Today on Freelance-Zone we have a great interview to share with you. Travel writer Joshua Berman was kind enough to answer some questions about “the life” for us here. – Catherine
1. What is your background in writing and travel?
I’ve always written and I’ve always traveled. After graduating from college (1995), I took a series of seasonal jobs that paid me to travel: trip leader, Forest Service, firefighter, international volunteer.
My breakthrough came when the Peace Corps assigned me to a beautiful tropical nation where tourism was in the process of being born. There were no guidebooks. So I wrote MOON NICARAGUA with Randy Wood. From there, I was asked to take over MOON BELIZE, then Randy and I wrote the first edition of LIVING ABROAD IN NICARAGUA (all Avalon Travel Publishing). Guidebooks have been my bread and butter ever since, while I’ve been able to spin out a few magazine and newspaper pieces as well.
2. What are the biggest mistakes writers make when they attempt to do a travel piece?
The biggest mistakes are NOT painting a picture or telling a story with some kind of narrative arc, even in relatively short service pieces. The quickest way to turn off a reader is to write a laundry list of the places you went. Travel writing should transport the reader to a new place and challenge them to think about new issues or meet new people, NOT simply explain what happened when the writer was there.
3. Can you share any savvy travel tips with readers?
To make sure you don’t tempt thieves, do not travel with a fancy, expensive-looking backpack with neon straps and a million pockets. Instead, go to your local thrift shop or army-navy store and buy a beat-up, top-loading, used pack—the uglier and more beat-up, the better.
4. In your opinion, what are the components of good travel writing?
Use as many sensory details as possible: smells, sounds, sights, tastes, and textures. Don’t get hung up on listing your itinerary. I don’t care where you went, that’s a background detail. I want to meet new people through your writing and imagine what it feels like to be there, talking to these people and learning their stories.
5. What are the necessities for a travel writer in terms of gear?
Short stack of Moleskine notebooks (or equivalent in sturdiness and size). A lightweight laptop which is either insured or not so expensive that you’ll be upset when it gets ruined by salt-water, rain, sand, ants, or beer. A still camera that shoots video and a digital voice recorder are also essential for the backpack journalist, as is some kind of file storage backup plan (online, mini-hard drive, flash cards).
Joshua Berman is an award-winning guidebook author, specializing in Nicaragua, Belize, and volunteering abroad. His travel articles have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Budget Travel, The Boston Globe, Yoga Journal, Outside Traveler, 5280, Worldview, and Transitions Abroad. New editions of his two Nicaragua titles are hitting bookstores this September, 2010: MOON NICARAGUA and LIVING ABROAD IN NICARAGUA (both Avalon Travel Publishing). Joshua lives in Colorado with his family, where he is also a part-time Spanish teacher.
Interested in purchasing one of his travel books? Order an autographed copy here.