I’d love to get paid to go on vacation, too

A peak behind-the-scenes of a travel writer

Does this look like a vacation?

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.

Diane works on her notes during a camping trip in early April

Taking notes while camping in a swamp for a story on Roanoke River Paddle Trail

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.)

Taking of notes never stops

Writing while riding on Tammany Trace bike trail in Louisiana. (Oops, no helmet!)

A few other morsels from Matt, these during a Q&A with fellow career vacationer, I mean travel writer, Rolf Potts,  at his blog, Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding:

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?

Immersion journalism for story on hot-springs pool in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

Immersion journalism for story on hot-springs pool in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

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!

Tags: , , , ,

7 Responses to “I’d love to get paid to go on vacation, too”

  1. Diana Lambdin Meyer Says:

    Oh, the one that really sends me over the edge is the comment about needing a spouse with a good stable job. Both my husband and I are fulltime freelance and have been for 15 years. It can be done. If you approach your career as a professional and work hard, produce good material, blah, blah, blah, it can be done.
    But right – it’s work, not vacation!

  2. didaniel Says:

    I hear you, Diana. I hope one day Wessel and I will have a similar partnership. He already puts in many hours with me, taking photos and of course processing and organizing them. That’s yet another thing that makes travel writing NOT a vacation!

    To my readers, Diana is a fellow travel writer, and a very fun travel companion, as I learned last year in Banff. Her work can be seen at l http://www.dianalambdinmeyer.com/ and http://dianasdestinations.wordpress.com/

  3. karel Says:

    The last sentence (I love my work….) is the most important!
    In the 19th-century the Dutch poet Hyronimus van Alphen wrote:
    “Mijn werken is spelen en mijn spelen is werken” (to me: working means playing and playing means working)
    Maintaining this attitude is the key to a pleasant life.

  4. Marianne Page Says:

    it’s been a while since getting a notice. Since I seem to be on that blasted computer (sorry, it is so helpful) for hours doing research on my next AMC Major Exxcursion – New Zealand in 2/2010, I can fully agree that it is WORK. My Germany/Harz Mountains trip is not filling, and we might have to table it for 2010 too.
    Do not know if I could live by my word, but know you have. Still having fun doin so , I see. Continued good fortune-

  5. didaniel Says:

    Sounds like a great trip, Marianne. Good luck!

  6. didaniel Says:

    Here’s a comment sent to me directly that I thought needed to be seen by the world. It’s from the business half of the Lynn & Cele Seldon show. Lynn does the writing and photographing and Cele does all the work — photo processing, invoicing, etc. (Kidding Lynn, I know you work hard, too. I’ve seen you in action!) Read all about them at http://www.lynnseldon.com/ Here’s what Cele said:

    “Couldn’t agree more on everything you said. However, I will say that, contrary to Matt’s comment, we are doing it and making a living for two! But I do fondly remember the days when I worked in corporate America and we had more (lots more) spending money. But, for us, it’s not about the money. It’s about the life.”

    Cele Seldon
    Marketing Manager

  7. The Travel Writer’s Handbook will take you there « Places we go, People we see Says:

    […] written a bit about what it takes to be a so-called travel writer. As I tell people, I’m a writer who travels and writes about it. I write about a lot of other […]

Leave a Reply to didaniel Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: