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Okay, it’s time for me to confess. I don’t really like reading travel writing. In fact, I don’t really enjoy reading at all. After a week of intense writing or editing, the last thing I want to do on my weekends is look at more words. That’s why I love audiobooks — I’ve devoured at least one a month for the last 15 months, including a Dervla Murphy title and the truly eye-opening, dreamy writings of James Rebanks in English Pastoral (I really can’t recommend that last one enough). I like audiobooks, so it figures that if I don’t enjoy reading travel writing because it’s too much like work, maybe I’ll like listening to it. Travel podcasts should be my saviour. Right?
Wrong. The vast majority of the travel podcasts I’ve plugged into my ears for a little escapism are one thing and one thing only: boring.
I’ve long held this view, but in preparation for this newsletter, I thought I’d better do my homework and listen to a few more travel podcasts to broaden my repertoire. On dog walks, long drives and train journeys over the last month I’ve listened to around 20 travel podcasts and found that my sweeping generalisation was largely on point: they’re really quite dull. They range from on-location holiday diaries to badly structured interviews with endless amounts of waffle (“So great to have you on the podcast, thank you so much for coming on, how are you? How's the weather where you are?”).
One podcast I subjected myself to took twelve minutes (!) to get to the first question with its interviewee. That was 12 minutes of the audio version of a sponsored blog post, a couple of adverts and some boring “life updates” from the host. Another was recorded in a busy hotel lobby with some questionable piano playing in the background, and one more was just one woman pontificating about what home meant to her, and how she’s just such a nomad that really she only feels at home when she’s travelling. Yawn. Like I said, tedious.
It's not like I find all podcasts boring. I've listened to the “modern classics”, so to speak. I devoured Serial, Who The Hell Is Hamish, This American Life and I love No Such Thing as a Fish. So what’s the deal with travel podcasts? Why are they so mundane? It’s because, unlike some of the podcasts I just mentioned, they’re usually missing one crucial element of travel writing — the story.
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We ask ourselves “what’s the story, here?” when we are looking to pitch a piece to a publication. We constantly seek out stories — ones which have a beginning, middle and end, and characters to boot — to pitch to magazines and newspapers. We all know, without an actual storyline, there is little chance of that commission coming in. Travel podcasts, though, seem to do away with this rule and rely on the very fact that they’re talking about travel to be enough to make an audience listen. In my (largely unqualified) opinion, simply talking about travelling is just not enough.
Perhaps it’s because many of the travel podcasts I’ve listened to are not produced by travel writers, and so they lose a lot of continuity, intrigue and pace throughout the audio recording because there isn’t a storyteller behind the mic? Perhaps that means that we, travel writers, could take the travel podcasting world by storm? But the more important question is: should we? Can it even be a profitable side project to complement our writing career? I don’t know — but someone who does is Pip Jones, and she’ll be telling paid subscribers how podcasting has changed her travel writing career next week. For now, though, here are a few travel podcasts I actually enjoyed…
Travel podcasts you should hear:
Travel Goals — Seriously smooth production values and genuinely interesting conversations hosted by travel journalist Pip Jones.
Jon & Antonia Take On The World — I was a bit sad there was only one season of this, because listening to Jon and Antonia swanning about in St Lucia was deeply entertaining it possibly helps that I know them IRL, though). I love the on-location audio which puts you right with them at the heart of the action. Just be sure to turn your headphones down when you get to Antonia’s ziplining part, there may be a few screams!
Where to go — Produced in-house by DK Eyewitness, I like the actual, actionable tips from genuine experts on this podcast. Each episode explores a different destination with a DK guidebook writer, and its hosts are quite charming. I do wonder if they’re paying their experts for their involvement, mind…
FT Mini Series — I love that this podcast is short. 12 minutes, in fact! With no faff and niceties, it gets straight to the point, just as it should be in the newspaper.
Kinging It — Okay, this one does have some waffle (six minutes solid, in the one I listened to) but it covers some genuinely interesting topics. It’s a little bit Radio 1 for my liking (I’m more of a Radio 4 kinda gal) and it’s perhaps a little longer than it needs to be, but I quite like its upbeat and friendly vibe.
Travel Writing World — Jeremy Bassetti’s podcast is a great B2B style podcast, as he interviews fellow travel writers about their work and worldly experiences. Expect guests like Sara Wheeler, Michelle Jana Chan, and even live recordings like this one with Monisha Rajesh, Colin Thubron and Tharik Hussein recorded in London’s Stanfords store.
Tweet of the week
Seeing as it’s bleak midwinter here in the UK, here’s a bleak thread from travel writer Henry Wismayer…
Who to follow
I (Lottie) am absolutely biased about this because I hired Karlina many moons ago at Love Inc, but you absolutely must follow her and her glorious words as she’s now on the digital team for NGT:
I love this cutting piece by Stuart McDonald on Couchfish about the greenwashing by some of travel’s most pious organisations — I particularly like this line:
If you’re going to offer an eight-day trip to Vietnam that includes two domestic flights, you are not a sustainable operator. More to the point, if you’re going to sit at COP27 and talk about how you have reviewed your use of short flights on your top 50 trips then email me and say you run high emission trips because you need to make money, well, excuse me for being confused.
An important piece by Julia Buckley here on the experiences of travellers with disabilities. We could all do with considering this more when travelling with our able-bodied privilege. In this i piece, Rory Boland makes some interesting points about boycotting that annoying little football tournament everyone seems to be talking about.
Finally, many of us saw the videos of Jamie Lafferty’s brush with death on a press trip in Guyana and now you can read about it on the FT. I quite like that he’s pulled back the curtain on traipsing around the country with a bunch of influencers, though it’s curious he doesn’t address the fact that he too is there to promote the trip with his own kind of influence (which is actually rather hefty when you’re writing for the FT).
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Couchfish is fantastic and I'll check out those podcasts. I'd also recommend Alpaca My Bags. They might have what you call "faff" at the sort, but I love the rapport of the hosts, love hearing what they've been up to, and then I love their approach responsible travel which is informed without being hectoring or didactic.
Some great links here, thanks! :)