The loneliest island

I’m lucky to have visited one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands twice. Ascension lies in the middle of the Atlantic, roughly halfway between Africa and South America – and the only reason I’ve been there is because of its runway: if you’re flying from one side of the planet to another, Ascension is…

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Talking to people

I’m very happy to have given two talks in the last few days, both in my home town, Banbury. The first was an “Antarctic Evening”. Soon after I got home from my trip to Antarctica earlier this year with the BBC weather presenter Peter Gibbs, a local friend – community organiser Steve Gold – suggested…

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Stories from Qatar

Stories from Qatar

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be in Qatar, on assignment for the British Airways inflight magazine High Life. It was for an idea I’d pitched to them, trying to give a bit of insider perspective to the way Doha is usually covered in the Western media – which tends to be either PR-driven…

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Beacon: a new approach to journalism

Beacon: a new approach to journalism

Friends and followers: I’m trying something new. This is a pitch for money. I first heard about Beacon when Iona Craig, a freelance journalist for the Times in Yemen, tweeted that she had joined it. Then I saw that Gaar Adams, a UAE-based freelancer, was on it too. Gaar put me in touch with Dan…

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The beauty of ice

The beauty of ice

I was blind. Alone. Before I started I knew it might be bad. People were saying the buses weren’t running. When the bus drivers can’t make it, it’s bad. Petra is high. But every road out of Petra is up. To the north and to the east, you have to climb to the crest of…

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The Round Trip

The Round Trip

I’m not sure when I first read Yuval Ben-Ami‘s travel writing. It was almost certainly on a recommendation from my friend Lisa Goldman, who I met one motor-mouthed evening at a pavement café in a mildly hipster part of Tel Aviv during the pre-hipster autumn of 2009. I was there to research this story for the…

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CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain launched the new series of his ‘Parts Unknown’ travel cookery show on CNN this week with an episode titled ‘Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza’. You can watch it here: It’s had pretty positive reviews. The Washington Post thought it was “so good“. The Open Zion blog called it “groundbreaking reporting“. Amer Zahr,…

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CNN’s Israel-Palestine travel intro

See backstory here. . 10 Things To Know Before Visiting Israel and Palestine (original) By Matthew Teller – my original below, CNN’s version here . The Holy Land makes for inspiring, depressing, fascinating, confusing travel. To some, the chunk of territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is all Israel. To others, it’s all…

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Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

“Hope Floats” is the title Wanderlust have given to my article about the revived ‘long cruise’ along the Nile between Cairo and Luxor, published in the current issue (July/Aug 2013). I’m posting the text below – but they’ve done a beautiful job on layout, with lots of striking images, spread over 12 pages. Here’s a…

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Is Egypt safe for tourists?

Is Egypt safe for tourists?

[UPDATE – 3 July 2013: Since May, when I wrote this post, the situation in Egypt has changed for the worse. However, I’m not providing updated info on this page. Read on for a general overview of travel safety in Egypt, but also follow the news, ask travel companies and check your governmental travel advisory…

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Rough Guide to Jordan

Rough Guide to Jordan

A shade late (sorry about that), this is to say that the new edition of my Rough Guide to Jordan is now out, buyable anywhere in the world as a printed book (yay!) – ask for ISBN 978-14053-89792 – or downloadable as an e-book (boo!) here. Rough Guides (in fact, the amazing Martin Dunford; how many…

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Journey to the mountain

Journey to the mountain

Even now, weeks later, I’m not sure why I cried. The tears were flowing before I reached the summit: I remember looking up into the blurry blue. I also remember, further back down the trail, when the old, familiar voices started to sing to me about weakness and tiredness and failure – but even then…

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“Satan stays away”

“Satan stays away”

Had a wonderful return visit to Dhofar in southern Oman a couple of months ago, on assignment for the Times, who wanted a frankincense story for their pre-Christmas travel pages. I happily obliged. Here’s the link – but it’s behind a paywall, so in case you’re not a Times subscriber I’ve pasted the text in…

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Speaking notes from #tbcamp12

Last night I spoke at TravelBlogCamp #tbcamp12 in London on the theme of ‘Back To Basics’, examining some ideas to help us all reconnect with the reasons why we write about travel. It seems I split the room, deeply annoying some people, and deeply inspiring others. For what it’s worth, here are my speaking notes, as…

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Why a rough guide is better than none

First, the campaigning political journalist Nick Cohen decided to lay into Lonely Planet for their supposedly expedient politics. So I wrote this response, explaining why Cohen is wrong. Next stop: Michael C. Moynihan for this desperately muddled libertarian froth. Jason Clampet already had a go. Wish me luck. Better still, anyone else like to step in? UPDATES (24/08/2012): UPDATE 1:…

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How to kill a brand

How to kill a brand

Google has bought Frommers. That rang a bell: an industry insider told me recently that Penguin quietly tried to sell Rough Guides to Frommers a couple of years ago, but “wanted too much” for it. Ho-hum. Travel publishing is in a really tricky place. Now I’m not an industry analyst, and I’m not in travel…

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Overguiding: notes from a gilded cage

Overguiding: notes from a gilded cage

Digital was supposed to liberate travel. Once, travel was about putting yourself out there. You went to a new place, and you figured stuff out. You got things wrong. You paid too much. Maybe you carried a guidebook – but they were sketchy at best. Hand-drawn maps. Skimpy on the detail (the 1987 Lonely Planet…

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Independent travel in Israel

Independent travel in Israel

After my piece on independent travel in Palestine, published last month in Wanderlust (UK), here is my follow-up article on Israel. You can click on each page to see a close-up version. I meant the two articles to be read in tandem, and I tried as best I could to match experiences in both places…

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Social media and the Holy City

Social media and the Holy City

In case you still think Twitter is just a bunch of narcissists discussing what they had for breakfast, a couple of months ago, while tweeting about pitching to editors, I got a public reply from Jane Knight, travel editor at the Times, asking why I never pitched to her anymore. Laziness? I um’d and ah’d…

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Independent travel in Palestine

Independent travel in Palestine

I was lucky enough, last year, to be asked by Wanderlust magazine here in the UK to write two features for them on independent travel in the Middle East – one on Palestine, the other on Israel. The Palestine one has just been published; here it is, scanned from the printed pages. The Israel one…

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Grand Hotels of Egypt

Grand Hotels of Egypt

Just a brief heads-up about a new book due out shortly. Grand Hotels of Egypt looks like an absolute stunner – large format, packed with photos, and written by a genuine expert. Journalist and writer/editor Andrew Humphreys (who, I’m delighted to disclose, has commissioned numerous stories from me for numerous magazine titles over the years)…

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Power and responsibility

Power and responsibility

There’s a firestorm over on David Whitley’s industry-leading travel blog Grumpy Traveller, where he savages bloggers involved in the ongoing Visit Jordan social media campaign that’s been running all year (2011). David’s post is here, but also read the comments – they’re a fascinating glimpse into the travel blogging mindset. After what I wrote there, Nathan…

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Green green grass

Green green grass

Pioneering guidebook writers Di Taylor and Tony Howard have done it again. After their amazing work over almost thirty years in the Wadi Rum deserts of southern Jordan, and their expertise trailfinding long-distance paths in Palestine – and Tony’s record-breaking conquest of the Troll Wall, Europe’s tallest rock face, back in ’65 – plus countless more achievements…

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News from the edge

News from the edge

A mini-roundup of some interesting news from the fringes of Middle East tourism. Iraq An interesting story by Gulf News mentions more than a million visitors a year to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, with the authorities targeting a Dubai-style five million by 2015. My favourite line? “The recent surge in arrivals is…

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Sixteen times round the world

Sixteen times round the world

I had the privilege last weekend to meet Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News and a legendary figure in travel journalism. I was in Jordan and he’d stopped in for a couple of days – he did outline his week at one point: it ran something like Tokyo, New York, Amman, Mexico City, Los…

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Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions

Another bad news story out of Dubai – a British woman goes into a shopping mall wearing a low-cut top; an Emirati woman objects; in response the British woman strips down to her bikini and carries on walking through the mall; is arrested for indecency, then released, with all charges dropped. A tide of follow-up…

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Blog will eat itself

Blog will eat itself

It started with writing for print – books, magazines, newspapers. Then it seemed like the print world was losing impetus, and online was where things were happening. So I got a blog. Now, in what I think might be a world first (please tell me if it isn’t!), a print magazine has devoted a page…

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Telling stories

Telling stories

At the risk of going over familiar ground, I want to put down a few thoughts prompted – yet again! – by a post on Jeremy Head’s excellent Travelblather blog, discussing ‘the skillset of the online travel writer‘. In the comments, Debbie Ferm of Traveldither.com wrote, “Like all web copy, travel writing will need to be…

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Bloggers and journalists

Bloggers and journalists

There’s been a great debate over on Jeremy Head’s Travelblather blog, which started off as a proposal for a new way to fund travel writing, but which – in the comments – has shifted over, at least partly, into the old familiar barney about the differences (if any) between bloggers and journalists. One comment on…

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What the papers say

What the papers say

A little while ago, I noticed a timely opportunity to write about a city I know well (let’s call it Destination X). I pitched a few ideas to a National Newspaper Travel Editor contact (let’s call him NNTE 1). He accepted one. He also put me onto a colleague of his in the Features section…

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Wind and spiders

It’s been a scatty week, with not much chance to think straight, let alone blog straight. I’m now back in Switzerland, on the final research trip to update my Rough Guide to Switzerland, looking out at the Baroque facade of the cathedral in Solothurn – it’s a humid summer evening and there’s an electric storm…

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“It’s not a disaster”

As announced on Monday in The Bookseller, Penguin is to make 100 people at its London headquarters redundant, shunting them out into a depressed job market with one hand, while maintaining with the other that, “The market is alright, it’s not a disaster, this really isn’t about how we are trading.” Baloney! It may not…

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Gulf of understanding

I was lucky, a couple of years ago, to have been put in touch with Andrew Humphreys – formerly an author with Time Out and Lonely Planet (Egypt, Syria et al), ex-freelancer for Condé Nast Traveller etc. He’d just been appointed editor of Gulf Life, the new inflight magazine for Bahrain’s Gulf Air, to be…

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Back to the land

A fine article in the Independent on Sunday by Joy Lo Dico about the resurgent interest in Lebanon in organic food, local food producers and traditional artisans – exemplified by the weekly Souk El Tayeb farmers’ market in Beirut. Slightly odd to find it in the Travel section – it feels more like a food piece,…

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A little less lonely

Just picked up the new Lonely Planet Middle East book, 6th edition, May 2009. Pretty much exactly the same page-count as the previous edition (700-odd), but coverage has shrunk to the core Turkey-to-Egypt countries plus Iraq – there chiefly for the Kurdistan section. Libya and Iran have both been left out this time – quite rightly;…

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