A travel tell-all with Kate Springer.
In the news recently there have been loads of ‘truth behind the lens’ stories from models on Instagram who have spent hours getting glammed up and days starving themselves to look a certain way for a photo shoot. It got me thinking about travel media as well, and how the job often looks much more glamorous behind a filter than it is in real life.
In a two-part column, I’ll do my best to unpack some stereotypes and assumptions that I often hear about travel writing. These may not apply to all travel writers, but this is what I’ve experience based in Hong Kong. Here it goes…
Travel writers get to travel all the time. Yes and no. At my first job, I was a features writer at a local travel magazine. My job description sounded amazing: travel around Asia at least once a month and write a story about shopping, luxury hotels or MICE facilities (that’s jargon for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events). In reality? I’d have a trip that lasted three days, and I’d see 10 hotels in a day and write blurbs on each for a comprehensive list. Outside of that three-day trip, I’d be busy writing, researching and fact-checking ‘life-changing’ travel experiences from my desk.
But when you travel, aren’t you just on the beach all day? Most of the time travel writing is really just running off your feet in hopes to see/eat/do/absorb as much as possible and hopefully meet fascinating people along the way. Because you love to travel, it’s all usually worth it just to get to explore a new place, taste new food and experience another culture. Other times you’re exhausted, dragging your feet and just really feel like lying on that beach you posted on Instagram. Instead you’re pounding pavement to see as much as you can in a short blip of time.
Travel writers get to fly First Class. HA! You are hilarious. I’m sure some travel writers have racked up enough miles to travel in luxury, but most of us are stuck in steerage with the rest of you schmucks. I typically buy my flights from the discount bin whenever I get an email alert. I’ve only been upgraded (to premium economy) twice in my life, and both were due to loyalty points and nothing to do with a story.
And you can game the loyalty points system too. No, we really can’t. A corporate cat who flies constantly can, though, simply by spending way more money than the rest of us. The secret is: spend more money.
But at least you love planes. Not so much. I am actually scared of flying, something that I’ve developed over the years. I’m bursting with anxiety on takeoff and landing, white-knuckled and cursing the whole thing until we’ve landed safely or I’ve tuckered myself out and fallen asleep.
Travel writing must take sooo much planning. Yeah, if I’m working then usually I plan out the majority of things in advance so I can accomplish as much as humanly possible. However, sometimes the best stories surface when you have a more relaxed schedule or are traveling purely for pleasure.
Stumbling into a shop on a tiny lane in Chiang Mai, or a makeshift coffee shop with a grinning barista in Hanoi, renting bikes and getting lost in the paddy fields of Yangshuo, or learning about the sickening toll of the Khmer Rouge from a survivor in Siem Reap — these are the experiences that make travel so special and meaningful, not a packed itinerary of hotels or checklist of malls to review.
Travel writers know everything about everywhere. After a weekend in Bangkok? The best I can give you is cursory knowledge, a bit of history, some less touristy attractions, that one super-friendly food hawker, and a handful of restaurant/bar recommendations. If I send you more than that, then I looked it up online.
You want to be my personal travel agent. Umm, no, I do not. I can’t speak for other writers, but unless you’re my mom, one of my best friends or someone I care to impress for some reason, then I don’t want to plan your month in Thailand for you. Print out the Wikitravel page FFS or pay someone for the service.
Check back next week for part two of “What It’s Really Like to Be a Travel Writer.”