Tell us about your background. How and why did you get into travel writing?
Travel writing and I met through photography actually. I was in my mid-20s, taking a year off from my office job in market research (I studied psychology, and zoology, at university) when I bought my first SLR camera in London. After a three-month trip across Africa in the back of a truck, teaching myself how to use my “new” second-hand Canon camera (these were pre-digital, even pre-autofocus days), I got back to Australia and decided to try to get some of my photos published. All the magazines I approached told me I had to write words to go with my images and, well, an accidental career was born: earning my living from writing words and taking pictures from far-flung (and sometimes close to home) places on the globe.
Tell us about Adventures on Earth – where the inspiration came from?
Adventures on Earth is a collection of my best-ever adventure travel stories and more than 300 of my own images, plus a few video clips, from my favourite travel writing assignments in the past few years – many of them in dream destinations, like Mongolia, Antarctica, Madagascar, Bhutan and the Arctic – all put together in an interactive, multi-touch ebook designed for iPads, which makes it very different to ebooks that can be read on any ereader.
The inspiration for it built gradually rather than in a flash. I’m always being asked, “Where’s your favourite place in the world?” and I’d never know how to answer; I’ve loved so many places, or else I’d talk about the place I’d just been. But it got me thinking and I started realising that all my favourite trips had one thing in common: they all involved being active in wild, natural places – hiking in Mustang, sea kayaking in the Philippines, small-ship cruising in Kamchatka. So I thought it was time to put together my all-time best trips, stories and photos, to share them with readers in one volume, instead of in multiple articles across multiple publications.
Why did you decide to publish an eBook, rather than a print one?
Making an ebook made sense for a few reasons. It’s a great way to put words and pictures together yourself, something I’ve always loved doing, without needing a publisher. Not only does it give you creative control, it’s a great way to learn new skills, particularly in terms of ebook publishing. (The book is only available on iTunes and Apple’s iBooks Store because it was designed using Apple software for viewing on an iPad.)
But mainly it was because this particular kind of ebook – that is, an interactive, multi-touch ebook – makes the content much more engaging than a printed book or even a regular ebook. So readers can not only read my travel stories, they can scroll through image galleries, watch video clips, zoom in on images – which really brings to life the places I’m writing about, and to me that’s ideal for a travel book.
How important is it to be eco-conscious when travelling? Tell us about some of the ways you reduce your footprint.
When you travel as much as I do, you can’t help but notice that the world is changing, too fast for it to adapt in natural ways. And because human beings are the ones who have changed it, it’s up to us to help restore it and protect the parts that are still pristine. So it’s enormously important, wherever we go and however we travel, to be eco-conscious and do our best to reduce our impact, in ways big and small. And I find it heartening that all over the world there is a growing realisation that we all need to be responsible, at home and away, and that, whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re all part of the natural world.
I don’t believe we need to stop travelling – travel can have a positive impact on environments and communities – but we do need to be mindful of how we travel.
Five simple ways I try to reduce my footprint, that anyone can do on their next trip:
1. Carry a stainless steel water bottle: it’s better than plastic, for you and the environment. A reusable shopping bag is also a good idea, to reduce the need for plastic bags.
2. Eat local, seasonal food, which is one of the joys of travelling anyway so it’s win-win. Going vegetarian is a good idea too; it’s better for the planet and helps you avoid Delhi (or Bali or Bogota) belly.
3. Be conscious of the resources you use, just as you would at home, from water to electricity – always turn off lights you’re not using, have short showers, reuse towels in hotel rooms.
4. Travel light so you can use your own energy to get around (two tips in one!): walking, cycling, kayaking, sailing or canoeing reduces your emissions from fossil fuels, particularly in countries that don’t have strict emissions standards.
5. Stay in eco-friendly accommodation, where possible, and take eco-tours – not only to learn about the local environment, but to support the people and organisations that are helping protect it.
Tell us about some of your favourite moments in travel. What keeps you travelling?
Some of them are in Adventures on Earth. Arriving at the “forbidden” walled Tibetan Buddhist city of Lo Manthang in Mustang, northern Nepal, after five days of dusty trekking. Swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos. Island-hopping by a sea kayak across glassy blues and greens in remotest Papua New Guinea. My first glimpse of Antarctica; I remember standing on the deck of this small ship looking at a wall of white and the idea of all that ice stretching for another 2000-plus kilometres to the South Pole was almost overwhelming. The show never stops – that’s what keeps me travelling, I think. That and the fact that travel wakes you up, in so many ways, all the time, to how incredible the world is.
Any predictions for travel trends over the next year?
I think people are increasingly looking to get back to basics when they travel, even if they want to do that comfortably. As life gets faster, more complicated and less predictable, I think there’s a yearning to get back to the simple things that make us happy: good food, good company, simple pleasures. And the more connected we get, the more we seem to want to be off-line during our holidays; I’ve been noticing more and more high-end hotels are offering “wifi-free” stays. Which is a good thing, I think, particularly if we can reconnect to nature at the same time.
Paradoxically, travellers are becoming increasingly tech-savvy. The paperless office might have been a pipedream but the paperless traveller is already here or coming soon. I’ve only just started travelling with a smartphone in the past six months and it’s changed my travelling life (but I still happily leave it behind when I go on hikes and kayaking trips).
Do you think you have another book in you?
Actually I’ve just started working on another book, which is top secret at the moment but has travel in it, and will stretch out in other directions from there. (Hint: it’s not a novel, or a guidebook.)