A Conversation with David Stanley

David Stanley’s illustrious career has taken him to over 200 countries, where he has documented the pulse, pleasures, and predicaments of the world’s places and cultures.  Author of the first Moon Fiji guidebook, he has gone forth to produce a dapper collection of guidebooks:  from Moon Fiji, Moon Tahiti, and Moon Handbooks Tonga-Samoa, to early editions of Moon Handbooks Alaska-Yukon and Moon Handbooks Micronesia, he even wrote the first three editions of Lonely Planet’s Eastern Europe on a Shoestring, among others.  This travel lover has not only defined budget travel over the last few decades; he has literally created it.  See his website here!

You’ve been a successful travel writer for quite a while now, making much of your income as a guidebook writer. How has that pursuit changed and what’s required to make it work now financially?

When I started out, my guidebook was about the only source of budget travel information on the Pacific islands. Now there’s lots of “free” information online but none of it is as comprehensive as my old guides. Frankly, with book sales declining steadily and publishers cutting back, only fools go into guidebook writing for the money these days.

How did you “break in to travel writing”? What have been the keys to your success?

I started in 1978 working with Bill Dalton on South Pacific Handbook and joined Lonely Planet in 1988. There weren’t many travel guides back then.

Where do you see your career as a travel writer being three years from now? How will your income mix change and what are you doing to adapt to the changing media landscape?

I may give up working on print guidebooks entirely and focus exclusively on the web.

Knowing what you do now, if you were starting from scratch today to become established as a travel writer, what steps would you take to ensure success?

I would focus on my local area and become “the” expert on it.

What advice would you give to someone near and dear to you who wanted to become a travel writer—assuming they had zero credits to their name. (Besides “Don’t do it”?)

Write about something you like to do or a place you like a lot – preferably where you live.

I’ve never been to the South Pacific before and let’s say I’ve got about 10 days on the ground to wow my spouse during a wedding anniversary trip. Where should I go?

Go to Fiji or Samoa. Fiji offers more to see and do but Samoa is the real eco-tourism capital of the South Pacific. You’ll feel one with nature sleeping in a thatched Samoan beach fale and your travel budget will remain intact.


David Stanley is the author of Moon Handbooks South Pacific, Moon Fiji, and Moon Tahiti, published by Avalon Travel Publishing of Berkeley, California. Check out his personal website here.

Interview conducted in January, 2011 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Mock.

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