Journey of a travel writer

Not all those who wander are lost.

 J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

I’m sure Don George won’t mind me using the words of Mr Tolkien to introduce him. It’s most likely he will smile and agree, giving a little giggle of delight as he recognises the truth in the author’s words.

Don is a travel writer. Not just any travel writer, there are lots of those. Don has a career that spans two and a half decades and two highly credible publications – Lonely Planet and National Geographic Traveler.  He has a life behind him of journeys to more places on the planet than most of us dream about, let alone visit.

I spent two half days with him this week in the back streets of Ubud, Bali, which I was delighted to find was still in parts, jungle. Far from the madding crowd sprang to mind as I walked down an alleyway of cobblestones, through an opening, to an unexpected mass of greenery. For some eight hours across two days, Don shared his life as a travel writer and gave valuable insights and tips into how and why he had been successful.

I also spent the two days listening to a rooster crow, but more on the presence of him later.

I thought it was apt to share my experience as some of you write travel blogs or aspire to perhaps one day write an article that will be published, or even a book. But rather than write this as a “here is what Don said” article (which would be really interesting, but you can buy his book for that!), I wanted to share what I learned. You’ll soon understand the importance of this, as I take you on a little trip with one of the world’s favourite travel authors, Mr Don George. But before I do that, I need to explain how I got to be in Ubud with Don on an overcast day as an expat, rather than as a tourist.

I first ‘met’ Don in 2007. In that year, I also ‘met’ Jack Canfield.  In fact to be fair, Jack was first. Through the pages of his book The Success Principles, I avidly underlined sentences, circled words and began to script how I wanted my life to look like. I was on a trip to Bali and for the first time, my husband Bill and I had opted for a few nights in a private villa. Set amongst the then-jungle of Seminyak near the Petitenget Temple, I lounged by the pool and began to think big. Donald Trump would later assure me that this was the only way to think.

Don came into my life as soon as I got home to Melbourne, Australia. Dashing into Borders Bookshop, I scoured the shelves for the team who would help me create this amazing life. In fact, I am possibly contributory to the bookshop’s demise, as after this shopping spree, sales targets might have gone through the roof!

Don pushed his way forward on the shelf and my eager hands snatched it down. Orange, glossy, with those famous words emblazoned on the front “Lonely Planet”, I knew that I needed to absorb every word he’d written. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a travel writer. I wanted it all! Photography, writing, publishing and design. Book after book tumbled into my lap and Border’s economic well-being was for the time being, safe.


With a mud map of where I wanted to go, I started going there. Within a short time, I had an article published in an inflight magazine. However as disorganised as I am, life was easily able to distract me and another three years would pass before I got back my focus.

In 2011, my husband and I made the decision to move to Bali. There, I thought, I would have more time to write and pursue all these goals I’d gloriously incorporated into a PDF book. There I was, published in Time magazine, National Geographic, winner of photographic awards, on the front cover of Women’s Weekly, living in a villa in Bali with my publishing company booming.

They say that when you change and grow, sometimes there is a period of discomfort, or pain. More distractions ensued and before I knew it, I’d been living in Bali for eight months without writing a single word.

Out came the goal folder again, out came Don who had travelled with me to Bali, and out came the keyboard.

I began to chronicle my journey on Facebook, sharing the upcoming launch of Things you need to know about BaliAnd, out came the critics! Bugga! Several more months of pain and sensitivity followed before I knew I had to get my act together, and quit letting the opinions of a few get in the way of the picture I’d drawn of my life. After all, the canvas was mine, the crayons were mine, and strangers had no right to snatch them away from me.

But then an odd thing happened. When you tell the Universe you want something, whether you like it or not, things start to change. Sandy Forster, author and founder of Wildly Wealthy Women describes it like a big warehouse in the sky. You send out your intention. The little men of the Universe start to get excited and pack up whatever it is you are focussing on. They get the truck out and start to load. Suddenly, you begin to think, “But I’m not worthy of that” or some other self-defeating thought. And all those little men dejectedly unpack the truck and load your order back into the bay for another day.

For me, it was an email that dropped in one morning while I was still in bed. It was from Jack, whom I’d also brought with me to Bali. How did he get my email address? I wondered. It was an invitation to a retreat, to learn first hand with Jack the success principles I’d avidly consumed back in 2007. I shot off my application and waited nervously. A phone call came in to confirm my acceptance, and the next day, I shared my dream with Bill. Instead of balking at the price tag, he said, “Do it. You have to do it.”

That was May this year. I met Jack, you can read of that journey in another article. And in June, Bali Soul Journals began to take shape. By the end of that month, Trish was on board and creativity was flowing.

But then the oddest things started to happen. Now, Trish (co-author of Bali Soul Journals) and I believe that thoughts are energy. We are both pretty good at manifesting what we need on a daily basis, but the power of two minds coming together is, to be honest, starting to amaze me beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. And for once in my life, I’m just going with it.

Back to Don.

A friend was once in the publishing world (of course, how perfect!) and was giving Trish and I ideas on distribution. She suggested I attend the Writer’s Festival in Ubud the following month. With images of flowing dresses and flowers in my hair, I wasn’t sure that I was ready for the world of fanciful literature and notions of tantric sex workshops. (No offence to the incredible people who attend! Bear with me, this is my own thwarted perception and not reality!)

I jumped on-line and the first page I opened was about a session with Don. Eagerly I bought a ticket. The day of the event arrived and I looked up the address. Oops, there was another more advanced session the following Tuesday which I’d missed on my first search. Grrr! Hurriedly I tried to buy a ticket but it was sold out. Not to worry, I knew if I put it out there, it would sort itself out.

Driving up to Ubud on Saturday morning, I was pinching myself, something I do (literally) to bring me back to the present! Silly I know, but when you are living in Bali, being grounded isn’t such a bad state to aspire to. Life whizzes by and it’s very easy to forget to stop and smell the roses. Or notice the coconut trees or swaying fronds or any of the other sensory delights she offers at no charge.

I bounced into the class and consumed all he had to say. I was enthralled with listening to the world through other people’s eyes. I was keen to get back to the next session. Of course, the Universe allowed this and I was able to purchase a ticket on the day. I’d never had a doubt about that, or wouldn’t have driven the hour to get to Ubud just on a whim I might be received. The Universe knows what it’s doing.

The lesson Don really pushed through (amongst many, but as I said, you can buy his book for the details) was that when you write, you need to chronicle your story into four stepping-stones. I loved the image that this brought up in my mind. Cool, smooth grey stones that would link one story to the next, to complete a journey. At the end of the journey, you then share what you have learned, what the lesson is. Wow, I thought. This is really cool! I kind of do that already, I speculated, but how good to actually have a plan to do it.

Don George

Here are the stepping-stones for this story, if you are curious:

1. My lead up to meeting Don

2. The world through other’s eyes

3. Senses and awakening

4. Serendipity

At lunchtime, we broke away from the group and followed Don’s instructions to capture what we were seeing, feeling, sensing, touching, smelling and tasting. Wow! again, I thought. One of the chapters in Bali Soul Journals is exactly about that! This guy must have been in my office before coming up, I quipped quietly to myself with a chuckle.

Listening to the words flow from these strangers was one of the pinnacle moments I have had as a fledgling writer. When people tap into their senses and really connect with each one, words become like crystals, each formed perfectly yet uniquely in a way that suits the author. Even overused words like ‘lush’ take on new meaning when under the control of someone who is writing from spirit, rather than ego.

I thought I’d struggle with trying to try too hard, but I silently absorbed what was going on around me, and began to write. Honestly, I could have kept writing all afternoon until my hand complained about the strain.

Don is an engaging and warm man. He laughs a lot and you get the sense that his journey in this world is joyful and full of wonder. He doesn’t write about bad experiences. In fact, he says that he rarely has bad experiences. He follows the adage that if you haven’t got something nice to say, say nothing at all. However I think this is more of his character than something he actively thinks about.

There’s another characteristic of Don’s that I noticed, which  he may not be aware of. He has a very endearing way of listening to people, and then later in conversation, he uses a key word that they used earlier. I haven’t spent a lot of time with people who love words, but this habit illustrated that when he listens, he is taking in the entirety of what is being said, and then ‘owns’ a small piece of it. That is a beautiful quality for someone entrusted to write about peoples’ lives and homes and countries.

There was a new energy in the room as people read their short accounts of Bali. Honestly, I think everyone should do this. Teachers and parents, if you are reading this article, tomorrow, get your kids to sit and write for ten minutes about what they are experiencing. Make sure they cover off all of the five senses, plus their own feelings. Do it if not for the kids, but the warm fuzzy feeling you will get when they read them back to you.

(If you are interested, I’ve posted what I wrote in my five minutes of reflection at the bottom of the page.)

I started to get really excited. People were speaking the same language, Don was validating what I was working on, right down to his description of the way of the future for travel writing:

I think that (what) travel writing (will) become (is) more and more of story collections, beautiful combinations of photography and great story telling…precious objects of art. (That people will pay more for.) The type of information you get in a travel magazine is not timely. In today’s age a lot of things happen in three months (which is the time it takes to get a magazine to press). That sort of service information is going to become less and less. Beautiful inspiring photography and unique stories will become more and more what the print things do, and online magazines will be more what people will use.

The day was drawing to a close and I was buzzing! By now, I’d learned the key elements of a great story: to look for the details, define the stepping-stones and reveal a truth. But it wasn’t over yet.

Don had explained how he had ‘fallen’ into travel writing. He laughs. “The Universe was looking out for me.” It isn’t surprising that anyone who has travelled the globe and immersed themselves into so many cultures and experiences would have a broad outlook on how things happen in life. Trish and I believe this as well, which brings me to the end of my day, and what really made my jaw drop to the floor and also, think about how I had come to spend a couple of days with legendary Don George.

To recap, so far in 2013, I have spent time with Jack, met Don, matched my dreams with Trish’s for a beautiful book, moved into a stunning villa, travelled, published a book, created another that is waiting in the wings…my gratitude list is long.

But as I prepared to leave, I was not expecting what was about to happen. And at this point, I’m uncertain why, but am going to go with it for the time being.

A couple had been sitting at the opposite corner of the long table. Witty and engaging, they’d amused us with their quips and stories throughout the day. Ralph had introduced himself by speaking of his young daughter, who had created a five-minute video about the plight of dogs in Bali. “She is really special,” he’d said.

At lunchtime I was curious and asked her name. Trish had shown me a short video when she was here in September that sounded as though it could be the same one . She had praised the young girl, and explained she had taught her in Airlie Beach.

Ralph and I were unable to reach any commonality and, as they came from Sydney, I put it down to coincidence. There must be two girls who had done a similar thing.

At the end of the day, Linda came up to me and said that a woman called Simone Hogan had told her that she should get to know me. She used Simone’s married name, which I had heard once or twice, but we quickly worked out it was Simone Main. Even how we arrived at that conclusion was odd, as Linda wasn’t sure where Simone fit in my life or where I came from. Let’s just say that somehow, we knew.

Simone as it happens, is married to Ralph’s brother. And Simone and I went to school together. What a small world!

We chatted about Bali Soul Journals. I was impressed with her writing and wondered if perhaps there was a way she could work with Trish and I.

She brought up the topic of her daughter. (Again, the conversation seemed to lack less words than needed to get to the next conclusion!) I mentioned I had lived in Airlie Beach. She mentioned she knew a Trish. Trish McNeill? I asked. Yes! she replied. Her daughter was the same one who had created the video Trish had shown me two weeks prior.

We turned to where we both lived. Canggu, we both said. Jalan Pantai Batu Bolong, we chorused. 200 metres apart, we marvelled.

As I drove home, I reflected on all the decisions I had to make to get to 2013. I had to move to Bali, get an email from Jack, listen to a friend’s advice to go to Ubud, buy a few books, sign up for a class, chance I would get into a fully booked class, know my way to Ubud…serendipity is what some would call it. It’s a romantic word that describes what others would call the law of attraction. Some would say that everything is perfect, exactly the way it is, right now. That everything you do today is necessary for tomorrow to happen.

I’m not sure, but I do know that as ‘signs’ get stronger, as events validate my self-defined life purpose, living gets easier. Instead of trying to manipulate the world to fit a predisposed idea, by simply tapping in a few compass points, it can steer you directly to where you need to be, with all you need to get there. Then by filling up with gratitude and the energy of expectation, more and more things start arriving that match the vibration you are sending out to the world.

I don’t know exactly how I am going to get there. I am pretty certain that I will be gifted many of the things I put on that rather long and wishful list six years ago. I do feel as though I’ve gone from first to fifth gear and at times, feel like locking the door and taking the key out of the ignition, just for a breather!

As Pam Grout said in her book, E Squared, when she appointed God as CEO of her career, things started to happen. Whether you call it God, Spirit, the Universe or Allah, it doesn’t matter.  It goes back to my time with Jack Canfield, when I wrote my shopping list. Or back even further, when I came to Bali with his book.

Stepping stones

These are the stepping-stones that have brought me to today, writing an article about meeting a man called Don.

As I look back over the last six years, I get tingles. I can try to absorb all the details, or just focus on a few key ones that define my stepping-stones.

And in so doing, a truth is revealed.

I started this story by sharing a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien. That not all who wander are lost. I also mentioned that I would share what I had learned.

This is the most important point that Don makes for travel writers. On your journey, look for the lesson, then share the lesson. Don’t keep it to yourself, that’s the whole point of telling a story. And the world needs more good stories that teach us all as humanity, that there is something worthwhile about the trip we are on. Create a doorway in your life, in your words, with your attitude, so that you can make a connection with others.

It’s not wandering blindly, even though at times it may feel that way. A decision to attend an event, travel somewhere, speak to a stranger…these are all signposts that can reassure us that we are on the right road, even if it’s one we haven’t been on before.

Don describes the world as a big picture puzzle, and that his goal is to understand each of the pieces to build a bigger image. The more he learns about himself and his perceptions of the world, the better his clarity becomes. He looks for the mystery, the adventure and the awesomeness (sorry Don, you used that word!) of cultures where he is for a short time, as a guest.

Pay attention to all of your senses, free-fall every now and then, land at a higher point than from where you began.

These are the simple lessons of a traveller. You don’t need to be a writer to learn from them.  Jump off the cliff, make links that make you feel good and help you flow, and pay attention to the details, listen to your senses. That’s right. Stop. And smell the roses.

As I looked out of the open-air room we were in over the roof tops of Ubud, smoke began to rise. It was as though it was sending a signal to the next house, as one by one the villagers of Ubud came out to light fires at the front of their homes*. Soft, refreshing rain began to fall and the air became heavily scented with that distinctive, earthy smell that occurs when soil becomes moist. I breathed it in before facing the long but staggeringly beautiful drive back down the mountain through bustling villages, to the seaside town of Canggu. And I reminded myself how grateful I was to be in this place, at this point in time, with people and events appearing as needed, all with something to teach.

And while there doesn’t always seem order, or answers or logic, with God as my CEO, I can happily give it up to Him, and just “keep on keeping on” the job of enjoying life.

On Saturday, Don and I will set off to a Full Moon ceremony. And so, another adventure begins.

* Please read the short writing made during the workshop by me, that also speaks of the role of the rooster in Bali’s Rooster Telegraph (phrase courtesy Ralph Hogan).

Musings in Ubud


Here is what I wrote while spending five minutes in a quiet spot, overlooking a small parcel of jungle in central Ubud:

I’m always drawn to write of sound first. So I close my eyes and hear the water cascading down a mossy stone wall. I see each ball of roughly cut rock nestled neatly within others. Defying gravity. I wonder whether it’s the moss holding it together with its bright green gooey mossiness, or if someone’s carefully matched each stone with its bedfellows, to stand strong against the downward pull of time.

A cat meows on the roof which is level with my temporary office. It sounds hungry and for a moment I’m tempted to save yet one more creature and take it back to my mini-zoo in the south.

That thought’s whipped away as I re-centre my focus. I open my eyes and suddenly wince in pain. Bugger! I’ve pinched myself – a gratitude habit I developed to help ground me in the present. Painful, but it works! And is entirely necessary when you live amongst the beauty of Bali.

I only hear the rooster crowing these days because Don mentioned it. There it goes again. He shuts his beak and the one in the next villa begins. If you listen carefully, you can hear the rooster chain as it flies from house to house. The Rooster Telegraph. My rooster is silent until the full circle is made and he has permission to call again.

And so the cycle continues, which is something living in Bali never stops reminding me of.

It’s more than the cycle of life. It’s embodied so deeply in the culture of Bali, a journey that of course had a beginning, and must have an end.

But from where I sit looking out over red roofs, it seems eternal. A myriad of leaves that are in every shape imaginable, but all share a common ‘greenness’, so that at first glance, the jungle appears to be made up of the same trees.

I feel a sense of connectedness with the sameness, that is also unique.

(At this point, we are called back to the session. Another thought, another day!)


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