On a press trip a few weeks ago, I looked around the room and saw only fellow travel writers and bloggers—people who share a similar drive, curiosity, and purpose.
These were kindred spirits who want to capture great photos, search for the hidden stories, experience uncommon luxuries, taste dishes created by master chefs, discover fascinating attractions and interview intriguing people.
Not a single one of them had ever heard me play a note on the piano. They only knew me in my new identity.
For most of the first 65 years of my life, I was known as “the musician.” I trained to be a concert pianist until I met a veterinary student with the world’s most compelling smile.
I married that smiling man, and while he doctored all the dogs and cats, I gave piano lessons to dozens of students, played the piano or organ for various churches, and taught hundreds of elementary music students in the local public schools.
Then, I retired.
It seemed to be the perfect time to pursue something else, something a little more selfish, if I’m to be completely honest.
You don’t live to your mid-60’s without knowing a lot about yourself. Yes, I love music, but I also knew I enjoyed writing. I knew I wanted to stay active. I knew I loved exploring new places, and I knew I loved to ask questions.
When I stirred up all the ingredients created by those facts, the perfect “cake” that emerged was travel writing.
Once again, I faced a training process to get myself ready to be legitimately called a travel writer.
That workshop proved to be the “secret sauce” I was seeking. I learned the steps necessary for success, and I started following them meticulously. It turned out to be much like the process of learning to play a Beethoven sonata.
Break it down into sections. Work out the notes, rhythm, and fingerings. Go over the difficult passages a hundred times. Put it all together and play it up to tempo. But, mostly practice, practice, and practice some more.
When a publication accepted my query and published my first article, I was ecstatic. I could do this. I just needed to keep following the advice and processes I had been taught and put in the hours required to be successful.
Being a travel writer has changed me in the most delightful ways. I have a host of new friends scattered all over the United States and even in many countries of the world. I also have something interesting to add to conversations, and I’ve become the envy of my friends.
Everyone thinks I have the world’s coolest job, and they’re right. After all, I’ve watched a renowned carousel animal carver in his studio and enjoyed the hospitality at his B & B.
I’ve sat within a few feet of a James Beard award-winning chef observing as he directed the orchestra of his kitchen. I’ve served as a judge in the dessert and bacon categories at the World Food Championships, and next week I will be interviewing Lucy Buffett (sister of Jimmy Buffett) to talk to her about the top-ranked fried green tomatoes she serves at her wildly popular restaurant in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Perhaps you are thinking about reinventing yourself or changing your current career path.
Maybe you’re at a point in your life where the pursuit of becoming a travel writer is within your grasp, but you’re not quite sure how to begin. Let me suggest three actions you can start now as you prepare to launch yourself as a travel writer.
1) Take an online or an in-person course in travel writing.
Great Escape Publishing has an online course you can access at any time, and their annual live event (The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop) is scheduled for September 13-15, 2019, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
2) Start snapping lots of photos.
Find a camera you will use. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest, and you certainly don’t want it to be the heaviest. It could even be your cellphone.
Capture shots of the expected and the unexpected in your immediate vicinity. Include photos of both a wide landscape and the colorful, revealing details.
Think about the views your future readers would want to see when they read your stories. Ask yourself what you want to show your readers about the places, foods, and quirky attractions right in your hometown. Take those photos, experimenting with the lighting, the angles, and all the settings of your camera.
Learn about editing techniques. Imagine that one of your photos could be chosen as the cover of a magazine or be included in a stock photo portfolio.
Dream. Click. Repeat.
3) Develop your questioning skills.
In this day of text messages and emojis, the art of conversation is declining. However, a good travel writer learns to deliberately initiate conversations with store clerks, restaurant servers, and hotel receptionists, possibly leading to interviews with chefs, innkeepers, and artists.
Listen for great quotes and snippets of information that might not be common knowledge and be sure to take good notes. I can promise there are passionate people all around you, just waiting for someone to care enough to ask questions about their business or best dishes.
In other words, go ahead, start thinking and acting like a travel writer, take the necessary steps toward creating your own “brave new path,” and before you know it, you will BE one.
Introverts will be happy with the writing and photographing part of travel writing but will have to push themselves to ask good questions and be skilled interviewers.
Extroverts will need to learn to stop talking and really listen in order to gather the new information they want to share. In every case, travel writing involves putting yourself out there. In my opinion, it’s worth it.