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Five Questions with Kate Morgan

Travel writer Kate Morgan has had to switch gears over the last eighteen months, for obvious reasons. With international travel off the cards, and domestic travel a gamble, Kate turned her attention to penning two books on happiness and wellness, gathering together everything she’s learnt from countries and cultures around the globe. Now a local author and editor at Black Inc., Kate is excited about this new phase in her career. She stopped by the shop for a chat and to sign her books, The Globetrotter’s Guide to Happiness and Destination Wellness.

Your book The Globetrotter’s Guide to Happiness is described as a ‘passport to philosophies from around the globe’. So where do you take us, in the book? Which countries do we travel to?

That’s right, it’s a little trip around the world delving into the ways other countries approach wellbeing and happiness – an introduction to the philosophies other cultures live by and how we might learn from them. So, we travel to Japan for ikigai (identifying your purpose in life) and shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), take a look at the significance of the coffee ceremony in Ethiopia, find out how getting into nature (frilufstliv) helps the Norwegians, and learn how weaving a bit of Hawaii’s Aloha Spirit into your life might help you become healthier and happier.

The ideas in the book are drawn from your career as a travel writer for Lonely Planet, which you’ve been for over 10 years. What’s it like being a travel writer? Is it as amazing as it sounds?

I started in-house at LP in royalties and copyright, then moved up to become a commissioning editor before deciding I wanted to be the one getting out on the road as an author. Lonely Planet has been an amazing company to work for – really life-changing. Obviously it’s a very privileged job and one I am so grateful to be able to do. It’s enabled me to visit so many places around the world from Zimbabwe, the Philippines and India to Japan, Russia and Crete. I’ve had incredible experiences, seen a lot more than I normally would on a holiday, and met many people from different backgrounds with different stories. Of course, it can be gruelling, frustrating and dull at times too, but just try and complain about it to family and friends – no one’s buying that!

The book introduces the reader to many different ideas of happiness and wellness. Do you have a favourite philosophy, or a practice you’ve integrated into your everyday life?

The final months of working on the book coincided with me planning a wedding, buying a house and trying to meet deadlines for other work. Then I submitted the final files to the publisher right as COVID hit! So the timing was perfect for reflecting on these philosophies and trying to integrate them into my own life for some peace and calm amid the turmoil. I’ve integrated aspects of many of them, from taking time to make a ritual out of my morning coffee to doing regular yoga sessions at home. But my favourite might be the Dutch philosophy of gezelligheid. Basically, it’s about getting comfy and cosy, setting the scene with soft lightning, and enjoying the simple pleasures – reading, listening to a record, staring out the window, whatever you like. It takes me back to whiling away time sipping wine in Amsterdam’s candle-lit bars.

And, on the flip side, what’s the most unusual way to achieve contentment you discovered while researching the book? Was there anything that made you go wow, I would not have thought of that!

Yes, ice swimming! No thanks. Not something that sprang to mind when considering what might be a good way to relax and find some inner calm. But in Finland, it’s a popular way to refresh the mind and body; it feeds into the philosophy of ‘sisu’, a kind of mental strength and fortitude. I feel like one day I need to give it a go, but that day hasn’t yet come. Not even in the name of research for this book. Instead, I interviewed the author of a book dedicated to sisu to find out about its benefits.

We imagine 2020 was a very difficult year for a travel writer. How did you work and life change during COVID? Do you hope to get back on the road again soon?

Life as a travel writer came to a halt in early 2020 thanks to COVID. But, of course, it’s been a tough and challenging time for so many people. I was fortunate enough to have some freelance work lined up that saw me through most of 2020. I wrote another book called Destination Wellness, published by Hardie Grant in April this year, and I got to work on a great book called Eat Japan about Japanese cuisine to be published soon by Lonely Planet. Aside from that, I did a lot of reading and thinking about what my next career step might be. I’ve been freelancing on and off and travel writing for over a decade now and it seemed like a good time to reflect and plan, considering international travel will be off the cards still for some time. I was thrilled to land a role recently as a Senior Editor at Black Inc. – it’s a dream job for me to work on a publishing list like Black Inc.’s, so I’m really excited about this next phase. But I do hope that I’ll be back on the road again overseas in the future – if it’s not for work then at least for a holiday. And I’m still writing books and working on freelance travel stuff when I can, I can’t give it up completely!