From travel blogs and literary travel writing to travel guides and books, a travel writer might demonstrate descriptive, informative, or narrative competences. Then, there is the instinctive writer.
British author Grant Eustace will tell you that nobody makes a writer write, yet writers keep writing simply because they cannot help it.
A professional writer in the field of communication (audio, print and film), Eustace kept jotting notes during the many travels he and, at times, his wife Janie took over several decades; simply because he could not help it. As photographers feel the urge to immortalize what they see, writers use words to record facts, impressions and emotions by fear that they might get lost in the abyss of their memory.
Then of course, there is the question of whether a traveler is different from a tourist. For Eustace, “the real traveller is the one taking notes.” And so he did, in the notebook he never leaves home without.
Sixty countries later, Eustace had collected a mass of observations, which he eventually compiled by themes for his book. Overall, it is a reckoning between frustration and pleasure. Moreover, it is about his eagerness to take the additional step that could lead to happenstance.
And so, the reader embarks on a voyage around the world, often to recurring destinations depending on the chapters’ themes. Whereas reading everything about a place might eventually weaken the interest, A Traveller’s Notebook provides incremental information based on the author’s knack for pinpointing the noteworthy.
When Eustace shares his road travel notes from the perspective of driving or being driven, entertaining are facts such as traffic in Gibraltar where cars must stop to let airplanes land since the road crosses the runway. As for flying, he engages the reader in the nearly fatal landing of an airplane even if he obviously lived to write about it. Somewhere in the process, one learns that Eustace was an officer in the Royal Navy and a helicopter pilot, adding insightful knowledge to facts.
He might continue with the incongruous sides of travel in a medley of subject matters judiciously observed, and expressed with attention-grabbing British-ism. And if the reader’s interest peaks about a place personally visited, Eustace probably had a distinctive encounter there.
On the other hand, if battlefields are not a favourite topic, it can be easily skipped. But, Eustace being passionate about history, what would be missed is a remarkable crash course in the American Wars, the Spanish Inquisition, WWII, and more. His personal penchant for the past, historical documentaries, and a historical novel give him an edge on such matters. Besides, the inveterate researcher never seems to fail to uncover the dormant; the observer to notice the unobvious; and the man to connect with resourceful characters. Then, there are the “chance encounters.”
Such is the case about a telegram found in a largely unsorted stack of documents that a wary curator eventually dug out for him. At the time, Eustace was doing preliminary research for a would-be-defunct drama project about the last day of Rommel. From his military background Eustace recognized the message as a war signal. In brief, the document had been “lost in transition” to a more appropriate filing venue. As for Eustace, the adrenaline rush of his discovery, and its subsequent disclosure to the curator, proved him right in his relentless search for the extraordinary.
His writing genre equally engages the armchair traveller with a conversational style spiced with humor. After all, Eustace wrote plays and series for BBC Radio 4 and currently for BBC World Services. As a result, the writing let the reading flow as if it were meant for audio. Furthermore, when he cites the British Ambassador to Haiti, “I am a Protestant in a Catholic country that’s 100% voodoo,” such an otherwise off-camera comment is an attention-getter, and keeper.
Last in this conversation about A Traveller’s Notebook, but not least, is the chapter about food. There is no indication that the writer is a home cook, or has any skills in the matter other than admitting to an innate sweet tooth, but he held his own with culinary encounters, better described as cultural delicacies.
Then, there is his take on travel companions, and about women; but just enough to let you know that whereas he is a discerning man, he keeps his distance, perhaps as a concern about gender misrepresentation: A territory that decades of holy matrimony and corporate life have taught him well.
Note: A Traveller’s Notebook shows the importance of note taking because the mind will forget what seemed unforgettable at the time. The challenge seems to have been about chapter titles, yet this writer should have remembered the importance of bookmarking.