Today we have an interview to share with Freelance-Zone readers. Jason Demant is a writer and traveler who has recently founded UnAnchor, a travel itenerary site. Enjoy! - Catherine
1. What is your background in writing and travel?
My background in writing is little to none to be honest. It’s been an interesting experience the last year realizing how much time I now spend writing. To my surprise though, I’ve really enjoyed it. In addition to blogging, I’ve started writing occasionally for other blogs and writing travel itineraries as well.
In terms of travel, I’ve spent the last 10 months on the road across Asia. I’m starting to have a passport that I’m really proud of. Before this big trip though, I did the standard American corporate-life vacation thing. Once a year, I took off one to two weeks (two, only if I was lucky) and saw as many cities and countries as possible. Always returning more exhausted than when I left. I was able to visit the Middle East, South America and Europe twice.
2. What is UnAnchor and how did the idea for it come about?
UnAnchor is a site to find specific, do-it-yourself travel itineraries. I like to think of it as an “app store” for travel itineraries. However, UnAnchor is also quite new. So, while that’s the eventual goal, right now a lot of my focus with UnAnchor is finding the experts to write itineraries. All itinerary writers set their own price on the itinerary (starting at $0.99) and keep 75% from each one they sale. However, for the first 50 itineraries written, we’re jumping that to 90%.
The idea initially came from a previous co-worker, now friend, of mine and has been further refined through my own travel experiences. It’s been frustrating figuring out how to use public transportation, how to do an activity without joining an expensive tour, and choosing what to do in a city with hundreds of tourist options. The idea is that a detailed itinerary will solve all of these frustrations. It will explain how to use public transportation and give you a detailed map to show you how to drive or walk to a destination. If you only have 1, 2, or 3 days in a city, it will tell you the things you absolutely must see.
3. Can you share any savvy travel tips with readers?
1. Buy a Steripen so you can drink the tap water. Water can get expensive and when you run out, it can be a huge pain. A Steripen filters the water making it safe to drink and has basically no parts that need to be replaced over time. I know I sound like an infomercial, but I could not be happier with mine.
2. Roll-up travel bags that create compact, air-tight bundles of clothing . For how inexpensive they are, ours have stood the test of time. They’re great for saving space and also make packing and unpacking significantly easier.
3. WikiTravel. This is the first place I go for information about a new city or country. There’s usually not enough information on these pages to figure out exactly what to do and how to get around, but it’s a great place to start.
4. In your opinion, what are the components of good travel writing?
I’ll make a large (probably, too broad) generalization about travel writing and break it into two categories.
The first category is writing about an off-beat or even dangerous destination. If you’re writing about your recent experience in Kabul, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Antarctica or somewhere similar, simply writing about your experience and observations are going to be compelling and make for a good read. If you’re new to travel writing, I think going to a slightly off-beat destination and writing about it is a great way to start. I recently read about a travel bloggers experience in Kabul and it wasn’t the funniest or most amazing story, but simply reading about what the city is like made for a great read.
The second category is writing about a more common destination – New York City, Paris, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong. You need to find something unique or humorous about a place that’s been written about so many times. This is where my writing needs the most improvement personally. It can be very difficult to find a unique story or angle. This is what sets apart the professional and amateur travel writers.
This broad generalization leaves out a lot. Good pictures are important. An interesting writing style always makes for a fun read. Also, helpful, tactical information is often times what people are looking for as well.
5. What are the necessities for a travel writer in terms of gear?
If you were an absolute minimalist you could get by with just a point and shoot camera. With how cheap and ubiquitous Internet café’s are, it’s easy to be a travel writer on the road.
To use your time optimally, though, I would throw in a netbook as well. I love my little netbook. It’s easy to carry around, the battery life is great, and after a little adjustment period, I no longer notice the smaller screen size and keyboard.
6. What is the strangest thing that has happened to you on a trip?
That’s a tough question. I’ll go with one of the most memorable moments of my current trip. We stayed at a hotel in Dalat, Vietnam and became good friends with the guy who ran the hotel (as most guests did). The next week was his brother’s wedding. It was being held in the countryside at his parent’s house. He invited a few of his guests to stay at his parents’ house and attend the wedding. Even though we were supposed to be leaving the country, we decided that this was the kind of opportunity long-term travel allows us to take advantage of. We extended our Visa and stuck around for the wedding. We were the only ones that took him up on his offer and we were glad we did. We stayed in the middle of the Vietnam country-side, about an hour outside of Dalat. The night before the wedding they had a pre-party with about 40 family members and us. We were the hit of the party. Everyone wanted to drink and dance with us. The next day we enjoyed a true Vietnamese country-side wedding with about 700 other guests.
BIO: Jason Demant left his Silicon Valley job in 2009 to travel and try to build an online business. Check out UnAnchor.com before your next trip to find a detailed do-it-yourself travel itinerary. For the latest on his travels and entrepreneurial aspirations, check out his blog Life After Cubes or on Twitter @LifeAfterCubes.