Each day we speak to a journalist about their new normal.
Where are you working from right now?
The desk in my study but I’m usually on my laptop in the living room because the light’s better.
What’s your new morning routine?
It hasn’t really changed – I’m very much a morning person, especially now the days are getting longer. I get up around 6 for coffee (and to immediately check Twitter and Instagram, obviously). I used to watch breakfast TV but I’ve reached corona overload so I might have a quick blast of Cheers on Channel 4. I’m not sure I should admit to liking Piers Morgan but he and Suzanna are way better than the dreary BBC lot. I’m Skyping an 8am workout with my trainer 3 days a week which seems to be going well. It’s not so much to get fitter as to not regress because the couch seems to be playing a much bigger role in my life right now.
Have you got dressed today?
Ha! Yes but glad you didn’t send this email an hour ago. I’ve had the top half sorted for a while but was wandering with no trousers till about 10 minutes ago.
How has your working week changed since Covid-19 hit?
Well yes, 100%. I was supposed to be in Italy last week and Albania right now. I mean what’s a polite way to say I’m screwed? Everything going forward has been cancelled. I’m lucky that my other half has a stable (touch wood) job, but I have never wanted to be that cliche of a travel writer who can only do this job because their partner supports them. (Note to readers: pay rates for freelance travel writers have not gone up a single penny in 20 years.)
What are the current plans for filling your pages?
I think editors are still feeling around for what’s the new normal. Personally, I do think for them it’s a good opportunity to clear some back copy because people still want to armchair travel and plan ahead for when all this is over. You might not be able to leave your house but why not read about a train across Siberia?
What does a work lunch look like these days?
I’ve never really been a lunch person. I just grab something quick like soup and then crack on. As an aside I always avoid PR lunch invitations – it probably makes sense if you’re in an office, but for a freelance working from your living room, by the time you’ve come from home, had lunch (which always last longer than you plan it to be) and got home, that’s probably 11.30am to 4pm out of your day which for me is just not viable. I like to catch up at breakfast then get on with the day.
What’s the biggest challenge for your desk/publication right now?
Well, the bleeding obvious is that it’s tricky to write about travel when you can’t travel. There’s only so many times you can rehash a “ten great travel books” piece or humorous “camping on my sofa” article.
Has anything positive come out of this?
Not yet. It’s early days. Things are still settling down. And I think a lot of key players in the travel industry, big and small, are going to find things incredibly, incredibly tough. Some will go to the wall. I think it’s too early to know how things will pan out, whether that’s a magazine or a family-run hotel or an airline. I hope positive things will come out of this. It would be tremendous if we could use this “pause” to reset things and think a bit more about the way we travel. How can it be right that you can fly to Berlin for £15 but the train is £200? Or that a room cleaner on a cruise ship can work for 9 months, 12 hours a day, without a single day off? It would be great if all those people in the South who laugh and say “you know, I’ve never been to Scotland” likes it’s a badge of honour, actually went and visited Scotland rather than say Spain and saw what amazing things we have right on our doorstep. I wish the UK media would address things like that rather than be beholden to advertisers but I’m not sure it will happen. I’m probably very naive, especially with regard to that last sentence. In reality, people will be so desperate to get back to “normal”, things will just go back to how they were. I don’t know, my crystal ball is as cloudy as everyone else’s right now.
What’s your top tip for PRs right now?
Think ahead. People will be travelling again. My personal guess is late Autumn onwards. It’s not too early to be thinking about 2021. Have an idea that’s specific for me, and know what I write about and for who. (Top tip: google.) If you ping me a generic “hi there!” email that you are sending to a thousand other people, I am going to hit spam quicker than you can say Covid 19 and I am never going to hear from you again. But I’m already seeing a lot of inventive PRs keeping their clients in people’s minds through this, which is great. My one great wish for when this is all over is that certain PRs have had a chat with their (especially American) clients that just churning out press release after press release after press release is not a measure of success in 2020.
What’s your comeback plan?
Too early to say. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Maybe this is the time out I need. I really love travel and the travel industry but I think I’m getting too long in the tooth to keep sending ideas to editors who never reply and then wait four months to get paid for something they’ve held onto for a year in the first place. It just gets tiring. I know that sounds negative but freelancing is increasingly unviable and this whole Corona period is going to exacerbate that. I would love to find a way to champion the small guys in travel who slip under the radar for whatever reason but offer an amazing product. I love getting off the beaten track. Writing gets me to amazing places and in particular to meet truly amazing people. I’d love to carry on doing this while having more of a central (decently paid!) work core that keeps me home in the UK more. (Shoot me some ideas people?) I wish they’d invent a StarTrek machine where you can beam yourself somewhere rather than schlepp through Heathrow for the hundredth time – I love being in a destination but there is absolutely nothing exciting about flying any more.
I do think (at last, Mum!) I have a book in me. I’ve been floundering for a strong idea but this whole episode has given me one. I just need to find a publisher who might be interested. And obviously I’m going to be fluent in Mandarin by the end of this as well as have abs you could use as a Xylophone.