The next trip I am planning to write about is to Nicaragua. I had my first assignment from a magazine and thought this was going to be a fine way to travel and see the world. I got a decent article out of it, but looking through my journals I realize I was constantly busy collecting facts and looking for people to interview and making telling observations and felt like I was in a bubble as much as any tourist, albeit a more serious and high-purpose one.
I realized that much as I enjoyed playing foreign correspondent -- the writer traveling on assignment -- I was not enjoying being a traveler. I tried it one more time, producing an article closer to what I wanted to write, but, alas, not what the editor had in mind and after a few back-and-forths I decided I didn’t want to write what she wanted -- and she probably concluded that I was incapable of writing one -- and I accepted the kill fee. After that, I paid my own way and did not travel any more on assignment and have enjoyed every trip.
I like to take my time in a foreign place -- to dawdle over coffee or sit on a park bench or browse through second-hand shops -- and what interests me may not interest more serious people. And it may be that traveling on assignment caused me to look at the world around me through the eyes of my intended reader rather than my own, and bound me to the concerns of the world I should have left behind when I set out.