Some people dream of traveling in their spare time, while others work while traveling! We are talking to a man who knows perfectly well how to combine the pleasant with the useful. Michal Cessanis, journalist, traveler, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler and author of the TV travel series "Do zobaczenia” in Dzień Dobry TVN. Previously a journalist for "Nowy Życie Pabianic", "Express Ilustrowany", "Życie Warszawy" and "Rzeczpospolita". He is the author of the travel books "Tales from Five Sides of the World" and "Made in China" published by National Geographic. In the role of interviewer Mariusz Pleban, CEO of OneMulti, privately also a traveler. 


Mariusz Pleban: You're a travel journalist, tell us where you've been over the past year and where you're still going this year and next year? 

Michał Cessanis: I admit that I have so many of these trips during the year that I had to look through the photo archive to answer this question accurately. It's good that you don't ask how many countries I've visited in general, because I always have a problem with that. I admit that I don't count it, I don't do any statistics at all, and besides, there are countries, such as Sri Lanka and China, about which I wrote a book, where I returned many times. This year is a very good year for me in terms of traveling, and consequently writing for National Geographic Traveler, as well as showing the world to Dzień Dobry TVN viewers. In the last year I visited Japan, Laos, Thailand, Madeira several times, and Italy, Cyprus and Turkey, there was also a cruise on a big cruise ship in the Mediterranean (I fulfilled my parents' dream for their 50th wedding anniversary), then I flew to Switzerland, crossed the country again on panoramic trains, and still to Estonia, to see how one lives in the most digital country in the world (99% of things are done here via the Internet). What places ahead of me? In 2023 I will still visit the Canary Islands, the United Arab Emirates, Austria, and end the year in Mexico. Really a lot of it, I catch a slight breathlessness when I think of the pace at which I live. But I don't know how to slow down. Asking about plans for next year? I'd like to go back to Buenos Aires and lose myself in tango again, I'm also thinking about Chile and, of course, Asia. I miss Vietnam, I miss Indonesia. Maybe I can see Cambodia for the first time? It all depends on ticket prices. They often determine the direction of my next trip. 

MP: That's impressive! And what do you get to know when you travel? 

MC: First of all, the people. They are always the most important to me and it is their stories that I base my reports on. I used to spend a lot of time in museums, art galleries, rushing through countries, cities to see as many tourist attractions as possible. But today I don't want to see as much as possible, I just want to know as much as possible about a place. And no one can tell me about it like the people I meet on the road. Imagine spending long hours at a table with the residents of a place (nothing brings people together like a table) to tell me as much as possible about their lives. After all, they are the ones who create the atmosphere of cities, towns, villages around the world. People's stories fascinate me, and people leave, and it is their stories that follow them. That's why I prefer to listen to them. Human beings are most important to me. 

MP: Michał, are you more of a journalist or an influencer? What is the difference between journalist Michał Cessanis and influencer Cessanis on suitcases? 

MC: It's complicated, because I can't quite find myself in the world of influencers. First of all, I am a journalist, one with flesh and blood, a journalist who has been working in the media for 25 years and writing, but also editing texts as I did for years in the national section of "Rzeczpospolita" or in "Życie Warszawy" and "Ekspress Illustrated." So I come from news journalism, but nevertheless news tires me out and I was really fed up with it. That's why I started my travel website, because travel has always been my element, and because I'm a good journalist and editor, I started working for National Geographic Traveler 12 years ago, and more than five years ago for TVN. So Cessanis on suitcases social media came later than Cessanis the journalist. And today it's really not easy for me to make a mass presence in them. Of course, I publish a lot of interesting information about the world in them, including about my private life, but with people who are influencers and being them is their main job and a place to make money, it is difficult for me to compare. I have a friend, an excellent travel influencer, who has already earned more than 2 million PLN from selling guidebooks and books about Italy and her online business alone, which she openly writes about in her channels. My followers on Instagram are obviously increasing, TVN is giving me more and more recognition and popularity, but I'm still a journalist, not an influencer, and I think I'm fine with that. I prefer to focus on writing reports, rather than just building reach with only a few seconds of rolls on Instagram or beautiful photos with short descriptions. My social media is an addition to my daily work. I hope that artificial intelligence will soon help me develop them. :) 

MP: Oh, it's about artificial intelligence that I'll ask you more later. Going back to what you said, tell me what skills do you consider essential for a travel journalist and how do you work to develop them? 

MC: The most important thing is openness to the world. I know it may be a trite statement, but I understand openness as acceptance. Acceptance of cultures, religions, rituals, customs, rules and principles of a place. I always keep in mind that when flying somewhere, I am just a guest there, I am there for a while, so I never judge what I find there. I take it as another experience. This is very important to me. Just like listening to the people I've already mentioned here. Or actually not listening but hearing what they want to tell me. One can listen and not hear. I'm still learning to listen carefully. And I'm still learning languages, because I believe that knowing even basic phrases in the language of the community I'm flying to is extremely important. It breaks down a lot of barriers and allows you to spend more time together. 

MP: Tell us what are the biggest challenges you face as a travel journalist? 

MC: After the pandemic and the outbreak of war in Ukraine, it's all about prices. When someone today asks me about proven ideas for cheap travel, I sometimes wonder if such a form of travel really still exists at all. I, for one, think it's necessary to talk about cheaper, or more economical, travel. Because with today's airfares to Asia, South America or Australia, there is no way to travel cheaply. And this is the biggest challenge for me. I finance most of my trips out of my own pocket, so sometimes it's really not easy. My credit card knows this best. But I would still spend the last of my money on my next trip. I don't have sponsors, like influencers with huge followings have. Well, we live in the age of likes and clicks, not the age of good, valuable journalism. I have a sense of being in the minority that still understands what real journalism is all about. 

MP: What is the most important task of a journalist these days? 

MC: Presenting the world as it is. Showing how people really live in a place, what challenges they face every day. Well, and you can't give in to politicians, influential people who think they are allowed everything just because they hold a position. You can never enter into any kind of arrangement with anyone. Ethics is the most important thing for me. This is how I understand the profession. And yes, journalism is still a mission for me. 

MP: As a professional who has been working in public relations for more than 25 years, I would like to know what you think the ideal relationship between PR and journalism should look like. 

MC: As a journalist, I value independence and freedom, so PR professionals should also understand this when contacting journalists and sending them press releases written "for the client". However, I wonder if such an ideal relationship is possible between a PR person, who wants to present a product or person in the best possible light, and a journalist, who should, however, objectively evaluate and describe them. I can't find the golden mean in answering this question. 

MP: Let's go back to AI now. How will artificial intelligence affect your work 1 year from today? 

MC: I am very much counting on AI, because it will definitely simplify my work. I already use artificial intelligence, and I think it can only help me, mainly in finding information. However, it has to learn a lot, because today it makes a lot of mistakes. Therefore, I am at peace with myself as a journalist. AI will certainly not replace me, but it will help me create better content, as I mentioned earlier perhaps it will be better than me at running my social media. And I will continue to listen to people and their emotions and skillfully translate this later into paper and TV reports. 

MP: At the end of the interview, tell us about the most interesting journalistic adventure that happened to you at work, somewhere far beyond the seven mountains and seven forests. 

MC: It's an ongoing adventure, and it started in Sri Lanka.  I have a family friend there, and we send letters to each other, the real kind, written with pen on paper, not messages sent through social messaging. When I met her, I was riding my bicycle through the village of Ethungama and asked the locals if I could photograph them, because I always do a lot of photo and video documentation. And beautiful Soma, a black-haired elderly lady, as if from a picture, although she did not speak English, invited me to her property. She asked her husband to pick the most beautiful royal coconut for me. She brought it to me and then I told her: "you are like a mother to me". And she understood the word "mother". Anyway, this short, unplanned visit turned into a meeting that lasted several hours, and the language barrier was not an obstacle. Soma's daughter-in-law, Himali, who spoke English, finally showed up. We exchanged addresses, and that's how we've been writing letters to each other for years. After one in which Soma and Himali invited me to dinner with my parents, I bought tickets for myself, my mom and dad, and we actually flew to Sri Lanka for that dinner. I get emotional when I write about it, because getting to know Soma and her family is the most beautiful story that happened to me in my life. 

MP: It's a beautiful story! And now for the really last request. Finish, please, the sentence: If I'm not working, then.... 

MC: It is to myself that I look for this work. Actually, every private trip is also a job for me. And actually, do I have a job? This is my passion, this is my life, so I just live, not work, and I don't take a break from this life. I enjoy it too much. 


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