Living for Travel – Interview with Ben Box

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Travel guide author Ben Box in an interview about the joys and the chores of writing about travel for a living.

BB at Pico Bolivar Ven cropped

„Willing to go everywhere and see everything“

For nearly  20 years, Ben Box, 57, has been the editor of the South American Handbook, Footprints flagship guide book that was first published in 1924. Sebastian from tripwolf reached him on the phone in Suffolk, UK, where Ben lives with his wife Sarah who edits Footprint’s Caribbean guide books.

Sebastian: You are working at your desk in England at the moment. How much do you get to travel for work?

Ben: I do some traveling, but not as much as I could. This year I have been to the Falkland Islands for two weeks and I’ll travel to Peru for 3 weeks soon. Editing the South American Handbook is more of a desk job because many writers are involved.

Sebastian: How many writers do you need for that? The South American Handbook covers the whole continent and has nearly 2000 pages!

Ben: For the upcoming edition there are 12 writers involved, and they usually  have other people supporting them. We pull together information from our country guides for Argentina, Chile, Brazil and other books, we follow up on hundreds of letters from readers, and we do our own research in the field.

Sebastian: I was always struck by the level of detail in Footprint guides. I remember a hotel in Puno, Peru, just being described as „Good value, many blankets.“  And when I went there, they really had 5 or 6 blankets on the bed. How do you pull together all this encyclopedic knowledge?

Ben: (Laughs) We try to be as detailed as we can. You have to give a lot of attention to detail and look out for that special thing. Of course checking hotel details and maps and restaurants is very time-consuming.

Sebastian: Being a travel writer is a dream job for many: I heard once that in terms of popularity it is only beaten by being an actor. Is it really such a glamorous job?

Ben: No, it is not a romantic job (laughs). There is a difference between a guide book writer and a „real“ travel writer like Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson. With guide books, the focus is much more on the details than on the descriptive part. I don’t  get a chance to write lyrical pieces about the people and the country. It is more important to get the adresses and phone numbers of hotels right. Being a travel guide writer is harder than many people think. You need to pay attention to details without getting lost in the detail. And you need to be willing to go everywhere and see everything.

Sebastian: After so many years, do you still enjoy traveling, or has this work taken the magic out of traveling for you?

Ben: I still enjoy traveling to South America because most of the time I am going to new places, places I have not been before, or places I haven’t been in a long time and that have changed. South America is very dynamic. I never tire of it.

Sebastian: How has travel changed since you started writing?

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