Harry Allen is a freelance journalist from Essex, a county in southeast England that is an hour’s drive from London.
For Allen and his family, they enjoyed growing up away from the exorbitant prices of Britain’s capital, instead being able to embrace a simpler life in Chelmsford, a city within Essex that boasts a population of just over 100,000 people.
“My family and I lived in the city for a short period, but then we moved out to the countryside,” Allen says.
“But it’s nice here in middle England. I am in a working-class town.”
Even though Allen appreciated being separate from the frenetic pace of the nearby metropolis, that still didn’t detract him from venturing into London, particularly as a teenager when he began developing a talent for photography.
“During school I found a love for street photography. In fact, I first started shooting when I was thirteen using a crappy iPhone,” Allen notes, then mentioning that in order for him to capture compelling footage, he had to skip school and find transport into The Big Smoke.
“I would bump off from school and take a train down to London, go to various protests, and not tell anyone,” Allen says, and while doing so drew the consternation of both his parents and school administrators, his actions also instilled an adventurous spirit within him that would be the guiding force for his future travels.
That’s because upon graduating from high school (termed secondary school in the UK), Allen took advantage of a free railway pass and segued over to Eastern Europe to continue refining his photography skills.
Three weeks later, Allen unceremoniously retuned to Essex and began working at a coffee shop, his plan being to save money so that he could backpack through a foreign country.
“Working at the coffee shop was surprisingly intense. I didn’t realize hospitality could be like that,” Allen chuckles, but his time at the espresso machine was short-lived because six months later he liquidated his savings account and boarded a plane to South America.
To say his decision paid off would be an understatement.
“That trip was insane because it changed the trajectory of my life,” Allen says of a journey that began in Quito, Ecuador and eventually culminated in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Not only was Allen immersing himself in learning Spanish and building his photography portfolio while abroad, but the Essex native also found himself constantly networking with other expats, many of whom were freelance journalists.
“These were guys that were 25, 26 years old, and they were out there doing their thing, selling stories to big newspapers, making YouTube videos,” Allen recalls, which in turn challenged him to ponder new ways that he could expand his skillset.
For all the inspiration Allen drew from his time in South America, it should be noted that things were not always easy.
In addition to navigating a language barrier and learning to live without many of the amenities he was used to back home, Allen was also subjected to being robbed at gunpoint.
“Two guys grabbed my backpack, and another guy came up in front of me and held a pistol to my head,” he says of the traumatic event that took place in Quito.
“They took my phone and about $50. It was a crazy experience, but I did not let that ruin the rest of my trip, nor my time in Ecuador, because that country is so diverse, both in terms of people and ecosystems.”
Having been only a few years removed from high school, Allen’s reaction to the precarious position in Quito was commendable, but it also explains why the freelance journalist is capable of taking a measured approach into all the work he publishes today.
“As a human and as a creator, you can’t let one bad experience taint your perception,” Allen acknowledges.
Sadly, Allen would later be part of another harrowing incident when, months later, while at a Bolivian nightclub with his friend, the two witnessed a man being brutally assaulted because of his sexual orientation.
“My friend and I tried to intervene, but then we had a knife pulled on us,” Allen shares.
The tragic situation forced Allen to reassess how he approached his trip, but it also taught him that his lived experiences trumped much of what he thought he already knew.
“I had to learn South America as I made my way through the continent. You can read articles and watch travel blogs, but you won’t truly learn what something is like until you experience it yourself,” Allen says.
“And this applies to more than just traveling. The same could be said for how you should live your life. You can’t just read a textbook and think that grants you access to a wealth of knowledge. You have to get out there and live.”
After six months of trekking across borders, becoming semi-fluent in Spanish, and building lifelong connections, Allen went back to England and enrolled in university.
“Before I went traveling, I had a vision of who I wanted to be,” Allen says. “I wanted to be a diplomat and work in a foreign office because I had a passion for history, literature, and politics.”
Allen always imagined that he would be a university graduate, but perhaps ironically, six months later he dropped out, causing him to undergo an immense amount of stress and begin questioning the trajectory of his life.
“To go from traveling the world and attending university, and to then have to move back in with my parents, it was definitely a humbling experience,” Allen admits.
The drive and creativity Allen had so far displayed took a hit, the unexpected personal challenges slowly sapping the joy from his artistic pursuits, but the deep-seeded courage that carried him throughout the southern hemisphere only needed to be revitalized.
That renaissance would come in October 2020 when Allen launched his website and began publishing his writing, a collection of works that read as if they were written by a veteran scribe who has endured the rigorous strains of life outside the comforts of conventional western society.
Yet, Allen says he is simply documenting the world as he sees it, while also simultaneously trying to inject a unique perspective into his work that readers don’t often get from major news corporations who typically defy objectivity and operate on the fringes of radicalism.
“I always had a deep fascination with current affairs and international politics. Ever since I was a teenager, I would go to the library and pick one book from each section, whether it was Africa or Latin America. I wanted to try to understand a perspective different from my own,” Allen explains, then cementing his belief that there is always another story to be told.
“It’s very easy to get lost in your own insular view of the world. That’s why it’s good to freshen your perspective by exposing yourself to viewpoints that don’t immediately align with your own.”
Where this path takes Allen is yet to be determined, and even though he has an idea of what the future may look like, Allen is also quick to point out that wherever he goes will be part of the inevitable journey all creatives must go through.
“Ideally, five years from now I’ll be making a lot of progress as an investigative journalist. I would also like to get into filmmaking and create documentaries, but those things take time, and you have to be patient, which is a virtue that I’m still trying to learn,” Allen says with an optimistic laugh.
For those interested in pursuing freelance journalism, or even individuals who are seeking to break away from complacency that for too long has been masquerading as comfort, Allen suggests steering clear of consuming the perfectly curated personas that are published every day on social media.
But more importantly, Allen says it is incumbent upon the individual to simply get to work.
“I am guilty of this, but it’s crucial to not put people on a pedestal, especially on social media, because then you start comparing yourself to others and it makes your final destination seem so far away that it distracts you from your purpose,” he begins, before adding one more piece of advice.
“Start with the skills you already have. For me, I don’t have a degree, but I like politics, so I’ve been constantly planning and trying to figure out ways to fund my journalism career. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m making progress, and that’s really only because I’ve been willing to take those initial steps.” QS
Looking for a new book to read?
Pick up Quentin Super’s latest novel, The Long Road East, for $28.95!
Quentin Super is also a ghostwriter.
Curious about what exactly a ghostwriter does?
Watch this one-minute video for more information!