It’s been a busy summer here at CATW’s Seattle headquarters. I spent most of July and August working on long-term projects for different clients, including a travel app prototype that had me channeling my inner Playboy and “writing” – or more accurately, compiling – restaurant “reviews” for those “masters” of the air quote, Zagat’s (now owned by Google).
While contract work like this doesn’t carry the glamour of a byline, it still involves the research and reporting skills that I developed during my 20-year journalism career. As I told my students at the Book Passage Travel Writing & Photography Conference earlier this month, making a living as a travel writer doesn’t always mean penning lengthy features in glossy magazines (although those are nice). Service pieces – the type of writing where you help people make real decisions about where to spend their money – can be just as important.
Speaking of Book Passage, I came away from my first Corte Madera conference inspired. Not only did I soak up the optimism and energy put out by travel writing legends such as Don George and Susan Orlean, I learned that I enjoy teaching and helping others hone their research, writing and interviewing skills. While I’m nowhere near as polished as my friends who have made the leap to academia, I can see doing more of that work in the future. If you’re a beginning travel writer looking to learn from writers and editors who are passionate about their profession, put the conference on your list for next year.
The conference also forced me to take an honest look at my blog. I use this space as a place to record impressions, publish photographs and share tips that help others planning similar vacations. All practical stuff, for the most part. Lately, though, I’ve thought about writing different kinds of pieces, ones that talk more about what the destination does to your head and heart than your wallet. That kind of writing requires a fundamental shift in my habits and mindset, however – and as we all know, change is difficult. Watch this space.
Speaking of changes, my old employer USA TODAY is undergoing many of them, including a website overhaul. While I don’t know specifics, I do know that they’ve decided to get rid of the Travel Alliance, the syndication network that has provided ads on my site these past two years. That also means my blog posts will no longer be appearing automatically on their website. In some ways, I’m sorry to see the partnership end, as the exposure I’ve received has brought me new readers. But it does allow me to pursue fresh advertising and sponsorship opportunities that were out of reach before. For those in PR who read this blog, keep in mind that I still actively pitch to USA TODAY premium publications such as Go Escape, so my relationship with friends and editors there remains intact.
As far as relationships go, I’m proud that my list of freelance outlets expanded this summer. I have a short piece on a new Maui resort appearing in the Nov./Dec. issue of Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, and a profile of InnerSea Discoveries in the cruise magazine Porthole. I enjoy the mix of writing that I do, and hope to win more editorial clients at the Travel Classics West conference in November.
All this sounds like a lot of “butt in seat” time – and it has been. In mid-September, that will change when I embark on a month-long trip to Europe. I’ll be spending the first 14 days in Spain, where I’ll visit the cities of Madrid, Bilbao and Girona/Costa Brava, just in time to speak at TBEX Europe. Then I’ll meet my husband in Budapest for a two-week river journey to the Black Sea that I’ll be covering for Cruise Critic. My October wraps up with a girlfriend trip to Napa (my 4th to California wine country this year!), where I’ve scored a coveted lunch reservation for our group at the famed French Laundry. You can bet that I’ll be broadcasting that meal across my social networks!
Recently, a fellow writer asked members of a forum to share their recent wins. For me, this entire year – learning to live without a corporate paycheck, developing and maintaining clients, balancing the travel I love with the writing that helps me survive – has been an accomplishment. The formula isn’t always perfect, but I’m happy with how things are going so far!