How to travel like a digital strategist
If Canberra were a person, how would you describe it? I have a few ideas: modern, urbane, sophisticated, cultured, fun-loving, coffee-drinking, family oriented, well-travelled, with a sense of humour. Sounds just like George Dunford.
I've know George for a short number of years: our careers have intersected a few times and we have friends in common, but I've always been drawn to his writing. I'm pleased that he's Canberra's 'Lonely Planet Local'; we will all be able to enjoy Canberra as he explores and writes about the city - and more. I was delighted when he agreed to respond to a few Planepack questions.
Writer and 'Lonely Planet Local'
You are a writer, a digital strategist and a ‘Lonely Planet Local’. How do you reconcile these?
It's weird because they've never really been separate for me. I worked in-house at Lonely Planet on the website years ago and saw how printed books were changing firsthand. I got to work on apps for Palm Pilots (remember those) and even wrote one of their first blogs and created podcasts for Lonely Planet so they've always been intermeshed.
One interesting thing is how technology has changed the job of researching on the road. I remember doing a book in Scotland and being chased away by hotel owners for taking photos of their place with a clunky digital camera. With Instagram and a camera in every phone, it's much easier to snap an image for research purposes and you can upload it to Lonely Planet editors in seconds.
What is a ‘Lonely Planet Local’? What do you write about in Canberra?
Lonely Planet Locals are based in the city they cover and keep the destination as up to date as possible. As well as looking at the web content, they can pitch articles and travel news. Most of what's written about Canberra on the website I've reviewed (if not actually written) though it's tough to keep up with everything.
My most recent article, Live like a local in Canberra, which is probably one of the most fun to write, is a personal take on Canberra.
You’ve been credited with Canberra’s recent Lonely Planet rating of #3 in the World’s Top Tourist Destinations. How did that happen?
Well, it's a pretty complicated formula - harder to crack than the Google search algorithm really. There are a lot of hard working people in Lonely Planet who scout destinations and weigh them up against each other to be included in Best in Travel. I worked three articles as part of the effort including one about sightseeing and another on outdoor activities. Canberra has this really unique blend of bush and culture plus a growing food and wine scene.
What have you previously written for Lonely Planet?
I've been with them in one form or another since 1999, working in house then 'jumping the fence' by becoming an author sometime in the early 2000s. I've written a couple of guidebooks - Finland, Scotland, New Zealand - and a couple of their other books. One of my favourites to work on was Micronations, a guide to self-created nations that was the brainchild of John Ryan and co-authored with Simon Sellars. There's something brilliant-bordering-on-bonkers about starting your own nation when you don't like where your country is going.
After a career in the Australian Public Service cultural sector as a digital strategist, you’ve started your own digital agency, Ferrous. Can you tell us a little about that?
Ferrous Digital is just about making digital strategy simpler. In government there's a lot of people being told to get onto digital and the formation of the Digital Transformation Agency was a big step forward but I think there's still a lot of people trying to work out how new technology can change government.
I was sitting next to four blue-pinstriped suits in a coffee shop the other day and they were all saying "digital transformation" to each other until the phrase had no meaning. I think it's called semantic satiation, when the word is repeated so much it has no meaning any more. But all four of these poor guys had been told they had to do something about digital. And it's not a one-size -fits-all model, where everyone has to be using Agile project methodology and encouraging an online-only service model. I'm personally interested in digital inclusion and helping more people use the web or social to make their lives easier or more fun.
What are your travel writing plans for the next few months?
Well, at the moment I'm travelling a lot for work to Melbourne but I'm looking forward to a driving holiday into Northern NSW for Christmas. It's not glamorous but there's something very Australian about the sunburnt elbow and stopping at a couple of "Big Things" on your way somewhere.
As a travel writer, you would have travelled widely. Are you a light traveller? Or a heavy traveller? Why?
I'd love to be a light traveller, but I'm usually pushing the scales of airline weight limits. The worst was when I was coming back from researching Scotland and had two huge bags, one that just held research materials - books, pamphlets from every hotel or bothy, maps and notebooks. See how much better things are now there are digital tools? I was literally on the floor of Heathrow Airport sorting this stuff out and trying to work out what I could ship home more slowly. I also had a brick-like laptop that I think has twisted my spine but these days it is lighter to travel with tech.
If I'm going for two or three nights these days I usually manage with just carry-on. It's handy to wear a changeable outfit (a jacket that can be casual as well as formal, for example). I'm also a big fan of posting stuff home to myself.
Describe for Planepack your typical packing list.
Typically I take a few essentials on board - laptop, headphones and a notebook, maybe water. If I'm going on long haul, I like to bring a change of clothes so you arrive that little bit fresher. My family once flew to Finland, which involved stopovers and connections that amounted to 24 hours of flying and very little sleep. But it was nice to brush your teeth and get changed into something fresh before landing in Helsinki. A small comfort can make a travel transition a little easier.
Where’s your next trip? And will it be a light one?
Probably to Melbourne for work so it'll mean cramming everything into one bag that also carries a laptop. It's hard to do men's shirts for a couple of days so I'd like to see how something like the Betabrand Shake Shirt could make it easier to crumple a shirt in my bag then be able to wear it to a meeting.
As a reader yourself, what books would you recommend for our next long haul plane trip?
I'm about halfway through Michael Chabon's Moonglow at the moment, a memoir of his grandfather. I'm not normally big on memoir but he's got that style that can make a laundry list lyrical.
My all-time favourite though is Denis Johnson's Seek: Reports From the Edges of America and Beyond. He looks at what extremism is in his own country and elsewhere as a witness to understand it. I used it as an example of a non-travel travel book when I was teaching a few years back. Johnson's death earlier this year just came like a punch in my heart, partly because the States could use his voice now more than ever.
What advice do you have for aspiring travel writers?
Come up with a fresh angle and develop the strength of your voice. The web means that most basic information about most destinations is just a lazy Google away so writers have to work harder to be distinctive.
About the Planepack blogger
Slobodanka Graham is a new Canberran, having lived in this city since 2003. She loves the culture and natural beauty of CBR, although hasn't yet taken to cycling.
The post image is an etching by Slobodanka, from her social media series, 'Social senses'.