the Guardian Series, first published Wednesday 11th
here for the original
Middleton has travelled through Australia, Mexico, North
America, Spain, Ireland and South America in the last
six years, and written a series of travel books charting
his journeys through these countries.
May / June this year he will be setting off on a new
journey from Wexford to Donegal to raise money for asthma
Ian talks to Jenni Carroll about his travels and what
set him off writing about his travels.
JC: What made you start writing travel books?
It was after a four-month journey around Mexico that
I began to write. The journey was such an eye-opener
and full of comical and profound moments that I had
to write them down in order to digest them all. The
other reason was that I have such a bad memory that
I figured at least if I wrote down these adventures
then when I'm old and grey, sitting in my rocking chair
with my pipe, slippers and incontinence pants, I'll
be able to read my stories and say, 'Blimey, did I do
intention was originally just to put them down on paper.
But once I began writing I was like a man possessed.
The story just seemed to pour out of me. I got so into
it that the CD would finish and I wouldn't even notice.
My dad would pop his head into the room every now and
then to see if I was still alive.
writing the Mexico story I went off to Spain for a couple
of months. It was while stuck in Marbella during a rainy
weekend that I discovered Bill Bryson. Someone gave
me one of his books to read. Up until then I had always
thought that you needed to be famous, like Michael Palin,
to write a book about travelling. But I had never heard
of Bill Bryson. Yet I soon learned that he is the most
popular travel writer out, and is only famous for his
writing. Before that he was a journalist.
that someone who wasn't famous could become a successful
travel writer, gave me the inspiration I needed to turn
my stories into a series of books. As the years progressed
I continued to travel and write. I now have a series
of five books, two of which have been published.
JC: How do you choose which country to travel to next?
I have an idea of the places I want to visit, but choosing
which one to do next is usually spontaneous. My first
ever journey was in Australia. My cousin was already
out there, and so I figured it would be a good place
to break me into the world of backpacking. Also, Australia
is a relatively safe and easy country in which to travel.
It's possibly one of the most popular destinations for
backpackers. While on the plane back home I had already
decided that I wanted to go to Mexico next. I'd had
a fascination with Mexico for years, after having read
about it in books and seen it in the movies. I think
my head is just full of destinations that I have read
about or seen on the television, or since travelling
have heard other travellers talk about.
I went to Ireland for the first time, it was simply
because I hadn't been planning to go travelling and
just suddenly woke up one morning with the burning desire
to get back on the road. Because I didn't have much
money I realised I would have to go somewhere nearby.
The next day I bumped into an Irish girl I knew through
a friend of mine, and this put the idea in my head to
go to Ireland. I thought back to all the Irish people
I had met over the years (I'd even worked for a month
with one in Australia) and they had been great, easygoing
and fun loving people. So I decided there and then to
go to Ireland. I told my boss at the time that I was
leaving in six weeks, scraped together a month's wages,
got on a boat to Cork and just drifted my way around
the country from there. I was soon to learn here that
you don't always need to go half around the world to
experience something new and adventurous.
JC: What is the most exciting country you have visited
That's the most common question asked of me, and the
one I simply don't have the answer for. Every country
I have been to I've loved for different reasons. Each
country has its own appeal and I would go back to any
one of them at the drop of a hat. I have favourite places
within countries, but not countries themselves.
JC: Is there a country you would go back to and why?
If someone gave me £5000 to go back to any country
I'd been to, I wouldn't be able to choose. I'd probably
take the money and go somewhere new, or go back to each
one in turn.
JC: Is there somewhere you never want to go back to
No, I don't think so. There are places I have been to
where I had a horrible time and in some cases even hated.
But with the places I've been back to so far I've found
that each time you go back it is a different experience.
For example, when I went to Killarney on the western
side of Ireland I absolutely hated it. I found it to
be a tacky tourist trap and couldn't understand why
so many people wanted to go there. Well, I returned
there last year and found out why, the Killarney National
Park. It really is the most stunningly beautiful place
with a landscape of sparkling lakes, forest, green hills
and rocky ledges. I think that every time you go back
to a place you view it differently, and often see more
of it too.
JC: Travelling around, you must have been served up
some interesting food - is there any food you'd travel
distances to avoid eating again?
I'll be perfectly honest with you and say that I'm not
at all adventurous when it comes to eating. I'm the
sort of person who will stick to what he knows; ironic
when you think that I'll happily head off alone to a
place I know nothing about, but put a plate of food
in front of me that I don't recognise and I'll run a
mile. Having said that though, there have been a couple
of places in Mexico where the food sent me running to
the toilet. One place I would never eat again is in
a restaurant in Palenque. I'm always wary of eating
in a place where the locals aren't, and even more wary
of eating in a place where nobody is. But in this instance
I was dragged in there by the people I was travelling
with. The next morning I awoke to a strange bodily feeling.
It was almost as if someone was banging on the rim of
my stomach and shouting: 'Everything out, two exits
and no waiting please!!' I spent the majority of that
day running back and forth to the toilet.
even sticking to what I know can be dangerous. While
in the town of Pachuca, near Mexico City, I learned
that the tradition of the Cornish Pasty had been left
behind by Cornish Miners in the last century. I'd tried
some the night before and they had been delicious. So
the next morning as we headed off to the ruins of Teotihuacán
we stopped off and bought a bag full for the day. I
specifically asked for Traditional Pasties because I
was English. The lady smiled and scooped up a pile of
traditional pasties and handed me the bag. As we left
town and drove off towards Teotihuacán I took
one out and, licking my lips in anticipation, took a
healthy bite out of it. My mouth suddenly turned into
a red-hot furnace and I croaked desperately for some
water. There certainly wasn't anything traditional about
this. I never recalled Cornish pasties containing mouth-burning
JC: Would you ever consider giving up work to become
a full time travel writer?
I would love to. But it really isn't easy to make a
living in travel writing, unless you are fortunate enough
to be Bill Bryson. I personally believe that you cannot
survive in life if you stick to doing just one thing.
I've been made redundant twice. However, with all the
things I've done in life writing has been the most fulfilling.
My hope is to expand into writing articles as well as
books. But like any industry, it's unpredictable. My
plans for the future also include starting and running
my own backpackers hostel. I just have to decide where.
JC: Where do you think you might go next on your travels?
My next travels will be walking 300-miles across Ireland
for charity. After that I'd like to take my van and
go to Italy and Croatia. Last year I travelled around
Ireland in this van promoting and selling my books.
It was a fun way to do this, and also helped fund the
trip. So, time permitting. I will go off there for a
couple of months at the end of the summer. Next year
I will go further away, but will decide where when the
JC: Do you try to set yourself distances to travel within
a day, or along the whole journey?
No, never. I never really plan anything when travelling.
My philosophy has always been to just go with the flow.
I find that when you set off on a journey events just
seem to lead you places. My trips rarely have time restrictions
on them, so I've always been able to just drift my way
along. Often I meet up with people along the way who
are going somewhere and just simply join them for a
while. Someone might mention a place they've just come
from and I'll think, that sounds nice I'll go there.
I might have a few places in particular I want to visit,
but for the most I simply just wait and see where the
adventure will take me.
JC: When you tell people you are raising money for charity
do you get more support along the route?
This is actually the first time I have done a trip for
charity. I'd always thought about doing a journey for
charity, but have been so busy trying to launch myself
as a travel writer that I simply didn't have the time
to look into it.
hit upon the idea for this walk while travelling around
to promote my Ireland book. In the book I describe how
I bussed, hitched and walked my way around the country.
One particular chapter describes how I attempt to be
a real backpacker for a day and actually walk from one
town to another with the full weight of my backpack.
The idea was to walk from hostel to hostel without taking
any other form of transport. When I described all this
to a journalist at the Irish Examiner he seemed to have
misheard me because when he wrote the article he said
that I walked the entire journey around Ireland, from
south to north and back again.
sparked an idea in which I would actually do this as
a follow up book. This could also be a great way to
combine my work with helping out a charity. After all,
it's no good dedicating yourself to helping the poor
and unfortunate, if you end up making yourself poor
and unfortunate in the process. So I devised a plan
whereupon both parties would benefit. I chose asthma
because I have been an asthmatic since I was two years
old, and considering the rise in asthma lately felt
it would be a good way to raise awareness.
JC: How much money have you raised so far from your
Currently I am donating £1 from the sale of each
book to the charities involved and have raised £82.
I plan to start looking for sponsorship and also host
some fundraising events over the next few months.
JC: Do you have a maximum total to reach, or do you
just aim to raise as much as possible?
I just aim to raise as much as possible.
JC: Have you ever felt like giving up when travelling
There has been the odd occasion when I get fed up, or
lonely. It's difficult travelling and living out of
a bag for long periods. What I usually do then is find
a place I like and settle there for a while, maybe find
work in a hostel. I think that mostly when I get fed
up it's because I'm tired of being on the move all the
majority of the time I travel with people I meet along
the way, but sometimes I am on my own. For a while this
is fine. It's nice to wander around and see a place
on your own without having someone there to distract
you. But after a while I feel that I have to start looking
for some company before I go mad and start scaring people
in the street by following them around in a vain attempt
to befriend them.
JC: Have you had inspiration on your travels from an
interesting or unusual source?
It's hard to say really. My inspiration seems to come
from all sorts of places. While travelling Ireland I
was reading Tony Hawks' book Round Ireland with a Fridge.
In this he described how he went to Tory Island and
met a King. After reading that there was a character
who lived on a remote island off Ireland's north coast
who calls himself the King, I just had to go there.
Other ideas come from people I meet along the way, or
from overhearing conversations. One such example was
talking to a woman working in a hostel in Carlow. She
asked if I had been to the road where things go backwards,
and I thought she was joking. Next thing I knew she
got her father on the phone who proceeded to tell all
about this section of road up near Dundalk where if
you park at the bottom of the hill and release the brake,
your vehicle will roll backwards up the hill of its
own accord. I got the directions from him and set out
in search of this phenomenon, and wrote an article on
it that was published by a magazine in Dublin.