Friday, March 2, 2012

Off The Beaten Track: Scum! Travel Writer Jules Older

Jules and Effin at the Golden Gate Bridge
Jules Older hangs out at He opines about San Francisco restaurants and New Zealand life on the apps, San Francisco Restaurants and Auckland Insider. He films the world, in brief snatches, at And he’s published his first ebook: SKIING THE EDGE: Humor, Humiliation, Holiness and Heart. 

She answered my question with a volume and anger that almost made me drop my plate.


“That must be it. Otherwise, I can't for the life of me figure out why more writers don’t become travel writers.”

“Jules, what planet are you from? Travel writers are seen as the scum of the journalism world. We’re lowlifes. Sellouts. Losers, Jules, losers. We’re seen as losers!”

Plate firmly in hand, I pondered this news as I sipped the very nice New Zealand pinot noir and took another nibble of the dainty lamb chop the waitress had handed me. At this gathering for travel writers in the penthouse of a swanky San Francisco hotel, I'd just been invited to tour a few swanky Colorado hotels during ski season. 

“Hmmm,” I said. “Then let’s do everything we can to keep it that way.”

Photo by Effin Older
Scum? Losers? The truth is, travel writing is probably the greatest discovery I've made since I gave up honest work to become a writer, lo these many years ago. I remember the day, the moment, the conversation that opened the world of travel writing to me…and pretty much ruined my academic career. The sudden realization that there were folks out there traveling the world for free and getting paid for it drove me — well, drove me to do it.

And when I gave up academia, I traded in a reliable, regular and rather remunerative check for a drastic pay cut, a complete loss of benefits and zero ability to plan for the future beyond the next two weeks, if that. In short, I walked into the world that 99 out of 100 writers inhabit.

Ah, but not completely. For I had one other thing going for me (and when I say “I” and “me” I really mean “we” and “us:” my writer-photographer wife Effin jumped on this ship right beside me.) The name of the ship: the SS Travel Writer.

Travel writing is what allows us to live, however briefly, like princes of the realm on pauper’s wages. Travel writing lets us jet around like movie stars without the hangers-on, like billionaires without the lawyers. Travel writing has led us on a life of adventure.

And travel writing has introduced me to all kinds of folks I'd never have met on my own, some of whom I've stayed friends with decades later. Folks like…

Dancing kids on Oahu. Photo by Jules Older
…the Newfoundland guide who got us wilderness-lost on skis (and who, despite that, is still a buddy), the Tokyo woman who makes her living curling eyelashes, the Maori hunting guide turned wild-food forager. Then there's the English noble who owns a Caribbean island (hated him on sight), the Hawaiian artist turned academic, the San Francisco Italian restaurateur who turned out to be the cousin of the Vermont Italian restaurateur…
And then there are the moments. Kayaking with humpback whales in Newfoundland. Birding on an island preserve in New Zealand. Swimming with rays in the Virgin Islands. Exploring an ancient Hawaiian cave, a hidden Vermont pond, a struggling Florida town, the most gorgeous beach in the Caribbean. 

And the events. The Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans, the Shellfish Festival on Prince Edward Island, the gloriously musical Winter Festival in Newfoundland. Even the Maple Festival, the Apple Pie Festival and the Granite Festival in small Vermont towns.

If that’s the punishment for being the scum of writerhood, I say, bring on the scum! And could I have just one more of those delightful lamb chops, m’dear?


  1. Thanks for bogging with us today, Jules. Is travel writing really considered the bottom of the writing totem pole? You make it sound so glamorous. :) And where did you find that hidden pond in Vermont? I grew up there - in Vermont, not necessarily the pond. Though you never know...

  2. Oh Jules, love this! And it's your lucky day. We know a group of travel writers just itching to take your place whenever you need to stay home and relax. Keep us posted, okay? (Me first, of course, but shh.)

    Heidi, bogging sounds like some sort of Vermont sports activity...

  3. Ah, it's a tough job but someone has to do it, right? You may be called scum but I reckon you and Effin are living the dream. :-) Thanks for blogging today!

  4. Ummm whenever you want you can have my job I'll happily have yours! Always found that the "lords" who own Caribbean islands don't tend to have the most endearing of qualities.