scourge and whip yourself like a medieval monk. You can experience the joy of travel writing for a fraction of the heartbreak. Travel writing is not a career destination. It’s a stepping stone. If you go in with an exit strategy–and, more importantly, with no illusions–you’ll be fine.
The Travel Tart: I’ve never been to Colombia, but would like to one day. I’ve heard some great things about it from other travellers, even though it may have an image problem in relation to drugs and kidnapping. I’m one who usually believes that the government travel warnings are usually so removed from the reality on the ground. You’ve lived there for a while, what did you like/dislike about the place?
J.M. Porup: The fact that all the wussy travelers went somewhere else? That was the case back in 2006, anyway. How times have changed. Back then you had to be a crazy to go. It was so nice to be around fellow misfits. These days Colombia is as safe a tourist destination as any other in Latin America, probably safer. I have to endorse the country’s marketing slogan, just because it’s so accurate: “el riesgo es que te quieras quedar” (“the risk is wanting to stay”). Which is exactly what I did! I could talk about Colombia for hours (I was the Co-ordinating Author of Lonely Planet Colombia, 5th ed., after all), but there isn’t space on your blog, and not everyone is going to be interested. If you want to know why I think Colombia is so special, you may like to read the speech I gave in Bogota three years ago.
The Travel Tart: I’m going direct to the source now. You’ve written the Lonely Planet Venezuela guide. Do all the women there really look like Miss Universe?
J.M. Porup: I would say about ten percent of the women in Venezuela are whiplash-inducing gorgeous. The other 90%, though, are so ugly and fat they make you want to vomit. Ever seen pictures of Hugo Chavez? Think Hugo, only with breasts. I would have to add that Colombia boasts just as many Miss Universes as Venezuela, but the average Colombian woman is still drop-dead gorgeous, compared to her Venezuelan counterpart.
The Travel Tart: Finally, I ask everyone where was the time and place when you first thought, hell yeah, I love this travel thing!
J.M. Porup: As strange as it may sound, I hate traveling. I really do. Isn’t that bizarre? Travel for me is an addiction. A compulsion. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. I am, therefore I travel. I am, therefore I write. Both of my parents were flight attendants and I grew up playing tag with my sister on 747s. So for me life without travel would be something else… what’s not life? Death? Broccoli? Minestrone soup?
The Travel Tart: Awesome! Thanks for your time Jens! Good luck with the United States of Air. Thanks for your take on How To Be A Travel Writer, I quite enjoyed it!
J.M. Porup: Thank you, Travel Tart. And be careful where you bestow your Tart-ey favours. There’s rough trade out there…
More from J.M. Porup:
For those interested in checking out The United States of Air, I’m doing a massive book launch promo–the ebook is free on all platforms until Guy Fawkes Day. (Remember, remember…) Help me get to ten thousand free downloads! Details on the Goodreads book page (click “more” in the product description).
And for those who want to know more about me (God only knows why…), here’s my stupid web site: www.JMPorup.com.
Or just read my bio:
Former Lonely Planet author J.M. Porup now writes satire. American by birth, Australian by choice, Colombian by marriage and Canadian by accident, he escaped from the US in 1999 and plans to renounce his citizenship. His first editor — way back in the mid-90s — called him a loose cannon. Ever since, Porup has done his best to live up to that high standard.