Escape and inspiration about unusual and fascinating places, as well as the deeper side of books and travel.
I'm Jo Frances Penn, author of thrillers and non-fiction, and I'll be doing solo shows about my own travel experience and interviewing authors about how travel inspires their writing. Interviews cover places to visit and tips for travel as well as thoughts on modes of travel like walking, cycling, and travel by train and other modes. Plus book recommendations for every interview so you have things to read on the move.
Momentary Encounters That Bring A Journey To Life With Nick Jubber
Hello travellers, I’m Jo Frances Penn, and in this episode, I’m talking to Nick Jubber about the momentary encounters that bring a journey to life.
We talk about how religion weaves its way into travel, especially in the middle east and north Africa, and how sometimes we can sense the intensity of faith, even when we are not religious ourselves. Nick talks about the nomadic life and the attraction of desert places, finding the roots of fairy tales across Europe, and how travel is changing, even while our desire to explore remains.
Nicholas Jubber is the award-winning author of five travel books, including Epic Continent and The Timbuktu School of Nomads. His latest book is The Fairy Tellers: A Journey Into the Secret History of Fairy Tales.
* How religion winds its way into Nick’s travel writing
* Discovering spiritual moments and meaning even if not religious
* The romance vs. the reality of the desert
* Lessons learned from nomadic life in the desert
* Assessing risk and safety while traveling
* Finding the roots of fairy tale in Europe
* How travel might change in the future
* Recommended travel books
You can find Nick at NickJubber.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo: Nicholas Jubber is the award-winning author of five travel books, including Epic Continent and The Timbuktu School of Nomads. His latest book is The Fairy Tellers: A Journey Into the Secret History of Fairy Tales. Welcome, Nick.
Nicholas: Oh, thanks, Joanna. Thanks very much for having me on the show.
Jo: I’m excited to talk to you about lots of things. Let’s start with the latest book. So, a quote from The Fairy Tellers:
“Grow up in suburbia, and either you tend to stick it out, or you spend your life looking for ways to flee those privet hedges and cul-de-sacs.”
I read that line, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ Tell us a bit more about you, and how you became a travel writer from that background.
Nicholas: I grew up in a very typical middle-class kind of lifestyle. I think that there was this part of me that wanted to break out of there. I think that, for me, travel is often driven by a combination of a sort of escapism and curiosity.
I think that from growing up in the cul-de-sac, and then I went to a boarding school run by monks. And then I worked after university in a job where I was working with a lot of filing cabinets and doing Excel spreadsheets. I was utterly bored out of my mind, and constantly reading about faraway places.
Then an opportunity came to teach in Jerusalem, at a school in the Old City of Jerusalem. And I thought ‘That would just be fantastic.’ So, I went along there and sort of carried on traveling really ever since.
It was a fascinating time to be in Jerusalem. The intifada had broken out. It was a terrible time. There was fighting on the streets. But there was a real sense of history in the making, and debate about what was going on and the world, as we were moving into the 21st century. So, a sense of a really exciting time to be traveling in that particular region in the Middle East.
That led me to traveling to different places around there, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, all the way down to Ethiopia, which ended up in my first book, The Prester Quest. And then from there, more journeys.
As soon as you start traveling, you see different places that you want to go to. And I think, ‘Oh, I want to go to Iran now. I want to go to Afghanistan. I want to go to Central Asia. I want to go to India.’ And so it just snowballed on and on from there.
Jo: Yeah. Absolutely. And it’s so interesting, because we have had some overlap. We were both at Oxford… Similar, like,
Thoughts On Traveling To The USA Again Post Pandemic And Differences Between The US And UK Cultures
I’ve been traveling to the USA regularly since the mid-90s, for family trips and then business conferences and book research. The pandemic years meant a long hiatus (for us all!) but recently I went back to the US for my first trip in a long time and it felt quite foreign in many ways. I’d forgotten so much about how our cultures differ, and I thought it might be interesting to record my thoughts before I get used to it all again.
* Context and my history with the USA
* Flying again post-pandemic
* Arriving in Phoenix, Arizona, and some immediate differences
* Visiting the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, and a day trip to Sedona
* Other things I’d forgotten about the USA
I’d love to know what you think about our cultural differences, so please leave a comment, or tweet me @thecreativepenn or contact me here.
I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, USA, from the UK for a week in early May 2022 for a business conference on the Creator Economy.
It was my first trip to the USA since restrictions have eased post-pandemic.
Covid hasn’t gone away, of course, but it’s certainly more manageable, at least as I record this a month later in early June 2022.
I have been on one other trip since restrictions eased, to New Zealand to visit family in November 2021. That was a far more significant journey in terms of travel time and we spent 10 days in quarantine and then couldn’t do much because of Covid, and it was for family reasons to a country I lived in for years and am a citizen of, so I’m not counting that trip as travel.
The USA is very different from the UK, perhaps even more so than I remembered since I’ve been away so long, and Arizona has a very different climate, so I wanted to record this episode while it’s all still fresh in my mind.
Context and my history with the USA
I’ve been traveling to the USA since the early 90s when my mum moved to Oregon and then San Diego, although she later moved to New Zealand to be closer to me in mid-2000s. Outside of those personal trips, I’ve mainly visited for work and conferences and blended those with other aspects of travel. I’ve been to New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Charleston and Savannah, St Petersburg, Florida, New Orleans, Austin, Denver, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, Boise, and Portland, and some of those multiple times.
I am very at home in the USA, and think a lot of the country and its people. Many of my friends are American, many of my readers and audience and community are American, many of my financial investments are in USA companies, and I’m a user and a shareholder in some of the biggest American companies. I’m certainly a fan, in general, although every country has their problems and darker side, for sure.
The USA is also a huge country and places and people are so different between the states, so my comments are just a snapshot in time based on one particular place. I thought it might be interesting to consider our cultural differences as well as how it felt to travel again.
While all pandemic restrictions are over here in the UK, I had to do a Covid test within 24 hours of flying to the USA. It’s the most expensive test to get as it’s rushed and you can’t check in until it’s done, so it certainly added stress to the pre-flight process.
I also had to complete extensive documentation on the Verifly app, which included documentation of my vaccinations, test result, and other forms along my with ESTA, which allows me entry after the US government check up on things. I’d forgotten how much paperwork traveling can take, and it has certainly increased since the pandemic, especially if you are not a citizen of the country you’re traveling to. Check what you need before you travel, even if you have traveled to that country before as it migh...
The Nuances Of Colombia With Lachlan Page
We all pick up ideas about a country from a lifetime of media consumption, and stereotypes can shape our opinions, persisting even once a country has changed, as Colombia has over the last 30 years.
Lachlan Page talks about how he ended up in Colombia after prioritizing travel first and work second, his recommended places to visit from jungle to coast, tips for safety, whether being bilingual changes your personality, cross-cultural marriage, recommended books, and more.
Lachlan Page is the author of Magical Disinformation, a spy novel with a satirical edge set amongst the Colombian peace process.
* Making travel the priority and fitting work around it, plus volunteering when you have useful skills
* How stereotypes and media representations of Colombia are different from the reality
* Recommended places to visit
* Tips for safety, useful wherever you go
* Does speaking a second language affect your personality?
* On cross-cultural marriages
* Recommended books
You can find Lachlan Page at LachlanPageAuthor.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo Frances Penn: Lachlan Page is the author of Magical Disinformation, a spy novel with a satirical edge set amongst the Colombian peace process. Welcome, Lachlan.
Lachlan Page: Thanks, Jo, for having me.
Jo Frances Penn: It’s good to talk to you about this. Now, first off, I wanted to talk about your interesting jobs. You’ve worked some very interesting things. Volcano hiking guide, Red Cross volunteer, and language teacher among others.
How has travel shaped your career?
Lachlan Page: I put all the most interesting jobs on there. There are a lot of other jobs that perhaps weren’t as interesting, but I’ve really been interested in travel since I was a teenager, and tried to travel every opportunity I could through my university years.
When I was about 18 or 19, I did a backpacking trip through Europe for two months. Later, I studied abroad in France and the U.K., and that eventually led me down a trail of doing those different odd jobs.
Eventually, when I returned to Australia, I graduated university, did an office job doing market research reports, and from my previous Spanish-speaking skills actually got that job because it involved a lot of reading in Spanish, and then using that information for the market research reports, and one of my bosses was from Costa Rica.
That idea of travel and language definitely shaped that early part of my career. But I guess I soon realized, like a lot of people, that office type of job wasn’t for me.
I set off after that and went to Guatemala and continued learning Spanish. And that’s where through the school I was studying at, I got in touch with a volunteering organization which put me in touch with the Guatemalan Red Cross in a Central Highland city called Cobán. It’s a little bit off the tourist trail. But there’s a very popular river, waterfall nearby called Semuc Champey, which a lot of people go to.
It was in that area and I was there for about three months, two to three months doing volunteer work with Red Cross. And that was based in what I’d studied, which was international business. So, helping them set up spreadsheets and very basic excel type things, but also getting out into the field and occasionally doing health checks, a lot of health information where I was doing more the organizing of the data and things like that, not the actual health aspects.
From there really, I continued traveling through central America and originally had my sight set on Panama. But, as I was going through Nicaragua, I did a volcano trek tour, and when it finished I saw that they’re actually hiring for people to become volcano guides. And so,
The Unexpected Road To An Unconventional Life With Brianna Madia
How can we step away from the established patterns of life and choose a path that makes us truly happy? How can we redefine travel to find it in our own country, and choose a home in a place that calls to our soul?
Brianna Madia talks about her unexpected road to an unconventional life in the desert of Moab with her four dogs.
Brianna Madia is the author of Nowhere For Very Long: The Unexpected Road to an Unconventional Life.
* Questioning the established patterns of life — even when that’s hard
* The freedom and challenges of #vanlife
* Travel as an attitude, even without your own country
* Highlights of the desert in Utah
* The power of feeling insignificant in the face of natural beauty and how it helps to find perspective
* Traveling with four dogs — and redefining happiness
* Recommended travel books
You can find Brianna Madia at BriannaMadia.com and on Instagram @briannamadia
Transcript of the interview
Jo Frances Penn: Brianna Madia is the author of Nowhere for Very Long: The Unexpected Road to an Unconventional Life. Welcome, Brianna.
Brianna Madia: Hi, thank you for having me.
Jo Frances Penn: I’m excited to talk to you today. I wanted to start about how you talk in the book about how you feel you didn’t quite fit in the place where you grew up, and then later on you felt that unease again. I wonder because many of us feel unease in our life.
How do we identify that feeling of not belonging and know that we actually do have to leave, because it’s a big step.
Brianna Madia: It is. And this is one of the things that makes me so oddly grateful now for the place that I grew up. I grew up in a place where there was a lot of wealth. It was right outside New York City. It was very like a go-getter type of place.
I found myself from a very early age looking around and wondering why because I knew so many people and I would see so many people who were doing things in their lives, choosing the paths that they were choosing almost as like a performance for the people around them, as opposed to what really called to their spirit, if you will.
I started to just question, whose idea is this? Whose dreams do we end up dreaming? Because a lot of the times I think we grow up and it’s like as kids, we’re almost put on a conveyor belt.
We are told, these are the steps, you go to school, you go to college, you get a job, you get married, you buy a house, you have kids. I think it’s so interesting that we wonder why so many adults wake up one day looking around and wondering, when did I make these decisions? And so I think constantly asking why, and when I grew up, it was a lot easier.
When I was a teenager, it was a lot easier to be rebellious. It was a lot easier to say, ‘Screw this way of life I’ve seen.’ But then I found myself right kind of back into it when I had moved out to Utah and I was working at a software company, and it was a great little company, and there wasn’t anything wrong on the surface with that decision. It just never felt like mine.
I was taken aback. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really going to have to consistently ask myself, check in with myself, is this what I want to be doing? Who am I doing this for?’
I think a lot of the times when people want to leave a situation, it’s terrifying.
But I like to try to remind people that mostly, it’s socially terrifying. When we say the safe choice, it’s a safe choice to stay in the town that we grew up in. It’s a safe choice to stay at the job that’s paying the bills but not necessarily lighting your heart on fire. I think the safety of that comes more from the social safety.
Love, Wanderlust, And Sailing Around The World With Liz Alden
What does it take to sail around the world — and stay in love with your partner? Liz Alden talks about how she and her husband circumnavigated the globe over four years, the places they loved, and how wanderlust and a love for the ocean is something that never leaves us.
Liz Alden is the author of the Love and Wanderlust series of romance books, as well as a travel writer. She circumnavigated the world over several years with her husband, which we’re talking about today.
* Planning to sail around the world as a couple
* Highlights and favorite places from the circumnavigation
* How romantic is it to be with a partner for so long on a small boat?
* The challenges of sailing
* Financing life at sea
* Wanderlust and love of the ocean
* Recommended travel + romance books
You can find Liz Alden at LizAlden.com for her books and Out Chasing Stars for the sailing information.
Transcript of the interview
Jo: Liz Alden is the author of the ‘Love and Wanderlust’ series of romance books, as well as a travel writer. She circumnavigated the world over several years with her husband, which we’re talking about today. Welcome, Liz.
Liz: Thank you, Jo.
Jo: I’m excited to talk about this. First up, tell us a bit more about your history with boats and the water.
Did you always want to sail around the world?
Liz: That’s an interesting question because the answer is no. I grew up around the water. My grandfather had a boat business, my dad had a boat business, my uncle had a sailboat, my stepdad had a sailboat. But I wasn’t as wildly into it, as one would think.
But then my dad took my husband for his first sail. And my husband was like, ‘Oh, man, this is really cool.’ And then he got on the internet, and he was looking around, and he was like, ‘People quit their jobs, and go sail around the world, this is something that we could actually do. So let’s do it.’
And then the timing kind of worked out for us, I was ready to transition out of running what had been my dad’s business. So I sold that company, and we bought our boat, and we took off sailing.
Jo: Wow, that’s so interesting. So your husband didn’t have any background, but he was the one who wanted to go?
Liz: Right. And in most sailing couples, it’s the opposite. It tends to be a male-dominated activity or sport. So a lot of the people we meet out here, it’s more of the man who has the background in sailing, and unfortunately, stereotypically, they usually have to convince their partner to go sailing. I didn’t instigate the conversation. But I was very gung ho about the idea of traveling around the world on a sailboat.
Jo: Because of all your skills. I’ve been wondering about this in terms of the love of the water and almost needing to be near the water. Do you think some people are almost born with a desire to be by water? Is that something you’ve noticed? Obviously, in your family, but in the people you meet.
Do people, when they’re away from the water, long to be back?
Liz: I think there’s just something so different about being on the water versus being on land. And I can understand certainly, having your feet on the ground, and like planting yourself to the ground.
But then there’s that something different about the way… not even the way the water looks, or the way the water feels, but just how you can tell that you’re near the water. And as a sailor who’s come into port, I know that it can be the opposite way too, like you can smell land when you’re approaching just l...
Traveling Carnivals With Michael Sean Comerford
Sometimes you don’t have to leave your own country to find a culture that is different from your own. Michael Sean Comerford talks about the unique language, lifestyle, and attitudes of the carnies, the people who work on the traveling carnivals.
Michael Sean Comerford is an award-winning journalist and travel writer. His latest book is American OZ: An Astonishing Year Inside Traveling Carnivals.
* The differences between carnivals in different countries
* The unique languages of carnies
* Attractions and difficulties of the carnival life
* The sense of belonging — and how that’s hard to leave behind
* Darker side of carnival life
* Recommended travel books
You can find Michael Sean Comerford at MichaelSeanComerford.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo: Michael Sean Comerford is an award-winning journalist and travel writer. His latest book is American OZ: An Astonishing Year Inside Traveling Carnivals. Welcome, Michael.
Michael: Thank you very much.
Jo: I’m really interested to talk about this topic.
What drew you to carnivals in particular and where did the idea for the book come from?
Michael: I had graduated from college here in the United States and I had no idea what I wanted to do and I did something completely nonsensical, which is I decided to bicycle ride to Seattle, which is about a couple thousand miles and from Chicago. On my way, I stopped to work at a carnival for a weekend on the Fourth of July in Cody, Wyoming, interestingly enough, founded by Buffalo Bill Cody, who was the first showman in the Showmen’s League, the official association of traveling carnivals.
I stopped there. I worked the weekend in the carnival, and I met these incredible people that had their own language, their own history, they were living on the road, they were characters, and I go, ‘I don’t know what I want to do with my life but if I ever write books I think this is really where the stories are.’ So it was in my mind.
I went off to become a journalist for almost 40 years, 30-some years and I decided I wanted to come back and write books. And I remembered that vow to myself all those years ago in the Cody, Wyoming Carnival, maybe this is where the stories are.
Jo: That’s so interesting. So for 40 years, this idea lay dormant. What do you think brought the idea back?
Michael: The newspaper industry is kind of drying up and I was looking for something else to do and I was, once again, at almost the same crossroads, ‘What do I want to do with the rest of my life?’ Because I wasn’t going to make a good living anymore as a newspaper reporter.
So I thought of books and I thought, ‘Well, this is my first book. Why not start with American OZ and go to a lot of carnivals and tell a lot of stories?’
Jo: We have listeners from 177 countries on the show. So I actually wanted to start by asking about the carnivals in the USA because you’re in the USA, I’m in the UK, and our carnivals we really call them fairs, I guess. And they’re quite different, I think, to the USA.
What are the carnivals like and what sets them apart from those other people might have seen in other countries?
Michael: When you see a fair versus a traveling carnival, you will think they’re pretty similar because of the rides and so forth but they have very different histories. And I think one of the biggest things that sets them apart is language.
There’s something called carny lingo on the internet by Wayne Kaiser, and he goes through the lingo of U.S. carnivals versus Canadian carnivals versus British fairs. And he doesn’t touch on Australia but Australia has its very own also traditions. And they have a different language.
Here in the United States,
After listening to Jo’s interviews, I add a new item to my bucket list each time. I look forward to the moment when we’re able to travel again so I can fill my creative well.
Fascinating interviews and discussions
I've been listening to Joanna Penn on her other podcast since last summer, and I was excited to check out this new podcast.... because I love books and travel, too! And she doesn't disappoint. Joanna is a keen observer and has so many interests that every interview or discussion is super interesting.
Love Joanna, love Jo Frances.
I have been listening to The Creative Penn podcast since...2012? I listened to her before I was an author, and she gave me hope as a confused college student trying to figure out my life. I listen to her now that I am a full-time author, and she gives me much-needed encouragement weekly. To get to experience this more personal side of her is truly wonderful. It is so neat to hear more about her life and gain insight into her experiences. Thank you, Joanna! You are a treasure.