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Don't be a grumpy traveller, be a happy one - follow these Vacation Rules

Posted on 27 Feb 2013 at 14:00 pm by Yeoh Siew Hoon

You’ve met Rod Cuthbert, the travel entrepreneur, the founder of Viator and currently the interim chairman of Rome2Rio. Now meet Rod Cuthbert, the author.

The Melbourne-based executive has self-published a book called “Vacation Rules: A Guide to Travel Happiness”, co-authored with psychologist Sebastian Filep. The book is available on Amazon.

I caught up with Rod last evening in Melbourne where he shared the story behind the making of the book and the process of self-publishing which spanned New York, San Francisco, Indonesia and of course, Melbourne, a true exercise in outsourcing, crowd sourcing and collaboration.

Q: What prompted the idea?

A few things came together: first, I read Alain de Botton's Art of Travel. That got me thinking about why people travel, and what makes them happy when they do. Then, I had a period (2005-2008 when I did a lot of travel and talked to a lot of travellers. I became intrigued about why two people, having a similar experience, could be having such different reactions to it. I asked a lot of questions and started to develop some theories. Then the final piece fell into place: I read Michael Pollan's Food Rules. I saw immediately that the format of the book was one I could use to capture my ideas and deliver them in a readable way. By the way, I talk about this specific topic in a video on our site.

Q. Why did you want to write this book?

Like the proponents of positive psychology, I believe that there's much good to be gained by helping people achieve happiness. Given that many of us focus lots of energy on our vacations and look to those trips as a key source of happiness, helping people achieve better vacation outcomes seems like a valuable goal.

Q. How long did it take? What research/preparation work did you have to do?

I decided to write the book in early 2011, so it's been a couple of years as a part-time project. The last few months have been very concentrated, though, as I've been working closely with my co-author, Sebastian Filep, who is an academic who studies "tourism happiness." He was able to draw on the significant body of research in this field to underpin the theories (and "rules") that I'd developed, and to develop new ones as well.

Q: What were the challenges? Did you struggle with it?

Yes, we struggled a lot! The key challenge was finding a voice that sounded authoritative while remaining conversational. Sebastian, who normally writes for academic journals, found that particularly hard! Our New York-based editor, Lucinda Bartley, helped straighten us out and we're certainly getting feedback that the book is easy to read.

Q: What was the process of self-publishing like?

Like so many things nowadays, we (the co-authors and our team) worked completely remotely: Dunedin, Melbourne, San Francisco, Houston, New York and Jogjakarta! Sebastian and I spent time together on a couple of occasions to nut out things on the whiteboard, but other than that it was email, Skype and Dropbox!

Through contacts I found Lucinda Bartley, a freelance editor based in New York. That was a crucial hire and I can't imagine writing anything for public consumption without a great editor. Even a little book like Vacation Rules, around 10,000 words, came back from the first edit with 649 changes! And we know how to use spell-check! Having someone apply Chicago Manual of Style to your work is a humbling experience.

For the cover, I used 99designs. Initially the designs were disappointing, but as the process progressed they got better and better and by the end I could have selected any one of the four finalists. All told I had 186 designs to choose from. For $349, that's not bad. The turnaround was fast, and my designer, Zizii, who is based in Indonesia, completely "got" what we wanted to do with the cover.

Converting the book into Kindle, iPad and other formats is a tricky process so I used e-Book Architects, who are based in Houston. Fast, inexpensive and they know all the tricks. 

Finally, I found Maryam Taheri, our social media manager, through an ad I placed on Craigslist in San Francisco. I got 40+ responses and could have hired maybe 10 of them. Maryam had experience with using social media to promote various products and I loved her enthusiasm; she sent a draft manuscript to her mother and grandmother, who both emailed me directly with suggestions and commentary, all of which was instantly useful. You can't beat that. Maryam manages our Twitter, FB, Pinterest and website, all of which we'll use to drive awareness and collect reader submissions for new rules.

Q: Finally, what do you want people to say after they've read the book?

"Before I plan my next vacation I'm going to spend some time thinking about why I really want to go in the first place, and what I want to achieve. Once I get that straight I think every other decision I make about this trip will be easier, and I'll have a better time!"

Tags: vacation rules , travel happiness , rod cuthbert , travel book , self publishing