Lyn Hughes Q&A Interview

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Lyn Hughes Interview

Lyn Hughes and her late husband Paul Morrison launched Wanderlust magazine in 1993 having thought out the project on a flight to Ecuador. It has since gone on to become the UK’s leading publication for independent travellers, and one for which Bill Bryson claimed, “There simply isn’t a better magazine for the serious traveller.” Since then the couple were also involved in the relaunch of Songlines, the world music magazine, covering everything from traditional and popular to contemporary and fusion.

When and where did you first begin travelling and was it clear to you that one day you’d want to make it such a great part of your life?

Believe it or not, I was a late starter. My first longhaul trip was Hong Kong when I was 22. But, geography was one of my favourite subjects at school, David Attenborough was my hero, and I devoured any travel book I could get my hands on.

Much like Hilary Bradt, Tony Wheeler and Mark Ellingham decided to publish guidebooks when travelling, you came up with the idea of creating the magazine en-route to South America. What led to that initial inspiration and when you sketched out your plans did you ever really imagine it would all come about in such a successful way or were you just passing the time on a flight?

My late husband, Paul Morrison, and I were on a flight to South America in late 1992. We were travelling light – hand luggage only – so had no books to read. There was no entertainment on the plane so we had to make our own. There was an in-flight mag so we’d read that from front to back. It got us talking about magazines and why there were no travel magazines for people like us. We borrowed a pen off a stewardess and started planning out our perfect magazine on a sickbag .We argued for years over which of us actually turned to the other and said “We could do this for real.”

What were those first few months like working out of the spare bedroom? I understand you had no real journalism or publishing experience so how scary was it for you and Paul to give up successful careers in pursuit of the dream?

When it comes to life changes, the only scary bit is making the actual decision. That point with us was when, on the eve of us buying our first Apple Mac – the only reason to buy was to run publishing software on it, – I got a phone call from Australia offering me a terrific job. We sat up all night discussing what to do. Our heads said to go Australia, but our hearts told us to stay and launch Wanderlust. So, that’s what we did.

Since then, Paul also relaunched Songlines, the world music magazine, after it was dropped by Haymarket and, like Wanderlust, it appears to have gone from strength to strength. It clearly sits very well with the Wanderlust brand, but how did that all come about?

Paul was a subscriber to Songlines, and was really disappointed when it stopped publishing. Eventually a consortium of five of us got together, including its editor, its founder, and Mark Ellingham, founder of Rough Guides, to rescue it. We set it up as its own company, and it was initially based in the Wanderlust offices. We redesigned it, made it more accessible to non-experts, and focussed on building the subscription base. I hadn’t been as enthusiastic as Paul about taking it on as he was fighting cancer. He was in hospital leading up the launch, and so I used to go visit him in the evenings with all the layouts and reports. I’d then go back to the office at 10pm and put in a few more hours work. Not easy days. But Songlines is now flourishing and has a cracking team. Paul would be really proud.

You’ll soon be relaunching the Wanderlust website. What can your readers expect to find on the new site? And are there any plans to continue to expand your media reach beyond Wanderlust, the website and Songlines?

Our website has long been due an overhaul so we are very excited. There will be a lot more content on there, including an archive of articles from the magazine. And we’ll also be able to be a lot more topical and react to relevant news stories immediately. There will also be a separate but related networking/community site for our readers, contributors and other keen travellers to share experiences, tips, photos and video footage.

We already publish several newsletters and magazines for travel companies on their behalf. Basically, we’ll do anything to do with travel media – as long as we passionately believe in it.

Many of our interviewees come to Stanfords with Travellers’ Tales and you’re also involved with that company while also running Wanderlust’s own writing courses. Why do you think all these great travel writers and photographers want to teach? What do you personally take from the experience? And what is your one big tip to somebody wanting to get published as a writer or photographer?

Travel writing and photography are incredibly competitive and we are getting approached all the time. But the good news is the number of outlets has also grown considerably over the past decade. Most people wanting to break in fall into the trap of thinking that it’s just enough to write up an account of their last trip. It’s stimulating to see some of the participants in the talks and courses really develop and start to see the world from the view of the readers and editors. My top tip would be to join out next course with Travellers’ Tales!

Finally, what is your favourite sort of travel and your favourite destination? What has been your best and worst travel experience? And what are your favourite and most hated aspects of travel?

My loves are wildlife, horses, and big landscapes; a walking or riding safari is probably my dream trip. However, I’m also interested in local culture (I always try and visit a supermarket in any destination!) and relish culture shock.

Iran was one of my best trips; it overturned all my preconceptions and the people were so welcoming.

My least favourite aspect of travelling is often the airport and the flight – the way we are treated is increasingly dehumanising. My favourite aspect is those unexpected encounters and experiences that end up enriching your life for years to come.

First published:, 30 July 2007
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JamesLyn Hughes Q&A Interview