What Outdoors and Creativity Have in Common. Interview to Ridero.ru

My new interview came out in the Ridero blog. This is the largest Russian planform for self-publication, which has no analogues in the world. In a quite long conversation I told about what creativity and outdoors have in common, what an ideal travelogue should be like and about my Big Writing Dream. Enjoy!


— Ivan, who’s an outdoor editor?

— That’s a good question. It’s like a football or music editor, journalist or author, only he or she writes about outdoors. Yes, there is such a profession.

The outdoors include hiking, cycling, climbing, kayaking, surfing, yachting — and much more! What sets them apart from regular sports — such as running — is that people do not go to do these activities in the city or indoors, like in the gym, but outdoors. It is often quite extreme sports. But it also include fishing, picking mushrooms and berries, horse riding, even just a picnic in the countryside and other less labor-intensive activities — I call them passive.

Outdoor is not only about sports. It is closely connected with ecology and everything, to which today it became fashionable to add the prefix “eco”: ecotourism (responsible travels to nature and in rural areas), sustainable development, healthy and minimalistic way of life without excessive consumption of anything: things, food, content.

— You used to call yourself a travel editor. What has changed?

— The travel editor is the one who writes about travel in general. In my seventh year in travel journalism and 500+ publications in portfolio, I suddenly realized that city attractions, cheap airline tickets and the like were no longer interesting to me. Moreover, 2/3 of my interviews and other publications — I specifically counted — and so were on these topics, not about travel. They were outdoor publications.

This year I gained courage and renamed myself as an outdoor editor. In Russia we say: the good travel of the boat depends on it’s name.

— Why is it better to travel to nature than to cities?

— Such trips are deeper and more intense than in the cities, they change lives more strongly. Also because most of us live in big cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg or Yekaterinburg [the capital of Ural region in Russia, Ridero was founded and located there] and get out into nature is still an event. For some people, even in St. Petersburg and the Urals.

I keep wondering: despite all these new opportunities and services for travel in the format of outdoors and eco-tourism like Airbnb or BlaBlaCar (talking about communication with locals) that we have, most people still travel through cities and passively, and even in the format of package tours “all inclusive”.

As an editor and journalist (and these are socially important professions), I am sincerely in favour of more people going outdoors.

— I found you have an interesting idea that outdoors/sports and creativity are the same thing. Why?

— I understood this when I was working for my first year in ecotourism in the Dolomites and even came up with my own definition of creativity in a broad sense — this is the ability to invent yourself, overcoming all kinds of difficulties. Just like in a mountain hike — to carry a heavy backpack, knowing that there is a week of travel ahead. To endure heat and thirst. To orientate in unfamiliar terrain. To cope with the feeling of loneliness or, conversely, to help fellow group members.

Who goes hiking knows that sometimes you are literally born again, discover hidden inner reserves and new sides of character when it seems that the strength to go is no longer there, but they are certainly there. And here you are, reborn — like after a good bath or sauna! And I thought: why in hiking we are so like, and in normal life are not?! It’s so great to be stronger than you are, to be yourself. Why are we more real in camping and not in the cities?!

It’s easy to draw parallels between life in the city and mountain hiking in general. For example, a winding and sometimes thorny path looks like a career, creative or just a live path! Where will it take you?! Are you even on the right path or lost?! Walking in the mountains, you look at life from the outside. Life’s problems seem to be less than they really are.

In fact, compared to the mountains or the endless forests, everything is less.

The most important thing is that when you travel to nature, you always think about life creatively. It’s so beautiful around that you want to become an artist, to start writing landscapes. Or to make not just beautiful photos, but very beautiful — such that all your friends will love. It’s poetry and prose that comes to mind. You start whistling melodies to birdsong. You don’t need any Apple Music with its millions of songs! I deleted it, like I deleted my entire iPod music archive, by the way.

You want to share any good travel experience, and outdoors trips — even more than stories about city travels. After hiking you want to do something more creative — something that people need more and more useful.

— Do you have an examples?

— In my creative hikes in Dolomites, there have been cases where people have changed professions and lifestyles. For example, one girl worked in a client service at a bank and became a physiotherapist, although during the hike she complained that it was difficult for her to go up the mountains and it was like hell. Many people move from big cities to smaller and closer to nature. Before becoming an editor, I worked for seven years at a factory (in the department of advertising and marketing) and lived in St. Petersburg. But after Italy, I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore.

At the same time, I’m not saying that working in a bank or sales and living in a metropolis is bad. Someone is a great salesman, and someone is an employee of the bank. And all they have to do is get out into the woods a few times a year. Or they like fishing and bathing, not hiking. The point is to mind your own business and live where you like. The point of life in general is to invent yourself and not try on one of the ready public roles, unless you really don’t like it. That’s it.

— Let’s move on to the books. How to write the perfect travelogue? Which book in this genre is your favorite?

— Just like any other perfect book, no one knows the formula.

Taking into account the global trend on ecotourism, I would do the following: I would go for six months or a year to live in some village and walk around it in mountains and forests, but not to change many countries on the way around the world. I would communicate more closely with 10 locals, but not to look for reasons to meet hundreds of new friends. So on and so forth.

You don’t have to go abroad or far away from your home in the home country to get an interesting story.

While living in the village, keep a diary, travel notes or write letters to friends and family every day. But it’s better not to blog about it further. Then you can make a book from it — it’s easier than writing it from scratch.

When the book is ready, find a good editor who will look at the book and give valuable advice. Everything seems to be interesting in travels, but not all your experience will be interesting and the reader will need it — it is important to be able to edit and cut off unnecessary things. I still edit the structure of my book, although I published it six years ago. Ridero it allows it. But it’s better not to do that — it’s better to write a new book. It’s just because I didn’t have an editor.

Finally, the design. I wouldn’t try to fit 10,000 photos into a book. 10 is ok. Reader’s imagination should work. Books are written for that.

Look, all the major travelogues associated with this genre are the same. Here I won’t be original: of course, it’s “In Patagonia” and “Songs Paths” by Bruce Chatwin — the first author of travelogues. After him, books about travel began to be called that, although Greek philosophers were fond of this genre.

By the way, Chatwin has only two books, not dozens, as, for example, Paul Teroux — another famous author, which, in my opinion, boring to read, and in Chatwin I prefer the book about Australia than Patagonia.

As for my favourite book, I myself once asked the same question in an interview with my favourite nomad author, Mariusz Wilk. He is a Polish writer who lived 20 years in the Russian North and wrote six books about it. His two books — ”By The Paths of the Reindeer” and “The House Over Onego Lake” — are my favourite. And also because I’m from the Russian north.

And Mariusz replied that his favourite book is “Consumption of the World” by French author Nicolas Bouvier (“L’Usage du monde”, Nicolas Bouvier). There is an English version on “Amazon.

— What can a professional traveler and guide do with his own book?

— If to speak about popularity, making money on books and writing as a profession, today it is more useful to blog in the installation or even better — the channel on youtube. And to sell advertising there. Or to organize your own travels, as many travel bloggers do in Russia — to earn money in other ways.

But books are also useful. It’s just that today they’ve turned into some kind of status thing. Writing and publishing books is still cool and prestigious and great. Why?

  1. Not everybody write books. It says that you probably have a good understanding of the question — and therefore an expert (another popular word today).
  2. To be not just a blogger, of which there are hundreds, but the author of the book — means to stand out in the total mass of those like you. Writing a book about travel is easier than others. Travel authors are many, higher competition for the reader.
  3. If we are talking about travel guides, the book also helps to collect all the accumulated information on some issues in one place. It is more convenient to read books than to browse blogs — especially on social networks, which are about “today”. Books can be reread.

For the guides, I would recommend writing personal guides. But only about those places where they live or have lived for at least a year as a local guide (a year — to see the whole cycle of nature). The guides “here and there”, I do not trust very much.

For me, the best guides are locals. And this also applies to ecotourism — this way you get to know and support local communities better, rather than sponsoring companies and individuals who make money from them, rather than helping to develop.

— And if not for fame and money. Why else to write a book?

— Writing is better than anything else to help you understand your own life experience. As Mariusz Wilk says, when you write, you travel a second time along the same trails of life. And the journey is even more meaningful than literally, because you look at yourself from the outside, you notice something that has eluded the attention in a particular moment. Writing is traveling, too.

But here’s the same difference: blogs are written quickly and instantaneously. Books are thoughtful and forever. I’m for thoughtfulness.

— And how did you wrote your books?

— The first book “The Trail I Paved” about Lamon I wrote using the above method — about how I worked (and work) as a mountain keeper in the Dolomites, Italy. Again: it was such a cool experience that I just couldn’t help but record it on paper and share it with others.

My second book in Ridero is the first interview collection with famous Russian speaking travelers “I’m Arriving”. The book contains 40 interviews and 55 heroes, including myself. I purposefully recorded them for two years to show that traveling is not literally going somewhere, it can be done in hundreds of different ways: from volunteering in the Alps to science, art and sports.

I wrote the book also because my work as a tourist guide in the Dolomites is volunteer-based, originally it was a volunteer project of largest Italian environmental association Legambiente (a kind of local Greenpeace) that I just decided to continue. Journalism and editing is what I really do for a living every day. I didn’t become a writer or a professional guide, but I became an editor.

— What is your next book about?

— The next two books — guides with ready-to-go hiking and cycling routes to the Dolomites and wild Finland — two of my first favorite and home regions. In six years I have written more than 20-30 articles about each region in Russian and finally decided to collect them in one place.

But in general, I have about 10 almost ready-made similar books from journalistic and not only texts: other collections of interviews (in total I have recorded more than 130 of them in different formats for different media) and articles. They are all on the way.

As a separate book, which I’ll be soon publishing is an essay entitled What is Traveling — also on the Finnish example. Everyone asks that question. I think that on my first trip to Helsinki I found the answer to it — I want to share the discovery with the world.

I dream of writing a Big Book one day. I’ve known what it will be like for a long time, but I don’t know how it will look. And I dream it will be a bestseller translated into all existing languages. I’ve wanted it since I was about 7 years old, when I learned to read and write.

But the more I write, the better I understand that a book can be on one page or even one letter. When I was seven years old I wanted to spend my life at a writer’s desk and travel around the world with presentations, but now I’m definitely not going to spend years on it. Writing is traveling too, but after all outdoors is an even more amazing world than on paper, and you can travel in much simpler and more interesting ways than writing tours.

To be yourself every day is more important than dreaming of a writing success.


Cover photo: creative hiking in the Lagorai mountains in the Dolomites in Sep. 2019. Its main attractions are two small lakes called Colbrion lakes © Ivan Kuznetsov.

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