Profile: Ron Gluckman, a travel writer in Asia

Posted May 4, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Advice, Famous travellers, Travel reports

Ron Gluckman is an American journalist who has been based in Asia for 16 years, working out of Hong Kong, Beijing and Bangkok. He’s travelled around Asia extensively and written for publications including Time, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Ron’s break in travel writing came by accident when he was researching background for a book for his journalism fellowship at Oxford University back in 1990. He wound up in Hong Kong with no money, just the bag on his back, and he started working for Asian magazines. He never looked back.

Ron said: “When I was stuck in Hong Kong I sent faxes to half a dozen editors on a Friday, got a call on a Saturday and was covering stories by the Monday. I just got lucky and I’ve never looked back since.”

Ron feels that writing and travelling go hand in hand with each other, and he finds it hard to define himself as either without crossing over into the other field.

He said: “I’ve been a writer or journalist for a long time, and think one is just an extension of the other. My first real travel writing was done for newspapers. Reporters were always looking for some way to extend a road trip or get out of the office on an exotic excursion.

“I started traveling on my own as a teenager and was hooked. I pretty much made up my mind that writing was what I wanted to do about the same time. It was only a matter of time before the two came together and I was working as a travel writer. I don’t really consider myself a travel writer so much as a general reporter.”

“My usual routine is to arrange a story somewhere, like Mongolia or Vietnam, then I see what else is interesting. My approach to travel writing probably stems from this reporter background.

“I really hate all these identical stories about beaches or blah blah blah. When I read a story, I don’t want to read a travel story, I want to read a story, meaning I want to learn something interesting that I didn’t already know. The best travel writing unquestionably involves fantastic writing and interesting travel.”

The best thing about being a travel writer for Ron is the ability to travel here, there and everywhere. He hates the concept of a holiday, he’d much rather be working.

He said: “I absolutely hate holidays, meaning going somewhere to not work, where I have to pay for everything myself, get treated poorly and don’t learn anything. I much prefer going to exotic places with a purpose, where everyone wants to take me
to their favorite spot, the most secluded waterfall, or to visit some distant tribe, or to eat some incredibly tasty local dish, and then return to some luxurious resort and have a soak in a six-star spa under the stars – and get paid for it. Talk about a dream job!”

The current state of the media business is the most frustrating part of Ron’s job, he feels that editors just aren’t willing to commission exciting pieces anymore, they’d rather play it safe.

“For me, it’s a continual adjustment to new editors”, says Ron, “who are always dealing with their own preoccupations: the new design, new direction, new demographics.

“I find it such a world away from what I do, which is hanging out with monks in Mongolia or Bhutan, or trying to get on board new train routes to Tibet. But all the difficulties in the field are minor compared to the lack of editorial ambition; before magazines really took chances. Now they all want to play it safe, covering the same ground between Bali and Phuket. It’s hard to get them to push things.”

Ron finds it hard to put his finger on his top five destinations, but it’s Asia that dominates his list.

He said: “My motto is the weirder the better, so I look remote places where people wear funny things on their heads. It’s getting harder and harder to find really remote places these days, and I’m not a danger junkie, but I do like different.

“Hence, you cannot beat North Korea. It’s as out-there as you can get in an intellectual sense, and while there are definite
drawbacks in the access and being unable to travel freely, everything you see and do works well in terms of story telling.”

“Next, I’d say Bhutan, which is one of the nicest places I’ve ever been, still mostly unspoiled and inspiring. You feel privileged just to be there.

“Mongolia is still special, really one of the Last Great Places, as it’s been called. I like the endless space and complete contrast to the ways of the rest of the world.

“Here’s a funny observation: Everyone I’ve talked to who has been to Mongolia has either loved it or hated it – but always for the same reason. The last time I went, I got as sick as I’ve ever been in my life, totally destroyed for three weeks. But as soon as I got better, I was straight back on the train to Mongolia again.”

The next two of Ron’s picks are good places for first-timers in Asia to visit.

He said: “The two most accessible places are: Goa in India, which surprises everyone with its laid-back charm and old-world architecture.

“And, for ease of travel, and value for money, it would be hard to beat Thailand, my present home. We have great weather, great beaches, fantastic food, and wonderful people. Even with all the tourists, it’s still a wonderful place to visit.”


Lonely Planet’s Tom Hall picks his top five destinations

Posted May 4, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Advice, Famous travellers

Working for one of the world’s largest travel guide companies has its perks, and for Tom Hall, as an editor and spokesperson for sustainable and responsible travel, it’s allowed him to fulfil his travel dreams.

Tom first started working for Lonely Planet eight years ago, and he’s enjoyed the experience.

He said: “I’ve been working for Lonely Planet for eight years and been writing for them for around six years. They are a great company and I’m proud to be involved with producing all the guides. It’s nice to know we’re known as ‘the bible’ for some travellers.”

Tom’s first taste of travel came when his brother took him interrailing around Europe, after that he was hooked.

He said: “I’ve been travelling since a very young age, my first independent trip was at 16 with my brother, we went interrailing around Europe. That was an amazing experience and I’ve been a number of times since then.

“I’ve done a few round the world trips, visited too many countries to remember.”

Tom’s hard pushed to name his top five destinations, but eventually he arrives at a decision. It’s an eclectic mix.

1. New Zealand – It is as beautiful as everyone says and there is a real chance for adventures when you’re there.

2. Chile – When you travel North to South in Chile then you see such dramatic changes in the scenery, the people are extremely friendly.

3. Britain – holidays at home are very underrated, there are some stunning places on our own doorstep, the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland in particular are great to visit.

4. Tanzania – if you want a varied place then you can’t get much better, the beaches of Zanzibar are everything you’ve dreamed about and then you can head in land to the Rift Valleys of Africa and go on safari.

5. Ethiopia – the place still feels very wild, it’s been unchanged for thousands of years, the people still live the same, there are some amazing natural beauty spots and if they weren’t in Ethiopia then they’d be heralded the world over but unfortunately the country has such a stereotype, of poverty and war.

PRETOMA: Looking after turtles in Costa Rica

Posted May 4, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Volunteer organisations

The Programa Restauracion de Tortugas Marinas (PRETOMA) has been looking after turtles in Costa Rica for over a decade. The organisation was setup in 1996 to assist with the yearly nesting of turtles on some of Costa Rica’s beaches. The turtles are diminishing in numbers and PRETOMA offers placements where volunteers look after and care for injured turtles and patrol the beaches when the turtles hatch.

Ingrid Yanez, project co-ordinator, feels that PRETOMA and the volunteers get a lot out of the placement.

She said: “The turtles are the big winners, they get protection from poaching and through work undertaken by volunteers where they support scientists then we get to find out more information about the species.

“Overall the volunteers give the turtles a better chance at survival.

“For the volunters, they get to help out on a conservation project that can save a species, it will educate them, they will grow themselves as people.”

The money that volunteers pay to travel to Costa Rica and take part in the conservation is important as it provides funding for the project, and the money the volunteers bring also helps sustain the local community.

Ingrid Yanez feels that the influx of volunteers to the project has been a good thing.

She said: “Personally I’ve made some great friends with the people who have come to volunteer, we’ve improved the prospects for the turtle population and it has also helped the local economy.”

Inspire Kenya: Animal conservation and community work

Posted May 4, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Volunteer organisations

Inspire Kenya is an organisation that as Matthew Muckle, who founded and owns the company states: “Offers volunteering breaks for people to go and do worthwhile things in Kenya.” These worthwhile projects include working with orphans, wildlife conservation and Inspire Kenya now offers media placements at the Kenyan Times.

The company has been going since 2006 and unlike some other organisations Matt is keen to stress the focus is on the community and not the volunteer themselves.

He said: “We don’t have set dates that we book volunteers in for, they pick the length of time they want to go for. We want people who are willing to put the effort in, and live alongside and within communities.

“There are no frills with these trips, you will be living in remote villages and helping some very poor people try to lead a better life.”

The most popular placement that Inspire Kenya runs is working on conservation projects in the Masaai Mara wildlife park, where volunteers get to see elephants and cheetahs.

The projects that work in orphanages and children’s homes in and around Mombassa are also very popular.

Matt says: “It’s very rewarding work and it gives people an insight into how 70 per cent of the world actually live.

“The conservation projects are becoming very popular because they allow people to feel as though they are saving these animals and it also lets them get up close and personal with the animals.”

Inspire Kenya placements start from around £500 and include all meals and accommodation and a donation is made to the project that the volunteer works on from the payment.

Matt feels that Kenya is a good place to go and volunteer, mainly because it needs volunteers.

He said: “Kenya is a developing country and its infrastructure struggles at evry level. Kenya is safe, hot and the people are very friendly. They need volunteers to keep these community services running and we feel our volunteers will really make a difference, and feel that they have made a difference when they come home.”

Many Inspire Kenya volunteers have been so moved by their experiences that they have decided to sponsor and fund placements even after leaving for home. This sponsorship helps to sustain the projects for years to come.

Quest underseas: responsible and sustainable dive ecotourism

Posted May 2, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Volunteer organisations

Chris Williams
Operations Manager, Quest Underseas

What does your organisation offer?

Offers people a chance to research marine conservation and get diving experience at the same time, in an ethical way because they are giving something back to the community.

Where do you run trips?

We have two destinations, Honduras and Mozambique.

We try to run trips that allow our volunteers to be involved in the research of something that is beneficial to the local communities and relevant to the marine wildlife in the location. In Honduras it’s about using some of the funding to research the impact on the coral reefs.

It’s a very hands-on experience, a lot of the students are writing dissertations on the subject area so for them to get to see turtles hatching on a beach it’s beneficial experience for their learning.

Mozambique is a new destination for us, we’ve only just started the project there. At the location there are already three dive operators but they don’t operate in a responsible way, there are no standards setup so the idea behind our trip is to offer the local community a chance to work with us to make sure that the marine wildlife is not being damaged too heavily by the influx of dive tourists.

We also runs social projects in the destinations, our last group in Mozambique funded a borehole which allows 260 people to be provided with clean drinking water. It gives our volunteers the chance to leave a lasting positive benefit on the area, rather than coming to dive, scaring the marine wildlife, and then leaving.

What are the main conservation projects at each location?

Honduras: Coastal erosion is damaging the coral reefs, this is due to overfishing and moving mangrove plantations that previously protected the reefs.

Mozambique: Badly managed dive tourism is affecting the marine wildlife, 30 people diving and scaring the hell out of a whale shark is not good for the long term sustainability if the reef. There’s no control, no structure and no best practice and the dive operators can make loads of money and not give anything back to the area. We want to change that and make it best practice for dive operators to start reinvesting in the local communities.

How much does it cost?

Honduras: for a month, £1,500
Mozambique: for a month, £1,900

We take teams of between 6-10 with us to the locations, we feel this is about the right number so that the impact is not too great. We also interview everyone before we go to make sure that they understand what we’re about and we also make sure they want to go for the right reasons.

Quest, our parent company, has been shortlisted for a number of responsible travel awards. The worrying thing about the explosion of meaningful travel is that it could just become an option extra that is tacked on the end of normal tourist trips. Eco tourism has usually been associated with a small number of dedicated organisations and volunteers, the danger is that it becomes too commercialised and then the effect that large groups have on an area defeats the whole purpose of eco tourism. It is good though that more people seem to be interested in volunteering overseas and making a difference.

Health advice for travellers

Posted May 1, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Advice

Claire Stringer, Travel Health Nurse Advisor
Offers advice to the medical industry on issues around travel health

How would the travel advice you give to a volunteer differ to from that you give to an ordinary traveller?

The circumstances can be very different and varied, we would give specialist advice to those who are volunteering. If they are based in rural areas and having close contact with the population then it is likely there will be more vaccinations recommended and it is very important to be careful with food and water.

How can you avoid getting ill while away?

Important to plan properly; seek advice from your practice nurse. Important to research the destination before you go, find out if there are medical facilities there and what your accommodation will be like. Practice good food and water hygiene; avoid ice in drinks and drinking bottled or boiled water. Avoid insect bites by having a mosquito net and using insect repellents when out and about.


There are different types of malaria tablets and it will be very different from person to person as to what types are recommended. It’s important to start the course of tablets before departure, continue them while there and most malaria tablets require them to be taken four weeks after you return home. This is a very important time to remember to keep taking them because malaria can take a long time to become active in the body. The symptoms of malaria are: flu like symptoms, high temperatures, shivers, shakes, aching and diarrhoea. If you develop these then you should seek medical advice immediately.

What should I pack in a first aid kit?

Basic requirements are: plasters, dressings, antiseptic, painkillers, triangular bandage for making slings, elasticated bandages for sprained ankles. You can get sterile kits which if going to remote places will include injection kits and sterilise equipment.

What should I do if I become ill while travelling?

If you’ve done your planning then you should be confident of what to do. Make sure when you arrive at your destination that you ask about a good doctor and pharmacy, most hotels will usually have a list of nearby medical facilities. If you become ill then seek medical advice, and phone your health insurance company as they should be able to advise you. You can also contact the embassy for your country as they will be able to offer advice.

Should I get travel insurance?

Definitely. Some countries are very expense to become unwell in, in particular countries like the United States which operate an entirely private healthcare system. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have health insurance, something like a broken leg could cost you up to £10,000 to have treated abroad.

How can I cope with diarrhoea?

It’s the most common problem for travellers to experience, can often be caused by the change in diet. For example in Asian countries there are not as many solids eaten, it’s mainly a rice diet and this can lead to diarrhoea. To cure it then make sure you increase your fluid intake, stick to a bland diet and avoid dairy products such as milk and cheese. Use rehydration sachets if possible, these stop you becoming dehydrated. If you have to keep travelling, for example you’re on a long bus or train journey then use some Imodium as this will keep you comfortable for around 24-48 hours.

Can I trust the medical advice and medication in developing countries?

Most of the time you can but there can be a lot of counterfeit medicines on the market. A lot of countries don’t have the level of regulation that we do in the UK. Make sure that you use a doctor recommended to you by consulate staff if possible.

Top 5 travel health trips:

1.    Good preparation, seek advice before travelling and make sure you have any recommended vaccinations
2.    Be aware of your personal safety, a lot of health problems are people twisting ankles etc on bumpy pavements.
3.    Take care with food and drink
4.    Avoid insect bites
5.    Get medical insurance before you travel

Navigation tweaking, tutor feedback

Posted April 30, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: website development

So I showed Andy Dickinson my site today, and as per usual I ended up with a big long to-do list:

Made the main logo smaller, this was to allow for more of the page to be ‘above the fold’ and make navigation easier. Also a lot of people who I tested the site on thought that the logo was clickable, an advert, or something else, it was confusing my users.

I decreased the white space on the page by tweaking the cell padding and also moving the search function to the secondary promotional bit on the right hand side of the menu templates. This helped to push all my content up the page and within scrollable distance of the user.

The navigation bar was cut, the Archive button has been moved into the right-hand side navigation. This bar has been centred to make the buttons stay together even when the page is maximised.

The disaster volunteering flash feature now has it’s own flash advert, taking some of the top images out of the presentation and making a short advert. Bit annoying how you can’t add a behaviour to a flash image, as this would have allowed me to make it open in a stand alone window. Instead it just opens in a blank window, which isn’t too bad.

The size of the abstract text on the lead article has been increased to keep it in line with the headline and not let it be swamped by the headline.

I’m going to have to do a lot of work on the travel report part of my site, it’s really lacking content at the moment and I need some more pieces to go in there. I’m tempted to dump it completely and focus on filling out the volunteer reports, advice and features sections of my site as these are where the best content is and are also the articles on the blog that get the most traffic.