Fiona Caulfield’s handcrafted travel guides can be found at Books Actually, The Arts House level 2, or http://www.lovetravelguides.com/.
I just came home from a talk at The Arts House (volunteering for Singapore Writers’ Fest) about travel writing and I cannot believe the heights of inspiration it brought me to.
Fiona Caulfield—marketer, traveller, writer, entrepreneur—spoke about her brainchild, Love Travel Guides, and the future of travel writing. Sounds mildly interesting? Until you hear her speak. She’s a brilliant salesperson and coming from her background, it’s little surprise—brand consultancy, co-founder of a marketing agency, Board member of DDB, Senior Partner at Ogilvy, among others. The minute she ended her talk, she had me zipping upstairs to Books Actually, after grabbing her namecard, to snap up a copy of Love Bengaluru at 55SGD without batting an eyelash. I’m known to be an indecisive buyer and I’m spectacularly broke this month; that’s how good she is.
Through the compelling story of Love travel guides and (not so important in this context) market insights, she ignited in me, once again, the hunger to be free, to find myself, and to pursue the extraordinary.
Sitting three rows from where she stood, I was jealous of her. Because I saw a woman who has had many extraordinary adventures in her career, her leisure (including conquering Mt Kilimanjaro, and reaching the base camp of Everest), and now has found a passion that truly satiated her. She has found something that no one could pay her to stop doing, and that’s after all the colourful opportunities in her career that most of us won’t even see in our whole lifetimes. Her books, precious, exquisite, handmade, that she cared so much for to painstakingly craft up to the point they were placed on shelves, from research to compilation, experiencing to writing, and finally printing to pasting price tags.
I like her values. How she keeps to what is real, adamant not to betray the purity of her vision. That falling in love with a place is really the same as falling in love with someone. When we fall in love, we don’t care that he’s at least 6 foot 1 or that he’s an investment banker, or all the qualities you would look for in a personals ad. When we fall in love, we fall in love with the way he holds our hand, the way he surreptitiously smells our hair, how he rubs his eyes fresh from a night’s rest. Likewise, we fall in love with the obscure details of a place—hashish on the roof of a quaint hostel overlooking an endless sea of rooftops, trembling from the trepidation and the freezing cold of the night; cold, freshly-squeezed oranges under the scorching heat of the Moroccan sun. And she’s determined not to lose sight of that intimacy, in her writing style, her content and even her packaging.
For her research, true to her unconventional style, she adopts techniques she names ‘kidnapping content’ and ‘travel sensing’. She’d have a native imagine being kidnapped away for 10 years, what are the 3 things he would do the moment he returned? In travel sensing, she emphasizes looking, smelling, listening, touching and tasting. If a place wasn’t impressive enough on these 5 counts to etch a place in her memory, it didn’t warrant a place in her book.
I reckon she’d hit upon a market gap. The seasoned traveller who’s now matured from a jaunty post-collegiate diet of Lonely Planets, who’s now cash-rich and time-poor, prioritizing self-indulgence over budget. He’s not interested in mediocre crap, doesn’t have the humour for spectacular ones either. He’s interested in something worth his time; exclusive, remote and strange enough stories to entertain his dinner guests with, experiences that impress upon others his status and capability, subtly. And they do not have to be expensive and posh either; he can find those anywhere at home.
She has this incredible ability to paint pictures with her words, speaking—poetic way of stringing words together. Although she claims that her ideas are extraordinary, her writing only accidental, I highly suspect otherwise. Minutes after starting, she already threw out a gem: “When I left India, it felt like the world had gone back to black and white and someone had turned down the volume.” Something along those lines, I didn’t think to jot that down. Over the 2 hours, she threw out still more sentences that got me smiling before I even noticed I reacted.
Fiona Caulfield has got me thinking about my life and my plan for it, finding myself and my priorities, what I want to achieve and what I want on my epitaph. At this delicate stage where my life could go off a thousand different permutations, what are the things that matter to me and where do I want to reach, 10, 20, 30 years from now? Who am I, really, and what makes me me?
Agh, I apologize for the length. I didn’t have time to write a short one.