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One of my earliest memories is looking out my window over the fields by night at the back of our house, wishing I could be out there. I cuddled my white fur seal teddy, fingers clutching the white window ledge.
I must have been six or seven and my Mum lived in Malawi, Africa after my parent’s divorce. My little brother and I lived with my (wonderful) Dad and I was safe and happy. It wasn’t that I wanted to leave him. It was that “out there” seemed so much more exciting and that preference still underlies my need for travel.Some call it wanderlust, an almost uncontrollable desire to travel, sometimes at the expense of common-sense.Click To Tweet
Others call it ‘fernweh,’ a German word meaning far-sickness, the opposite of homesickness.
I also like Jack Reacher’s explanation in Lee Child’s thriller, Never Go Back. “Ninety-nine of us grow up to love the campfire, and one grows up to hate it. Ninety-nine of us grow up to fear the howling wolf, and one grows up to envy it. And I’m that guy.” [Or presumably girl!]
I love the Reacher series for the vigilante justice he metes out, a sense of restoring balance to the world, but perhaps I’m also jealous of how Reacher leaves at the end of every book, with only a toothbrush in his pocket …
Here are some more reasons why I travel.
In 2000, I was living in London, celebrating that the Millennium Bug didn’t happen even though we’d spent years preparing for it, living well on corporate expense accounts. I was 25, partied hard, drank far too much and worked like a demon in my consulting job. I popped painkillers and caffeine tablets by day, tequila shots and vodka by night, oscillating between wild excess and ascetic abstinence.
I barely remember that time. I was lost and couldn’t seem to drag myself into a new reality. I had glimpsed a different way of life when I sailed on the tall ship Soren Larsen in 1999, but I returned to the day job and my rut of a routine soon after.It seemed like the only way to reinvent myself was to leave and start anew.Click To Tweet
I was more scared of the person I was turning into than the upheaval of heading to the other side of the world. Somewhere else was preferable to my reality in London.
So I resigned and left London in May 2000, arriving in Perth, Australia, determined to become someone new. I learned to scuba dive in Fremantle and did my first dives on Ningaloo Reef, snorkelling with whale sharks as I headed north. I camped across the expanse of Western Australia, watching the stars of the Southern Hemisphere pass overheard. I walked in Kakadu, hiked and kayaked in the Northern Territories — and I will write in more detail about that trip another time.
I didn’t shed my old self easily — there were still plenty of nights of excess — but reinvention is easier when no one has expectations of you, when you can move on the next day and never have to explain yourself, when you can be anonymous. Some might find that scary, that you could disappear and no one would even notice, but I have always found it liberating.
Fast forward to 2004, when my brief marriage to a dive instructor in New Zealand fell apart (that’s another story, too). I needed to reinvent myself once again.I would not be the woman scorned, the one left behind, the broken one — that was never me.Click To Tweet
If I stayed near the people who cared, that’s the way they would treat me.
So, I left New Zealand and travelled to Egypt, a place I had always wanted to visit since visiting the British Museum as a child, fascinated by the mummy room and later, entranced by Indiana Jones movies. I took off my wedding ring before the plane landed and over my weeks there, the sun erased the white band on my finger.
I didn’t tell my fellow travellers what I was going through, my journals soaked up the pain instead. I found joy again in the rock-cut temple of Abu Simbel and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, which I eventually wrote about in Ark of Blood, my third ARKANE thriller.
Of course, I returned from these travels each time to normal life, a job, relationships, bills to pay, but the act of removing myself from the daily grind enabled time to think, to heal, to reset.
Those journeys were reinvention, but they were also escape.
Escape from the trap I had built for myself in London, and later, escape from the expectations of marital breakdown and pity from others. I couldn’t bear either of those things, preferring to leave rather than to face them. Whether it was strong to leave, or weakness that drove me away, doesn’t really matter now.
Those were big trips, but I also travel for smaller moments of escape because, let’s face it, everyday life is mundane. Routine is boring but necessary.
Get up, deal with the family, go to work, deal with work colleagues, sort out chores, do the money thing, try and get to the gym and eat healthy and occasionally have sex. Days pass, months pass, years pass.Travel provides a spike of peak experience, moments you remember, sometimes for the rest of your life.Click To Tweet
Photos to demonstrate that for a time, you were someone else, somewhere else.
I’m a full-time writer and I never write when I travel. Of course, I scribble notes in my journal, I take pictures, but I don’t write coherent pieces. I fill my creative well and indulge my fascination in a new place. I walk for hours, exploring, experiencing, eating, drinking, consuming it all. I let it sink into me and I notice things — much of which finds its way later into my writing.
As much as I need to travel for escape, the last ten years of producing published work have taught me that I need routine to write my books. I need boredom because my mind is not buzzing with the excitement of being somewhere new and can focus on turning experience into words.
But then I crave escape once more and the drive to finish my first draft is often fuelled by the promise to myself that I will get away as soon as it is done when it will be time to fill the creative well again.
(3) Curiosity and book research
Wherever we live, our slice of the world is so tiny that it’s almost inevitable that we want to learn about other places, other cultures, other people. We crave variety, the lure of the new.
Part of the reason I started this site is so that I can share the travels that inspire my own books and that of other writers I love and find interesting.
Every trip becomes the inspiration for my stories and my journals are packed with ideas sparked by new places and new sights. I take thousands of photos that I want to share in the hope that I can bring a glimpse of something new to your life, and share a spark of inspiration that might light a fire in you to travel to a new place, even virtually through a book.
Sometimes I visit a place specifically to find a story, for example, when I travelled to New Orleans and kayaked in a Louisiana bayou, I knew I would write about it sometime. 18 months later, Jake Timber followed my trail in Valley of Dry Bones.Travel fuels my creativity.Click To Tweet
Other times, I integrate my memories with new research. For example, in Destroyer of Worlds, I wrote about the burning ghats of Varanasi from a trip in 2006 and entwined that with passing through Fort Cochin (Kochi) where we visited a 16th-century synagogue in 2013. I don’t know where some things will end up, but I do know that travel fuels my creativity and without it, I am lost.
(4) Perspective and gratitude
I returned to live in the UK in 2011 after 11 years of living in New Zealand and then Australia, two countries that many British people talk about as being the perfect places to live, the places they would emigrate to if they had a choice.
As much as I appreciate the opportunity to live down under and I hold a New Zealand passport so I have the choice to return, the United Kingdom is a fantastic place to live. Despite whatever political pain there might be, I have recommitted to be here for the long term. I’ve seen what it’s like in so many places that I can love this country for all the good things it has. I do not take it for granted anymore.It is only by leaving that we discover how good life really is back home.Click To Tweet
Yes, I will leave again —many times— and in fact, we live close enough to an airport to escape regularly, but I will come home again. I intend to grow old here and write my books with continuing gratitude for my travels.
I’d love to know what you think. Why do you travel?
First of all, I’m so excited about this site. I love the name and logo — because books and travel are also two of my passions! I traveled extensively through my late 20s, and I think my reasons for travel were to broaden my horizons, to discover, both the world and myself, to challenge myself, and for the adventures it holds. I did cool things like silversmithing in Thailand, trekking to Everest Base Camp, meditating in Guatemala, staying at a kung fu monastery in China, biking through Vietnam — things that occupied me for a week to a month at a time that I would never otherwise have done, or even thought about doing, if I hadn’t been traveling and been exposed to all the possibilities available when you take the time out of normal workaday routines; when you make travel a real priority, something very few Americans do. In fact, I met my German husband in Nicaragua, and now live in Zurich via Munich and Cambridge, so in some ways, living the expat life, I am always traveling, always discovering and challenging myself.
Thanks Amy, Zurich is a great city and it sounds you’ve had some awesome adventures so far with many more to come. I think my biggest issue with this site is going to be discovering tons of new places for my own travel list 🙂
Love this! I also use travel to refuel, escape, and inspire, but for the moment my husband and I are doing it with two week road trips around Australia. We are currently on our fourth such road trip and are travelling around country Victoria (we live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.) . I am also a full-time writer and find it hard to write when we travel, but I do try to blog whenever we have reliable internet connection to keep our friends and family up to date with our travels (https://doinitdownunder.wordpress.com/)
I can’t wait to read more about your past and future travels!
Thanks Michelle, and I will be writing about my time in Australia at some point. I particularly enjoyed WA north from Perth to Darwin and then down to Alice. Enjoy your travels!
Fascinating. Your writing here is just as enticing as your fiction! I admire your sense of adventure and I admit my travels might be close to home. But when I find a sanctuary under a canopy of trees or explore the edges of a cemetery or overgrown park, something sparks in me and I am restless until the next time I can put on my hiking boots! Bravo, Jo! Well done! I will adventure here with you!
Thanks Bonnie, and I think adventuring close to home is just as valuable. I’ll be talking about that over time as well 🙂
I enjoyed your article, Joanna and the comment above.
Travel makes me “come alive” and I love the experience of new vistas, new faces, new spoken languages, the tastes, smells, sights and sounds of a brand new place I have never been to before. I also love visiting art galleries, museums, gardens, beautiful old buildings. One must eat street food and get off the beaten track. I think if one is open and receptive, you simply will never walk away without being blessed in some way!
I need the thrill of travel to fill up my well of creativity too!!
Thanks Anthea, and yes, being open and receptive is key!
this was such a big surprise, I knew about the new website / podcast coming up but I expected something more around the lines of thrillers and books in your genre. I was totally flabbergasted when you mentioned Books and Travels.
I can never explain why travel has always been so important to me, maybe as Saint-Exupéry said to build bridges, to get close to things different from what you are, to take in your heart places that are far from where you leave. I confess a little tear made its way up when you mentioned about being citizens of the world bringing us together, such an important message in a moment when walls are being risen almost everywhere, if not physically verbally though the reinforcement of the concept of borders.
I measure my life in trips, I haven’t travelled the world and the continents as you’ve done, but in the past ten years we’ve been houseswapping Europe with our Frodo, a golden retriever born with the traveller gene. And filling the creative well with experiences, places, people that will make their way on page, sooner or later or are anyway going to change and influence the way I feel about the world or myself.
Best wishes for this new venture of yours <3
Thanks Roberta and I decided to step up a level to the inspiration that drives my fiction — and it is always a place 🙂 I’m so glad you like the new site! Happy travels!
Very relaxing podcast! Thanks!!! My current WIP came from a recent trip to Antigua and a story my taxi driver told on the way to our resort. I thought “wouldn’t that make a great story if x,y,z happened?” And I’m 1/3 the way complete. 🙂 We love to travel as well and have many adventures planned for the future! Thanks for sharing your thought process on traveling and writing!
Thanks Stephanie, glad you’re also inspired by traveling!
I love to read about other’s travel and the ‘why’ behind it.
Two things in particular resonated with me:
“Whether it was strong to leave, or weakness that drove me away…” I’ve asked myself this question so many time over the years each time I packed up, sold up, and moved on. I still don’t know the answer, only that I had to do it.
“Some might find that scary, that you could disappear and no one would even notice, but I have always found it liberating.”
Completely agree with this! For a long time I didn’t understand why it felt so good, but later I came to realise that it was the mental freedom, the lack of responsibility and commitment, and the space and time to allow my mind to roam endlessly in any direction while detached from the ‘normal’ social structures.
As a child I dreamed of travelling, perhaps just to escape the bitter Norfolk winters. In 1979 I left for a year in Africa, and finally got back to UK six months ago. Like yourself, I lived in, amongst other places, Australia and New Zealand and loved each for what it offered. For me the ultimate escape was long distance sailing which I did for most of the 1990s, and where each passage and each new landfall was a fresh adventure.
In 2010 I closed down my IT business in QLD and went back to sea to write. It took a while to settle to it, but once I did I really felt that I had found my slice of Nirvana as I sailed single-handed across the Pacific with the trade wind on the quarter and nothing to do but read and write. I wrote my first novel on that passage, and I feel it gave me the writing kick-start I needed.
Really looking forward to reading you next instalment.
Hi Alan, Wow! Your life sounds fascinating – have you written about it? Or is it all within your novels?
Yachts and sailing make an appearance in most of my novels, and is a major plot device in Meet Me at Harry’s. Quite a few people encouraged me to write about my adventures, and eventually I did, but eventually decided not to publish. However, I took a couple of events from that memoir, fictionalised them, and produced Shadow House.
Adam David Collings
One of the reasons I travel (when I can) is to create memories and experiences for my children. Then there’s that ingrained Star Trek fan’s sense of boldly going where…uh…many others have gone before. I visited another country for the first time when I was 39 years old. We took a cruise from Sydney to New Caledonia. When I set foot on the concrete dock in Noumea, I felt like Neal Armstrong. I was walking on the ground of another country. Noumea is just a city, not unlike my home town of Launceston, but there was a sense of wonder, a sense of otherness. (This was aided by the fact that they speak French in New Caledonia. That alone made it feel exotic).
Thanks for creating the new podcast. I’m enjoying it.
That’s a great reason 🙂 and I am ever grateful to my Mum for taking me and my brother to live in Malawi in the 80s. That gave us a taste for adventure and far more of an education than we would have had back home.
I am currently binging your new podcast episodes, and loving it! I am inspired and moved and educated and entertained – “all the things,” as they say these days. Whenever I listed to either of your podcasts (The Creative Penn or Books and Travel), I believe that all things are possible. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself, your life, and your writing.
It’s Sunday evening and as I write this, I am watching Blue Planet Live. Chris Packham is one of my heroes. He’s in Baja, Mexico watching whales. Wildlife –another reason I love to travel.
I really enjoyed this podcast. There’s something very different here to The Creative Penn — it’s the sharing of personal memories and honest reflections. I love and really appreciate it.
I have recently been told I am hiding behind my fiction and the book I am writing needs to be a memoir. I have thought about little else since.
I am very interested to see how you move this new initiative forward and develop your memoir. I am loving what you are doing so far and can’t wait for further episodes that explore in depth your experiences and your travels.
I so relate to your reasons for loving travel — escape and reinvention and I envy your brave spirit when you were such a young person and resigned from your job to reinvent and find yourself. I too worked in IT, reaping those financial rewards you mentioned and I remember the hoo-ha of the infamous Y2K bug. Sadly, I wasn’t brave like you and remained in IT until my role was made redundant in 2008. Now though I am able to travel widely. I am very fortunate. Thanks for your WA tips. My husband and I are planning next winter’s trip down under to WA, so very useful.
A really raw and honest post. It is easy to miss all the difficult decisions, heartbreak and soul searching that often precedes a change of life. As someone who comes across as very knowledgeable and successful in what you do and very joyful when you are doing it, it is really eye opening to hear about your (seemingly darker) journey prior to this.
I myself left a job I disliked to do some round the world travel at age 26. Best thing I ever did. Perhaps the mid twenties are a time for reinvention?
Very enjoyable listening. Thankyou.
Jo Frances Penn
Thanks, Mark. I think we all go through a period of searching in our 20s and 30s, and although I still travel, I know myself more now. I’m still a little dark but I channel it into my fiction!
I love this new website and podcast! So well written, I appreciated the honesty of this piece, which echoed on so many levels with my own experience.
I left Germany at age 21 to find out how to grow into myself. After backpacking through Asia in the fun, pre-internet times, I lived in Australia for several decades. I’ve recently made the swap from fulltime employment to freelance writer based in Vietnam. I’ve reinvented myself in my 50is but by now I know myself enough to know that in order to write and to create stuff, I need to have a routine and a familiar home, while travel is for keeping my sense of wonder alive. By living in Hoi An I get both: a predictable routine and a town that surprises me each day.
I am very much looking forward to the other episodes. Thank you for creating this website, it’s totally inspired me to go for it and fully step into my writers self!
Jo Frances Penn
Thanks Kerstin, and like you, I need routine in order to create and then adventures and new places to fill the creative well. Both are necessary for this writer’s life!
I really identified with your reasons for travelling. In my 20s I definitely traveled to escape. Last year was to reinvent and reconsider my life’s direction, but I also love the perspective of other cultures and different ways of being I get from travel too. I very much have wanderlust. This covid situation is killing my partner and I. We’ve already started planning our next big trip. Oh, and I’m also like you. I keep a travel diary but don’t write fiction about a place until I’ve come back to Oz. I wrote a horror short story in 2018 about spirits in Venice which explained why Venice floods in fantasy terms which scarred a lot of people I know and regret nothing XD (I last was in Venice in 2010)
Jo Frances Penn
Venice definitely lends itself to fantasy 🙂
And yes, looking forward to getting back to traveling once more. It will happen!