In the Spotlight – Simon Willmore

What made you start travel writing?

I was living in Grenoble, France, to complete my Master’s – weirdly enough, in engineering. One day, I just realised that I had so many experiences to share that I started writing – as a Brit in France, some of the cultural differences are mind-boggling despite the two countries being so close together. I kept writing and that document is now 35,000 words long – of course, I probably should have put more effort into my Master’s thesis but I somehow managed to complete both. I retrained in journalism and have been writing ever since. If anyone wants to sign me to a book publishing deal, let me know!

Why did you join the Guild?

I gave myself a personal goal to reach the ‘top of the game’ in travel writing before 30 – and I think getting into the Guild is a good way to quantify that.

What’s your first memory of travel?

A seaside trip somewhere in northern France, possibly Guines. I imagine seaside trips in northern France are a lot like seaside trips in southern England, except a bit warmer and it’s harder to understand what’s going on. Oh, and with better bread.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m the editor of TEG Digital, a magazine and website publishing company based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We publish stories on travel, news, art, business and food – and we pay for freelance contributions. I also contribute to a number of other publications, the most famous being Rough Guides (for me, the Spain, France and India titles so far) as well as working with another Guild member, Anna Hyman, on her website, foodytraveller.com.

Do you have a favourite destination?

I lived in Kuala Lumpur for almost three years and would go back there in a heartbeat. I could also happily live in Tokyo or Hong Kong.

What do you most enjoy about travel?

The chance to meet new people, see new landscapes and taste new food. Although I think that’s the same as what everyone else would say…

What do you dislike most about flying?

The terrible leg room. Nowadays, in-flight entertainment and food is pretty respectable (at least for long-haul), but travelling for 11 hours in a small seat does not agree with my 6ft 3in figure. Maybe one day I’ll have enough air miles to fly business class all the time…

What’s your biggest frustration when staying in hotels?

The fact that I can’t stay forever.

Is there something you never travel without?

The four ‘P’s: phone, passport, plastic (or credit card) and pants.

What do you read on the road?

Mostly travel, or comedy, or both. Bill Bryson is my idol.

What do you most like to play through your headphones?

Pretty much anything with a guitar, from any time between roughly 1965 and 1995. In no particular order: Queen; Eagles; Dire Straits, Van Halen; Rolling Stones; Iron Maiden; Oasis and the like.

What’s your most treasured travel experience?

A few come to mind: swimming with turtles in the sea off Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia; watching a sumo wrestling tournament in Tokyo on my birthday; seeing the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland; enjoying fresh crab curry in Koh Mook, Thailand; watching the sun set over Guanajuato town, Mexico; staying in the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. There are plenty more.

Which is the place you haven’t been to that you’d most like to visit?

For about 15 years I’ve been desperate to do the east to west iconic North American road trip – embracing all the clichés along the way. I mean, New York to Los Angeles (or vice versa) in a Ford Mustang, on Route 66 (or the nearest modern equivalent), blaring out Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. Although, the way things are at the moment, I’ve actually never been less keen to visit the USA.

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