Adventures of Gillian Mclaren to exotic destinations
A Travel Writer jet-setting around the world
11 Questions with Gillian about her adventures to exotic destinations, the photos she takes and the stories she writes about her travels.
Time for another Popupblog
I’m indulging myself once again by interviewing another fascinating person, Gillian Mclaren, Travel and Science writer. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and other media.
Gillian says: Portrait by Tara Turkington, taken in the Maldives. Such a happy memory of a media trip where we had fun, sipped chilled wine and strolled barefoot on perfect beaches. Both at home and when travelling, I enjoy wearing Indian Clothing, as it is comfortable, colourful, cool pure cotton and modest.
I first discovered Gillian or @jetset_gillian on Instagram when a photo taken by her in Madagascar caught my eye. Naturally I was intrigued because I’d been there twice and it’s an unusual destination for most people. Although it’s a fantastic country to visit with a diversity of animal and plant life as well as magnificent tropical beaches and azure blue seas, some find it a tad too rustic. Mind you, things have changed since I was last in Madagascar, according to her article about Time + Tide Miavana on Nosy Ankao.
Back to Gillian: Here was another kindred spirit I was drawn to. An adventurous vibrant woman, but little did I know how adventurous - I’m a toddler compared to her – and I’m not talking about age at all, but about her travel footprint. Gillian is a humble person, yet her adventures are as exotic as the vivacious clothes she loves to wear.
I’m thrilled and excited to present to you the interview with Gillian. I’ve loved getting to know her better and I’m sure you will too.
1. Hi Gillian, thank you for allowing me to interview you. Please tell me a bit about yourself. You’re not only a travel writer and a photographer, but you’re also journalist.
Travel writing is a late life career and I adore all aspects of my work. At Wits, a few years ago – when I was in my fifties - I studied travel writing as part of an English Honours degree. It was great fun, stimulating and set me off on this journey of exploration.
RF: Ah, but the seed for that career was probably dormant for a while, considering all the countries you’ve been to and lived in. But more about that later.
2. Jetset_gillian is rather appropriate because you’re constantly jetting around the world. All travel writers aspire to get gigs like yours, but what does it actually entail? I’m sure it’s not just relaxing, sipping cocktails, writing a quick article and then finding a miraculous and generous amount in your bank account from a magazine. Give us some insight when you are on assignment.
It really is my dream work and is as luxurious and exciting as it looks. I have a strong natural curiosity, so that drives me to find new places, meet the local people and walk in the cityscapes or country areas. As I do this, I internalize it, so when I get home, I can try to encapsulate my impressions. It brings me fulfillment when readers enjoy my stories or my photographs. I long for people to travel to open their minds, to learn more and to support the travel industry in each country.
RF: I think you’re far too modest, Gillian. I’m sure you work hard to write the fascinating articles that you do.
3. You call yourself a travel and science writer. These are two unusual titles to blend together. How do you fuse them? Or do you write completely separate articles?
I began like a smouse - an itinerant peddler - with several products in my boot, but the travel took off so fast and furiously, that I abandoned the science writing. Occasionally I review science books or include some species names in my features about game viewing, but that is about it.
RF: That’s interesting and great that your traveling career took off so well. I love the picture of you holding a leaf chameleon. Fascinating that such a small creature is so perfectly formed.
4. I’ve learnt that you’ve visited more than 50 countries and lived in about 7 if I’m correct. Which was your favourite to live in?
Ah, very difficult to say! There are interesting and intriguing aspects to each country. Living in Indianapolis in the USA was a special time of my life, as my son, James, was in pre-school. The Americans that we met extended their homes, hearts and possessions to us, with unrivalled generosity. In London I worked amongst prostitutes in the Kings Cross area, which was heart-breaking yet amusing. In Dublin I learned to enjoy whisky, to sing at any opportunity and to laugh at their delightful humour. Working as a maid in Paris showed me how deeply I could bond with someone else’s child, it helped me to become fluent in a new language and I had jazz ballet classes with a maestro. Living in another country is a privilege, as it is humbling to have to adapt to new ways of seeing and of doing.
I particularly love travelling in Asia, where clothes are colourful, customs new to me and life seems more social and communal.
RF: My goodness, you’ve certainly moved around and have had some. I think traveling can cause us to look deeply into our own souls. I’m equally fascinated how people open their hearts and homes to complete strangers.
Gillian says: Taking portraits is my favourite photography. I have a short moment to connect with someone and capture something of their uniqueness. This beautiful young girl is part of a nomadic Muslim tribe in Northern India. She was collecting cow dung for fuel and for covering walls of their scrupulously tidy, simple home.
5. Did you live or travel in any countries that were ghastly, and you would never return to?
Absolutely not! I would return to any of these countries if I could. Happiness and joy are within us. I have been happy in difficult places and sad in gorgeous places. Every single place has a beauty or interest of its own.
RF: You have the same sentiments as me. If we’ve been in a difficult situation while traveling, we deal with it as best we can and afterwards it’s added to our experiences of life.
Gillian says: As I may never return to a certain spot, or see a scene quite like it, I have to capture images at all times of the day. However, sunrise and sunset are my favourite periods, with the soft warm colours. This is the busy harbour in Yangon, Myanmar. In several of my photos I play with moving and stationary objects.
6. When did you first start writing travel articles for magazines? Were you approached, or did you have to market yourself fiercely?
During the English Honours course, I hoped that if I had my work published they could not fail me. I was pleased and grateful when Richard Holmes - editor of Travel of iAfrica.com - published several of my features. I laughed when he told me he liked my writing, but could I stop using so many exclamation marks, as I sounded as if I was on a sugar buzz! Seeing my name in print, or online still gives me a thrill each time.
RF: I find that hilarious! I was also wrapped over the knuckles for using too many exclamation marks, when I first started writing fiction and attended a writing course.
To read one of Gillian's articles about her adventures in Madagascar, click on the photo below:
7. Madagascar is a favourite destination of mine. What was your most pleasurable experience there and was there anything that you found surprising or daunting?
Very little daunts me. The number of endemic species there is astounding. For any nature lover, it is a must visit. The scuba diving is sublime.
RF: It is an amazing country indeed. I found the names difficult to pronounce and of course spell.
Gillian says: As I studied biology for my first degree, it is a lifelong passion. Seeing this adorable dwarf lemur in a thorny plant of Southern Madagascar, was a moment that moved me to tears. One of my greatest joys is to see an animal or plant species for the first time.
8. You were quite brave to travel on the train in India. That must have been quite an experience. Tell us some highs and lows about it.
On the day train, highs include seeing the smaller villages, meeting a range of people of India, chatting to them, photographing them and sharing meals with them. The low was that the night train was noisy and over crowded, which made it difficult to sleep. I am pleased that I managed it, but have no desire to take another local night train. Next time – the Orient Express or a luxury train for me.
RF: Well done! I’m not sure I would have survived a train ride in India. Hmm, the Orient Express sounds divine, but I’d even settle for our own Rovos Rail.
To read about Gillian's train ride through India, click on photo:
9. Up till now, what is your greatest achievement regarding your traveling and writing? What are you extremely proud of?
I am proud of the wonderful people who have made it possible for me to live like the rich and famous, even though my bank account would not tell you that. I am proud of the PRs and ground handlers who work so hard to set up trips for me, the hoteliers and waiters that serve me graciously, the editors that trust me to write for them. For the first few years of my travel writing, a precious friend, Danielle Crouse, read and severely edited every feature. I learned so much from Danielle, who is an outstanding writer and gifted editor. I am proud that she cared enough to help me learn to write.
RF: Ah, that’s wonderful.
10. Over the years you must have met some interesting or infamous people. Were you in awe of any of them or did you jump right in and bombard them with 101 questions?
I am not in awe of anyone, although I hope I show respect to each person I meet, whether a president or a person who sleeps on the street. Meeting Mr Mandela on one of his daily walks, when he was just out of prison, was a highlight.
RF: I’m sure you show respect to everyone and a delightful highlight to meet Mr Mandela. I think many people envy you.
Gillian says: I tend to favour women and children in my portraits, but sometimes a man's face is irresistible. This charming Sikh man was my tuk tuk driver in Delhi and I liked the reflection in his rear-view mirrors.
11. You have achieved so much thus far. What would you still want to achieve? Do you set goals for yourself?
I don’t set goals, as I find that like New Year’s Resolutions, they are a standard to set one up for failure. Of course I would like to travel to as many new countries, cities and UNESCO world heritage sites as I can, before I am too old for adventure travel. Scuba diving in more locations is a strong desire now, as I am still fit and well. I thank God for each opportunity that I have been given.
RF: Old age catches up with us fast and it’s great to still be able to travel adventurously or otherwise. We always said we wanted to do things like jumping off a dive boat (and trying to get back on again) while we still could. Thereafter we could tackle the more sedate mode of travel.
Gillian says: One of my passions, spending time in a parallel universe! Sabrina Hindley of Submerge Magazine took this during our trip in Madagascar.
It has been fascinating and fun to interview you, Gillian. Thank you for allowing me to do so. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more about jetset_gillian at the rate you are jetting around the world. We look forward to reading more of your articles. Remember, if you ever need a chaperone on these 'difficult' journeys, you know where to find me.
I wish you every success in your ventures, travel and otherwise.
Your turn to visit an Exotic Destination:
Scroll down for some more interesting photos that Gillian took:
Just for fun, I take a picture of a local cat in each country. The first, this pretty one was in a street market in Seoul, South Korea. The middle one is a Burmese cat on the street in Yangon, Myanmar. The last one is a resident cat in the Papal Palace in Avignon
Although I enjoy my trusty Fujifilm camera, I find my iPhone 7 is useful sometimes. Here I used my cell in portrait mode, to capture this cute child and her family in Diego Suarez, Madagascar.
In Yangon, Myanmar, the contrast between this stately Colonial building and a line of washing amused me.
Follow Gillian On Instagram: