Sources and Methods #13: Paul Clammer


Paul Clammer 101:

Paul Clammer's website/blog

Paul on Twitter

Paul on Facebook

Paul's Haiti Travel Guide (Facebook site and Amazon)

Lonely Planet Guide to Afghanistan

Show notes:

Kabul Caravan - backpacking in Afghanistan immediately after the Taliban’s ouster in 2001

Lonely Planet realized they hadn’t had an updated version of their Afghanistan book since 1978 and was curious about an updated version.

4:47 - Fundamentally, the research tools that you use are the same, whether you're writing a guidebook about Afghanistan or San Francisco. The main difference I find is whether you’re writing a guidebook from scratch.

7:41 - When you’re writing a new book, Google isn’t all that helpful. It’s asking a whole lot of questions of a whole lot of people when you’re there, on the ground.

9:10 - With LP, we also get a lot of feedback from readers. When you read the book you often think the travel writer has gone out and discovered these new places but often I find that when you’re actually in the field, you’ often trying to catch up with what the travelers are doing this second. And of course you’re balancing this with what can be found online instantaneously.

Chief Burger in Kabul

10:43 - I find Open Street Maps the most effective tool, more than Google Maps, I find those are often the most up to date. With that, the notebook I carry with me is always full of these little sketches, that’s the hotel, that’s the intersection.

12:17 - It’s absolutely essential that you think about the people who will be using your product at the end of it.

16:17 - [Guidebooks] are really about the process of demystifying’s about providing a toolkit that people can go out and understand, and enjoy themselves doing it.

17:09 - Travel can be a force for good in understanding the world.

18:56 - For me, the best to use a guidebook is to read it in the morning, workout roughly what you want to do, and then put it down and go out and explore.

20:42 - Put down the smartphone (as you travel) and look up.

25:31 - Travel is one of the biggest industries in the world, if not the biggest industry...I think you can go to the most obscure places in the world and you’ll find people traveling there for whatever reasons.

26:01 - Even if a country isn’t ready for tourism, it can still be useful for people going there for work.

29:34 - On a personal level, [I love writing guidebooks because] it allows me to talk with lots of interesting people - museum curators, journalists, activists, artists, ngo workers, and I find that fascinating and feel very lucky to be able to do that.

31:34 - There’s definitely a list of cliches you need to avoid - like ‘the land of contrasts’ but it can be hard when you have 200 hotel reviews to write. That’s one of the biggest challenges - to not repeat yourself.

38:42 - As with so many industries, the Internet has been an incredibly disrupting force… and I do think it’s a major challenge...many people are working on integrating more up to date content with print materials.

But I do think it’s kind of information overload, so guidebooks can work as cultivators of this information, so you can trust what you read there.

40:01 -

42:23 - (On how the industry is changing) When I started doing guidebooks, it was very much I would write a chapter in a Word document, send that. Now I write them in a content management system, so those reviews...can be plucked out (into other mechanisms).

41:10 - I actually use the same booking websites as a lot of other people - etc… Twitter is an excellent tool when you’re going somewhere, following hashtags on topics. Following bloggers is also… a really great tool.

44:44 - Most practical tip: take a lot less stuff than you think you need, ideally you can get everything in your carryon luggage.

46:27 - I still find that the easiest way doing research on the ground is the notebook in the pocket.

54:08 - (Advice to aspiring travel writers) - It’s essential that you read as much as you really, read as much as you can, because travel writing has its own set of cliches that we were talking about. And then it’s a case of setting yourself writing exercises...It’s really a case of getting yourself out there… and write and put yourself out there and get feedback and keep going.

Paul’s picks:

Book: Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

Film: 20,000 Days on Earth (Trailer)

Paul’s Song: I Pity The Country by Willie Dunn

Matt’s Pick: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

Alex’s Pick: Toki Pona, a language of 120 words.

Memrise Toki Pona course

"What happened when I tried to learn Toki Pona in 48 hours using memes" (The Guardian)

"Lessons from two days of Toki Pona" (Memrise Blog)

"Toki Pona - A personal learning adventure" (Memrise blog)