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June 3, 2002
The Traipsing Of A Travel Writer
By Tad Hulse

Many times over I have been asked exactly what, as a travel writer, is it I do? My answer is as simple as the profession itself. I am nothing more than a basic merchant of thoughts. But the misconceptions construe. People tend to think I tour the world on someone else's dollar, living in the lap of luxury at ritzy hotels, basking in some exotic resort, all in exchange for a few sprightly words. A veteran of 30 years may be apt to agree, but for most of us out there, nothing is further from the truth.

It might seem that a travel writer's primary task is to describe the sound of waves lapping on a white-sand beach in some far corner of the world, but the real job at hand is to make sure the surf roars in the mind's eye of the reader. If one is good at interpreting the surrounding sensation of a distant
land into the momentary reality for someone who has never been there, then that writer may just have the fundamental skills necessary. However, other not-so-identifiable skills are also essential for
success in this highly competitive market. One, for example, is learning how to unwearyingly wait for a
travel story to pan out and evolve. It is never good to board a plane or train with preconceived ideas
mapped out ahead of time. Take my word for it, every tale you think you're going to tell will likely evaporate before your very eyes once the journey begins. But, with patience, tact and inevitability, another, better story will unearth itself to you.

Last summer, I took five weeks off and traveled from Scandinavia down to the Mediterranean. Much of Eastern Europe is just a few hours flight or a day's train ride from where I live here in Norway, and this jaunt, as with most of my trips, was destined to be for both business and pleasure. My primary destination was the neighboring countries of Croatia and Montenegro. I had done my fair amount of research on the charming Adriatic nations, which lie just across the water from Italy. So, I felt sure of finding a few good story lines en route to weave into the requisite historical facts at hand. I already had enough about each city on my flexible itinerary to jump-start a travel feature from any number of angles. The laptop, for essential note keeping, was packed and ready for shift off.

An interesting aspect about traveling without preconceived ideas, whether you plan to write about your trip or not, is that the very lack of expectation often paves the way for chance to take place. My only
agenda for the two weeks I was spending in Croatia and Montenegro was to find enough surf, sun and sand to last me through the Norwegian winter. A place of such mythic beauty was surely going to have a tale to tell. I felt it the moment I stepped of the train.

Split, Dubrovnik and Budva were definitions of a Slavic paradise. Dream beaches. Pristine islands.
Dalmatia perfection. The only problem was getting the facts, the filler, the necessary information
(population figures, a bit of history, political details, demographics - the stuff of travel features that some readers fancy and all travel editors seem to be adamant about). I was hoping for an interesting
interview. So, after my first dip in the pool, I strolled down to reception to present my credentials
and ask for a little assistance. This, I might add, is probably the most critical moment in the life of a
travel feature; luck either shines upon you or, instead, leads you down a blind alley. It depends very
much in whose hands you find yourself. Was there a tourist office? Or perhaps some other organization inclined to helping a travel writer on the lookout for some basic information? Fortunately the young woman at the front desk promised to look into it for me. Having put my unborn feature in the hands of fate, I set off to the beach under a cloudless sky.

Upon my return there was a message already waiting for me. Reception had left a few contact names and numbers. I began dialing from the top. Krsto Visnjic, Assistant Director of the Dubrovnik Tourist Committee, was eager and able to help. I explained what I was after, and he immediately came up with an excellent lead, "You must call Andrija Dragomir. She was one of the city's first tour guides after the war, but now she has her own tourist website. I'm sure you'll find her helpful and Dubrovnik very interesting." Andrija Dragomir had more fortune in store; she was gearing up to launch a new magazine in the fall and was open for some good freelance stories. A few more phone calls and a few more appointments were set up. This story, among the many others from my Eastern European
excursion, was now coming into fruition, and it was going to be a good one.

And that, as they say, was that.

Tad Hulse is an American freelance writer who has spent the last two years traveling the world.
Currently he is based in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Email:

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