Elaine Scanlan

Elaine Scanlan

I gave up teaching for travel writing, and now I’m a European nomad, going anywhere there’s a cheap flight and a new city to explore. Cast loose from the classroom and the dull predictability of a regular salary, I live a happy hand-to-mouth life and write content for other people.

When I’m home, I’m in Manchester, usually planning to leave for somewhere warmer. I also live on a narrowboat in the Midlands, the perfect house for the nomad. When the neighbours are a nuisance, you can moor somewhere new.

You can work pretty much where you want to – on the road, do you find it hard to work or do you just have fun and work when you come back home?

It's hard to convince people that travel writing is work at all! One thing I've learned is not to rely on memory: I take detailed notes on the road and write them up when I'm home. It's not so much about recording facts, more about reminders of how a place feels. You can't conjure that up for readers if you can't remember the tiny details. That's one of the reasons why I travel solo if I'm writing. I'm immersed in a place, and can be curmudgeonly company.

Do you feel many people are envious of your lifestyle?

I 'd love to be paid every time someone says I'm 'lucky'. It's a different lifestyle, but it's choice, not chance. If you really want to travel, stop buying shoes. Travel writing doesn't pay well for most people, so it's not just a lifestyle, it's a change of mind-set. I think you have to be the sort of person who wants to do stuff, not own stuff. There's also a fair bit of drudgery involved. People read a finished article and forget that. I don't write about the constant unpacking and re-packing, booking systems on budget airlines, or three-hour delays on a one-hour flight. Travel's often the worst part of travel writing. And sometimes I'd like to buy more shoes.

In which countries have people recognised you, even when you thought nobody would?

I loathe the idea of being recognised, but I don't run a blog so it's not happened yet. I'm a little disappointed that I've not been stopped at passport control. My photo's particularly hideous, so I'm sure it's a matter of time before someone points out that the real-life me is far more lovely. And much younger. And delusional.

Which three items would you never travel without?

Earplugs. I travel quite often in Spain, and without those I'd never sleep. Spanish people chatting sounds to my English ears like someone being beaten to death with a pair of castanets. I'm obsessive about specific brands of stationery, and I'd rather forget my netbook than my notebook. I also think that ostentatiously making notes can ensure better restaurant service, even when I'm actually writing a shopping list. I've owned a Kindle for years, and can't imagine being without it. Books in the air - who knew? I no longer have that recurring nightmare about being trapped in a hotel room with just a Gideon bible and a laundry list.

Are there any specific souvenirs or other things you collect from the places you go to?

Absolutely not. I'm usually a hand luggage only traveller, so there's no room for fripperies. On the few occasions I have hold baggage, I fill up corners with local food: maybe unusual spices that remind me of where I've been. I have sometimes travelled back from Andalucia with a suitcase stuffed with lemons, because I bought three kilos in the market and couldn't bear to leave them behind. I do have a friend who collects fridge magnets though, so I have to buy them in every new place. And every time, I tell the shop-owner it's not for me, in case they think I'm a tourist.

Tagged as: United Kingdom

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