Written by root. Posted in IN PERSON


Published on September 01, 2015 with No Comments

Writer/architect/illustrator/musician/part-time stand-up comedian, Tom Schmidt takes a breather from his multiple roles to speak to MUHIBAH on his award-winning Bumbling Traveller Adventure Series.


You set out your Bumbling Traveller Adventure Series as a platform to promote cultural and environmental awareness. Were you able to get feedback from your readers on how the books have impacted them?
I’ve received some great book reviews and feedback from various readers over the past few years – fortunately, it’s been overwhelming positive. Some readers who live in the places that I’ve written about are surprised to learn things about their country that they never knew. I feel that sometimes we travel the world, but rarely explore our own backyard. I’m always shocked to learn things about my hometown that have been written by other travellers – particularly writers from different cultures – as they tend to look at things with fresh eyes and a very different perspective.


You also said Bumbling began as a booklet for your grandmother. Was she a traveller also and do you still keep her in mind when you write your books?
I do often think of my late grandmother when I write my books. Before I was born, her family travelled across the US extensively by car. However, I remember her best as more of an armchair traveller in her later years; she was constantly reading books that would take her to some faraway place. She was always very curious and inquisitive about different places in the world and different cultures, and as I was growing up, I think some of those attributes rubbed off on me. After I returned from some of my backpacking adventures in my younger years, I produced small handmade booklets for my grandmother, other family members and friends to convey my travel experiences – so I wouldn’t need to repeat the same story a hundred times.


Tell us the inspiration behind some of your characters.
Many of the characters in my books are hybrids of actual travellers who I had backpacked with, or met over the years. I’ve found that as a solo traveller, some of the people with whom I’ve travelled are often more interesting and entertaining than the places that I’ve visited – sometimes your fellow traveller can either make or break a segment of your journey. I am always amazed at the variety of people of all ages who are out there on their own, roaming the world. I’ve travelled with people ranging from rambunctious teenagers on school holidays, to an 80-something year old British woman who was bravely backpacking on her own across the world. It’s exciting to travel with people from different cultures, and who have different vocations and interests – a friendly chat during a 10-minute bus ride with a fellow backpacker from another country can open up an entire new world, and radically change one’s perspective. I’m still always amazed at the kindness of strangers and their willingness to help out wayward travellers.


Were there any lessons you’ve learnt after writing three volumes of the series?
One thing I’ve found is that a writer can never do justice to a place in just a few pages within a book. Every destination has positive and negative attributes, and so much history and depth – it’s always difficult to choose what aspects to write about. One of the most important lessons I discovered in the writing process was that my detailed travel journals and in-situ sketches provided excellent source material for my books, and helped me remember my first impressions of a place, which we often tend to forget as time passes. As I reflect upon writing about some of the adventures contained in the book series – which are largely autobiographical – I feel like I’m lucky to still be alive! The biggest lesson learned was that I should have taken many more photos of the places that I visited in my earlier, pre-digital camera years, despite the cost and challenges of developing film over an extended trip. The world is changing so rapidly; if we don’t document it, things will be lost forever.


In the age of Kindle and e-publishing, how do you manage to stay relevant?
I think that with richly illustrated and hand drawn books published in physical form, there is still something “tangible” which readers can hold in their hands, appreciate, and can become a unique addition to their bookshelf. As an example, I also produce limited edition hand drawn holiday cards that I send to family and friends through the post each year. I think that in the current age of e-publishing, there is simply too much “noise” and electronic materials competing for our attention, and we eventually get desensitised. When my holiday cards arrive by snail mail, they get noticed and are hung up on people’s refrigerators or office cubicles … and surprisingly, they often stay there for years.


As a traveller yourself, what are the things you seek out when you visit a new place? How do you research a place to go beyond the must-sees/dos for something new?
When I travel, I try to seek out the more obscure and bizarre sights whenever possible. As an architect, I love historic architectural and archaeological sites. I also typically try to get a flavour of the local housing, how people live, and how things are constructed – which sometimes takes me into less visited neighbourhoods or traditional villages. Sometimes, I intentionally try to get lost, since it usually results in a memorable experience. Like many other travellers, I also try to get recommendations of good places to eat and things to see and do from the local people who live there. I think the key is to research as much as possible before a trip, but leave the gadgets at home, unplug, and actually go back to the basics of talking with people and asking for directions and local advice. I also like to leave enough free time in my itinerary to enjoy unexpected discoveries. I see too many travellers who have every hour of their trip programmed, plugged into their headphones in a private world of music, and slavishly following the GPS on their smartphones to the next tourist attraction while tweeting – as they miss the sights and sounds that surround them and the hidden gems waiting in unexplored back alleys.


Have you started on Series 4? If so, what can we expect – or what can you share with us without revealing too much.
Yes, volume 4 of the Bumbling Traveller Adventure Series is currently under production. The ending of the third volume hints at the Himalayan destination where the Bumbling Travellers might end up, as they get one step closer to unravelling a lingering mystery that runs through the entire series. The fourth book will be published later this year, so stay tuned!



Tom Schmidt’s BUMBLING TRAVELLER ADVENTURE SERIES books can be found in bookstores.

MPH members get 10% discount. Alternatively, enjoy free delivery* when you purchase on: www.mphonline.com
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