Dave Fox is a travel and humor writing coach and the author of two bestselling travel books. In “Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad,” he shares humourous stories about things that have gone wrong in his international travels. “Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!)” teaches how to capture your own journeys in writing – and how to do so quickly so your journaling doesn’t bog down your adventures.
Originally from the United States, Dave spent 16 summers guiding tours in Europe for American TV travel host Rick Steves. He moved to Singapore last summer where he now teaches online writing workshops and manages the Globejotting.com website. While in Singapore we stopped by to find out what he’s up to and what his online travel writing classes are all about.
Where did your love of travel and writing come from?
I grew up near Washington, DC, but when I was seven, my family moved to England for a year. We traveled a lot that year around Europe and northern Africa. Once I started visiting foreign countries, I was obsessed.
That year also sparked my love for travel writing. I always took a diary on our trips, and I’d write short stories about what we did. At age seven and eight, I wasn’t concerned with the quality of my writing, but I wanted to remember the experiences. Later on, I pursued a career in journalism, which eventually segued into travel writing. If I’m not writing when I travel, I feel like something is missing from the journey.
What countries you’ve been to have made you write the most?
You can find writing inspiration anywhere, but my favorite stories in the last couple of years have come out of Botswana and Vietnam. As a general rule, I think the farther we step from our familiar cultures, the more likely we are to find great stories. It’s not necessarily the place, but our foreign perspective on that place. That said, something I teach in my writing courses is that every place is foreign to someone, so even writing about our hometown can be considered travel writing – or location-focused anecdotal writing. Before moving to Singapore last year, I spent the last 16 years based in Seattle. Some of my favorite humor tales are about random things that happened to me close to home too.
You run an online course on how to write extraordinary travel tales. What does that involve?
The course picks up where my book about travel journaling leaves off. “Globejotting,” teaches how to journal meaningfully and efficiently about your trips so you remember your experiences more vividly. My travel tale writing class helps people transform those journals into stories they can share with others. For some that means writing them down for friends and family or writing more exciting blog posts. For others, it means breaking into professional travel writing. But whether people are writing for a blog with seven readers or aiming to get published professionally, one thing I stress is the difference between journaling for yourself versus writing for others.
Personal travel diaries often skim the surface of the entire journey. When writing for others, readers don’t want every detail. They want nicely packaged, easy-to-read stories that make a specific point or hone in on something unique. “I went here and it was cool” is too vague. So, for example, in covering Botswana, I’ve written a humor column about all the different animal sounds that kept me awake at night, and I’m working on an article about teaching Kalahari Bushmen to play Frisbee. These are more interesting articles than trying to cram my entire Botswana trip into the same 800-word space
How many people have taken the course? How rewarding has it been for your students?
I’ve taught a couple of thousand people in my in-person workshops over the years. My online courses are new, and I’ve had around 60 students so far. What’s been fun and unexpected is the community that forms in our online class discussions. We all get to read each other’s work and share feedback. Some students have become friends offline. Others have become international critique partners. Those who have worked at it have gone on to professionally publish stories they first wrote for the workshops.
Something important I try to help people understand is that the concept of a “gifted writer” is overblown. Anyone can become a great writer if they put their heart in it and practice. I teach techniques to help people write more crisp and compelling prose, and I help people recognize and overcome bad writing habits that weigh down potentially great storytelling.
What other courses do you run?
Travel writing and humor writing are the two workshops I’m offering at the moment. I love teaching humor. People are amazed to see how a few techniques and changes in structure can really amp up the hilarity. (And travel humor is a sub-genre in itself, so some students choose to take both workshops and focus on both genres in both of them. I like to be flexible and work with each student’s individual goals.)
Soon, I’m hoping to add a course on the psychology of writing. I’m fascinated by what goes on in our minds when we write, and I enjoy helping people harness that brain activity and direct it in positive ways.
I also offer one-on-one writing and humor coaching – by e-mail, phone, and Skype (and in person if people happen to be wherever I am in the world at any given time.) I love the fact that I can be virtually anywhere on the planet and help people with their writing no matter where they are.
Sounds awesome! Where can I sign up?
My latest class offerings are always posted at Globejotting.com/classes From the Globejotting.com homepage, people can also find links to lots of my stories, writing tips, free book excerpts, and more.
Lastly, what’s your most extraordinary travel tale?
The coolest thing I’ve ever done while traveling was something I mentioned earlier: teaching Kalahari Bushmen how to play Frisbee. I was co-guiding a travel writing safari in Botswana a couple of years ago. We spent a day with a tribe of San Bushmen who were friends of one of our lodge managers. They still live in the desert, hunting and gathering, digging in the desert for water and then re-burying some of it, stored in emptied-out ostrich eggs, for use in the dry season. They showed us how they survived in such a harsh climate, shared their food, and taught us some of their games. It was a mind-blowing experience to connect with people so different from me.
Near the end of the day, I was wanting to offer something in return. I had a Frisbee in my backpack. I failed miserably at their spear-throwing game, but they were naturals at throwing a Frisbee even though they’d never seen one. What made the day extraordinary was not the specific things we taught each other though. It was having a genuine connection with each other, playing and joking together, across an extraordinary cultural and linguistic rift. By the end of the day, we had become true friends. I told them I would try to come back and visit again someday, and I meant it.