For the past few years, my professional life (or at least a large part of it) has been mostly about travelling. Working as a journalist and author has allowed me to get to know new places, interview people, go on adventures and tell all the stories that I’ve found on my way. What’s making things even more exciting: the radius of my work life is constantly growing.
An early morning at Busaras bus terminal in Dublin’s city center. It’s our first visit to the city as a couple, in my case even the first to Ireland in general, after I had boarded my first ever flight less than 24 hours ago. Only a couple of hours that allowed me a glimpse on the planet from above the clouds, and they actually made my world grow quite considerably. And now, it’s about to grow even more: We’re waiting for our bus to Galway on Ireland’s western Atlantic coast, having some coffee to wake up and a sandwich to make sure the nervous stomach has nothing to complain about, when – suddenly – there’s this tiny lady approaching us: “Do you mind watching my suitcase for just a minute?”
We don’t mind. We’ve still got a little less than half an hour till our bus leaves, so we watch her suitcase, sip our coffee and make a few more travel plans, also for the final days of the trip that we’ll be spending back in Dublin. A couple of minutes later, the elderly lady returns with a smile on her face. “Thanks alot, dears. You know… there’s my millions in there…” She winks at us, asks whether we’ve got a long trip ahead. Just a few hours to Galway, we say. Well, that’s far enough, she replies and waves us goodbye. Then, before she leaves, she says the words that will somehow help me control the anxiety and worries that had started on the first day of planning this trip. A trip that began with the decision to break out of the limits that an anxiety disorder had been setting for me in the past. But now the Irish lady’s words will be the reason that this very day, Ireland as well as its people will always have a special place in my heart: “And you enjoy every minute of it”. This trip will teach me to take nothing in the world for granted. And that’s the beginning.
suitcasepenandpaper – Stories about travelling
It’s stories like this one for which I decided to become a journalist about 15 years ago. Stories that may not have to be told, but sometimes need to be heard, in order to rethink life and the decisions that come along with it. Stories that have no business to be told in the news and that often even feel out of place in a travel report. It’s stories like this one that made me start this blog.
A few words about myself: My name is Sandra, I am a freelance travel writer based in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, and actually, most of the time, I prefer to be anywhere but home. For a few years now, I’ve been lucky enough to get paid for writing travel books, and for about two of those years I’ve been even more lucky, being able to continue my job during a global pandemic. And with this blog, I’m creating my very own platform for all the stories that, for the time being, don’t get published in books, magazines or journals.
It’s a beautiful spring day in Vienna during my partner’s first visit in one of my favourite cities in the world. He’s a movie enthusiast and just got his hands on a free magazine on culture, arts and events. The list of possible activities for the final days on our city trip to Vienna over my birthday has suddenly grown quite a bit. But then, classic sightseeing in Vienna has never been my strong suit.
Surprise discovery in Vienna: A very unusual museum
The good news is that the museum that made it to the top of our to-do-list is only a few feet from one of my favourite spots in the city, the Naschmarkt market in the southern city centre. The museum covers everything on the movie “The Third Man”, a classic film noir that got made in postwar Vienna and published in 1949. Back then, only a couple of months into the relationship, I didn’t have a single clue about movies from the 40s, and even my introduction to “Citizen Kane” was quite a long way down the road at this point. But when I learn that “The Third Man” is mostly a film about Vienna after the war, it’s all I need to know to get excited enough to give it it try. So, from the moment we set foot in the museum, the iconic zither music will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Even though an experience is no catchy tune that gets stuck in your head, the afternoon in the museum has been extremely present in my memory for those past few years. We started a conversation with a lady who worked there and who turned out to be the museum founder’s wife and got to hear the story right from the beginning. A couple of years ago, it all started with some movie posters that turned into a small collection – up to a point when her husband started collecting everything that had to do with the movie or its making.
It’s this story and the fact that the “Third Man Museum” felt mostly like a museum on postwar Vienna, instead of one on a film that I didn’t know back then, that fascinated me and made me fall in love with Vienna even more. And the fact that we even got to meet the founder, saw his enthusiasm with our own eyes, and got some questions answered, made me swear that one day I would write down this story. The coincidence that, the day after, we were walking by a cinema five minutes before “The Third Man” was about to play and just made it in before the movie stared, might have been a reason that made me forget about the plan for a while.
Since anxiety and travelling don’t match great, being able to travel hasn’t always come natural to me, and probably I might even write some posts on this topic on here. What I can say for now is that I have learned that milestones can help you push yourself further and further. And that curiosity helps – a lot.
Travelling and frontiers: Getting to know new worlds
Those two insights had already helped me in my every day life, when – after finishing Uni – I finally decided to widen the radius of my supposedly secure small town life and got to move on. First in the eastern Bavarian city Regensburg, a few years later in Germany’s fifth biggest city, Frankfurt/Main, I started figuring out what had been holding me back. During these times, the word “local” in “local journalism” had become my anchor and door opener at the same time and offered me an opportunity be get started with baby steps.
I realised that local journalism was practically the city on a small scale, which felt even more exciting in the beginning, when city life was completely new to me. When a couple of years later, a publishing company reached out me and asked whether I’d like to work on a city guide on my new home town, the wide opened back doors that had allowed me to see the city from some great perspectives for the past years, where the biggest help one could wish for. And obviously, I took the chance I was given and fulfilled a lifelong dream.
Thursday evening in a hotel in Munich. One of the nicer kind, instead of a low budget one on the edge of the city. After a couple of weeks of rather mild winter temperatures, it has finally started to snow. And while I’m sitting up here in my hotel room, thinking about the luxury of a travel related job and the fact that I’m working on travel and city guides, my partner, who could take me on this business trip, is taking part in a press dinner downstairs. My books, manuscript pages, and briefing documents are scattered next to my computer on the bed before me. Yet the room that has quite literally a mini bar (a tiny bar with stools in one corner of the room) feels only little suitable for working, due to its malfunctioning radiator. Any chance I could get some Caipirinha up here?
Freelance travel writer – The long road to a new blog project
It is one of those times in my professional life, that allow only a part time arrangement for my dream job. After the apartment building we had been living in until the summer before had been sold to a real estate firm with gentrification plans, one of us needed a job to pay the bills in order to apply for a new place, and I got lucky to find something right away. The other half of my work life kept me busy with updates on some travel and city guides, and after having worked on the previous project in the public library due to the building site right on our balcony I was pretty used to difficult working environments. 29°C inside a hotel room, with snowflakes dancing over the river outside my window, didn’t make things that much harder than I was used to. Still, on this very evening I thought about how lucky I felt to be working these kinds of projects and planned to go back to freelancing as a journalist as quickly as I could.
Some months later, it’s the summer of 2020. After years of wishing for some more exciting regions to work on instead of just places in Germany, it’s these kinds of projects that have kept me pretty busy during the pandemic. I get requested for a new project on the Rhein-Main region where I live by my publishing company, and with another three books on my table for that year, I decide to finally go back to a life of self-employment. I know that it may feel like a mistake once again in only a couple of months, but I’m determined that this the right time to take chances.
For years, I considered writing a form of therapy – and somehow I still do. Yet, as a part of one’s work life, even the most therapeutic activities can sometimes feel like pressure and stress. When there’s deadlines to keep, many texts to finish in a short period of time, or so many ideas are stuffed in one’s head that you don’t even know where to begin anymore. In times like these, it is quite difficult to get started on large projects like this blog, but luckily there’s a right time for everything, which – in this case – is exactly right now.
An unusual evening: Stories behind my travel blog
PRESS TRIP A gorgeous evening in late summer, on the grounds of a winery north of Lisbon. The winery is located in the Portuguese region Centro de Portugal, yet its wines are considered origin of the region of Lisboa. Its main building is more of an event location than a restaurant, so no matter how I start telling its story, it will not fit in with a classic travel report. After a short night and busy and intense few days on an international wine conference we are getting started with the third tasting of the day at around ten in the evening. And while stories like these never make it in travel guides or the reports following press visits, they still have a reason to be told.
The lady in charge of the winery, the founder’s great-granddaughter, is only a few years older than myself. Her youngest daughter, who seems to be more excited about the visit of an international group of journalists than about the idea of going to sleep any time soon, is the same age as our friends’ kids at home. The girl’s great-grandmother lives in the residence next door to where we’re having dinner. She’s about to turn 103 in a few weeks. A what makes this very evening so very special for an evening on a press trip is the way it makes us feel – rather than we were guests of the family than journalists that have shown up for a couple of hours of research. On the menu for the night, there’s family favourites that everyone likes to make when friends are visiting, and the insights we get in the winery’s everyday life and its production go deeper than with any of the places we have visited before. Somehow, it reminds me a little of the times I worked as a reporter for local newspapers. The big difference: the radius in the definition of ‘local’ has grown larger. And I’m loving it.
This blog is about my experiences as a travel journalist, about destinations and travel tips, some of which can be considered insider knowledge, some of them classics, that nonetheless swept me off my feet. It’s about the questions if and how you can learn how to travel and how you find adventures in front of your door step in times that make it difficult to get away any further. Some blog posts are about our private travels and our experiences of planning low-budget trips, and finally some are about all the small stories from press and research trips that don’t make it into the stories I publish – but still need to be told.