Travel Websites Franchise

April 6, 2011

…which brings me, untimely, to my next post. If making money with travel blogs is next to impossible, what’s the alternative? (Apart from selling your soul to some Blue Chip monster of course).

Well the people that make money in travel are not round-the-world bloggers rattling off peremptory posts about the status of their digestive system from far flung corners of the globe. They are people who live in great cities/countries and take the time to build a fantastic resource for tourists/travellers to use whenever they plan on visiting.

You could say they build a travel website, rather than keep a travel blog/diary, but then again the difference between a website and a blog is artificial at best… the main difference is that, by focusing on one place the websites of these (far smarter) travel writers become a useful resource which they can brand and sell, and one will perform much better on Search Engines for their niche (although ‘niche’ is a rather broad term for those that cover every aspect of visiting London or Paris for example). Write a 100 pages of content about a small town in Italy and you’ve quite possibly got a leading website on your hands (and suddenly every restaurant, hotel and bar owner in town will want to talk to you). Write one post about every night out you had in South America, Australia and South East Asia and you’ve got an enjoyable, but ultimately next to worthless, site.

The example I am going to cite of a successful travel site is one I used to work for – www.cracow-life.com. By learning a bit about search engines, and by ranking well for key terms like Cracow hotels, Cracow apartments, Cracow restaurants, Cracow stag weekends (the list is endless!) you can make money either from advertisers, or – slightly more complicated – via bookings. Eg. tourists book a hotel via your website and you make 5-20% commission (depending on how much work you do). If you’re top of the tree for the term ‘City Hotels’, you’ll be very very rich in no time at all. (Ok, maybe not for ‘Yerevan hotels‘ but for any mid-sized, vaguely touristy destination).

Unfortunately a lot of people worked this out a long time ago. Which is why with any major destination you’ll be swimming uphill… esp. on key commercial terms like hotels/apartments etc. Being a glutton for punishment that hasn’t stopped me from trying to take on one of the biggest tourist cities there is – Barcelona. I’ve been working on Barcelona Life for nearly two years now and it’s more less been paying the rent on a small room in the city (half the time I work in BCN, the other half in London) for most of that time. It’s been tough and I have been effing poor most months. Really effing poor! But now I have over 25,000 visitors to my site every month and I’ve got great positions on Google.com for loads of key terms like restaurants in Barcelona, Barcelona guided tours and Spanish courses in Barcelona, all of which are potential money earners if you can back that up with some sales skills. You can also make money on strange niche terms – like “Barcelona deep sea fishing” or “Opium Mar VIP guestlist“… the opportunities are, well not quite endless, but much more than selling a few links on a travel blog.

So there you go! The good news is that, back at the HQ of Cracow Life they’ve been busy working on a franchise model which means anyone can take advantage of their great brand, technology and know-how. Of course you need to pay a bit for the privilege (yeah, there’s always a catch!), but if you’re serious about making money with travel websites the headstart working with them with give you – over going it alone – is enormous! (Think a brand that already exists across Europe – check Berlin Life and Moscow Life; great technologies, including Google maps, social media links, embedded videos and, coming soon, iPhone apps; lots of links to help you with your SEO… your site will quickly be visible on Google.com, which is vital to your chances of success; and a community of other team members across the world sharing knowledge and tips).

My advice to anyone looking to start a business in the travel media industry would be to pick a city that is perhaps a little lesser known and get in contact – only an idiot like me would attempt Barcelona, but somewhere like Valencia even might be very lucrative much quicker. Drop me a line if you have any questions and I’ll put you in touch with the head honcho, who is looking for franchise partners right now:)

(Not) Making Money: Travel Blogs

January 28, 2011

Right, apologies once again for a chasmic gap between posts… the reason being that I’ve been busy trying to make money.

Whilst some travel writers might be blissfully content slumming their way through third world countries with only a hammock and a lucky charm to their name, I’m definitely of the variety who likes to be able pay rent on a flat, eat a meal that costs more than 5 euros occasionally and fly to the places I’d like to visit (rather than hitchhike). I do admire the hardcore travellers mind you. I’m just not one of them. Which brings me of course to the sadly considerably less than 64 million dollar question… how do you make enough money, not just to survive, but earn a living as a travel writer?

Yes it’s hardly an original question, and many column inches have been written in answer to the topic already. Most of those inches have focused on the rich potential of travel blogging (shortly before trying to flog you an expensive book on how to realise that potential). The emergence of a handful of ‘celebrity travel bloggers’, the prime example being Nomadic Matt, have got people thinking that it’s actually possible to survive by dossing around India and occasionally getting to an Internet cafe to scribble up your latest adventures… personally I don’t buy it. Some of what follows is conjecture, as naturally I’m not privy to the vast majority of travel bloggers’ accounts sheets, however I have dipped my toes in most of the travel writing revenue streams – and in my experience blogging is arguably the toughest way to grind out anything near a living.

So in answer to the thousands of posts about how to make money as a travel blogger, packed with encouraging comments about how ‘with a little luck and a lot of hard work you can do it too’, here are a few reasons why you can’t…

1) Who are you?

That’s not a philosophical question, but a football crowd style taunt by the way. No one’s heard of you. And the chances are no one but your Mum cares what you had for breakfast in Bali.

2) What can you bring to the already overcrowded table?

There are a billion travel bloggers out there. 99.9% of them aren’t making any money, 90% of them aren’t any good. But they are all standing in your way. Have you really got something that they haven’t? Apart from that venereal disease you contracted in Cuba.

3) How much savings do you have?

In the unlikely event that you are one of the world’s best travel writers (who has been cruelly overlooked by the well-paying travel press/newspapers/guidebook publishers) and you have the discipline to update your blog at the very least once a week (minimum!) and are able to slowly build a gathering of followers (I’m taking it for granted you’re an expert in social media and relentless comment spammer) then your dream still isn’t going to materialise over night. Google won’t even rank your pages for the first six months after you launch your site, and even posting two or three times a week your blog will still be relatively tiny and worthless for two maybe three years… meanwhile you’ll be haemorrhaging cash as you gallivant around here there and everywhere, probably not adding any new insight to what’s already been written about those places. In short don’t expect to make any cash for your first year, more than a few hundred dollars in your second and no where close to a (meagre) living before your third. Yep the life of the travel blogger is the preserve of someone with a large savings account to get started.

4) What do you know about SEO?

I’m guessing there’s a decent chance you don’t even know what SEO is… no shame in that, but it does pretty much put the nails in the coffin of your travel blogging career at its embryonic stage. Search Engine Optimisation is what (successful) bloggers apply to every page on their blog to give it the best possible chance to appear in search engines (ie. Google) for any given search terms. In truth it’s not overly complicated, but it’s absolutely vital to be much better than average at it in a very competitive market. Clever vs. rubbish construction of URLs, page titles, meta tags, descriptions, key words in your texts are the difference between actually getting a trickle of traffic and sinking without a trace. Good link building (from external sites) and internal linking are also vital.

5) Traffic does not equal cash

Even if you do get a tonne of traffic, how are you going to convert that into cash? Your followers might love your witty blog about your life as an Entomologist in Cambodia, but apart from the odd insect repellent manufacturer who is going to advertise with you? What’s your sales strategy? Google Ads bring in pennies not pounds.

This post isn’t supposed to discourage anyone from travel writing. It’s just supposed to put paid to the idea that fortunes are waiting everyone who kickstarts a travel blog. Let’s go back to Nomadic Matt’s website (even if that means giving him another free link! Oh well I’m sure he’s a nice guy). It doesn’t look like a website that’s raking in the cash to me… and here’s why:

1) His front page has a Google page rank of 3. Google ranks every page between 0-10. Pretty much only Google has 10, maybe Facebook and Twitter have 9, BBC front page 8, a big newspaper 7 etc etc. PR3 isn’t exactly embarrassing but I’d be surprised if he’s getting much traffic directly from Google… to put into perspective my friend’s local bike rental company has a PR3. (To put it into even more perspective I have two sites with PR4 and I’m still very far from rich! Even this little blog you’re reading now has a PR2, with all of its 14 odd posts!).

2) Looking again at his front page, the main products he sells are books which tell you about how to make money as a travel writer. What does that tell you? That he makes more money from writing books about making money as a travel writer, than he actually does as a travel writer. (I’m not saying his books are bullshit by the way, but there’s a difference between making some money as a travel writer, which is no doubt what he promises, and making an actual living).

3) He advertises, quite heavily, the fact that he offers advertising. Always a sign that you could do with some more advertisers!

4) He offers a consulting service. Similar to number 2) this. You’ll see he’s obviously developed a healthy sideline in SEO consulting and other blog-related fun stuff. Why? Well in my experience people only develop a sideline when the mainline (?) doesn’t pay the bills!

Overall you have to think that Matt is a guy who’s making some valuable cash from travel writing (he’s sold a few links – see bottom of home page, got a few banners on his travel guides, etc etc.); but at the same time one who has either been forced, or chosen (because of better profits), to branch out his operations, into book-writing and consulting, in order to make real money. That’s obviously completely speculative, but I’ll let you make up your own minds as to whether what I’m saying makes any sense.

This certainly isn’t a post about “dissing” another blogger (us writers are far too mild mannered for that), and I’d definitely say fair play to him – he’s definitely doing all right for himself! On the other hand (and I’m thinking now from the perspective of a would-be newbie travel blogger) this is the guy who’s often wheeled out as the top example of a successful travel blogger. His traffic stats – if true as quoted – are certainly fantastic (120,000 visitors a month. About four times my sites.) and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not making as much money from travel writing alone as a sub-editor at a lowly inflight travel magazine. In fact I’d be really surprised if he was making more. Plus he won’t get any paid holidays, pension, sick leave etc for his efforts. (And trust me that adds up to a lot of cash!).

So there you have it. Not a definitive, packed full of hard evidence, case that travel blogging = poverty, but some tough realities to consider if you’re thinking about going down that route. But what about other routes…

… well despite me arguing that there’s no almost money to be made in travel blogging, there’s the accompanying paradox that the online travel industry is VAST – and still growing. In fact there are thousands of people making small fortunes from writing online about travel. (And normally by writing really badly I should add!). How they do it, and – perhaps more pertinently – how I’m going about doing it (very slowly), is the subject of another post however…

Stay tuned kids:)

The Trouble With Skateboarding

September 27, 2010

As a travel writer it’s important to have flexible principles. For example, just a few months after I mocked the intellect of Barcelona’s skate community, I found myself pitching an article about the little cabrones for Ryanair magazine… There was a buck to be made after all.

If I thought that maybe confronting these misfits I would grow to love their ill-judged body ink and respect their determined pursuit to knock their own teeth out, then I was sorely mistaken. As it happened they were, for the most part bigger ****s than I was expecting. Starting with the bare-chested moron who took himself too seriously to help with the piece (although started trying to get in the back of photos the minute we found someone else), through to the pseudo-punk who thought he was much too cool as he abjectly failed to land any of kick flips outside the MACBA. I wasn’t too impressed with the skate shop attendant either who did his damned hardest to avoid help market his shop for free to millions of readers… they’re really not the brightest specimens (pl.?) in the species. Lucky I did meet one or two friendly and helpful folk who did something to redeem their sub culture and you can read about them here… (apologies for the dodgy online editing, not much I can do about that).

Anyway having just about cajoled enough ‘street riders’ into deigning to speak with me and have a photo done, I wrote and submitted the piece and started the several month waiting process to get paid. A couple of weeks before it was due to be published however the Editor emailled me up and said there was a big problem with the piece and I should contact him immediately. I foolishly mentioned in the article that skateboarding is in fact illegal in Barcelona and now the client – ie. Ryanair – were throwing a hissy fit in case they were seen to be encouraging illegal behaviour. I was shocked. It was skateboarding for f@ck’s sake, not drug taking. Then again, I could see their point too. Naturally the Editor was having babies because if he makes a bad call, as per the whole Easyjet debacle (where they ran a fashion shoot without permission at a holocaust memorial in Berlin) he could lose his job. In the end the fact that they had spent ages preparing a huge spread with photos illustrations and all meant the Editor went to special lengths to get the green light from the city… he phoned the tourist board and they confirmed, what we all knew, that well-behaved skateboarding is tolerated.

A bit of a scare because if they had pulled the article then they would have only paid me a so-called ‘kill fee’, or half the original commission. It’s probably against European law, but until some travel writer with enough money to pay a lawyer challenges this arrangement I’m sure it will long continue… as such travel writers don’t exist the magazines hold all the power.

It did get me thinking though, how many travel articles are in fact about illegal activities? From ruin bars in Hungary, to squat venues in Barcelona, or even guerilla gardening in London, some of the coolest trends often stray the wrong side of the law, even if they are largely tolerated by a society that probably has better things to do with its time than give a sh!t. Anyway it will make me think twice about what I pitch to who in future…

Travel Writing Workshops

July 21, 2010

There’s a common misconception among the general public that some people can write and other people can’t. That writing is a mysterious gift, like singing, or perhaps rolling your tongue, that is god-given and can’t be taught. Those of course are the very people who think that a) they could never be a travel writer or b) that they are too talented too learn anything from a workshop about travel writing.

Naturally the opposite is true. Writing is by and large a skill. A very complex one, which is hard to teach, but one which we can definitely all get better at even bearing in mind a few basic principles. That being the case, doesn’t it make sense for all budding travel writers to do their best to access as much training as possible? That was certainly my approach when, the economic crisis having kicked in, I started considering my career options at the start of 2009. I’d already garnered several years experience writing for websites like Cracow Life, whilst working in Poland, and had even had one or two feature articles published, notably in Wizz Air Magazine and Click Air, and naturally a career in travel writing appealed – but was it really possible? When I saw (in The Guardian, I believe) that an established travel writer named Peter Carty was offering one day travel writing workshops in London I thought what the hell, maybe this is the push in the right direction I need … especially as it was only 115 quid! Even if I felt I might be a little advanced for some of the course’s content (with my typical over self-confidence!) I figured, at this price, I’d still get my money’s worth…

Anyway, if you haven’t guessed by now, this post is a plug for that very course and a big thank you to Mr. Carty for kick-starting my career in travel writing. I could tell you about everything I learned during the workshop, such as how to structure an article, the importance of kicking off a piece with a killer sentence, the sinister cliches a serious travel writer needs to avoid and – most importantly of all – how to get inside the mind of an editor and create a pitch that will have a great chance of getting commissioned. However the proof is in the pudding. Since taking Peter’s course I’ve gone from having one or two pieces published when an editor desperately needed something on Poland, to being able to sell regular articles to a contact list of editor’s I have slowly built up. The publications I have written for since the spring of 2009 (when I took the course) include Ryanair Magazine, Easyjet Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller (although they haven’t paid me yet… expect a post about them soon!), CNN Traveller, Jetaway and more. In fact I could have probably won many more commissions but I’ve chosen to concentrate more on my own web based projects for now (more on the very mysterious art form of making money from travel writing for the web another time. It’s not included on Peter Carty’s course, which concentrates on how to sell travel features – which is more lucrative in the short term and a great way to establish your career as a travel writer).

The timing of this post, quite a lot after I attended the course in question, isn’t because I’m the sort of ingrate who sends thank you letters to my auntie a full 15 months after receiving a birthday present, but rather because Peter has finally entered the digital age and launched his website… check it out.

http://www.travelwritingworkshop.co.uk

If you hadn’t guessed by now I can’t recommend his course highly enough.

Writing For Party Earth

April 3, 2010

Right, long time no blog! I’ve been meaning to post something for a while now about my experiences last summer writing for Party Earth, a US-based series of nightlife guidebooks to top European cities. As my first guidebook work it was a big learning experience… and not necessarily one I’m in a desperate hurry to repeat!

My Dad always says if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, but as I set out for Barcelona in search of fame and fortune the tagline ‘writers wanted – get paid to party in Barcelona’ was inevitably going to arouse my interest. I duly sent in my application form, along with my CV, which for once suited the bill perfectly (I’d spent the last 3.5 years writing about bars and clubs around East Europe and had my own nightlife column in the Krakow Post). I was genuinely raring to go on this one, my perfect job – and barring my lack of knowledge about Barcelona (at the time) and lack of Spanish (errr, still) – I felt I was the perfect candidate. Anyhow to my delight I got offered the job and was looking forward to a hedonistic summer in Spain living it up by night and then penning a few ditties on the beach late in the afternoon.

Then came the shock… my remuneration. The 3,000 USD touted in the job ad was for a guidebook created from scratch. My role was to update an existing Barcelona guide of 60 odd venue reviews and add a handful of new ones… I was to be paid a mere 8 USD for updating an old review and 16 USD for writing a new review. And I was to cover all my own expenses! It was obvious then that should I even buy one drink at a venue that I was visiting for an update then I would have imbibed all the money I earned from reviewing it (a bottle of beer in BCN costs from 3 to 6 euros)! Have two drinks and I would actually be making a loss out of all my hard work!

I thought long and hard about it and was close to refusing Party Earth’s offer. But in the end I felt that it should at least be fun, the opportunity might be more important than money and that I’d be able to visit most of the places without having a drink – just making some notes. I also figured I’d be going to some of these places anyway so if I could recuperate some of the costs of a night out by writing a review that couldn’t be a bad thing either. Finally I thought that the research I was doing for Party Earth would come in handy at least for other purposes (such as writing the Barcelona nightlife page of my fledgling website Barcelona Life). A travel writer survives on their knowledge after all, and one of the keys to being a successful travel writer is making your knowledge pay more than once!

The logic was sound… but unfortunately there were some factors I hadn’t predicted or considered. Firstly I had no idea just how exacting the Party Earth editors would be. My approach at first was to take what was already written in the existing guidebook reviews and just flesh it out with a sentence or two and check all the factual details were correct – easily enough to earn my 8 USD in my opinion! However these reviews would be sent back to me with a long list of required amendments… every review had to contain concrete details of the decor, layout, crowd, music, vibe and also had to include a top tip for making the most of the place. (So you really had to get to know the places well!). In fact I thought these guidelines were excellent, but they were also very demanding and inflexible, and doctoring the often poorly-written existing reviews to fit the criteria was very time-consuming. What with travelling to the venue, being in the venue, travelling from the venue, writing/updating the review, writing the amendments, I must have been spending several hours on each place! It’s very likely I was averaging 2 or at most 3 dollars an hour for this work (in the most efficient case). Nightclubs were worse than bars because they are harder to pop in and out, in more distant locations, and Party Earth don’t cover the cost of entry – insisting that we should be able to arrange a free visit for the coverage we’re giving them. Sound in theory, but you try telling a Spanish gorilla who doesn’t speak English that you are here to review the incredibly popular club he is barring your way to and you won’t get very far. Organising guestlists for all the clubs was another (time-consuming) headache, made a nightmare by my poor language skills.

The whole experience seemed to be an endless project, structured around my weekly Skype meetings, with my line manager Dan. Despite Dan being a very nice guy, talking to him about an infinite roll of amendments began to drag after this two month project had entered into it’s fourth and even fifth month. (I should point out I wasn’t working full time by any means, but a sizeable chunk of each week got taken up, esp. in the initial three months… later when the research had been done it was just the amendments that kept rolling in!).

One thing that I have to commend Party Earth for was that they kindly agreed to renegotiate my contract so that reviews which involved extensive rewriting were credited as new reviews – and remunerated by 16 not 8 dollars! This was a bit of life-saver as revising the existing reviews was often taking longer than writing the new reviews! Unfortunately some of this good work by them was later undone when I had to pay a 50 dollar fee via Paypal just to receive my total payment from them (which came to 1277 USD)… that was the equivalent of three new reviews wiped out just to get paid for the work that I had done! That really pissed me off, and I think if you are contracting foreign staff you should be willing to pay the bank fees.

Overall it was an exciting project to work on, and I think together we created a great nightlife guide to Barcelona… but from a travel writer’s perspective it was a hell of lot of work and hassle for not very much money. Nor was it anywhere near as fun as you might imagine. A night out in a club because you have to be there (often my mates were all somewhere else!), with no spending money is obviously a far cry from an all-expenses paid booze up… the realities of nightlife journalism, even for a major US publisher, are not glamorous it seems!

I think, despite my gripes, writing for Party Earth worked out for me in some strange way. It gave me a reason and focus to be here in Barcelona for a couple of crucial months, and (a lot later than I would have liked) it paid out a bit of money; whilst the knowledge I gained working for them is helping me in compiling various city guides, be it for my own projects, like Barcelona Life or Urban Travel Blog, or for Easyjet Magazine or whoever….

If you’re thinking of accepting an assignment to write for Party Earth hopefully this advice will help you… you can always contact me if you need some more info! Meanwhile I’d definitely be interested in hearing about other writers’ experiences working for other travel guidebooks etc (you might find this amusing book by the now infamous Thomas Kohnstamm instructive too… an expose of life as a Lonely Planet guidebook writer! Very droll, I’ll get a review up one of these days!).

Candid Camera (Lomography in Barcelona)

February 13, 2010

One of the disadvantages in writing for bi-monthly publications is the long gaps that arise in between researching your article, writing/submitting it and then seeing it published. Why is this a problem? Well the obvious bugbear is that, if you only get paid on publication, it can lead to big cashflow issues! Whilst a smaller difficulty arises when there is a big gap between conducting the research and deadline day… for example by the time I’d finally got the go ahead for my piece on Lomo photography in Barcelona (some time in autumn 2009) I was having to stretch my memory several months to when I actually researched the piece (back to spring 2009) to recall vital info and set a credible scene. I do use a voice recorder to get the all-important quotes but carrying a notebook isn’t always practical and I do rely on memory for thoughts, impressions and details. Anyway I mention this as a caveat to aspiring travel writers: some ideas and articles will, whether you like it or not, take longer to materialise in published form than you’d ideally like, so try to be better prepared than I usually am to keep them fresh on ice!

Anyhow finally, a good nine months after I spent a very enjoyable weekend with Barcelona’s Lomography community, and four months after I submitted it to the editor, my article was published by Jetaway.

http://jet2mag.com/2010/02/01/candid-camera/

It looks better in print naturally, with a selection of mine and more talented Lomographers shots to accompany the piece! But anyway it was a great subject, and I think I just about did it justice!

This prodigious wait to see it in print did get me thinking that, much as I love both Jetaway and the editor, from a business point of view it does make more sense to submit ideas to monthly magazines first. Not only do they commission faster, get printed faster and therefore end up paying much faster, but there is less scope for things going wrong. If an article gets published a few weeks after it gets commissioned there is less chance of the article being canned because of some issue you have no control over… such as the airline going bust! It’s happened before, believe me.

Poetry Brothel – Barcelona

December 26, 2009

Got a lovely lead a couple of months ago and went straight to the editor of Ryanair Magazine as I knew he would snap this one up! Barcelona’s poetry brothel (the second in the world, the first having opened up in New York), works much like an ordinary brothel does (or at least how I imagine an ordinary brothel does;) except for instead of being led into a dark corner for some hanky panky you are led into a dark corner for some erotic reading by poetic putas… A really fantastically fun article to research and write – and one that gave me plenty of opportunities to exercise my beloved puns. Ladies of quill repute anyone? Anyway, it’s on planes right now so ask for a copy or head online.

I developed a crush on quite a few of the buxom bards so I may well pop back at my leisure… check out their blog for forthcoming events.

Infamy Infamy, They’ve All Got It In For Me!

November 30, 2009

Ok, so it’s not quite the storm that Thomas Kohnstamm brewed up with his rather droll expose of the life of a guidebook writer in ‘Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?‘ (I’ll post a review sometime), but – by accident of course – I’ve ruffled a few feathers in the last couple of weeks.

By first brush with controversy was a result of my monthly 2-minute country guide to Poland which I pen for Ryanair Magazine. A fun little piece it mainly involves a few bar and restaurant recommendations for Ryanair’s Polish destinations, however a regular feature of this one page article is the ‘say this, not this’ section where I have to come up with two phrases in Polish. One decent and correct, the other humorously off the mark. As a resolutely monolingual idiot this is by far the trickiest element of the piece which routinely causes me a lot of grief as I badger various Polish friends and spam Facebook for ideas. Anyhow for the month in question I went with a suggestion of a respected English/Polish journalist I know from Krakow who gave me the following. Jestesmy chorem wujow… We are a choir of uncles, and Jestesmy worem chujow… We are a bag of penises. (See here). Except apparently the word chuj is much more rude than the word penis. Now I knew perfectly well it was slang, but having heard it bandied around the streets of Poland by everyone from builders to schoolgirls and even the odd nun (kidding!) I figured how rude can it be??? Well rude enough for a journalist from Radio Zet to throw a wobbly and give Ryanair an earful (article in Gazeta Wyborcza here)… he tried to get in contact with me, but without knowing what it was about I fobbed him off as I was f@cking busy at the time. It proved to be a lucky decision because he was obviously in quite a strop, and I’ve since been told to tone it down by the Deputy Ed. and Editor. Fair enough really… but how was I to know that this in-joke of the saintly Wawel Choir was so dirty!

My second brush with a Polish journalist happened just days later when a lady from Gazeta took exception to me as describing the Hala Ludowa as the world’s ugliest Unesco-listed building. Having escaped an ear-drubbing once I wisely declined the offer to pass on my telephone number and she sent me a couple of narky emails instead full of points I didn’t really agree with… anyhow rather than absolve myself of blame I’ll let you judge for yourselves on this one. I give you Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall.

Mad Dogs & Englishmen

November 16, 2009

There are not many people who can say they drink vodka for a living, but I’m happy to report that this particular session on the sauce paid my bed and board for a week or two at least! An article on Polish vodka is probably not the most original pitch in the world (in fact I’d already written one for Wizzair Magazine in when I was working for Cracow Life), but it’s the type editors love because a) it’s a local product with lots of history and cultural impact b) it gives the writer plenty of scope for having fun!

I pitched this article with the headline ‘Mad Dogs & Englishmen’ as a vodka tasting article centred around a night out in Krakow in which a bunch of English guys try, amongst other things, the famous Mad Dog (Wsciekly Pies) shot. In the end I went out with just one English guy and his girlfriend (who got cut out of the piece, as – although her company was very charming! – she didn’t have any quotes I wanted to use). Thankfully Simon proved to be not only a bit of a vodka connoisseur but came up with some brilliantly expressive tasting reactions (‘I’m getting burnt plastic’ and much more!)… Good man!

I nearly cried when the commissioning editor, Lucille from Jetaway magazine (who had raved about how much she loved the piece!) emailled me to say Jet2 had cancelled their Krakow route and she couldn’t run it (in these cases incidentally I would have been paid a kill fee – just half the original commission, but been free to sell the article elsewhere). However luckily Ryanair Magazine (published by the same company) also liked it and gave it a new home! Weyhey! Although the Editor did change the title to Sharp Shooters… which I’m not at all upset about if only because I love the Gangsta Cru.

So without further ado, here is the super Sharp Shooters/Mad Dogs & Englishmen… and I’d just like any editors out there know that I’m available for more vodka-related commissions…

Klezmer Musicians in Krakow

October 29, 2009

Earlier in the year I travelled back to my ex-home of Krakow Poland to write a couple of features that I had been commissioned to do by Jetaway. One was on Communist Tour, another a vodka article (which eventually got dropped as Jet2 stopped flying to Krakow… luckily Ryanair have picked it up and it should be published soon!). I was also lucky enough to get a third assignment with Wizzair, interviewing me old mucker Monsieur Trebacz about his free-wheeling life as a bike tour guide and part-time DJ.

Anyhow, in an attempt to make the trip yet more profitable I decided to take a chance and research an article that no one had commissioned but I hoped to sell to the broadsheets thus paving the way into the lucrative business of travel writing for newspapers… naturally this plan didn’t work, and I must say still a bit flummoxed on how to break into this market. By chance I have the email of the NY Times Travel Editor’s email and he told me that due to the economic crisis they weren’t commissioning any more articles, instead publishing the large backlog of stories they have gathering cyber dust in their inbox. This could of course have been a polite way of saying we’re not interested but it certainly tallies with the reports of newspapers under strain and slashing budgets (one my reason why I launched Urban Travel Blog).

Anyhow the upshot of all this is that I had a very well-researched 1500 word article on the modernisation of traditional Jewish klezmer folk music in Krakow which I had spent the best part of a week polishing kicking around on my desktop for six months. Shame really as it was a good ‘un… but what with my funky new concept of an online travel magazine now up-and-running I have handily provided myself with the perfect publishing platform. Ok, sadly no one is paying me just yet but with the digital revolution well underway who knows, self-publishing my articles may prove even more profitable than writing for other editors.

Hope you enjoy my encounters with ‘The New Klezmers of Krakow‘.