One Passion Fades, Another Is (Re)Discovered

November 30, 2016

I was catching up with a very old friend of mine in London a couple of weeks ago when I told him how, as I rapidly approach 40, that I’d finally come to the end of the road when it came to arguably the biggest passion of my life so far: partying.

The dancing to crap music, the wasted hungover days, the tinnitus, the deceptive sexual promise (ie. the promise rarely materialises – and even when it does normally leaves you disappointed), the long cold journeys home… the cons just outweigh the pros so heavily when you’re in your 30s, and to be honest I’ve been winding it down for at least 5 years now. The problem for me was what do I replace it with!? I love sports but as I grow ever slower and less fit they are as much a source of frustration as anything else. Meanwhile a hatred of the cold, water and mornings, not to mention anything mildly dangerous, rule out 90% of outdoor activities.

For most of my mid-30s I have been on the look out for a new passion, and about a year ago I discovered it… or rather rediscovered it, and from an unlikely source at that. I’d run into an acquaintance of mine at a concert, a guy who was a notorious playboy, and asked him what he’d been up to. He looked a bit sheepish before admitting that he’d been “taking it easy, playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons.”

Well what do you know, from ages 11 right up until 18 I’d been completely addicted. I’d started as a player but quickly became the de facto Dungeon Master of my group and spent many long evenings after school constructing dungeons, adventures and characters and revelling in the creativity of the game. Well sure enough that acquaintance, who I can now safely upgrade to friend, invited me to come and play with his group and it seems that time has not dulled my love for this pastime.

In fact I’m taking it so seriously that I’d love to branch out from my travel writing and become an authority on tabletop roleplaying as well. Indeed, inspired by the rather rock and roll characters I play with every Sunday, I’ve already launched my roleplaying blog, Hipsters & Dragons, with the aim of not only sharing tips on playing, but also maybe to challenge the negative perceptions that seem to follow D&D around… strange really when you consider that it’s a social activity that requires a lot of creativity (and usually a good sense of humour).

Anyhow, for newbies I went straight ahead and posted a long article explaining what Dungeons & Dragons is (as most people don’t really know, and it is a little abstract if you’ve never played before!) as well as some more technical articles for those already in the game, like this Critical Fumbles Chart.

With Game of Thrones making fantasy cool for possibly the first time, and a popular new edition of the rulebooks in print I have a strange feeling that this old school roleplaying game from the 1970s is on the cusp of a gargantuan comeback… so I’m actually pretty excited about getting involved!

Yes it’s not quite as glamorous as the addiction that was my raison d’etre through my 20s and 30s, but I’m really glad to have rediscovered it at just when my passion for partying really needed replacing…


A New Travel Blogging Team

February 17, 2015

Since starting my travel blog I have naturally spent a lot of time mulling over the question of how to monetize it. The question goes hand in hand with the question: who profits from travel content? The answer to the latter is easier at least and I’d say broadly speaking that three parties do:

1) The reader (who either uses the content for valuable info or inspiration)

2) The destination (assuming that the travel experience was good – and most people do enjoy their travels – then obviously the destination benefits for having been written about, as it follows that more people are likely to turn up in the near future [if that content was published on a blog/website of any influence at least])

3) The travel brands / companies / agents (obviously anyone whose services are recommended stands to gain).

We live in a world where readers expect free travel content (hell, many of them expect free movies and music, despite the higher costs of providing those… so they are certainly not forking out for mere “information”!) so that only leaves 2) and 3) as possible patrons of travel writing. The good news is that both parties are happy to invest in content marketing… the bad news is that as relatively small media (let’s face it, even the largest of travel bloggers has a fairly pifling audience compared to the likes of Conde Nast or The Guardian etc) it is hard to get the decision makers in those organisations to pay attention to us. They key I believe is teaming up…

That’s how The Travel Mob was born. More soon!


Productivity Tips For Freelancers

December 28, 2014

Like many freelancers I struggle to be productive.

It’s hardly surprising. No fixed timetable, no boss, no office, no hard division between our private time and our work time. I reckon I must spend an average of 9 or 10 hours in front of my computer a day. But I probably do a maximum of four or five hours serious graft in that time.

To a certain extent I am willing to accept that. I like checking my Facebook, commenting on a few photos and maybe toing and froing on one or two message streams. I don’t have any work colleagues after all, so this is part of my day’s social interaction. And as my mind takes a long time to wake up, I am also more than happy to kill the first half or full hour of the day reading Arsenal news, rather than cracking a whip over my own back.

Some light time wasting at the beginning of the day is enjoyable and part of the fun of not having to report to “the man”. Rather it’s the ongoing procrastination, flicking through Facebook photos of people I hardly know, or shamelessly letting myself get click baited by distraction machines like Youtube, Huffpost and gossips rags, that I am resolved to fight against. For me the issue has become more than just not getting as much work done as I should…. it’s that, by wasting as much time as I do, I’m effectively preventing myself from doing lots of cool stuff which I currently feel I don’t have time for. A more productive working day could see me finish at 8pm (I usually start work at 2 or 3pm, having got up between 12 and 2pm!), freeing myself for socialising, eating out, or at least watching a great film online in the evening. Right now my most productive working times tend to be from 10pm to 2am. That’s partly my natural nocturnal-orientated rhythm but it’s also partly because, during the afternoon, I can say to myself “relax, no need to hurry, you’re not going to bed before 2am anyway so you’ve still got hours to get this done… maybe there’s some important Arsenal news since you last checked 45 minutes ago…!?” In other words, because I’ve given myself all day to do things, these things don’t really get started on until night, when I could be at a dinner, concert, dance class etc.

Leaving things until the last minute is a terrible habit (that many suffer from!) which has an additional sting in the tail, at least for me, as doing these last minutes tasks often keeps me awake even longer that I planned. Maybe I wanted to go to bed at 3am, but suddenly it’s 5am and tomorrow’s day will start even later than usual and is likely to be less productive as well.

One remedy that I’ve noticed really works – and therefore one that I want to try to consciously implement much more of in 2015 – is setting deadlines during the middle of my working day. Ie. instead of aiming to complete tasks 1, 2 and 3 before going to bed, it’s much better to give each job an individual deadline so that task 1 needs to be done before lunch, task 2 before dinner and task 3 before bed. This method helps keep me focused throughout the whole day, not just at the end of it. Plus if you have something cool you want to do in the evening then it’s great to commit to that and use that as a final deadline… for example just now, as I was writing this article, my friend called and invited me to the pub at 9pm tonight. Suddenly this blog post, which probably would have got done around midnight is being bashed out at superspeed with a deadline of 8.30pm… whilst I know that a rewarding pint is waiting for me once this is published! Clearly for 2015 then I need to hardcode some of these regular rewards into my agenda, so that both the cool stuff and the work stuff gets done.

Another important tip for productivity I intend to implement in 2015, which comes very much from the Tim Ferriss school of thought, and was also rammed home to me during a recent TBEX talk by Tim Leffel, is the importance of hiring other people to do tasks that a) need doing but are not important / impactful enough for you to waste your own time on and/or b) you don’t have the proper skills for, so end up taking you a wasteful amount of time to achieve. The logic is simple. If for example your time is worth 25 GBP an hour, then you shouldn’t spend an hour doing something that someone else can do (often better) for 10 or 15 GBP an hour. Pay someone to do this work and free yourself up for doing the tasks that bring in the bigger money. (I completely agree with their thinking on this one, but with the caveat that this has to be balanced carefully… I am rubbish at Photoshop tasks for example, but if I have to spend an hour anyway finding someone to do it and then telling them what I need, plus paying them, maybe it is better for me to simply muddle through. If it’s a regular task it becomes different of course).

So far I’ve already found an assistant to help me on one of my projects, Barcelona Life travel guide (a franchise of Local Life), and by letting them take care of some of the basic tasks like keep our news and events calender up to date, and our social media profiles too, then I can spend more time optimising some of our key pages to be friendlier for search engines, or building business relationships. Both of which should add to the site’s revenue. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Right, I feel a bit fraudulent at the moment, because the title of this blog post suggested a long list of useful productivity tips… however maybe it’s best to keep it to two or three really good ones:

1) Set several task deadlines during the day to:
a) stay motivated, and get the important stuff done
b) avoid distractions
c) ensure reward / leisure time happens (after all without that why do we work anyway???)

2) Hire assistants to make sure that simple, routine tasks are handled at a low cost, and your time is spent doing the most impactful things that help achieve your goals.

Should be easy enough right? As I move into 2015, with a lot of potential opportunities in front of me, I also have to decide what I’m going to focus on and what will have the most impact, but I guess that’s a post / problem for another day. Finally do check out the link above to Tim Leffel’s talk as I went through it again last night, and it’s a really good one for keeping things in perspective and helping you achieve your goals. I nearly didn’t attend the talk I must say, but it gave me a very valuable kick of the backside in terms of eliminating bad work practices and hopefully moving forward with my various projects, to bring in more income – and more leisure time! The two don’t have to be incompatible if you are smart.

Barcelona Nightlife Video

April 11, 2014

People have been talking about video as a way to gain traffic for many years now, and I’ve always had my reservations… but now that Google have bought the world’s second largest search engine, Youtube, and are showing video results on many searches, it seemed well worth at least investigating if I can use video to my advantage. So I decided to invest in a video shoot, which I am hoping will drive traffic to my website, Barcelona Life…

…Now, ever since I began Barcelona Life, I concentrated on making nightlife a major content theme, conscious that the likes of Booking dot com and Hostelworld were the go-to guys on hotel info and hostel reviews respectively. Then Tripadvisor came along and stole a march on Booking dot com in the hotels sphere, plus they also now dominate restaurant reviews, and even attractions. In fact there’s one or several major player in every travel niche pretty much, from car hire to activities and tours, driving small websites like mine down in the search engine results and making it harder to survive… that’s business for you! Anyway this isn’t a sob story, but rather an experiment to see if I can’t give myself an advantage by adding great video to my content and also, by hosting it on Youtube as well, drive some traffic to my site. I chose nightlife for the film’s theme, because despite competition, it’s one area where BL is still a leading resource, and I wanted to strengthen my depth of coverage on this field.

The jury’s still out on how effective an investment in time and money this mini-project will be, but the video at least has been expertedly shot by The Travel Vlogger and starred in by many of my amigos… including the lovely Jessica from Hola Yessica, now known as the Barcelona Blonde! (I’ll give her a big up for helping out as she has her own, high quality blog and Youtube channel which you might want to check out).

Anyway you can see the results here in our video on Barcelona’s wild nightlife! And whilst it was a pain in the arse to organise, in the end it was great fun to shoot. Getting lashed on mojitos and shots in four different bars, illegal beers on Las Ramblas, killing time on Plaza Reial and taxi to Opium Mar pretty much encapsulates what a night out in BCN is all about… so do check it out if you want a flavour of the city’s vida nocturna.

Making Money Travel Blogging

October 23, 2013

Remember when I wrote that post about the (un)truth on making money travel blogging? Well that was 2.5 years ago and things have changed a fair bit since then.

Firstly the bad news. On top of all the struggles that bloggers face trying to surface in an overcrowded sea of information, Google is pro-actively working towards removing the one source of revenue that many small and medium-sized bloggers relied on to keep their blogs going: which was cash for links.

Why? Well there are plenty of reasons Google is against this, some more legit than others, but the bottom line is that Google doesn’t want companies spending their advertising budget with small websites/bloggers just so that those companies then appear (un)naturally in Google’s organic results. It’s understandable… those advertisers are not interested in traffic or “eyeballs”, only SEO effect and increasing their website’s visibility in Google’s search results. And of course Google wants that companies get their traffic by investing their money directly with Google on adwords. (Google argues, coherently, that companies who purchase weblinks are cheating in the search results. Although this moral superiority is also a major convenience for them, bearing in mind that if they can control their own search results exactly, with more accuracy, they can for example tweak them time and time again to force more companies to pay for their traffic via Adwords…. or so a cynic would argue at least).

Whether you hate or love Google (or a bit of both), one thing is for sure as Google’s monopolisation of the web and online advertising continues it will become harder and harder for anyone to make a living through creating content alone. Those bloggers who had some visitors but essentially relied on accepting dough for linklove are likely to lose their income in the coming months/years (sites who break the rules will be punished and removed from Google’s index, and Google, a bit like Big Brother in 1984, is getting pretty smart at guessing who is breaking the rules, partly by encouraging companies to tell on one another) and thus be forced to stop blogging altogether or become amateur bloggers only. So only those websites with very high viewer numbers will be of any value to brands who might want to engage with those readers genuinely (ie. not for SEO purposes as has often happened in the past).

Partly because this has already started to happen, and partly because there was never much money in cashing in on link advertising, travel bloggers have been forced to become quite entrepreneurial in their outlooks, effectively using their blog as a CV/tool to provide other services or sell their own products. Those services might include freelance writing, copywriting, SEO or social media consultancy, branding or destination marketing, to name but a few, whilst typical products sold by bloggers include books, e-books, prints, comics and photos. It’s probably fair to say, just as I argued in 2011, that this not “making money through travel blogging” in a precise sense, but whilst it might involve a lot more than uploading photos of your holidays and scribbling a note or two about them, using your blog to live a self-employed entrepreneurial lifestyle would still allow many to enjoy the freedoms they dreamed about when they first left that much-maligned cubicle.

It’s hard to know how these new threats and opportunities are going to pan out for the average (travel) blogger, but definitely a versatile skill set and flexible and entrepreneurial attitude will be required for the average Joe/jotter/jetter to survive… if you’re one of them say hello and let us know what you’re doing to survive in this big bad world of (travel) blogging!

Freelancer’s Working Timetable 2013

January 2, 2013

Holy sh!t… it’s 2013 already! Last time I updated this blog was to have a bitch about the cons of freelancing! And that was way back in May 2012. Safe to say a lot has happened since then. My main project Barcelona Life travel guide, made a nice recovery from Google’s Panda and Penguin updates and is flying again, after that little wobble, and there’s also been an uptake in interest from advertisers. I guess Spain’s economic crisis also means that more and more local businesses in Barcelona are relying on foreign coin, so obviously BL is a great platform for them in that respect.

Meanwhile Urban Travel Blog finally launched a new design and is now actively looking for premium partners in the travel industry to work with. We’ve got one almost signed up, so let’s hope others follow suit! Overall my strategy is simply to publish more and more of our flagship content, which are our (long) weekend guides to the world’s best cities, plus of course keep the travel stories coming and hope the traffic continues to rise! Hush hush but there’s also side project in development (idea phase only!) here, so let’s see how that goes.

After hearing that my favourite wine blog was about to close, I’ve also started helping out over at developing a new travel section, with gourmet guides to Barcelona and beyond, plus a tours section where we put their readers in contact with some of the best wine tour providers in Spain and Portugal and help them book a great trip or experience.

Get Sailing is another project I’m heavily involved in… 2012 was a slightly painful year of experimentation and possibly too many meetings and not enough action, but we’ve relaunched the site on WordPress which should enable us to dramatically increase the functionality of the site simply by using plug ins (rather than programming from scratch). Once we’ve got the site looking a fraction better I need to wave my magic content and SEO wand to get us much more traffic. We’ve got a good search engine but no where near enough visitors to take bookings just yet. Naturally I’ve got a good plan cooking how to fast track this a bit!

So 2013 looks to be one full of opportunities! The main threat being spreading myself too thinly. As I’m quite committed to all the above however there’s no chance to pulling out of any of them just yet – plus I can’t really afford to pay anyone to replace me anyhow – so what is needed is a good work ethic and maximum efficiency. In fact today, January 1st 2013, I’ve overcome my hangover to work out a daily working schedule which I hope will keep me on track, breaking down my hours into specific activities and ensuring that not too much time gets wasted on things like checking email and social media – or even worse pointless Facebook browsing etc!

A typical day might look like this, with three main windows for getting important tasks done.

12:00 – Get up! (Yes I like to lie in:).
13:00 – Check and reply to emails, social media if time
14:00 – Major task I
16:00 – Lunch
16:30 – Major task II
18:30 – Check and reply to emails, social media if time
19:00 – Siesta
20:00 – Dinner
21:00 – Major task III
01:00 – TV series / Spanish reading
02:00 – Reading
03:00 – Sleep

Importantly two of them are in the afternoon, so that if I do decided to go out or play football in the evening I still have two thirds of my usual working day to get things done. Last year, because I relied so much on my evening/late night work shifts, when I did take a break it was almost liking taking the whole day off. Ok, let’s see how it goes! I plan to write down motivational goals and rules as well and print them off, to keep me focused. Plus I also plan to have a work window on both Saturdays and Sundays, at least during January to April, when the summer fun and travels are not a major distraction.

Of course if you’ve got any tips on being super efficient in 2013 please do share them! Especially if you’re a fellow freelancer, who can get distracted easily!

Freelancing: Pros and Cons

May 22, 2012

Many people dream of the day they can go freelance. No more bosses, no more alarm clocks, live anywhere in the world you want… there’s a fantasy about freelancing that many office workers subscribe to, but – a bit like a week’s holiday in Faliraki – the reality is rarely up to expectations.

On many levels freelancing sucks, and here are some things you should consider before you decide to chuck in the corporate gig, with its free gym membership, health insurance and generous pension.

1) Money. Many freelancers think that they will earn more if they leave their job and service their clients directly. In fact the chances are they will earn considerably less. What you have to bear in mind when you go freelance is that you won’t get paid a single cent for work you haven’t done… unlike with standard employment where you get 25 days holiday, bank holidays, bonuses, benefits, pensions etc. etc. And sick leave. And just days when you can’t be arsed. Your boss may not be impressed if you do bugger all all day, but unless you get sacked you’ll still get your full pay at the end of the month… hangovers, colds and even bad moods are all expensive if you’re a freelancer. To have the same perks and bank balance as a freelancer you’ll probably have to earn at least 25% more than you did as an employee (statistic sourced from the Duncan Rhodes School of Rough Guessing), and if you ever get seriously ill/injured, you’re completely screwed.

2) Admin. Imagine a world where you go to work every day, bust your balls, and then at the end of the month the money owing to you appears in your bank account. Now imagine a world where you go to work every day, bust your balls even harder, and then look at your bank balance to find no one has paid you. In fact you still have invoices outstanding from 6/12/18 months ago. Imagine a world where every day you get up knowing some mofos owe you money and it’s gonna be a major pain in the arse to get it from them. Welcome to my world!!! Not only that but you know those nice girls in accounts. They don’t give a shit about you any more. You’re going to have to try and work out, despite a complete lack of training, how much tax you owe the government every year. And yes it’s a lot more painful paying it back to the tax man in one lump sum after Christmas, rather than have it arrive, minus the amount owing, every month. As time is money, you’d better go back to point one and factor in how much extra time you’re now going to have to dedicate to arduous, tedious, soul-destroying invoice-chasing, general admin. and tax returns.

3) Escaping the office… not as good as it sounds! I always used to think to myself if I ever went to jail I can’t see why solitary confinement would be that bad. I’d rather that than be shut in a cell with a load of rapists, madmen and murderers. But if you’ve ever read the Count of Monte Cristo you’ll realise this is simply not true. Man is a social animal and even bad company is better than no company. Freelancing is a lonely world, and whereas I enjoy sleeping in in the mornings, what I wouldn’t give for a few colleagues I could joke with, flirt with, gossip about etc etc ever day of the week. The office is also useful for helping you maintain a work life balance. You’re in the office you’re at work. You’re out of the office. Fuck work! When you work from home (as with most freelancers) it’s hard to know when you’re at work and when you’re not… and for me at least, I tend to feel I’m always at work. There’s always something important I could be doing. It may sound strange, but the office and the office environment is the thing I miss most about my previous life as an employee. No cuties wear a short skirt around my house, no one cares about the latest Arsenal results and there’s no one to call me “Rat Boy” and throw paperclips at my head when I’m on the phone.

I guess the proof is in the pudding though. Despite all of the above I’m still freelancing, and not planning on changing any time soon. I get to spend a lot of time in cool cities, like Barcelona and Krakow, I can go on (working) holidays whenever I want (even if I rarely do), I can sleep in, I am always available to party if some hot girls want to go out on a Monday night. I am free to work on the projects that interest me most, and take them in the direction I want to take them in… without having to ask anyone for permission. Freelancing = freedom, basically. But the life of an employee is a cushdie life of slavery alright and that’s something you should bear in mind when you’re taking a corporate cockshafting this summer. You may have sold your soul, but chances are you got a damn good price.

Barcelona Activities

January 17, 2012

Right, happy new year y’all. Thought I’d better lay down the first post of 2012 and I think it’s going to be a busy year. If you’ve read any of my previous posts about travel writing as a job then you’ll know that I’ve got my reservations about round-the-world blogs that naive backpackers assume are somehow going to make them millions, or in the very least fund their travels. In fact I am working on a global blog, but it’s a little different in concept… more on that in a later post!

For now I’ve been concentrating on my travel franchise, Barcelona Life, and trying to add to the revenue streams. When you start a travel guide the hardest markets to tap into – on the grounds they are the most competitive – are hotels, then apartments and then hostels. You’re fighting a losing battle if you think you’ve ever going to make any discernible income from hotel bookings when the likes of Tripadvisor, and countless other heavily funded global brands out there are sweeping these all up, dominating both the Google search results and bidding heavily on Adwords as well. So what’s left for the little guys? Activities for one, and that’s where Barcelona certainly gives you a helping hand… there’s a million great things to do around here, and if you can help people find and book those activities then there’s a little money to be made.

From this leading article about nightlife in Barcelona I make a bit of money selling both VIP nightlife tours and pub crawls, whereas this page about food and drink tours is the perfect place to sell cookery classes, wine tasting tours and even cheese tasting why not!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg concerning what’s possible, but in order to make any money you need great Google rankings and a reliable provider who you can trust! So brush up on your SEO before you get going and make some local contacts and meet them in person if at all possible.

Interviewing Celebrities

November 3, 2011

There comes a time in every journalist’s life where he has to interview someone rich, famous, successful, talented etc. and generally – apart from the “guess who I got to meet?” factor – it’s a pretty unenviable task.

(There is actually some practical advice at the bottom of this rambling article by the way, if that’s what you came looking for!).

My number came up earlier this year when, on the back of the Barcelona cocktails article – which I nailed – the editor of Easyjet Magazine called me and said he wanted me to go and interview Ferran Adria and sample the cuisine at El Bulli, arguably the world’s best restaurant of all time. Hahaha, I actually told the Editor I was pretty busy and I’d have to think about it… but of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity in the end… even if the food I was to eat was not the avant garde stuff that made Adria and El Bulli famous, but rather the staff or ‘family’ meal.

So up I go to Roses, hitching a ride with the photographer, her assistant (how much can a freelance photographer earn that they can afford an assistant for f@ck’s sake? One thing that pisses me off about travel writing is that the photographers always seem to get paid much more money than the writers, whose work takes far longer. And with the amount of photographers kicking around I really can’t believe there’s a skill shortage of snappers vs. talented writers), plus an interpreter. The interpreter spent most of the journey noisily filing her nails, and making sure we all understand how much better she knew Ferran than all of us (having worked with him before) and I half fancied she thought she should be writing the piece.  She also emphasised, as the photographer’s assistant proceeded to get us lost, how much he hated people being late. So I was more than a bit pissed off when she then insisted – with 5 mins before the interview was due to start – that we take a 25 minute break for a sandwich.

She was right. Adria was pissed off that we were late. When the photographer didn’t seem to know what the assignment was (we’d been invited to talk specifically about the Family Meal and she was supposed to be photographing the process) he got a whole lot more pissed off. And so it was that I finally sat down with an irritable Adria and the interpreter to start the piece. Adria turned out to be a complete nightmare to interview. He is a nice enough and respectful enough guy, but he clearly has no idea what a journalist wants from him… or doesn’t want to offer it… and getting anything vaguely quotable seemed almost impossible. We weren’t helped by the fact that I was terrified he would end the interview prematurely, on account of his bad mood, and I so I rushed through some of the most important questions on my list.  Things settled down after a while and we managed to get a bit of rapport going… but overall the exercise was a bit of nightmare trying to balance what a) Ferran and the publishers of his new cook book, the Family Meal, wanted to talk about and b) the Easyjet Editor wanted me to write about, all through the medium of a translator and with an irate subject with an aversion to concrete answers and a love of vague abstractisms.

Anyway the article got published this November, but it kind of sucks. Some ugly editing didn’t really help… I hate being edited! (But not quite as much as this guy;). Even if an article is flawed, adding new stuff in or changing things around always throws out the rhythm of the piece and 90% of times makes it worse.  Anyhow if you can be bothered you can go to the fancy online reader thingy at the EJ magazine site to read the piece…

So there you go. Celebrity interviews. Don’t do them! Ok do them, but just be prepared… here’s some advice for interviewing not just celebrities, but ordinary mortals as well:

a) Do your research! I scored some brownie points with Adria by at least having read all about him and going through the El Bulli website in detail (clearly most journalists he’d spoken to hadn’t!)

b) Know your assignment! Editors can be vague bastards at times, so pin them down about what they want. Obviously you should have a question list before you go. It helps to have the questions in a logical order and to memorise them, to minimize panicked flicking through notebooks.

c) Check your equipment at least two days before the interview. This means you have some time to repair/replace anything that doesn’t work, or buy batteries or whatever for your voice recorder (you should carry some spare anyhow! Once mine ran out mid-interview and I had to go back and do it all again… embarrassing and a complete waste of everyone’s time!).

d) Don’t be nervous. Who cares if they’re famous? They’re not saving the planet and you’re probably smarter than them anyway. Just look them in the eye and ask them the questions!

e) Let them talk about what they want. Never interrupt them if they’re on a roll, even if it feels irrelevant at the time. So many times I’ve been typing up a transcript only to hear myself stop someone talking at just the moment things start getting interesting, to steer them back on course. Let them go off course and bring them back when they run out of steam.

f) Turn up on time;)

Ok if you yourself have any more sagely pearls of wisdom on the art of interviewing then allow me to refer you to the comments section below…

My Reputation Precedes Me…

August 31, 2011

Apologies for the pretentious post title, but if I was inclined to feeling smug (which I might be if I wasn’t so poor. It’s hard to be smug when you are 33 and still can’t afford to pay off your student loans) then I might be doing just that now.

For this summer, rather than spend ages desperately coming up with new ideas about Barcelona and frantically polishing pitches to submit to the usually deaf inboxes of various impossible-to-contact editors, for a very welcome change they have been coming to me. It started with the Editor of Easyjet Magazine, who heard about me through my regular work with Ink (the media company that seemingly publish half of all budget airlines inflight magazines) contacting me and asking me to research a piece on Barcelona’s cocktail revolution. In fact the said revolution had pretty much passed me by up until now, but thankfully some research did reveal quite a few new places, most famously Albert Adria’s new venture 41 Degrees. And then continued when the Editor of Yeahbaby (also by Ink) asked me to pitch her some summer-themed stories. Hey pronto two feature article commissions and half the effort as usual as I hadn’t had to come up with five different pitches just to land one piece.

The cocktails article was particularly fun to write as it meant checking out some of the most exclusive and expensive places in town, and blagging quite a few free drinks en route. Luckily – after find this post online I was able to track down a knowledgeable and extremely polite gentleman by the name of Albert Montserrat, who kindly agreed to help with the article purely out of his love of cocktails (what a guy!). He promptly introduced me to Jordi Otero of Banker’s Bar – the city’s most prestigious bartender (and younger than me I might add), as well as taking me to Muti’s, a speakeasy cocktail bar known only to a lucky few. Anyway much merriment ensued and you can possibly track down the article here. (Unfortunately the Easyjet Magazine website keeps getting worse). Naturally I also used some of what I learned to bash out a handy text on the best cocktail bars in Barcelona for my own site.

The article that got commissioned in the end for Yeahbaby was about street parties or ‘festes majores’. Basically during summer every district in Barcelona has its own ‘Festa Major’ or Grand Festival, which is usually little more than 4-7 days of drinking on the street, live music, dancing and the odd street decoration. Cheap, authentic and fun for me they are definitely some of the best festivals in Barcelona (hint: La Merce is biggest and best!). I had to write it from memory, which is always tough, but luckily I had the good sense to make just a smattering of notes one year which I kept on my phone and miraculously still had. It’s good to have those first hand concrete details… personally I find them hard to replicate using my imagination alone (guess I’ll never make it as a novel writer after all!). To read the piece you’ll have to navigate their website’s tricky ‘magazine reader’ thingy. Good luck –

So there you go prospective travel writers. Get your foot in the door, build your expertise around a destination (or several destinations) and do a great job on every commission and after a while it seems the editors start to come to you… in fact since then Easyjet have come back to me and sent me up to El Bulli to interview none other than Ferran Adria… now that’s what being a travel journalist should be all about!