Author Archives: AndreaD

Dream job: travel writer. Busting the myth (part 2)

By Andrea Davoust

Aspiring travel writers, you already know from my first myth-busting post that no-one will offer you as much as a glass of water (let alone free cocktails or, dream on, cruises), as you stagger around sweating like a horse in 35-degrees heat, asking at least five people for the same information because all the answers are going to be different and you need to triangulate. And that is the easy bit. Still not put off? Then let’s bust the biggest myth of all: that it is a real job.

Mother of all myths: you get paid to travel and write.

Unless you are Bill Bryson – and he raised his children on his salary as a sub editor – then you do not actually get paid. At least, not real money, not the kind that turns into a down payment for a car or even just keeps your electricity and phone line from being cut. If you do land yourself an official writing assignment, and once you have completed it, having wrung your credit card bone-dry in the process, then yes, you will probably receive some petty cash at some point. Probably enough, say, to recoup the cost of that last empanada and Sprite in Guatemala City airport. But forget about making a living out of it. And while you are at it, write off any hope of going “all expenses paid” – or if you find an employer who does that, please tell me their name right away. Until then, you are on a budget tighter than Speedo trunks and must fit the travel expenses’ equivalent of an obese bottom into it.

Where travel writers go for coffee

Where travel writers go for coffee

Corollary of the mama-myth: you rough it to the limit.

So you are on a shoestring. Well, so are lots of other travelers, and they don’t whine about it, right? Except they can choose to skip the top (expensive) tours and far-flung (expensive) attractions. You can’t, because you have to cover them for your guidebook. Well then renounce the comfort of a private room for a shared dorm at the Doorslam Hostel! Except that regular (loud) backpackers are not usually on the same schedule as you, who have to crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn to start working. Stretching your meal allowance by grabbing greasy street food would not be so bad either, if you did not have to check out the fancy restaurants in town, drooling over the tempting menu, writing down prices, and walking out. I could go on forever ringing off examples.

Yet in spite of the frustrating wild goose chases, dodgy boat rides, late-night ass-to-chair writing moments, and the many “what the hell?” moments, travel writing is a very rewarding experience. You just need to accept that it will never make you rich. On this zen note, I am off to apply for a position as a sub editor, which may fund my future trips and, who knows, my future bryson-esque fame and success.

V!VA’s Travel Writing Boot Camps

Still interested in the life of a travel writer? Why not join one of V!VA’s Boot Camps: five-day-long travel guidebook writing crash courses.

2010 Boot Camps:

Ecuador: January 4-8
Perú: January 18-22

Students hit the ground running with assignments, learn how to write guidebooks and have their work critiqued by seasoned professionals. This is a great opportunity for aspiring writers to gain hands-on travel writing skills and experience and get paid!boota

Upon successful completion of the course, Boot Camp graduates have the opportunity to stay on assignment as field writers and be compensated. Works will be published in the upcoming guidebooks for each country.

V!VA is looking for a select army of talented and adventurous writers to train out in the field and jump start their travel writing careers.

Learn from the pros what it takes to be a travel writer, start writing, get published and get paid!

Women Travel: Solving the tampon conundrum

By Andrea Davoust

Escaping from it all? Almost! The moon and its bloody cycles (sorry) will follow you anywhere you go on this planet…so how do you deal with having your period on the road? Pack a year’s worth of feminine supplies? Cross your fingers and hope that if Coca-Cola has reached that remote Nepalese village, so will have other civilized items? V!VA shares tips to not let Nature ruin your trip.

1/ Zap it!

Who needs a period anyway? Just do away with it altogether! If you are on a contraceptive pill, take the active tablets back-to-back for a few months. After all, manufacturers only introduced the period break because they (men, no doubt) figured it would otherwise feel unnatural. So don’t worry about skipping the bleeding. However conventional wisdom has it that it is best not to take the pill continuously for longer than three months in a row. Simply consult your doctor (link to before leaving, for advice and an adequate supply of your pill!

Photo by Dani Lurie

Photo by Dani Lurie

2/ Pack it!

If you simply know that you will never find the exact brand and make of tampons or pads you feel comfortable with…carry a supply from home. Anyway peace of mind only comes at the price of a bit more stuff in your suitcase – though if you are good packer, your stock shouldn’t take up more space than a couple of rolled socks. “I find that OB products, since they are so small and compact, are ideal for long-term travel. They take up a quarter of the space than others,” writes Delara.

3/ Risk it!

Let’s face it, women the world over have their periods, even in the remotest African bush. So sanitary protections are available everywhere, right? Anywhere in Europe, North America and most of Asia, yes. Ditto in the large cities of the developing world, where pharmacies are usually well stocked. In the backwaters of Africa or Central Asia…guess again! “I once had to buy some in a small Brazilian village. ‘Twasn’t pretty. I could only find massive mattress-like things,” writes Stephanie. But there will always be a local solution. Plus, haven’t you ever wondered how women of the Amazon jungle or Himalayan villages coped? Time to find out!

4/ Cup it!

Photo by Michelle Tribe

Photo by Michelle Tribe

Goodbye disposable products, hello re-usable, eco-friendly cups! Menstrual cups, which were invented in the 1930s but never really took off, are making a strong comeback. Now made of silicone instead of the more allergenic latex, these 5-cm eggcup-shaped devices are inserted in the vagina, collect the menstrual flow, then emptied and rinsed every few hours. “Yuuuuuck!?” Yet increasing numbers have become converts. “It takes a little bit of practice to insert, but it will be perfect for my six-month trip through South America,” says Sylviana, who has just crash-tested the device at home. Just be aware that you need access to potable or boiled water to clean it and avoid infections. Main brands are: Divacup, Mooncup and Keeper.

Ladies in Latin America: Solo Travel Safety 101

Ladies in Latin America: Solo Travel Safety 101

“So who are you going with? On your own? To (enter your destination here)? Wow, that’s brave!” As a female traveler, you hear that all the time. But you don’t need to be G.I. Jane to travel solo as a woman. In fact, more and more women are hitting the road alone, from backpackers on their first trip to middle-aged ladies leaving their hubbies at home. OK, so we all have stories about how we checked store after store for a simple box of tampons, or had to cross our legs on an impossibly long bus trip with no toilet stops while guys peed in a plastic bottle…But those are minor inconveniences. What daunts women from traveling alone, though, is the issue of safety.

Without sugarcoating it, women are simply at higher risk of robbery or assault and, in most parts of the world, have to fend off lots of unwanted male advances. Why? Because many countries have different standards regarding acceptable female behavior and women are perceived as easier targets for crime. Yeah, life is unfair.

But being aware of your safety and planning ahead doesn’t mean you can’t wander the mountains of Central America or the markets of Sub-Saharan Africa on your own. After all, lots of women do so and have a perfectly good time. It is just a matter of taking simple precautions. And since they can never be repeated too often, here are basic safety guidelines:

1/ Be prepared

Do your homework, research your destination. Talk to other women who have traveled to that country. Book the first night of your trip in advance, to give yourself time to find your bearings.

When you arrive, ask around (at the tourist office or your hotel reception) to see whether the areas you intend to visit are safe.

Solo, but never alone!

Solo, but never alone!

2/ Don’t make yourself an easy target

Always be aware of your surroundings and walk like you know exactly where you are going, whether that’s the case or not! Rather than standing on a street corner looking lost and peering at your map, duck into a shop and ask for directions.

Unless the place you are going to is close by and in a safe area, don’t walk alone after nightfall, take a taxi instead.

Do a gut check from time to time. If a place makes you nervous, move on quickly!

3/ Avoid cultural missteps

Be aware of the cultural values of your host country. In traditional societies dress conservatively, covering up shoulders, thighs, cleavage. In some parts of Latin America, decent women do not wear bikinis at the beach, they throw on a t-shirt and/or shorts.

In most places, it is perfectly OK for a woman to hang out at a café by herself, but bars and night clubs are a different story. In some parts of the developing world, the only women sipping drinks alone at night are local prostitutes. Avoid casual misunderstandings by exploring the nightlife with a group of people from your hostel or by joining a pub crawl tour. Be careful about accepting drinks from strangers, since the alcohol might be spiked with a drug, and only do so if you have watched the barman prepare it.

4/ Learn to handle male attention
If men hiss, whistle or catcall just ignore them. They rarely take advances further and a response from you will only encourage them to be more aggressive.

Bear in mind that even informal chitchat might be interpreted as a sexual invitation. In the event that the conversation takes an uncomfortable turn, shamelessly resort to a white lie – “my husband is waiting for me at the hotel” and leave.

Generally speaking, just use common sense, trust your gut feeling, and you will have a wonderful, rewarding trip!