A travel tell-all with Kate Springer.
Last week I kicked off a two-part column about what it’s like to be a travel writer in Hong Kong in honor of the models on Instagram who are sharing ‘truth behind the lens’ stories — like this one.
Of course, from filtered photos and constant Facebook check-ins, travel writing might seem like a glamorous gig as well. And in some ways, it is! But for every epic sunset shot on Instagram, there’s a delayed flight or bout of food poisoning behind it.
The company pays for everything. False. Maybe I’m doing it all kinds of wrong, but unless you’re Anthony Bourdain, travel writers are not usually charging every flight, bite and taxi ride to an expense account.
At least in Asia, usually only dedicated travel magazines with travel budgets pay writers to travel. In my experience, most small to medium-sized publications do not have a budget to send you somewhere, but rather rely on a staff writer or freelance writer to pitch stories and cover their own costs.
But sometimes it’s free, right? Sometimes. A lot of media go on what we call FAM trips, aka a press junket or press familiarization trip, where you are carted around with 10 other writers and photographers from site to site. Your schedule is spoken for, including accommodation, restaurants, shopping and any tourism attractions. It’s fun to do one. Maybe two.
But then you end up feeling like you’re part of a pack of cats, everyone doing the same thing and little room for that natural discovery, which is in itself the heart of travel. Regularly in Asia, publications also accept stories facilitated by sponsored flights and hotels, but that’s a bag we can unpack another day.
Your Instagram is just one big brag. True for some, false for others. Sorry to say, but having a social media presence is pretty much mandatory if you want to be in lifestyle journalism these days. A lot of travel writers are also into photography — the two kinda go hand-in-hand so please forgive us if we are over-enthusiastic.
Anyone can be a travel photographer. Sure, you can throw a filter on something and make it look pretty cool. Sometimes it really is that cool in the raw. Other times, you ever-so-carefully cropped out the mass of crowds to your right, or the swarm of mosquitoes to your left. But real, masterful travel photography is not just a filter — it captures beauty in the mundane and naturally occurring wonders. There’s a stark difference between “hot legs” like these and inspiring portraits and landscapes like these.
Travel writers know lots of travel hacks. Yes, this is true! I know how to save money on various airlines, how to pack strategically, which gadgets are useful and which are bogus. What to eat and drink on a plane to help with jetlag, how to save on train travel, which long-hauls have the best economy seats, which airports are the best, how to snag great flight deals, when to travel, when not to travel. Most frequent flyers will have their own toolbox and anyone can soak up lots of tips on the internet. I also tend to learn from making lots of mistakes.
Travel writing is the world’s most awesome career. Agree! Maybe right behind food writing. But the ‘most awesome career’ is different for everyone. It’s the job that allows you to do what you’re passionate about, that aligns with your talents, pays your rent, and constantly challenges you with new adventures.
Click here to read “What It’s Really Like to Be a Travel Writer, Part 1.”