Author Tags: Travel
David Stanley of Nanaimo is a veteran world traveler who has visited more than 195 countries and territories. Each year he tries to get to a few of the countries still on his to-do list. Stanley prefers to travel incognito and rough, using public transportation whenever possible, and staying at inexpensive hotels of the kind he recommends in his guidebooks. Travel has been a central part of his life since he left university in 1973, and he is now enjoying his semi-retirement on Vancouver Island.
Date Of Birth: September 11, 1944
Place Of Birth: Toronto, Ontario
Arrival in BC: 2003
Travel Publishing News Awards, Guidebook of the Year, April 22, 1990, for Tahiti-Polynesia Handbook (Moon Tahiti)
Moon Fiji (Avalon Travel Publishing, 1985, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007)
Moon Tahiti (Avalon Travel Publishing, 1989, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007)
Moon Handbooks South Pacific (Avalon Travel Publishing, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1989, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2004)
Lonely Planet Canada’s Maritime Provinces (Lonely Planet Publications, 2002)
Lonely Planet Cuba (Lonely Planet Publications, 1997, 2000)
Tonga-Samoa Handbook (Avalon Travel Publishing, 1999)
Eastern Europe on a Shoestring (Lonely Planet Publications, 1989, 1991, 1995)
Moon Handbooks Micronesia (Avalon Travel Publishing, 1985, 1989, 1992)
Alaska-Yukon Handbook (Avalon Travel Publishing, 1983)
[BCBW 2008] "Travel"
Just Pretend It Isn't Me
Personal Essay (2008)
Just Pretend It Isn’t Me… Thirty Years As A Guidebook Writer
By David Stanley
In 1978, I researched the first edition of Moon Handbooks South Pacific, and over the next quarter century the book went through eight editions. Recently however, Avalon Travel Publishing and I have come to the conclusion that a new edition isn’t feasible. So the original travel guidebook to the South Pacific will go out of print when copies of the 8th edition are sold out.
The deciding factor was economic. Over the past decade book sales have declined steadily, partly due to competition from other guides but more because so much is now available for free online. What Internet users don’t seem to realize, however, is that the bulk of travel websites are either paid advertising by businesses or hobby websites run by individuals. The discipline of a professional book editor is almost always lacking. I haven’t seen a website yet that tells the whole story the way a good travel guidebook should.
In a way, I’m an amateur traveler myself having stumbled into travel writing quite by accident. In 1976 and 1977 I made two extensive trips to Indonesia accompanied by a slim red volume titled Indonesia, A Traveler’s Notes. Each winter when I returned to my job as a customer service representative at a Caribbean resort, I dutifully typed out my own impressions of Indonesia and mailed them to the guidebook’s author, Bill Dalton.
Bill was most grateful for the feedback and we began to correspond. When Bill heard that the South Pacific islands were next on my itinerary, he proposed that we co-author a travel guide to the region. Nothing of the kind existed at the time. I was doubtful, but since I’d decided to go anyway and Bill was prepared to do the donkey work of researching the background chapters, I agreed.
My first plane ticket across the South Pacific was the longest ever issued in Canada by Pan American Airways. There was even an item about it in a Canadian travel trade magazine. I’d arranged over 50 stops between Los Angeles and Singapore.
Back in the Caribbean the following winter, I wrote it all up in guidebook form and sent the results to Bill, which he self-published in 1979. It was the second title in the Moon Handbooks series, after Bill’s own Indonesia Handbook. Today Moon’s successor company, Avalon Travel Publishing, has well over 100 titles.
After the first edition, Bill decided that publishing and updating his own book deserved all his time, so I researched and wrote the following seven editions single-handed. And on successive trips over the next quarter century, I recorded the development of tourism in the islands. In the early days there was only one large resort on Bora Bora and it was fine to camp free for as long as you liked on the beach in the center of Vaitape. Do that today and you’ll be visited by the gendarmes within 10 or 15 minutes.
My strangest experience occurred when I happened to coincide with the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Solomon Islands in 1984. For some reason all news media had been banned from the Solomon Islands by the government, although one reporter from New Caledonia did manage to slip through and filed a story from Noumea. This provoked outrage among officials in Honiara, and when I tried to board my flight to Fiji the next day, I was taken aside for questioning.
Evidentally the airport officials became suspicious when they saw me writing in my notebook while awaiting my flight, and someone commented that they’d seen me prowling around the airport perimeter the week before. Well, that’s logical as Henderson Airport was a major World War Two battle site, something which would interest a travel writer. Of course, I didn’t tell them I was a guidebook writer. To them and everyone else on all of my Pacific travels over the years, I was just a vacationing travel agent.
In the end, I was taken to see the Minister of Immigration himself at his villa in the hills above Honiara. The airport officials had scrutinized everything in my notebook, and the most damning evidence against me was the mention of a fellow employed at the Honiara town jail who was visited by the Pope. I’d been in to see him because he was supervising a group of prisoners who made handicrafts for sale to tourists.
When I explained that I’d been at the Presbyterian Rest House chatting with the pastor during the Pope’s entire six-hour visit and my story checked out, they decided I wasn’t an undercover reporter after all and drove me down to the Mendana Hotel, where I spent the night courtesy of Air Pacific as our flight had been delayed.
I’ve always researched my books incognito. I prefer to arrive unexpected and uninvited, and to see things as my readers will see them. This usually works well, although I was once chased down the street by an irate American hotelier in Fiji who couldn’t understand why I’d come in and asked dozens of questions, then just said thanks and left. On a small Pacific island, news that a travel guidebook writer is on the scene travels with tsunami speed and makes it next to impossible for me to do my work. People just clam up when they see me, and it could even be dangerous, so I always deny I’m David Stanley even if someone guesses it’s me.
However, now that Moon Handbooks South Pacific is history, my future travels around the region will be more focused. I intend to continue with Moon Fiji and Moon Tahiti, new editions of which were published by Avalon in late 2007. Eventually I may post most of the text, photos, and maps from Moon Handbooks South Pacific on my personal website www.southpacific.org. And yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s something of a hobby site too.
A request: If you spot me in the islands, please be cool and pretend it’s not me. Give me a wink and we’ll get along fine.
--March/April 2008 issue of Pacific Magazine (Honolulu), reprinted by permission of the author