Monday, October 06, 2008

Response to a Letter from a Stranger

Someone whom I don't know wrote me recently. She asked how to start traveling and then she asked how to be a free lance writer writing about traveling. (This is not to you Ms. Mollie T., this is in response to a total stranger.) It was a big question, and I answered the best way I knew how: In a confused, insane manner. Nonetheless, I'm gonna post what I wrote, just cause I feel I have short changed you all recently and don't mean to. So I hope this isn't too damned dumb or anything. It's just me responding to a stranger asking me how to start traveling, how to know where you want to travel, and how you might make a buck while doing it.
And thanks for reading, y'all.
Peter G

Hmmm. No, writing was not something I studied in school, though that's something I regret. I was just a New York city kid. I loved hitchhiking back and forth across the country, seeing new things. That was my schooling. At some point I took a trip, on my own, without speaking Spanish, to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and that hooked me. I loved the culture of Oaxaca, Merida, Palenque. I followed that up with a trip to Peru--again, lacking Spanish--and ran into a man who took me into the jungle, where I felt more alive than possible. I wanted to see Indians, but he said he wouldn't take me--not for lack of my begging him, but because they were several days walk and he couldn't risk it with a novice: If I got hurt he'd have to carry me and we'd both die.
So I returned the following year and spent a month doing some basic jungle training, then the following year got to go out to the deep deep jungle. I also traveled a lot to India--again, no language skills. But in India I never met a similar teacher, so I wasn't equally drawn back, though I did go several times for stories in magazines.
I suspect that if you are drawn to the exotic you will find your way to some place your heart is calling you. Take a tour--one like mine, though I don't mean that as a promo, I just mean a tour that will really give you the sense of a place and during which you'll meet interesting people. If a teacher appears you probably won't know it at the time, but when you return home you'll be unable to get rid of the gnawing feeling that you need to return.
And once you start to return somewhere, you will start to make sense of it in a way I can't really describe--you'll just sort of know it when it's there.
Some of it is just like diving off a high board for the first time: You're scared, unsure, and know you don't know what you're doing. Then you jump anyway and find yourself delighted to see that you've done it and survived.
I certainly can't suggest anything for your life other than to live the parts you really have to. Save some money, pick a place on the globe and head out. It won't kill you. It will enrich you. And once you have your feet wet it will be easier to make those life decisions you're talking about.
Oh, and when you're there, take lots of notes. Keep a journal and do the entire day each night before bed. Take photos. Listen to people. Listen more to locals than to other gringos. Watch a lot. Even if you're lost. Who cares? This kind of travel is very special and enriching. And if you come home and sell something--a photo, a story--that's great. If not, no sweat. Making a living as a free-lance writer is not so great. It's damned hard and I don't really recommend it as a career move. For years I supported my travel by being a chef in a restaurant 9 months a year, then traveling 3 months with my savings. I was 35 before I could make a living writing and I've never made as much writing as I did as a chef. But I'm sort of too far gone to revert to my old ways and like the challenge of coming up with new ideas for stories to sell to mags.
Peter G


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Jorge Villacorta Santamato said...

Very interesting...


For the love of the game!

John said...

Beautiful Peter. You are an inspiration.