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Part 9 – Anatomy of a Female Solo Backpacking Adventure: Blogging Tools of the Trade

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(Back to Part 1)

In ten days I’m off on what part of me wishes were a calm vacation, swooning in gentle relaxation along a balmy seashore, watching the palm fronds tickle the horizon.

Instead, I’ll be going to the office.

I’m incredibly fortunate: I have a job that allows me to travel and write so for the next month, my office will be split between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. I’m a development journalist by profession and a travel writer by passion – or perhaps it’s the other way around.

Planning for work isn’t quite the same as planning for a holiday. I still have to organize the basics, but additionally I need my blogging tools of the trade.

I need interviews

To me, people make the story and that means organizing interviews – not the casual kind with strangers in a café (do you really think Starbucks has the best coffee?) but the kind that elicits solid facts and interesting points of view.

This takes extensive planning so I began writing to potential clients and outlets at least three months ago, as soon as my trip began looking as though it would happen. Of course, replies and interest began dribbling in – last week, only days before departure, once my itinerary was set and most of my research already done. So here I am, juggling madly, last-minute style to make it all fit again.

The people I’d like to interview are, of course, NOT located where I’m headed. No matter: rewiring an itinerary is actually fun, in its own challenging way.

The good news: I have assignments. The less good: a lot of work!

Taking notes and capturing words

Getting the facts right is arduous, irritating and at times mind-numbing, but it is essential. Taking notes is my basic approach and as any good stationery addict should be, I come well-prepared, with:

  • a small notebook (a mini-Moleskin in my case) to jot down details like colors, shapes, hairstyles, a ticket price or a menu selection;
  • a larger notebook (this is my latest Marco Polo) in which I can write – words, sentences, ideas, thoughts, things I’ll be considering as I speak to someone or gaze around a café;
  • my iPhone 6Plus to record audio files. These will serve as backup notes, but also as sound bites to mentally take me back to a place once I’ve left it behind… listening to Kyrgyz music or to the sound of horses being saddled will surely remind me of the extraordinary power of the Tien Shan mountains. (I may look a little strange talking into my phone all day but that’s the best way to remember all those details once their freshness has faded.)

Immortalizing images

I’m new to photography (I live with a photographer and never felt the need to learn). But as I often travel solo – on this trip, for example – I’m on my own when it comes to pictures and video.

I’m hopeless with a ‘real’ camera, the kind with dials and settings. By the time I take it out and set it up, my transport will be in the next province.

do have a camera but it’s a point-and-shoot, a Panasonic Lumix with a Leica zoom and light as a feather (these days they’re more sophisticated – they even come with wifi). When I feel so inclined, I take it along because it somehow ‘feels’ better than my phone but for this ‘travel ultra light’ trip, the phone it is. And I love it.

I’ve taken a digital photography course and have improved immensely to the point where I can use my own photos without shame. When needed I may edit them a bit with Snapseed, my go-to photo editor, incredibly easy to use for those of us who have failed to master the more robust intricacies of Photoshop or Lightroom.

Video? I’d love to but I can’t promise anything – I’ll try, and we’ll see.

What I will do, signal permitting, is broadcast on Facebook Live if I’m in a particularly gorgeous location, although I’ve tried this with mixed results.

Because I’m throwing new elements into the mix – Facebook Live, video – I need a workflow. It might look something like this:

  • photograph everything I can think of, whether I believe I’ll need it or not – mostly horizontals but a few verticals for Pinterest as well
  • whenever I take more than 1-2 photos of something, shoot 30 seconds of video for, maybe later…
  • each evening, after editing, post one photo to each of the following: my personal page (to let friends and family know I’m still there), my Facebook page, and Instagram

If I do all this, I’ll have enough photographs for my blog posts when I return, for my freelance work, and for social media.


Working away, clearly with the most sophisticated of equipment

Connecting with the world

I don’t expect I’ll have wifi everywhere I go but with luck I should be within a 3G telephone network every other day. I carry a Huawei mifi (personal wifi network) and the first thing I do in a new country is run to the nearest phone shop and get a data card. They don’t usually cost more than $20 and keep me connected. In Sri Lanka last year I was far from any kind of city yet always able to get online.

I hope I’ll have the same luck.

Writing for a living

The one thing I can’t travel without is my laptop: I finally caved and am the proud owner of a recent model Macbook Air. I have tried… I used my iPhone as a (tiny) screen with my (huge) Bluetooth keyboard. That looked rather silly, and I couldn’t see more than a few lines at a time. Fine for a weekend but not for serious writing.

Years ago, before they were common, I carried an early heavy laptop across Africa without too many incidents (it did fall off the roof of a bus once but survived). While I don’t plan on wedging my new little gem on any roofs, I’ve wrapped it in a felt pouch and am relatively confident of its ability to cope. Having it with me also means I’ll be able to write as I go along rather than catching up for the next six months once I return.

So that’s it: notebooks, iPhone, laptop. And the new frontier – backups. I’m not quite sure how to handle that yet but I’m on it.

In my fledgling days as a journalist, we carried manual portable typewriters. In radio, I had the added joy of carting around a cassette recorder, a professional-standard microphone, cables and not-quite-legal equipment with which to file stories from pay phones (not to mention a pocketful of coins for said phones).

These days, absolutely everything I need to make a living is right here, in my backpack. What hasn’t changed is how to get the story.

Part 10 – Finding a Place to Stay in Kyrgyzstan


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1 Comment

  1. Liz on August 19, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Go Leyla!! I shall look forward to reading your posts

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