15 December 2012

So You Want to Be a Travel Writer

Greetings from a boat (er, SHIP, as I have been corrected multiple times) on its way from Panama to Ecuador. Yesterday, we passed through the Panama Canal, which was one of those experiences that is superficially uninteresting--I've been through locks and dams before; I've seen lakes and hillsides; I've gotten my life's worth of close-up views of overloaded cargo ships--but, when you look even slightly below the surface, more than a bit amazing.

I mean: THE PANAMA CANAL! What a marvel of engineering; what an absurd concept; what a hell of a history. 

Anyway. I'm a speaker on an Enrichment Voyage. Today's talk is titled "So You Want to Be a Travel Writer." I've stolen the title from Lee's post written during our European adventure, and I'm reprinting his entire post below. Enjoy! 

[By Lee]

Say you are, hypothetically, on an online dating site trying to find interesting people. You aren’t lame enough to NEED an online dating site, of course. You’ve got TONS of options. But let’s pretend. You might, hypothetically of course, type in “writer” in the search criteria in the hopes of turning up someone interesting. You might be surprised at the number of hits you get.

Until you find that every mention of the word “writer” appears somewhere in a sentence like this: “I’m an investment banker but what I really want to do is be a travel writer.” Or “My dream is to be a travel writer but right now I’m in sales.”

Everyone wants to be a travel writer. Travel writers get to go all over the place and see amazing things and have adventures and people pay them! Who wouldn’t want to be a travel writer? You probably want to be a travel writer. At least you think you do.

I’m into week two of traveling with a man who actually makes a small portion of his income selling articles about travel and let me tell you: you do not want to do this.

We’ll skip immediately past the hours of rewriting and research done in a lonely room in a cheap apartment in a city that is not glamorous but is just home. We won’t dwell on the fact that these solitary work hours are probably twenty times more common than an hour spent traveling. Let’s focus on the good stuff; the travel itself.

We walk something like eight miles a day, eating at least one of our meals, if not all of them, on our feet. Doug can write while walking and often does, pulling out a small spiral bound notebook as he navigates cobblestone streets. He goes through approximately a notebook every two days. It’s sick. Doug takes something like twenty pictures a day, often simply as visual notes. These eventually have to be catalogued. That note taking time doesn’t include the two hours Doug spends turning those notes into word documents on his laptop while I make bad jokes from the other bed and fall asleep.

But at least we’re being put up in a nice hotel, right? No. Feel like returning to dorm living? Travel writing is the job for you. Right now six German boys are wrestling in their room down the hall. We share a bathroom with them and with travelers from two other rooms. But at least we’ve got a balcony, right? No. We’ve got a window so old I’m afraid I’ll get lead poisoning by looking at it.

But trying new things is fun, right? Well, how often do YOU do it? People don’t really like to do new things. New foods cause upset stomachs, new sights take time to process, new people take energy to meet and get to know. Go down the street and ask the average person how many new things he or she has done in the last three days. Travel writers do not have the leisure of picking a few, shiny, hygienically treated new things to experience. They must be willing to try everything and anything, always. There’s no structure, no rest. When a travel writer wakes up in the morning, he often doesn’t know where he’s going to get breakfast. From the moment Doug’s eyes open, he is at work.

You don’t want to be a travel writer. You want to be paid to travel and, occasionally, opine. Who wouldn’t want that?

Those who ARE travel writers do not work in sales and talk about it. They go into debt to travel and write. The last thing they do each day, after putting their tired feet under their thin rented sheets and before closing their aching eyelids is think, “I hope someone pays me for this.”

But in the morning they do it again anyway. It is a wonderful life, but it is not for you.