We spoke to Jamie Lafferty, Consumer Writer of the Year in the 2020 Travel Media Awards, to find out about his career and the challenges and rewards of travel writing. If you feel inspired, entry is now open for the 2021 Awards.
How did you get into travel writing?
By accident, really. I was working on the arts and culture desk at the Sunday Herald in Glasgow when I got offered my first press trip. That was in 2007; a year or so after that, I took a job as a feature writer on a mysterious magazine in the UAE. It turned out to be an in-flight mag and after that, I was sort of accidentally specialised.
How have you coped with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis?
Honestly, not too well — or at least not always. Some titles haven’t paid what they owe me. Others held copy in stasis, which is as good as not paying. I signed on for Universal Credit in May last year, and, like almost everyone in the business, have thought about leaving the industry altogether. That said, I made an unusually excellent decision to leave the UK in October last year and flee to South America for three months. I spent six weeks on the Galápagos, for goodness sake. I saw a total eclipse in Chile’s Lake District. I stood in the shadow of the Moon! I have less to complain about than most.
NB. Any editors reading this, I still have plenty of excellent features for sale from this magnificent trip. Gimme a wee call, eh?
What makes a destination a great place to write about?
I like places that make me feel small and insignificant, either because of their scale or history or both. My tiny mind was blown into a million little pieces the first time I went to Petra, for example. I have that feeling every time I visit India; polar regions are incredibly profound to me, too. Recently, I was in the Atacama and had a similar sense: the dreadfulness of it, the size, the age. I like places that are tinged with sadness or disaster too — they really help with my writing, even if editors tend to disagree. Antarctica is the perfect place for this, which is why I go through the troublesome and unprofitable business of trying to go back there every year. Anyway, I like big places. Destinations that make me think, that ‘stir up the lees of things’. Essentially, anywhere that allows me to crowbar in Moby Dick quotes that make me sound better read than I really am.
Do you think travel writing is going to change when we can travel again?
Yes, because everything is. At my most optimistic, I hope that travel will be imbued with a new sense of adventure and travel writing will adapt to reflect that (and so I’ll get loads of commissions). A more realistic forecast would be that the titles that have survived are going to be cash-strapped and so have to take advertising from anywhere and be less and less able to make sound, ethical decisions. Destinations that are broadly similar (for example, Caribbean islands, North African and Eastern European countries, US states) are going to have to compete to get attention and point out what makes them different. In any case, the marketing scramble over the next couple of years is going to be unlike anything there’s been since, perhaps, the 1950s, but without all the cool posters.
What destinations are on your travel wish list for the future?
Mostly, a list of impractical and/or ridiculous destinations that are very hard to get commissioned. In Eastern Asia, I’m yet to visit Mongolia, North Korea, East Timor and Bhutan — so all of them. In the Americas I’m missing Honduras and Venezuela (although wouldn’t go there right now for obvious reasons). I really, really want to go to Greenland and Franz Josef Land. The Pitcairn Islands, obviously. Oh, and Antarctica from the Ross Sea side. Antarctica from any side. But to be honest, right now I could probably find magic in the Costa Del Anywhere.
ENTRY IS NOW OPEN FOR THE TRAVEL MEDIA AWARDS 2021
If you’d like to enter your work for this year’s Travel Media Awards, it’s straightforward and quick — enter here!
Now in its seventh year, the winners will be announced at a ceremony at Kimpton Fitzroy London Hotel on Monday 18 October. We’re looking forward to celebrating with the very best of travel media — and if you enter now you could be joining us as a finalist.