What happens when you come face-to-face with your dream and you realize it’s not what you expected? What happens when it is?
Andrew Evans is living the dream of just about everyone whose most prized possession is their passport. He’s an award-winning writer, a regular contributor to National Geographic, a photographer, and on-air “talent” for television. Long before any of these résumé-builders, he was–and is–a traveler above all. The rest of the stuff fell in line to help feed the habit.
We first caught up with you when you were in “the remotest Iceland.” Where is that?
Heydalur, which is a remote farm tucked away at the very back of Mjoifjordur (“Narrow Fjord”) in the Westfjords of Iceland. It is the least populated area of the entire country, and you can drive for hours without seeing another sign of humanity. I love it up there.
You’ve been to Iceland 26 times in the past 20 years. What keeps drawing you back?
The light, the language, the landscape, the people! Everything in Iceland has a deeply mystical quality about it. I also love how clean and pure a place it is – there is no air as fresh as the stuff you breathe in Iceland.
You’ve traveled the world as a writer, contributing to some of the most respected magazines, and authoring several books. How does your photography fit in?
I consider myself a writer, but a writer who takes pictures. Images can always help transport us to another place, but I also love how photography can tell a story in its own right. The same principles of good photography apply to good writing, and vice versa. You want a strong sense of place, bold characters, and a plot twist if it?s there.
In the realm of travel writing, who do you like to read?
I love reading the journals of early explorers, many who were also amazing writers. Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis & Clark Expedition) recorded his experience with such profound details that his descriptions of specific places in the American West still hold true today. Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World is another fantastic account of some harrowing travels to Antarctica. I also love re-reading Marco Polo?s travels from the 13th century. Eliza Scidmore was the first woman to join the National Geographic Society, and her books and article about 19th century Japan, China, and India show an astounding appreciation for different cultures and the power of nature and tradition. Other superb travel writers I enjoy are Graham Greene, Paul Bowles, Wilfred Thesiger, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, and T.E. Lawrence.
I often find the category of “travel writing” a bit limiting, as some of my favorite writers (e.g. Jane Bowles, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf) would never be labeled as such, but so many elements of sense of place, and good travel writing fill their work.
Any contemporary authors in the mix?
I love, love, love Sarah Vowell, who is seen as a writer of popular history, when in fact, what she does is really hilarious, contextual travel writing. We can all learn from her.
What is the biggest misconception about being a travel writer?
That some established institution or benefactor is paying our mortgage while we roam the planet and scribble out our deepest feelings from far-flung places. The reality is I was writing and traveling long before anyone paid me for it. Even if it wasn’t my full-time job, I would still be doing this. Traveling and writing make me happy, not rich.
What’s the most accurate assertion?
That it?s a dream job. It really is. I’ve spent the last 20 years exploring our planet, seeing strange and beautiful places, meeting strange and beautiful people, doing outrageous things, and then sharing it with my readers. My job has been a series of dreams coming true, so I won?t deny that.
What, in your opinion, makes a truly compelling story about seeing the world or new experiences?
Compelling travel stories are no different than any story that piques our attention: any tale that draws us in; pulls us out of our own selves and the predictable lives we lead; or sends us across an ocean; or up a mountain; or puts us face to face with some outlandish personality; anything that challenges our own concept of the world and who we are. That is what travel gives us, and what makes travelers richer people. We are forced to see and feel stories that exist beyond our understanding, and it opens us up to the infinite whole of humanity and Earth.
Photos by Andrew Evans