For most of us, Joseph Rosendo’s life is what dreams are made of. An award-winning travel journalist, he has been to 93 countries in 40 years. In his latest book, Musings: The Short Happy Pursuit of Pleasure and Other Journeys, he talks about the highs and lows, lessons learned and unlearned
Zipping off across the planet, experiencing the bizarre and the normal, Joseph Rosendo says he got hooked to travel by chance in 1969. Eventually chance became choice in 1980 and since then he’s been writing on travel, food and wine. Since 2005, he has hosted, directed and written the television series, Travelscope. The series airs on PBS and Public TV stations in the U.S. and Canada and streams on Amazon. The series have won six Emmys and 50 telly awards. He was awarded the ‘Medaille d’Or du Tourisme’ from France, ‘Globe and Mail Travel Media Award’ and ‘Northern Lights Broadcast Award’ from Canada.
Rosendo is also the publisher of the quarterly Travelscope magazine. Along with the magazine, his blogs and podcasts are available on travelscope.net.
The book, Musings, is a compilation of his column from Travelscope magazine, which he wrote over years. With Rosendo, you experience the human and the humane. There are no lists here—no makeup frills or poses in fancy clothes. Just simple, emotive experiences shared by an enthusiastic traveller who wants to know how the natives live in that region. While he does travel in groups on occasions and goes for the customary tourist tours, he also explore the lands on his own in free time. He makes some friends, he finds some not-so-good characters but each journey brings an insight. Rosendo does not shy from discussing his Cuban roots. He talks about the much-awaited family holidays. He talks about being his grandpa’s favourite grandchild, his father’s exuberance, the not-so-happy married life of his parents, losing his young brother, being taken for a ride in Egypt, trying to garner too many experiences in France and not absorbing even one fully.
To put it in his words, “You see, for me, travel is a shared experience. I want someone with whom to share sunrise on Machu Picchu, nights on the Mediterranean, the stones and stories of Jerusalem and all those plush king-size beds, in-room jacuzzis and scrumptious dinners. Often it’s a struggle to make a living as a travel journalist. Yet, most of us don’t do it for money, we do it for love — love of adventure, of experience, of people and, above all else, as an expression of love of another.” Rosendo’s honesty is the most endearing quality of this book.
Via Zoom, Joseph Rosendo shares why he can never stop travelling. Excerpts:
- Before getting into travel, you did theatre for 14 years. How did the travel bug bite you?
I joined UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) to make a career out of theatre. In the book, there is a chapter on how my sister ignited this spark in childhood. And through the university, we were sent to Germany to do a show for American troops in 1969. The war with Vietnam was on and it was a tumultuous, emotional time, especially for young people. I was 23 years old and this was my first trip out of the country. The ambience and the culture of Europe changed my perspective to life. I got some time to see Germany during that trip.
Later, after coming back, I went to Europe twice—once for three months and another time for two months. I saw Italy, France, Spain, Austria, more of Germany. Then I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life-travel and see new cultures, meet interesting people and become a better person.
- Your first story was published in 1980 in the Los Angeles Times. How did that happen?
Once I had decided that I was going to be travel writer, I read many books, attended many seminars and went through lessons on how to pitch my stories, approach editors. I understood what they wanted and my first story was on ‘Leasing a car in Europe’. I was paid $100 for this story.
Of course, there were many rejections after that and I went through many jobs to support my passion and dream. It wasn’t the easiest of dreams to fulfill. But I believe that you need to put your heart and soul into something for it to materialize. In his famous book, Walden, author Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours…” The main thing here is endeavours—you keep trying till you succeed.
- Would you tell us about the challenges?
After much trial and error, I realized that it is not possible to make a living through freelance travel writing, so I thought of radio and TV shows. And kept myself prepared should any such opportunity come my way. Then in 1984, the Olympics were to be held in Los Angeles. And my writing partner then, my first wife, and I wrote around 40 articles on Los Angeles as the city prepared for the games. I co-wrote and self-published An Insider’s Guide to Los Angeles for international travellers too during that period.
My beginnings were humble. My focus was not on wealth but on experience. I wanted to become a bigger person, as in being a better person and with each journey I learned something new. I realized that nothing is ever perfect, there are good times and there are bad experiences but there is a lesson in each of them.
As I endeavoured, I finally got a radio show. And being able to market the show, I got advertisements for that as well. I just worked on it. When I met Julie (my wife and TV show producer), the TV shows became a reality. I had been collecting videos for five years before that. I knew I wanted to do this but was unable to execute. In all these skills, all my training in theatre and acting helped. I was used to being on the stage. I was comfortable being a presenter and I had a good idea about how a story should be told. I also wrote Where To Go When and Where To Go When—The Americas for DK Eyewitness Travel Guides.
Actually, we don’t even know what we are being prepared for. As and when we discover that, everything starts unfolding by itself. All of us have potential and gifts, we just need to bring all these out to find our goals in life. Of course, circumstances and the people you meet also have to be a part of this journey. I am blessed this happened to me.
- The book is a memoir of sorts. But it’s also about people wanting to visit a destination and what they will find there. How did this blend come about?
When I though about writing the book, the purpose was that it should be interesting, entertaining, and inspirational. This is why I put some of my travel experiences, not all, and some interesting stories about my family. The whole purpose of travel is to see life and along the way you collect souvenirs. There are some things and memories you want to keep, some you want to get rid off. The journey teaches you to stay flexible, become adaptable, celebrate the things that aren’t perfect. The book has many shades—I have written about the dark side of the journey too, such as the encounter in Alexandria where I was ripped off.
- You have quoted many authors in the book and the book begins with a quote by Mark Twain.
Yes, I feel that there are many smart people out there and I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I read them and take their words to heart. We begin all our shows with the quote by Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” I firmly believe that this is the purpose of travel.
- You say that travel is a teacher.
Travel opens up a full spectrum of possibilities. For me, travel is about experiences. It gives me a lifestyle I could not afford in the earlier days. Through travel I lived the life of my dreams—educational, inspirational, pleasurable and entertaining. I believe if you work towards your dreams, the universe will move things to make you successful in your endeavours. You just have to work confidently on a daily basis. In the 1980s, I would call up editors regularly and as my reputation grew, I was also invited by many tourism boards to get an experience of their countries and cities. I have also been part of many seminars and conferences on travel to share my experiences.
- In the age of listicles and short attention spans, what is your advice to aspiring writers? How should they approach travel writing?
When I started out, only magazines and newspapers published travel features. But now the options are many such as social media, blogs, podcasts, vlogs. We are also present on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. But the approach remains the same.
a. A travel writer needs to do his research. If you are unprepared for the destination, you might miss out on the experience. You might not see the destination with the right perspective.
b. At the same time, you must be open to the experience and let the destination become your guide. For instance, before coming to India, I read about it to get a sense of what the country is. But when I finally came, India is so many things more than what I expected. I found something new at every turn. India is loaded. Not all my experiences were great or happy but the purpose of travel is to expand your horizons, open your mind and heart.
c. Know your audience. You are travelling for yourself but you are also selling the story to an audience. You have to satisfy them too. I know my viewers on PBS want to know the place and experience it fully. I design my content honestly around that. I give them authentic experiences, so they can also come back smarter and have that WOW factor when they look back. Vacations are about sweet memories.
d. If you are writing for a tour agent, then the content has to be different. If you are catering to a tourism board, then the style is different.
e. There are mindblowing, awesome experiences and there are life changing experiences. Jumping into the
Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls is a mindblowing experience. But my first trip to Europe was a life changing experience and this is what Pico Iyer calls a significant moment in his books. Sharing this with your audience is important.
- Any travel writers that you recommend?
Do read Musings: The Short Happy Pursuit of Pleasure and Other Journeys for sure (he smiles). I like Pico Iyer, Mark Twain, Paul Theroux and there are many more. In guide books, I always carry Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.
- Which countries are on your bucket list?
I will keep traveling as long as I am able to. I have to see New Zealand, the African countries and more of South America.
- Some musings for us…
I have a very 1960s view of life in the sense that we are all obligated to do good for the planet.I never wanted to sightsee through life. We come on the planet to fulfill our potential and our purpose, create something worthwhile and add to the good in this world. I am living my potential through my shows and articles. I wish the same for other people too. My brother passed away at the age of 35. He did not live up to his potential and travel gives us the pathway to make the most of life. We are lifelong learners.
Joseph Rosendo also addresses national travel and wellness conferences, consumer shows and private gatherings. He can be reached at Rosendo@Travelscope.net