Category Archives: World Travel


Guide Book Vagabond – Tom Brosnahan

I was excited this week to get a chance to interview Tom Brosnahan. I was introduced to Tom’s work through his book Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea  (if you haven’t read it, I recommend it – fun, informative and a great travel read) – his book led me to find his incredible website Turkey Travel Planner (which, by the way is the most important resource you will find if you plan on taking a trip to Turkey).

Tom is an old school travel writer, guide book author – the kind that went to the destination, walked all the streets, drew the map if there wasn’t one, learned the language, and checked all the prices – and what is incredibly cool, is that he is also a pioneer of the new school of travel writing and online guides.

Here are some excerpts from his bio at the site :

Tom Brosnahan is a veteran guidebook author, travel writer and photographer, and consultant on travel information to companies and government agencies. He has written over 40 guidebooks for Berlitz, Frommer’s and Lonely Planet covering Belize, Canada, Egypt, England, France, Guatemala, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, New England, Tunisia and Turkey, with nearly four million copies in print worldwide in more than 10 languages. He’s also written a memoir about Turkey, travel, and travel writing: Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea.

He has been a Contributing Editor to Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine, and has had many articles and photographs published in leading periodicals including Travel and Leisure, The New York Times, theDaily Telegraph (London), Chicago Tribune, New YorkDaily News, BBC World, Journeys, Odyssey, Travel Life, and TWA Ambassador.

He is the founder of the Travel Info Exchange andTurkey Travel Planner websites, and many more travel resource sites. Tom has appeared on Good Morning America, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Anthem, The Connection, and on the Travel Channel and has lectured at the Smithsonian Institution, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design, the American Turkish Council, and other organizations.

He is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and a co-founder and faculty member emeritus of the SATW Institute for Travel Writing and Photography. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with his wife Jane A Fisher.

Vagobond: You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in travel, in your opinion, what are some of the major pitfalls that lurk waiting for a travel writer?

Tom Brosnahan: The biggest is not judging a project accurately. Too many travel writers end up losing money and subsidizing publishers because they aren’t careful estimating the time and work in a project, and determining if it will be profitable.

Vagobond: In Bright Sun, Strong Tea, I remember laughing out loud when the neighbor giril in Izmir tried to corner you for a smooch – what other dangers have you narrowly avoided in your travels?

Tom Brosnahan: I play it safe—I’m not a war correspondent! But I’ve been chased by suspected terrorists in eastern Turkey, had rocks thrown at my car in Palestine, heard bombs go off in Jerusalem, been shaken down by guerillas in Chiapas, been in traffic accidents in Istanbul and Bangkok. But really, most travel is safe. Scary headlines rarely portray the situation each traveler will encounter, so I go in slow, and decide how far I can go safely.

Vagobond: There’s no arguing that travel has changed dramatically since the dawn of the information age – what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed, both for the positive and for the negative?

Tom Brosnahan: Guidebooks have been used—and useful—since Roman times, but it can take up to a year to publish and distribute a paper guidebook, and with the Internet I can publish my work immediately, to the entire world, for next to nothing, forever! It’s apotheosis for a travel writer. Travelers now have far more, and better information than ever before, and that’s good for everyone. If there’s a negative, it’s that there’s simply too much information. Finding what you want can be tedious.

Vagobond: You and I share a love of Turkey – at the moment there are some pretty big changes going on in Turkish society – where do you think those changes will lead?

Tom Brosnahan:Turkey’s modern history is amazing: a torpid medieval empire remade into a vibrant modern free-enterprise democracy in less than a century. Turkey is now the economic powerhouse of the eastern Mediterranean, and a living example of democracy for other countries in the region. Especially in the past 20 years the change has been bewildering for many Turks. A young woman whose grandmother may have been in a harem can now pilot a jetliner. Hardscrabble life on the farm has yielded to glitzy ultramodern shopping malls. Such rapid change is difficult for people to absorb, but greater education, information and prosperity are forces for peace.

Vagobond: Like you, Istanbul feels like my second home, but you’ve spent a lot more time there than I have – can you toss some hidden destinations/experiences my way that I may have missed?

Tom Brosnahan: Visit the imperial ‘kasr’s, tiny palaces built for the sultan’s excursions. Get yourself invited to the “sema” (religious observance) of a dervish order (and not just the Mevlevi, or whirling, dervishes). Seek out the Roman aqueducts in the forests west and north of Istanbul. Witness the opening of the Galata Bridge in the middle of the night. Climb to the top of a minaret for the view.

Vagobond: Some of my Turkish friends in Istanbul have this particular form of national profiling – when they look at an American – they tend to just see the carpet they expect them to buy. What are some other ‘profiles’ you’ve encountered of both Americans on one side and Turks on the other?

Tom Brosnahan:Some years ago, Turkish tourist guides were asked by a major newspaper to describe each national type. It was hilarious:

Americans: friendly, interested, big tippers
Arab: three good meals daily and nothing else matters
British: scorpions in their pockets—you’ll never get a tip
German: so well informed, they’ll have to show you they know more than you do. And if there’s no beer there, don’t even stop the bus.
Israeli: always drama, dispute, tempest in a teacup

Vagobond: You’ve traveled to a lot of other places than Turkey – could you share some highlights with our readers?

Tom Brosnahan: I wrote for decades on Mexico & Central America. I’d drive from Boston and put 11,000 miles on the car. Mexico alone has the topographic, ethnic and linguistic diversity of all of Europe. Egypt: I hadn’t planned to go there, then I was asked by Berlitz to write a guide, now I believe every traveler must see Egypt. Norway: beautiful, friendly, peaceful. Expensive but worth it. If the world ever needs a capital city, it had better be Paris. As for France, it’s actually a whole bunch of little countries sharing a common border. Finally, I love New England. Did you know we have dozens of wineries here?

Vagobond: What are three pieces of advice for travelers that are often overlooked?

Tom Brosnahan:1. Cheap or expensive? Whether it’s a hotel, a meal, a guided tour, or a souvenir, the devil is in the details. Be sure you’re comparing the same things. A $100 hotel room in Istanbul includes all taxes and service charges, and a big buffet breakfast. A $100 hotel room in New York includes none of these, and taxes can add 17% to your bill. A $35 meal in Boston will be subject to 5.5% tax and 15% to 20& tip. A $35 meal in Paris costs exactly that.

  1. Safe or deangerous? Look more closely, and judge accordingly. The most horrendous terrorist attacks in recent times took place not in Kabul or Beirut or Cairo, but in New York City, London and Madrid.

  2. Concentrate on transportation: it may not be what you’re used to. It may be better to take a bus than a flight or rental car. It may be much farther than you think. Transport could be one of your greatest costs, overall.

Vagobond: It seems that you’ve adopted the web as your primary ‘publisher’ – as a geek who primarily does the same – I just love that. What were some of the factors that led to this? Was it a positive move? Do you think there is a future in writing for print?

Tom Brosnahan: I did well with guidebooks for 35 years, but then the pay went down while the work and responsibility went up. It was clear those trends would continue. It was also clear the Web was the information medium of the future: immediate publication, worldwide, virtually for free.

It has worked far better than I imagined. Instead of 75,000 readers in dozen countries per year I have nearly 7 million readers in 235 countries. And I’m earning far more than I ever did with print.
The paper codex (“book”) has been a useful medium since Gutenberg and will continue to be useful in a smaller way. But writing for print has little future. The publishers think they need to keep all the money.

Vagobond: What’s the best way for a travel writer to figure out what their audience is looking for?

Tom Brosnahan: Be in contact with them. Ask for comments. Set up an online forum. Talk to them on the road. Explore the statistics from your Web presence. There will be surprisess.

Find more of Tom’s work and guides at Travel Info Exchange and Turkey Travel Planner

Alarm clock, swiss army knife, pills

Essential Travel Gear – Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival #20

Travel gear is a huge topic and a huge industry. A look at the web will bring you literally hundreds of packing lists from hundreds of different world travelers. Many of them say that you have to bring this gadget, bring that many pairs of travel socks, or don’t forget to get this new solar powered gizmo dowoppity.

But let’s face it. If you travel enough what you learn is that there is no single packing list that will work for any two travelers or two destinations. The gear you bring with you on your travels is as personal as the photos you put in your albums. However, one thing is definitely certain – every seasoned traveler has two lists.

1) The things you don’t leave home without
2) The things you wish you could travel with but don’t have yet

Lonely Planet Blogsherpa

This week’s Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival brings you some of the most loved and most desired travel gear from some of the planets most intrepid travelers.

Personally, since I’m starting this off, through the years I’ve been on the road, I’ve realized that the less I can carry, the better off I am. My most essential piece of equipment is my bag. I don’t carry a backpack and I don’t pull a wheelie bag. Leather Shoulder Bag TravelerI have a leather shoulder bag with hardy buckles and a zippered canvas interior. It’s small enough to be a carry on, big enough to carry what I need, and light enough to sling on my back while I sight see in Rome or ride a camel across the Sahara. My bag is custom made and suits me perfectly. Someday, I may get them made and share them with the world. One thing is for sure, everywhere I go women say to me “Wow, great bag” The men say “Looks like that bag has seen some miles” It has and is seeing more all the time. Stainless Coffee PressAs to what goes in the bag, I usually have my netbook, power cord, two changes of clothes, two extra pairs of socks and underwear, a Sigg waterbottle, a notebook and a couple of pens, whatever I’m reading, toothbrush, razor, toothpaste, documents, and depending on where I’m going a pair of rubber slippers. The other thing I usually have is my stainless steel coffee cup with screw on lid. I found a French press that fits it perfectly (same diameter) and use it to make coffee, tea, drink wine on trains, make soup in, or heat water on a fire.

Rope, magnifying Glass, can openerThree very different essentials come from David at Quillcards Blog. What’s essential to him? Binoculars, Magnifying Glass, and Piece of Rope!

Three Great Pieces Of Gear
From all the things I have taken on my travels, I would say the best of all are mini binoculars, a magnifying glass, and a length of rope.

Seeing just about anything through binoculars – from animals and birds to just plain and simple crowds of people – makes carrying the weight of them definitely worth it.

And what you are looking at doesn’t have to be far away. Something that you may not have thought of is that looking though binoculars at an exotic bird that is just 20 feet away can turn a great experience into a phenomenal one.

Magnifying Glass
Picture a lazy afternoon somewhere on your travels. You spy a piece of crystalline stone on the ground or a recently expired insect on the window sill. That is where a magnifying glass comes into its own and a whole new world opens up.

I have a soft spot for this particular magnifying glass – the one in the photograph above. It is Russian, and I bought it in a street market in Tallin in Estonia shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

That was the time when everything from military-grade night vision binoculars to periscopes were on sale in markets across Eastern Europe.

A piece of rope two or three millimetre thick and long enough to tie down a pack or hang up a pair of jeans. That is something that always goes in my pack.

As you can see, I have bought several lengths over the years…

pacsafe bag with secure strapMeanwhile, after four years on the road, Trans-Americas Journey is still moving and celebrate by sharing some of their favorite gear. Among them is another bag that kicks ass!

Pacsafe MetroPacsafe anti-theft “securse”

Karen’s Pacsafe Metro 200 shoulder bag is a nylon bag reinforced with lockable zippers and an unslashable wire-filled strap. It’s certainly secure (that’s why she calls it her “securse”). It’s also durable, easy to wipe clean and it holds a ton including:

1 bottle of hand sanitizer
our Samsung SAGA smart world phone in a snug sleeve which protects the screen
multiple pens and notebooks
1 Lonely Planet pocket guide to Spanish (yes, we still cheat)
our car alarm keyfob and keys to the truck
2 packs of chewing gum
1 Canon S95 digital camera
1 mini tripod (found along the way)
1 Tide Stain Stick (indispensable)
2 different lip balms
Trans-Americas Journey business cards and stickers (yes, we have stickers)
breath mints
2 packets of pocket-size tissues
1 dispenser of Visine dry-eye relief drops
1 in-country cell phone
1 tough-as-nails SureFire E1L Outdoorsman mini flashlight
3 packs of matches
1 mini Totes umbrella (also found along the way)
4 individually packed Ya! bug repellent wipes
1 Canary Wireless Digital Hotspot Wi-Fi Finder
assorted toothpicks
1 sewing kit
2 mini emery boards
pocket-size dental floss dispensers (kindly supplied by our friend Dr. Dave Goldberg of Gentle Dental in Massachusetts)

camera gearCamden at The Brink of Something Else takes a look at some of the gear he wishes he had in A Budding Photographer’s Wishlist

Right now, my collection of photography equipment totals one item: my Canon Digital point-and-shoot IXUS 95IS, 10 megapixels, 3X zoom. Not exactly the stuff National Geographic prizewinners are made of.

It’s served me well over the years, survived quite a few bumps and scrapes, and will continue to be my first choice for boozy nights out and boat rides (at least until I finally shell out for a decent waterproof for dive trips). But it’s time to start thinking about a DSLR, and all the expensive but oh-so-cool accessories that it demands.

Good sense must be maintained, however, and credit cards not maxed-out; although spending money on substandard equipment that will need replacing in a matter of years isn’t a smart move either. I thus present my budding photographer’s wishlist, a solid start on a budget of US$2,000.

Alarm clock, swiss army knife, pillsJennifer at The Turkish Life shares not only the gear that she takes but the gear she has decided to leave behind. I think we all miss having our swiss army knives.

Out quickly went the money belt, the portable locks, the ugly “travel towel,” and, eventually, the dozens of rolls of film. A mini Ziploc bag of assorted meds still makes the cut, as does the flip-open alarm clock that’s been digitally ticking since 1998. (It now stays at home on trips to places where my cell phone will work.) So does my Swiss army knife, though it’s seen most of its travel action slicing bread and cheese for make-shift meals.

the Kindle 11Renee King at A View to a Thrill offers an inspiring review of the Amazon Kindle 3 and has made me resolve that I’m going to get one, which surprises me to no end.

As a writer, reading is fundamental. I couldn’t recall the last time that I had read anything with more pages than a magazine. As a traveler, it’s important to have an escape from the real world and there ‘s nothing better at accomplishing that than immersing yourself in a good read. So, I resolved to take a stand; to get back to the basics. I had to do something dramatic, something that would force me to follow through on my goal. My solution was the Amazon Kindle 3! I had been a fan of the Kindle since its first incarnation as a white, much larger and more expensive electronic reader.

Immersion coil, backpacking gearMeanwhile, Jason and his family at Alpaca Suitcase offer inspiration in the form of a simple cup.

Living out of backpacks and staying predominantly in inexpensive hostels can be wearying at times. With all your belongings in a single backpack there are times that you crave a quiet, civilized moment. That is when we break out our favorite travel gadget: the immersion heater. It’s basically a metal coil connected by wire to a wall plug, but it has transformative properties. It can transform even the most dreary of situations and cheer them up a bit. Just stick the coil into some water, plug it in and in less than a minute you have a boiling cup of water. Add some tea and sugar and you have civilization.

wrist ID chipFinally, on a literal ending note, but hopefully none of ours or yours anytime soon, Natalia at No Beaten Path introduces us to the Road ID, a hightech way to make sure that if the worst happens, those who need to be contacted, will be.

It is, essentially, a wristband on which is a metal disc. On the front you can have whatever you want engraved (though the site suggests the best information) and on the back is a serial number and a PIN. You register your details on a website, and if you are found, the emergency services can either call a phone number (and there are a range of countries that you can list for your phone number) and have very sophisticated voice recognition software read out your details, or they can go on a website to look up who you are, who to contact, and whatever else you add – in my case I put my blood type.

Participants in the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa program host periodic “blog carnivals” on various travel-related themes. The last one, hosted by Orange Polkadot looked at toasting customs around the globe, the next one will be hosted by No Beaten Path

Fortress in Nis, Serbia

Nis Fortress – 2000 Year Old Fortifications

Before I leave Serbia (actaully, I already have) I want to give a quick impression of Nis which is the first stop from Sofia, Bulgaria when you enter Serbia by bus and in my case, was also the last stop before I left for Skopje, Macedonia (also by bus).

Fortress in NisAs the bus pulled into Nis the first time, I was surprised and pleased to see that there were Vietnamese Pho restaurants, when I came back to Nis and went to get some Pho, what I found was that it’s a type of Serbian restaurant. So, don’t go looking for Vietnamese food in Serbia!

It is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans, and has from ancient times been considered a gateway between the East and the West. The Paleo-Balkan Thracians were formed in the Iron Age, of which the Triballians dwelled in this region with a Celtic invasion in 279 BC that resulted in the forming of the Scordisci tribe.

Fortress in Nis, SerbiaI stayed at a pretty decent little hostel in Nis. One thing I learned while I was in Serbia was that hostel and hotel owners are required to write reports on their guests each day and then encrypt them and send them to the police. The obsession with spying in Serbia comes from being guilty of spying on each other. I had one Serbian friend tell me that in his opinion more than half of all Serbs were police informants! In general, Serbs go through life either under surveillance or thinking they are under surveillance and when it comes down to it, there isn’t much difference. This bit of information helps to explain why many Serbs automatically assume any American or Brit is probably a spy…because apparently half of all Serbs are!

Anyway, back to the hostel. I will be writing about some of the hostels I’ve stayed at and recommend in the coming months (including this one).

The owner suggested that in addition to visiting the Tower of Skulls and the Red Cross Concentration Camp that I also pay a visit ot the Nis Fortress. I took a stroll around the fortress and got a few nice pictures but the most beautiful thing there was the Turkish Mosque which was obviously out of commission since Serbia in my experience is not exactly Muslim friendly.

Nis River in SerbiaNiš is the birthplace of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor and the founder of Constantinople, now Istanbul.

I didn’t visit the log cabin Constantine was born in or see the cherry tree he cut down as a boy. Niš is also the possible location of Nysa, a mythical place in Greek mythology where the young god Dionysus was raised but I didn’t go out to the clubs with the French guy who stayed at the hostel, probably because he said “You should come with me, Serbian girls give you sex just because they like your passport.” I imagined how my wife would view me going out after that and decided to pass on the opportunity. Instead, I went out and ate a traditional Nis meal of ribs and cold potatoes. Not really the same thing, but I think the wife will be happy to know it.

During the day there were plenty of young people in the park who seemed to be ditching school and a few old timers walking around with canes, presumable to protect themselves from the idle youngsters.

As usual, wikipedia does a nice job of presenting the historical background of the Nis Fortress.

Niš Fortress is a fortress in the city of Niš, Serbia. It is a complex and very important cultural and historical monument. It rises on the right bank of the Nišava River, and is over two millennia old.

The extant fortification is of Turkish origin, dating from the first decades of the 18th century (1719–1723). It is well-known as one of the most significant and best preserved monuments of this kind in the mid-Balkans. The Fortress was erected on the site of earlier fortifications – the ancient Roman, Byzantine, and later yet Mediaeval forts.

Turkish Mosque in Nis Serbia

The mosque is inside the Nis Fortress

The Fortress has a polygonal ground plan, eight bastion terraces and four massive gates. It stretches over 22 ha of land. The rampart walls are 2,100 m long, 8 m high and 3 m thick on the average. The building stone, brought from the nearby quarries, was hewn into rather evenly-shaped blocks. The inside ofhe rampart wall was additionally fortified by a wooden construction, santra?, and an additional bulwark, trpanac. On the outside, the Fortress was surrounded by a wide moat, whose northern part has been preserved to our days. Beside the massive stone rampart walls, the southern Stambol gate and the western Belgrade gate are pretty well preserved. Partly preserved are the water gates, while there are only remains of the northern Vidin gate and the south-east Jagodina gate. With a complete reconstruction of all the gates, Niš Fortress would once again become, architecturally and functionally, a closed fortification system. Far into the fortress, there is a weather station, that provides forecasts for the city of Niš.