I really appreciated this piece “Frugal Traveler” Matt Gross wrote for his New York Times blog. Titled “Research: The Traveler’s Best Friend,” it’s an exhaustive list of his favorite sources, from books to online sites to friends and friends of friends. I could certainly relate to his strategies.
But here’s what I really liked about it. As someone who teaches travel writing, and as a writer who often has to respond to people who say: “You have my dream job!” Matt’s piece gives some insight into what a travel writer actually does. Namely, a lot of researching. Sure we travel, and I’m not complaining about that. But like every “glamour job” (actor, chef, TV anchor), there are so many misconceptions about the work involved. It’s hard work, crazy hours, and a lot of behind-the-scenes dirty work. It’s work! Fun work, but absolutely work.
So the next time someone says to me, “I’d love to get paid to go on vacation!” (like you do, Diane) well, I’ll, I’ll … send them to Matt’s post and say, does that sound like a vacation to you? And Matt was just writing about before the trip, not the hours of interviewing during the trip, the photographing and sometimes taping, all the fact checking, and, oh yeah, sitting on your butt and writing for days on end. Also, many/most writers aren’t reimbursed for all or even some expenses. Having written for the Times, where I was in fact reimbursed fully, I assume Matt is. (While it’s true that some writers take freebies, there are also some of us who don’t ever, or rarely do.)
Rolf: What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
Matt: There’s no way I could do this job if I weren’t married to a woman with a good, stable job. I’d be homeless. Seriously.
Diane (not that Rolf asked me): I don’t agree that travel writers need partners, but it would be a harder life, especially if you wrote only about travel. Which leads me to another thing Matt said, which I also disagree with.
Rolf: What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Matt: Go into travel before you go into travel writing. You should know how to cross a land border, book plane tickets in a language you don’t speak and befriend the old lady who squints evilly from the second-story window at everyone who passes by. In other words, if you’re just after paid vacations, then you’re going to have a tough time.
Diane: I shouldn’t say I completely disagree, but what I would say is: Go into WRITING before you go into travel writing. Travel writers are writers. Writers can (and often want to) write about most anything. During different points in my 25-year writing career, I’ve written about (and sometimes still do write about): music, art, food, personality profiles, environmental issues, and more. Learning the beat, in this case travel, is the easy part. Learning to research, interview, report, fact-check, write, edit, edit some more … not so easy.
As for the paid vacation part, believe me, if you even attempt to write about a vacation for publication, it won’t feel like a vacation anymore.
I love my work, but it’s work! So if you figure out how to get paid to go on vacation, please let me know!