Did you have any apprehensions about being quite so honest in your new book, My Midsummer Morning?
It is very different from normal travel books, so yeah, I had a lot of hesitations. Actually, when I first wrote it, I wrote it like a normal travel book, but I felt that to tell the story properly there was more to it than just, ‘here’s some really crap busking in Spain’.
And I’ve noticed over time that more and more people get in touch with me to say, ‘I’d love to go on adventures, but I can’t because [of x, y, or z].’
These barriers get in the way of so many people’s adventure plans and they seem so widespread that I felt it might be helpful to write everything and see what happens. But I was very nervous about publishing the book for those reasons.
Was there an awkward conversation with your wife about putting all of this out there?
Yeah, of course. I had to get her blessing for it, and in the end, she was willing for me to do it. She was like, ‘OK, this is clearly an important thing, go for it.’ It is not the easiest thing to air domestic dirty laundry [in] public, but it’s got a happy ending.
Is it hard to balance the perception of who you are as an adventurer or traveller online and your day to day reality?
Trying to be all things is the curse of the modern person really and certainly [when it comes to] parenting. I think that more and more families [are in a position where] both parents are working and want to be good at their career, but also want to be good and present parents.
My job is what most people call going on brilliant holidays, which is a great job, but it can be hard to reconcile going on ‘holiday’ and being at home to put the washing out.
Is it a drawback to be recognised on your adventures when you’re trying to rough it, as you were in Spain, and people are offering you a cosy bed for the night?
Yeah, it’s a very strange thing. On a lot of the travels that I’ve done, when I cycled around the world for example, one of the great joys of the whole experience would be the serendipity of random things happening and strangers inviting you in, rather than following an itinerary and a schedule.
When I got recognised in Spain, that really jarred with me because it was not what I wanted at all. I just wanted to be a random guy, not someone who people recognise as the adventurer from the internet.
I guess that can be the risk of blogging your way through an adventure. Do you think next time you will leave the blogging behind and go fully incognito?
Well, with the Spain trip I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it until a few weeks before. My initial plan was that I would do the trip purely for myself, which I think is the best reason to go travelling. But at the last minute I thought, ‘Come on, this is a great joy to share and I must also remember it is my job. So, how can I share a story without spoiling the experience?
I think this is the real conundrum of the modern-day traveller. The compromise that I settled on was to do daily updates, but not to engage – not to read any comments or messages, just put out my story. In that sense, it is just like writing a postcard. I write my postcard, stick it out there and then get right back on with the experience. If I did a similar trip, I would do exactly the same thing.
Your journey was slow and tough and there were disasters. Do you worry as the journey and story unfolds that nothing catastrophic will happen?
Yes, I mean, the part of my life that I love the most is being a writer, and therefore the narrative of what’s happening is always quite high up in my mind.
I was very conscious on the trip that as wonderful as the experience was, if nothing bad happened, it would make it a terribly boring book. And actually, it serves me well on other trips, so when I cycled around the world that was often truly miserable.
I’d often have a gallows humour of, ‘Oh well, it will be good for the book, it will make a good story.’ It’s a wonderful experience once the initial terror of the thing has worn off.
Does worrying about your writing impact on how you travel?
So, I was aware whilst doing the trip that I wanted to write about it. I was also aware that not much had happened, therefore, it was unlikely to be a 'touching the void' thriller.
But, I’m not sure whether the way I behave on trips is because of where I want the adventure to go or because of the way I want the books to be.
There’s probably a bit of overlap, but I try to allow spontaneous things to happen, to put myself in situations where I will meet strangers and eat weird food and have unusual experiences. I think all of those things are a recipe for a good adventure and for improving your book sales.
Do you reckon busking is a good way of experiencing a destination?
It was an amazing way to experience the essence of a town and its culture. You get a sense of the spirit [of the place], the people and the way the world works in different countries. I love the fact that in every country people will have to go to the shop, do their job, take the kids to school, but the nuances of how that happens is always so different. That’s the joy of travel.
Busking was a brilliant way of giving me a flavour of Spain and it forced vulnerability, which is one of the most important tools for having a good adventure. The only risk is that unless you’re good, you’re not going to have much money, so you certainly don’t get to experience the nice food and the hotels of the country you go to.
It was little bit of a shame to walk through Spain and not eat any paella or nice Spanish food. Hopefully, when I am a millionaire from selling the book, I’ll go back to Spain and gorge on some nice wine and tapas.