People often ask me about my travels and experiences in remote places. My travels are indeed varied — driving in an ancient Citroen across North Africa, camping out in scrubland or near the sea; climbing volcanos in Sumatra, Lombok, and the Moluccas; trekking in New Zealand; kayaking on Lake Biwa, Japan; and rafting and hiking in Kamchatka.
It all started with a passion for maps.
Some of those adventures became travel articles or were anthologized in travel books. One solo journey is recorded in detail in my book Pyrenees Pilgrimage, published in 2010.
I walked across France alone through the Pyrenees Mts. and foothills from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, a difficult and strengthening experience. I’ve planned other cross-country walking journeys which I plan to do in the coming years.
During the 1970s, I wandered North America extensively on multiple cross country trips by car, train, bus and occasionally, thumb. During one marathon drive, my siblings and father covered more than 9,000 miles in less than 10 days. We must have been driving night and day. I lived briefly in Missoula, MT, and for much longer periods in Santa Cruz, CA, San Francisco, CA and St. Petersburg, FL. During the 1970s and 1980s, I spent time in every lower 48 U.S. state and camped in National or State Parks in many of the central, southern and western states. I also visited Mexico and travelled across Canada by land a couple of times.
It wasn’t until 1992 that I visited Hawai’i and I’ve returned several times. Moloki’i and Big Island are my favorites, and Kaua’i is perfect. In 1993 I traveled along the southern area of Alaska, by sea on the state-run inland passage ferry on my way to Anchorage. On that trip, I was headed for a month- long stay on Kamchatka across the Bering Sea. That was when Alaska Airlines ran regular flights from Anchorage to the Russian Far East.
Other places I visited during the pre Reagan years include Sardinia, Sicily and Elba. With my companion, I traveled by bus or train and camped out on beaches or occasionally stayed in pensions or with friends. We traveled through Costa Rica for 2 months in the winter of 1982 and I visited South West France many times.
After I started working for the Washington Post and began writing travel articles for the paper and other periodicals (and later on, websites), my travel ramped up because a few short trips were at the invitation of foreign governments (such as Yugoslavia before their civil wars) or occasionally, I would have an assignment that included travel expenses paid by magazines.
Though most people assume the bulk of my travel costs were paid for by the Washington Post, that was never the case. I worked for the Post Travel section in a freelance capacity. Freelance writers know that magazines and newspapers usually don’t cover travel expenses.
I arranged my own long adventures with unpaid leaves of absence from work for long Asian trips during the 1980s and 1990s. Just as I had saved for my first solo trip in 1966, I habitually worked at two or three jobs to support my thirst for travel. I explored Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asian on a trek with an outfitter in 1998, rather than going solo.
In all, I’ve spent time in more than 90 countries. I’ve lived (had an address, cooked my own meals, my own library cards and/or driving permits) in China, France, Mexico, Canada and Italy. During the years when I was living in Mexico and China, I was an employee of the US government. I paid for my travel within those countries.
In sum, the travel writer’s lifestyle requires economic prudence and that usually means the writer needs a job. Writing contracts that include travel expenses are infrequent. When the urge to travel is strong, a resourceful individual will find a way.