There can be few careers on the planet more coveted – and misunderstood – than travel writing.
The small number of people who somehow pull it off as a full-time job often work seven days a week, are constantly on the road and develop elephant-thick skin to weather the constant insecurities and rejections of editors, publishers and advertisers who control the purse strings.
Where do travel writers go to unwind? To find out, I asked a few about their favourite bolt-holes close to home and the places they keep going back to overseas.
Freelance food and travel writer
Close to home: Every busy travel writer should have a place – a hideaway – that acts as a reset button. Someplace they can shuffle out all the dust, anxiety and existential aches.
Mine is the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The big appeal for me is the chance to do nothing, though two things I try to fit into my purposefully empty schedule on every visit are bush walks and nabbing some pastries at Black Cockatoo, a bakery that uses wholegrain, heritage flours.
Abroad: I’m food-obsessed and most of my life is designed around eating things I’ve never eaten before.
South-East Asia is a paradise for that, Thailand in particular. The culinary depths there are absurd. I’ve eaten ant-larvae soups, fruits with untranslatable names, papaya salad dressed in fermented-fish guts and curries with more ingredients than I can name. Every trip I return equally excited and frustrated because I know there’s an insurmountable amount of knowledge and flavours to discover.
Author, Rough Guides
Close to home: I’m away from home (which is Penang, Malaysia) so much that when I get back, I really enjoy being inside, cooking something, and working on some new piece of writing as I brew some coffee.
But if I really must travel within Malaysia, then it’s Perak state. The village of Lenggong, a UNESCO World Heritage site few people know about, is my favourite: Great food, no tourists, local people who’ve become my true friends. The owner of the only hotel in town invites me to his house and takes me out for a river-fish dinner.
Abroad: I can’t stay away from India. I’ve spent almost two of the past 10 years there. It’s got everything an overseas destination needs with a dose of the unpredictable and sheer craziness you can’t find anywhere else.
I love the north-east in particular: Where else can you stay in a wood and thatch hut with the grandchildren of headhunters who love to scour riverbeds for stinkbugs, their favourite munchie?
Editor Tigertales magazine
Close to home: A two-hour drive from my home in Sydney, Pearl Beach on NSW’s Central Coast is where I went on holidays when I was a kid and it’s still one of my favourite places to escape.
Now I’ve got a little girl of my own and we share a holiday house with my parents and a few cousins at Macmasters Beach. There’s a lagoon that’s great for swimming in the summer and lots of great little cafes at nearby Copacabana and Avoca beaches. When we all get together there, it feels like old times again.
Abroad: I’ll always keep returning to Russia because it’s where my family came from, even if we do have to go back a couple of generations.
Russia is such a fascinating country, so much to explore. Moscow and St Petersburg are always worth stopping in at but, beyond that, I love the Urals for their history, as well as Lake Baikal in Siberia because it’s like nowhere else on Earth – its Olkhon Island is well worth a visit – a little patch of paradise where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and the simple Russian life.
Contributor, The West Australian – travel
Close to home: While not exactly close to Perth, the Kimberley and Pilbara – where I spent my childhood – are never far from my heart. From the Bungle Bungle Range, to the Dampier Archipelago and Karijini National Park, the ancient landscape has a certain magnetism that keeps pulling me back.
Abroad: I love revisiting the Mediterranean coast – anywhere really, but my firm favourite is the Costa Brava region in north-east Spain: Calm turquoise bays, rugged sea cliffs, medieval villages and hearty Catalan cuisine.
You can see how Salvador Dali drew inspiration from his surrounds and even visit his home at Port Lligat on the France-Spain border. A short drive to the north, Cap de Creus National Park is great for hiking with an incredible clifftop restaurant perched above a cove.
Publisher, Air Rex’s True Blue magazine
Close to home: My partner and I both love art, wine, fine food and boats, so we’re completely in love with Hobart in Tasmania, and the nearby village of Cygnet. We go there every year to attend the Wooden Boat show. It buzzes with people who appreciate woodwork and being on the sea.
Hobart has some of the best bars, restaurants and cafes in Australian and the people are so friendly and welcoming. The beautiful colonial buildings add to the charm.
Abroad: A friend owns a small architecturally designed ski chalet in the mountain village of Madarao, near Nagano in Japan. The snow is some of the best in Japan and because I know the owners so well, it’s just like staying at a (very glamorous) friend’s house.
There’s a luxury yurt on the property – a honeymoon suite complete with a fireplace and an ‘onsen’-style bath looking over the mountains where we ski. And Japanese food – it’s too good.
Travel editor, The New Daily
Close to home: Bushwalking, beaches and food are at the top of my holiday wish-list, so we’ve rented a holiday shack at the tiny Great Ocean Road town of Aireys Inlet, south-west of Melbourne, for the past 11 years. I’ve been going to that wild, beautiful surf coast since I was a kid.
In the winter, the Gold Coast’s Burleigh Heads has a lovely laid-back vibe, great cafes, restaurants and beaches.
Abroad: We’ve been home exchanging for 20 years, using two different websites, and have swapped houses for villas in Mexico and Istanbul, a waterfront mansion on Lake Tahoe, a sprawling ranch house in LA, a small chateau in southern France. We’ve even exchanged cars and dogs too.
This year we were booked to do our third self-guided hike with a small Australian outfit called Hidden Italy. The proprietor Simon Tancred chooses small two-to-four star hotels that are often family-run. And because it’s Italy the food’s always terrific. Fingers crossed we’ll make it in 2021.