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What I Read: Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans on a Texas Longhorn

Digital Nomad Andrew Evans astride a Longhorn during his tour of Texas.

A series that asks travel and food writers about their media consumption and how they structure their writing days, find sources, and deal with information overflow. Inspired by The Atlantic Wire, but with a travel, food, and culture focus.

If you love travel and social media, then the one person you should be sure to follow is Andrew Evans (@wheresandrew on Twitter). Andrew is currently National Geographic Traveler’s Digital Nomad, a job that takes him all over the globe, where he sends verbal and visual dispatches via Twitter and his blog. I can think of no other travel writer working today who so consistently provides context about a place with such kindness, professionalism, and wonder. Thus, I’m really honored that Andrew took a little time to tell me more about his media diet and his typical working day.

If you are still curious about Andrew’s work after reading this, I suggest taking a look at his TEDx talk How to Achieve Your One Travel Dream. In this 15-minute video, he explains how he set in motion his Bus Trip to Antarctica, the epic travel project that landed him a full-time gig with Traveler.

How do you start your typical writing day?

I’m an early riser and an early writer, meaning, left to my own devices, I’m up at 5 AM and writing away. I do my best work in the morning and then slowly deteriorate until mid-afternoon, when I’m generally useless. I don’t really read anything when I wake up, unless you count Twitter, which I check from bed—I read every single comment from every single reader.

How long have you been working at National Geographic Traveler as the Digital Nomad?

Three years, as Digital Nomad.

Do you write a lot while on the road or wait to write later using the notes and photos that you’ve taken?

I write every day on the road—I try to keep my blog as close to present-tense as possible. For articles or books, I wait until later. On the road, I carry a 100-page notebook in my pocket for writing down impressions, emotions, adjectives, names, and details of people I meet and quotes that I hear—basically anything I want to remember. I put a sticker on the front of each notebook—usually the flag of the place I’m in. I have a whole box of these at home, but with the flags, I can sift through them quickly and check old notes. For some stories, I might go back to notes from years ago.

What are your favorite sources for news and inspiration?

I am most inspired by people I meet when I’m traveling. Local personal stories are always the best inspiration.

Are there certain columns or writers that you aim to read each day, week, month?

I do read Christopher Elliott. I also love Amy Tan on Facebook, Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers on Twitter, and I follow her and her son, Sam. On Twitter, I always love the musings of @NerdsEyeView [see interview] and the erudite @ReidOnTravel [interview]. In house at National Geographic, I’m a huge fan of Ted Chamberlain (@ted_chamberlain) and Marilyn Terrell (@Marilyn_Res). I also read all the stuff my followers are tweeting—they are all pretty interesting people.

You’re very active on Twitter. Are there other social media services that you are active on?

I am very active on Twitter—when I’m traveling. When I’m home I tend to take a break and clam up. I think Twitter is an amazing thing—in moderation. I also have a Facebook page and I’m dabbling in Tumblr and Google +.

Since your title is “Digital Nomad,” how much of your day is spent on social media?

When I’m in the field, I’m on social media constantly. I don’t even see it that way though—I just see it as a way for me to travel with all of my friends in tow.

What’s the last thing you read that stuck with you?

Last month I read Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris. He’s always classified as a humorist and essayist. In my opinion, his latest book definitely counts as travel writing. Like me, he’s on the road all the time, and so his life is filled with observations about different places and the limbo of modern travel. I really loved reading it and especially loved his sense of place.

Yesterday, on the plane, I read the original “Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs [free download] which is delightful. It’s a kind of naïve fictional travel writing from someone who had never been to Africa, but wanted to imagine it. It also (perhaps unwittingly) lays out the classic conundrum explored by most travel narrative—the dance between the civilized world of home versus the strange, new, and wonderful foreign world that lures us into the jungle.

You’ve been writing a while. What are some pieces that you are particularly proud of?

(I still absolutely LOVE some of your articles from Gadling, particularly the Seattle one.)

Thank you! I like writing about the way a place makes me feel, or capturing certain moments, like New Year’s Eve in Scotland. I also like exploring places that others might disregard, like I did in Butte, Montana or how strange and weird certain moments on the road can be. I remember once writing a piece about being home that was important for me, because sometimes I feel like I’m still traveling, even when I’m home.

Do you listen to any podcasts?

I am a cult follower of “This American Life” on NPR, and I always download The Moth. Both are contemporary storytelling at its best.

Is there any particular music that gets you through your writing and/or travel day?

When I’m writing, I can’t listen to music with words, so I listen to classical (Rachmoninoff and Satie are favorites) or post-rock instrumental (My favorite bands? This Will Destroy You and For a Minor Reflection.). When I’m traveling, I tend not to listen to music because I don’t like blocking out the world with headphones—it’s a sign that you are closing yourself off from other people, and when I’m traveling I want to be open to others.

What are your favorite sources for preparing for a trip?

Even though I’m a digital writer, I am very much an analog reader. I like it old school—and love to read old books about places. I will often read old guidebooks from a century ago, just to get a sense of what it used to be like. I love to read history books about places, especially rare and out of print, which I can normally track down on Google Books. I do read Wikipedia—not as a source, but to find out how well-known something is and steer clear of the generally-known stuff so that I can make sure I am adding something different. For example, in my most recent trip to Montana, I read the unabridged (original text) of The Definitive Journals of Lewis & Clark. It’s several volumes, so I just focused on the same geographical areas that I was in.

When I’m in a place, I also like going to local libraries and sifting through their local interest selections. They are always fascinating and I can count on finding good stuff there.

Anything else you’d like to add — anecdotes, tips for finding news sources, writing or research advice, etc.?

I don’t think that there’s any one right way or even best way to do this kind of work. I think you have to discover what works best for you, and that is going to be something very individual. I do know that when I am in the mood to write—then everything else stops until I am finished—or else that mood has passed. I know from experience to pay attention to that feeling and to follow it. Likewise, you can’t force it—so if something is not working, I know better than to waste my time, and I’ll leave it and go do something else until I can come back to it.

What I Read: Pam Mandel

Pam Mandel

Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View

A series that asks travel and food writers about their media consumption and how they structure their writing days, find sources, and deal with information overflow. Inspired by The Atlantic Wire, but with a travel, food, and culture focus.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Pam Mandel, the writer behind Nerd’s Eye View , for a few years—first via Twitter and TBEX, then as a colleague at Gadling. Though I’m sure it’s not the case, her writing seems effortless and her observations spot-on. (Read Seven, for which she won a 2012 Solas Best Travel Writing Award, or Once, I Traveled Alone to see what I mean.) In short, I’m a big fan. So, I’m very happy to have her contribute to this series. More about Pam: she’s written for Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler Online, Afar, Skye, World Hum, The San Francisco Chronicle and more. She also plays classic rock on ukulele with The Castaways, Seattle’s loudest ukulele band.

How do you start your day? What’s the first thing you read and/or listen to?

My day doesn’t really start until I hear the noise of my espresso machine. Then I look at my email, The Facebook and The Twitter, probably in that order. I use those social channels not just for consumption, but to communicate, and sometimes, there are things in there I need to respond to. If I’m feeling lazy I take my coffee back to bed I listen to my local NPR station, KUOW, if I’m reading something good, I might do some morning reading—I just finished David Rakoff’s Half Empty and I read a lot of it first thing in the morning.

What is your typical work day?

I don’t have a full time job in the traditional sense—I’m a contract technical writer/user experience designer/freelance whaddaya got, which means that sometimes I’m working full-time and other times I’m sitting on the couch surfing the web. When I’m on a project, I start my day the same way, with coffee and digital stuff,  but I get up, get dressed (if I’m going to meetings) and do all my social media time-churning on the bus. That’s perfect, I think, it’s a finite amount of time before I switch to “I’m getting paid” mode, when I’m at home, I can dawdle some. A lot. Too much.

What are your favorite sources for news and inspiration?

I really like Chuck Wendig’s ass kickings for writers (like this, this, and this). I’ve been enjoying Neko Case’s Twitter feed tremendously. I had a terrible Commander Hadfield Twitter addiction, which is a bit more controlled now that he’s back on Earth. If I’m in the car, I might listen to KUOW but I also listen to a weird selection of podcasts. I really like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk Radio, I worship RadioLab, I think Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible is amazing. I’ve been reading the Guardian‘s take on U.S. politics more and more, and I like Slate. Ira Glass—This American Life—is like a god to me—no, really—but I save This American Life episodes for when I’m flying and binge listen on airplanes. I click on almost every single thing posted to Twitter on the VelaMag feed. I like the Simpsons and The Jack Benny Show on podcast. Yeah, that one, from the 40s and 50s that maybe your grandparents used to listen to.

What’s your relationship with social media? Do you use one service more than the other? Do you find it useful to your daily routine?

I have an unhealthy addiction to social media.I don’t know how to quantify its usefulness in my daily routine because I don’t have a routine day, hardly ever, But yeah, it’s useful and I have one story after another about how social media has connected me with someone I needed to know to make something happen.

What’s the last thing you read that stuck with you?

David Rakoff’s essay in Half Empty about the complicated relationship between—wait for it—Jews and pork. Man, that’s an amazing bit of writing. I find I am still thinking about George Saunders’ essay “My Flamboyant Grandson (from the collection In Persuasion Nation),” too, for its sci-fi dystopian view of a world over run by advertisers.

Is there any particular music that you like to listen to while you write (or in advance of writing, for inspiration’s sake)?

I can’t listen to music and write at the same time. And music doesn’t feed that part of my process, most times. I listen to a lot of classic rock (there, I admitted it!) for reasons that have nothing to do with writing.

What are your favorite sources for preparing for a trip?

My first line of research is with people I know who have been to where I’m going. Then I look for literary works in the e-books collection of my public library. I got The Tree Where Man Was Born (Peter Mattheissen) on audio prior to traveling to Tanzania and I felt like by “reading” this book prior to and while I was traveling, Mattheissen was teaching me to write about Africa.  There’s a Traveler’s Tales nonfiction essay collection about Hawaii that I just loved. My trip prep is way more historical/literary research than how to—I read John Muir before going to Alaska, for example, and about Theodore Roosevelt while traveling in North Dakota. I read Shackleton before I went to Antarctica. Practical information is common sense, mostly, and readily available, and I’ve been traveling long enough to know what to pack and that angry reviews on TripAdvisor are often more about the traveler who wrote them than the location itself. But history.. I like the context that reading history or personal essay about places can provide. And the library, that’s always first.

You live in Seattle. What are your favorite sources for info about what’s happening in Seattle, from news to concerts, etc.? Are there any articles about Seattle/Washington State/the PNW that you would recommend to visitors?

I get Seattle Mag in the mail and I like reading it — I learn things about my city and it’s typically a pretty good read. Our regional AAA mag is pretty good too, and I’ve met a lot of the contributors so I trust what they print. I still turn to our weeklies—The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly—for what’s going on around town, especially for event calendars.

I’ve written two pieces that have held their sentiment (for me) over time about the PNW, this one for Gadling called In Winter, Seattle is Mine Again and one for World Hum called On Coastal Time. (MA: These are great reads.)

Anything else you’d like to add — anecdotes, tips for finding news sources, writing advice, etc.?

It’s dangerous, especially in social media and in the world of digital, to confuse quality and financial/popular success. In the digital space for travel, it is easy to be distracted things like, “oh, look this person got a book deal” and “this person got a swell sponsored content deal,” and “this person got fully funded travels to some amazing destination.” But that’s about what they have, not what they’re writing. It’s a trap—not just for new writers, I get tangled in it, too—to mistake deals for excellent work. Pay attention to work that inspires you, don’t lust after others’ perceived success. Or go ahead and lust, but be aware of what you’re doing. Right now, I’m more focused on making music with my ukulele band than anything else, but doing this has taught me—or reminded me—that this is true for writing. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. Having people admire your work is an honor, it really is. But fans don’t make you better. The study of work that’s better than yours makes you better.

Focus on good work, always on good work. Everything else is noise. I say that like I know how to do it. I don’t.

What I Read: Robert Reid

Robert ReidA series that asks travel and food writers about their media consumption and how they structure their writing days, find sources, and deal with information overflow. Inspired by The Atlantic Wire, but with a travel, food, and culture focus.

Robert Reid recently left his job as the U.S. Travel Editor of Lonely Planet “to pursue my own writing and see if I have a book in me.” His work has been featured in the New York Times, World Hum, ESPN, Perceptive Travel, CNN, and BBC.com, among other outlets and Mashable listed him as one of the Top 15 travel folks to follow on Twitter.

How do you get started with your day?

I’m not a very interesting person before 10:30 in the morning. Like most people, I’d guess, I make coffee and check email and flip through Twitter. It gives me pleasure to let the morning be quiet for awhile, just standing and listening to the coffee percolate. If something catches my eye on Twitter, I’ll follow the link. But I’ve learned I don’t need to know as much as I used to.

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