Joshua Samuel Brown – Travel Writer Interview
I first came across Joshua Samuel Brown and his endless work from a fellow travel blogger on Facebook. I was blown away when I realized the depth of his work and countless titles he’d written for Lonely Planet. His passion for travel runs through his veins and through his pen into every word he writes. If Joshua Samuel Brown isn’t travelling deep into the unknown he’s playing the role of tour guide.
Meet Joshua Samuel Brown
Please tell us a little about yourself.
Greetings, World as I See It Readers. Joshua Samuel Brown here, Josambro (or JSB, if you’re into the whole brevity thing), writer, lifelong traveler, blogger, co-author of 13 travel guides for Lonely Planet, areas of expertise include Taiwan, Singapore, Belize & Chunks of Southern China.
When I was a kid I used to get lost on purpose, picking a direction and just wandering until I found interesting people and places, or got picked up by the cops. (Often one, then the other.) In the early eighties I lived in Southern Florida, just outside of Miami. My father had moved us there for a job, and being from New York I found the place a bit mono-cultured, stifling. One day I skipped school and started wandering for hours, eventually winding up in Liberty City, which was (still is, far as I know) something of a notorious inner city type of area. I remember feeling culturally comfortable for the first time since arriving in Florida, and had a great time until the cops picked me up and drove me back home.
“The road has had her hooks in me as long as I can remember”
~ Joshua Samuel Brown
Have you ever travelled solo?
The majority of my travels have been solo, from the aforementioned wander mentioned above to my gigs for Lonely Planet (except for a few, which have seen a few wacky sidekicks, lovely assistants & other assorted comrades of the road). So I’m especially excited about my upcoming trip for my first (non Lonely-planet) dual-authored book, Formosa Moon, which I’m writing with my partner Stephanie.
How many countries have you visited?
I should have a prepared answer for this one! Will you let me get away with “not as many as most professional travellers, but way more than most casual tourists?”
What is your favourite place and why?
Taiwan. It’s got everything I want in a manageable package: Hot springs, perpetual anti-boredom generators, great people whose brains and bodies move as quickly as mine, superlative food. Also most of my friends live there.
What destination has surprised you the most?
Also Taiwan, but that’s old news. I went there sight unseen in 1994 expecting some sort of Urban “Blade Runner” landscape and instead found the Far East’s Switzerland, only with warmer in temperature (and temperament) beaches and Buddhism. Not the best place for cheese, but you can’t have everything.
If you could describe your method of travel in one word, what would it be?
What is your must have travel accessory?
A passport, change of clothing and something to write with. Everything else is negotiable.
What is your most memorable travel moment?
Too many to pick one, but since you’ve asked: Running into Grateful Dead drummer Billy Kreutzmann in Placencia, Belize. I wound up spiriting him and his partner Aimee away to Hopkins for an impromptu drum jam on the beach. I’ve probably got a blog-post about it somewhere….
Do you have a dream destination you’ve yet to visit?
I’m at a point in life where what makes me happiest is facilitating amazing experiences for other people, either personally (as a guide) or as a writer (in which case my role as facilitator is more indirect). In the former case, I’m able to see places I already know through a different set of eyes, which often winds up deepening my own understanding. So I don’t know if I have anything left on any sort of bucket list, if I ever had one.
That said, I do want to spend some time in Greece, Italy and Europe in general while I still have all my teeth.
Do you have any upcoming trips?
My partner Stephanie and I are currently packing our bags for an upcoming open-ended trip that will see us spending the first several months of 2017 in Taiwan to research a new book for Things Asian Press (publishers of Vignettes of Taiwan) called Formosa Moon.
How has travel changed you?
Travel is such a huge part of who I am that you might as well ask how genetics or upbringing has changed me.
How long did it take for your first book, Vignettes of Taiwan, to come to fruition?
About six months. Some of the stories had been previously published, but others had not been.
How did that book change your life?
Well, I’d been making a living as a writer before publishing Vignettes, but Vignettes really upped my game. Shortly after Vignettes was published I ran into Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler at a book festival in Hong Kong. We got to chatting about Taiwan – one of the few places he’d not yet been, at the time – and I gave him a copy of my book. A few weeks later I got an email from an editor at Lonely Planet letting me know that Tony had been impressed enough with my expertise on Taiwan and writing chops to recommend me for the next Lonely Planet: Taiwan guide. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Your latest book, How Not to Avoid Jet Lag and other tales of travel madness, has quite the comical name. Does it have a story itself?
Ah, by “Comical” you must mean “hard to market in the age of Twitter.” Basically, in 2013 I’d decided to settle down off the road for a bit and decided I wanted to put together a book of stories that might, taken as a whole, illustrate the amusing descent into madness that a life spent constantly on the road had wrought. So I collected 19 stories beginning in 1999 (when I worked as a journalist in Beijing) and going up to about 2012 (after I finished a particularly weird trip to Belize for Lonely Planet) and had my old friend, comic artist David Lee Ingersoll, do illustrations. I put the stories in roughly sequential order, which I thought kind of illustrated the whole descent into madness thing.
What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
No useful travel advice, that’s for sure! (I even put a disclaimer to that effect in the introduction, you know…for the sake of not competing with any of my travel books.) Basically its a collection of creative nonfiction, journalism and hallucinatory dreamscapes from China, Belize, Taiwan, Singapore, and other exotic locales.
Do you have any new books on the horizon?
Indeed! The next book is called Formosa Moon (Things Asian Press). It’ll be a dual-voice cultural exploration around Taiwan undertaken by a couple; one, a seasoned guidebook writer intimately familiar with Taiwan, the other a first-time visitor relocating to Taiwan sight unseen. In tone and content, I’m aiming to create a fusion between travel literature and guidebook to inspire readers to explore Taiwan on a deeper level while simultaneously offering some modicum of practical travel information.
Where is your favourite place to write?
There’s a fine balance in finding a time to chronicle while experiencing, without making chronicling itself the experience. That said, I think I do some of my best writing from the road. Editing is best done at home, unless I’ve gone full nomad in which case I tend to edit on trains.
What is your favourite travel book?
Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, which is really more about expatriate life, the true nomad’s natural mid- (and sometimes end) point.
What is your favourite travel quote?
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” ~ Lao Tzu said it originally, and I got to repeat it in a recent travel story I just wrote for an in-flight magazine. I’m sure the sage would approve.
Well, dear readers, time to pack for the next adventure – T minus 12 day ’till Taiwan. Follow the journey online at www.josambro.com and on my blog, Snarky Tofu. On Twitter I’m @josambro.
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