Confessions of a travel writer – an interview with Chris Leadbeater

A man who has the most envious of jobs sits back in his chair, deep in thought. “If we are talking countries, I think I’m around the 80 mark,” he says, when asked how many different places he has visited. “I haven’t counted recently; that’s fairly narcissistic but I went through it a few years ago and it was around 70 then and I have done more since; so in terms of countries, about 80. I have also done around 30 of the US states so I certainly get around.”

Chris Leadbeater in Peru.

Chris Leadbeater in Peru.

Chris Leadbeater is a travel writer for the Independent and Daily Mail. He has penned articles about his desire to return to war-torn Lebanon, being on the edge of the earth at South America’s Cape Horn, cycling part of the Tour de France route and even skateboarding in the middle of one of the world’s most famous lakes!

While discussing his vast travels, he picks Paris as his favourite European city but he holds a great place in his heart for the United States, where he has ventured far and wide. “It’s a fascinating country to go to,” he admits. “Last year I went to Detroit which as a city has a reputation of being quite run down but a fascinating city if you know where to look. I found myself in South Carolina in July which is very different to Detroit as it is very rural and off the beaten track. My favourite American city is probably Seattle which isn’t one of the obvious ones you would pick but it has lots of art, culture and its musical references. It tends to rain quite a lot there so you find yourself inside in varied coffee shops and bars – enjoying life indoors.”

Seattle's Space Needle - photo courtesy of Chris Leadbeater.

Seattle’s Space Needle – photo courtesy of Chris Leadbeater.

The start of a new year sees various ‘bucket and spade’ travel operators roll out their promotions as people look to plan their holidays. But going off the beaten track to destinations you wouldn’t usually think of is something Chris encourages. He says: “2014 is the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal, which changed the world, so if you are looking for a historical reason to travel, it is a good year to go there as it is a rising destination. It has good beaches on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific but there’s plenty of history in Panama City. I was in Columbia last year and it is definitely rising place – you may consider it has come a long way from its image as a drug-ridden hell hole. In reality, it isn’t like that at all and it is a fascinating country with lots of great scenery, history and culture. Columbia now is a place you can consider without the need for an armoured car. America always has its place in the heart of British holiday makers and Florida has always had great appeal. I spent a week on the west coast which is a little less seen as people usually go to Miami and Orlando. On the west coast, the beaches are a little quieter and the waters of the Gulf Coast are milder than the Atlantic so that is equally growing in significance.

“I had a week and a half in Mozambique about three years ago and it can be quite difficult, depending on your perspective as it went through a civil war and only emerged from it in the early 90s with the scars being particularly visible. Again, it’s a fascinating place but it has its problems with poverty but there’s some amazing wildlife there, some amazing beaches along the Indian Ocean so if you like Africa and somewhere out of the obvious, this is somewhere else you could consider.”

Guludo Beach in Mozambique - picture courtesy of Chris Leadbeater.

Guludo Beach in Mozambique – picture courtesy of Chris Leadbeater.

Being a freelance travel journalist and seeing some of the world’s most amazing places comes with an interesting quandary – can one forget about the job whilst relaxing with the family? “The problem being a travel writer while you are on holiday is that it not very easy to switch off,” Chris confesses. “If you go to somewhere too interesting you think, ‘I will just go and have a look at that museum over there as I can write about it in the future.’ But then suddenly you find a day is gone and you have had your face in a notebook and you are not actually relaxing and my wife would be the first to tell you that I have a problem with not switching off while I am away. When we go on holiday, we tend to pick places you can’t really get up and write about, like a beach destination where there’s not much going on apart from the roaring of the waves and the rush of the winds. The last couple of years, I have had a few Caribbean holidays where I simply turn the phone off and lay on the beach. I tend to go to Normandy every few years and there’s a place I tend to go back to and there’s not much to do there apart from drink cider and eat cheese; with the idea of just going there and switching off. The problem with being a travel writer and travelling is that it is very hard to not be on duty when you see something which appeals.”

Even though Chris is extremely well travelled, he still holds a burning desire to experience new places with Venezuela, Nicaragua, Japan, China and Australia on his long wish list. He hasn’t always been an award-winning travel writer though; he started writing about music and then for a men’s magazine before it went under. Seven years ago, he got offered “some unglamorous research and donkey work” from a friend and since then, he has prospered and become one of the most respected writers in the UK press.

He admits his nomadic adventures are not as glamourous as they may seem, but the positives always end up outweighing the negatives. “There’s an awful lot of airports, delays and lugging your bag onto the tube at very early hours to catch a plane at 6am when you are half asleep,” he sighs. “But there are certainly glamorous aspects to it – it depends on the trip but you may find yourself staying in a better class of hotel if you would do so if you were paying for yourself – I’ve definitely stayed in some pretty chic places; that’s a perk of the job. It can depend on the assignment too; you can find yourself in a 5* hotel one week and a tent on a dusty plain the next, so it varies from piece to piece I would say.”

For more from Chris on his global adventures, getting into travel writing and his views on big issues in the sector, watch the video below.

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