Travel Happy Japan Follow A Lonely Planet Travel Writer On The Road
Becoming a travel guidebook writer for Lonely Planet is a job many dream of. Simon Sellars has researched sections of Lonely Planet Japan and Lonely Planet Micronesia and blogged about the whole process while he was on the road
Being a travel writer is a job thousands of people want, and working for the travel guidebook company Lonely Planet is one of the most coveted positions to land in travel journalism. As I’ve noted before, it’s not for the faint-hearted – Lonely Planet’s co-founder Tony Wheeler actively acknowledges in The Lonely Planet Story that it’s stressful work that certainly won’t leave you with money to spare at the end of your trip, while the New York Times ran a horror story piece a few months ago about poorly paid and even more poorly prepared travelguide writers running into a fistful of troubles on the road.
However, with the right blend of professionalism and planning, it is possible to write for the likes of Lonely Planet and thoroughly enjoy your trip too. Australian writer Simon Sellars has written sections of the Lonely Planet Netherlands, Lonely Planet Japan and Lonely Planet Micronesia, and most recently co-authored the enjoyably quirky Lonely Planet Micronations.
Besides collecting fistfuls of accommodation and restaurant data while travelling and checking out the sights, Simon also found time to blog about his travels in both Japan’s Honshu region and Micronesia: the first on Lonely Planet’s own site and the second on his personal site SleepyBrain.net. Through a set of short, carefully considered entries, he manages to capture something of Honshu, the northern territory of Japan which he was exploring, and the islands of Micronesia, the latter of which he says: “It turned out to be quite the most stunning and beautiful experience of my life”.
Sellars’ travel writing charts the progress of his journeys through both lands but without any of the dryness of a guidebook’s lists of facts and figures. Each blog post is a pithy insight into what it’s like to experience these places and are genuinely evocative – it wouldn’t hurt Lonely Planet to start including more personal insights from their authors in their books to give a better feel for the destinations they cover. While Lonely Planet has started publishing new editions with a major facelift of more colour and better organisation, the idea of a conversation between authors and readers is still largely absent I think, which is a shame.
While Simon doesn’t talk a great deal about the day to day routine and responsibilities of being a Lonely Planet guidebook writer on the road (an article waiting to be written, surely?), you can get a sense of how full on and downright exhausting it must be to continually be compiling all that information and trying to organise it even as you’re moving on to the next place. It’s a definite, intangible skill set of organisation, unflappability and thinking on your feet that’s required to keep all of this together without going quietly mad. Sellars has written a piece about the gap between the romantic idea and the reality of being a guidebook writer, and that’s a good place to start.
As a side note, Simon and I have never actually met, but we’ve been talking by email for a while since first discovering a mutual fascination with the British writer JG Ballard. (Simon also edits Ballardian.com while I run jgballard.com. I’ve previously written about Ballardian Bangkok too). Amusingly, it wasn’t until a couple of years later that we realised we had a mutual interest in travel too. No doubt he’ll be highly embarrassed by my public praising of his work, but I would definitely suggest if you have an interest in writing for Lonely Planet or any other guidebook, check out his blogs on Honshu and Micronesia, read The Lonely Planet Story and set up your own travel blog to start honing your writing technique.