July 2017 Featured Member: Tom Talleur
Thursday, July 13, 2017 12:00 AM

Tom Talleur is Principal and Editor of RoverTreks.com, a Native American woman-owned travel small business, focusing on world roving lifestyles. The site presents destination travel, how-to pieces, traveler profiles, special and general interest stories. 

RoverTreks social media sites feature author driven photography, videography, news for followers stemming from continuous world-wide travel. A new presence on the web, RoverTreks media reach exceeds 1,100,000 via direct and syndicated social media. 

A retired NASA executive and former Big-3 Managing Director, Tom spent much time in the media as an analyst and commentator for television, radio, and print media. He now enjoys featuring others in the media.

What got you into travel writing?

Serendipity. My wife Karla (also an NATJA member) and I enjoyed long careers as public and private sector executives. In 1993, we took a 6-month assignment to the White House. We wrote white papers proposing legislation to create, abolish, or modify public policies and programs. I sat down one night and dashed off an advocacy piece to eliminate two federal agencies and $10 billion in subsidies to a sacred cow industry. The ensuing uproar — positive and negative — in Congress, various industries, and the media went on for months. The discussion draft sold on the streets of Capitol Hill for $20 cash! It was prima facie evidence of the power of the written word and exhilarating.

We began a B2B copywriting business after our public service careers because our experience and post-government training in copywriting suited us well with that niche.  But we shifted our focus to travel writing because it was more fun to travel and tell human interest and destination stories. Besides, it’s hard to do B2B copywriting when you’re on constant travel.

In 2010, we set out for three months to explore Ecuador. A major travel publication incited our interest. While the country was enchanting, we found the rhetoric extolling the virtues of the place did not match reality. The travel publication didn’t cite the negatives. I looked at the writing and thought, “I can do better than that”, and the rest is history.

What's the most challenging part of travel writing for you?

Gathering the evidence I need to write compelling stories. As travel writers, we face the usual chicken or the egg dilemma: research a destination before travel or gather evidence later while on location.

Karla and I rove the planet 300 days a year. Sometimes our ventures are spontaneous because an opportunity to explore something new or interesting just falls into our laps at the last minute. We don’t always have the luxury of pre-trip research or enough time on location to collect evidence.

We like to collect a lot of evidence: recordings of interviews, videos, photos, and publications about a destination to ensure we write the best stories. And to do that, we must hang around a destination for a while — and that is what we usually do.

What one thing [equipment or a personal item] can't you go without on the road?

If I had to limit myself to one tool, it would be a cell phone with a fold-up wireless keyboard and an uni-directional microphone.  With a cell phone, one can dictate stories, record notes, record interviews, take photos and videos, and post to social media.

What was your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?

In 2015, I was in the village of Ban Rak Thai, Thailand on the border of Myanmar with several Thai friends. One friend looking at me while talking to a prominent area resident said “ …tell him about you, about your life, he will never meet anyone like you again …”.  My friend was referring to my earlier career as an NASA executive and the first-hand stories I could tell about the Space Shuttle, the SR-71, the astronauts and novel technologies.

After I made brief remarks, this resident picked up his cell phone and made a call. Five minutes later, he led our group to the Thai border entry point with Myanmar. This point was off-limits to all except Thai Army personnel. Why? An aboriginal tribe and not the Thai army controlled the border. This pro-Thai, somewhat anti-Burmese tribe, upheld a two-mile buffer from the border inside Myanmar.

Our local resident was taking me to meet the chief! We left our Thai drivers licenses at the border with a Thai Army guard, walked through the border — no checkpoint, no stamping of passports — and into a village. Children already home from school, were called out to entertain us with singing and dancing. Afterward, we went to a local store-café, met the chief and his deputies, drank some local hooch, told stories, and decorated the chiefs’ money tree (for Buddha) with Thai Baht. 

What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel writer?

First, take a travel-writing course to learn the shortcuts for working in the business. Travel writing is formulaic. The recipients of our work — editors and readers — expect and respond to this cookie-cutter approach. After all, travel writing is simply a subset of copywriting, and the latter is all about writing persuasively for a market.

Second, we have some great writers as NATJA members. Network with them, ask for help, and write. Take advantage of association training and events.

Third, write with joy and passion to celebrate and share the thrill of expression with humankind. Writing is transactional with readers. They expect us to tell them a story. They’re willing to follow us down the path we lay out as long as our implicit and explicit propositions make sense and keep their interest.

Travel writing can be a gateway to writing feature stories as an essayist if one studies the craft of writing. Yet, much of what we read today is vacuous, devoid of emotion and expressionless because the emphasis on clarity and brevity “… drains all the pleasure out of writing …”, to quote English Professor Richard Lanham (Style: An Anti-Textbook (1974). Our readers know this intuitively and are thrilled when they discover written works that hold their interest. 

Visit RoverTreks at rovertreks.com.

Connect with Tom: Instagram       Pinterest