Travel Writer: ‘That’s my dream job’

by Fiona Harper

Travel Writers. You’d think we had it all, wouldn’t you? Travelling professionally, it’s all in a days work dropping into obscure landscapes before sunrise, disappearing over the horizon before the sun sets. Whizzing through throbbing cities notepads poised, stalking wildlife with our cameras. Striding up mountains, cruising far-flung seas. Tasting our way through the alphabet soup of gastronomy.

Soothing parched throats on whatever local concoction is getting the locals off. Slipping spa-massaged limbs between starched sheets before calling downstairs for a 4am wakeup call. And while booking that wake up call checking with the operator which city we’re in and what day is it again?

If I had a French Pacific Franc for the number of times someone said to me  ‘travel writer is my dream job’,  I’d be bunkered down on a yacht in the Isle of Pines with a hot man and buckets of cold champagne.

That old cliche ‘if its Tuesday we must in Belgium’ rings true for a travel writer on assignment. I’m sure I’m not the only travel writer who keeps that little card containing the hotel room key beside the bed as a reminder of where I am when that 4am call interrupts longed-for slumber. Or who sleeps with the bathroom light on to remind me of the room layout as I stumble to the toilet during the night. And I know from experience I’m not the only travel writer guilty of stepping into a hotel lift having no clue whatsoever whether the lobby is up or down. Or where their room is located.

A  fellow travel writer nailed it succinctly:

as travel writers we get to have the experience of a lifetime at least once a year

We may have been cruising the Northwest Passage at the time. Or perhaps we were stalking lions beneath a golden African dawn, cameras poised for ‘that shot’.  Possibly we were resting mid-hike, watching clouds scud across a snow-draped mountain in some far-flung landscape a gazillion miles from deadlines and desktops. I forget now where we were when he said it, but it stands out as a stark reminder of why I love my job with a passion. Much more than just work, it’s my life.

Photographing wildlife and glaciers in Chilean fjords, Patagonia. Image: Lee Mylne

Many say I’m lucky that I travel the world. Indeed, I do have incredible opportunities to explore the globe. I’m also fortunate to meet amazing people along the way, many of whom have become firm, albeit far-flung, friends. Though luck has little to do with success. The fact that I have the determination and self belief to live my life exactly as I desire helps. To carve a career out of a passion requires an element of fortune, but mostly it comes about through long hours of dedication, training, commitment and focus. The dice may roll my way occasionally but I believe we make our own luck. Few could survive on a travel writers income so I’m lucky that I can live frugally when required.

The downside to all that traveling is the actual (sometimes torturous, eventually rewarding) writing process, meeting deadlines and administering a freelance business when my office is in my (over 7kg, just quietly) carry-on backpack. As a full time traveler, it’s often hard to keep my head and body in the same space. While my mind might be in Tahiti plotting a story angle, my body is actually enroute to Nova Scotia, the keyboard is tapping out a story from PNG, I’m editing images from Fiji, my passport states I’ve arrived in Canada, my body clock is mid-Pacific, an emailed e-ticket has me departing for Japan shortly, I  can’t recall where I was last weekend without checking my diary and my luggage hasn’t kept up either. Oh, and I missed my Mum’s birthday. Again. Somewhere in there I’m also training for my next marathon or some other ridiculously exhausting endurance event.

Hiking with polar bears in Canada's Manitoba remains a career highlight

Hiking with polar bears in Canada’s Manitoba remains a career highlight. Image: Ute Junker

All the while I eat, sleep, write. Repeat. In transit, snatching quiet time in departure lounges (Virgin Lounge God bless you), while scrambling to meet the next plane, train, automobile, bicycle, camel, yacht, limo, bus, elephant, dune buggy, kayak or whatever else today’s mode of transport happens to be. Hopefully there’s a ready mixed mojiito to go. And just maybe a vegemite sandwich too to soothe a craving for something familiar and bland.

Dream job? Maybe yes. Maybe also no, depending upon your stamina. The other downside to all that traveling is that it leaves little room for relationships. I know some travel writers who are happily married, many with  partners who work in conventional (read well paying)  jobs. Others like myself struggle to maintain personal relationships that outlast the longevity of a tourist visa.

It’s hard for those left at home to not believe we’re swanning around a horizon pool, cocktail in hand working on our tan. Admittedly those bikini tan marks are a dead giveaway. No really, I travel with a bikini just in case the air conditioning breaks down. And Lordy, those conventional jobs held by those at  home sure help to keep the bank manager happy. Let me tell you, travel writers don’t place at all well along the financial food chain. When not swishing through gilded revolving doors of the latest uber luxe city hotel, or having our taste buds tantalised (or occasionally assaulted) by this season’s hippest Chef, we’re mostly seen lurking around the poverty line, chasing invoices for long-ago commissioned work. We’re not talking sheep station level dollars here, most assignments barely reach four figures. Otherwise we’re cajoling editors to run a story. Then there’s pitching. Along with it’s partner in crime: rejection.Let’s not even go there.

But we don’t do it for the money. We do it because we love sharing stories of the wider world and all its kick-arse fabulousness. And, admittedly, it is a pretty cool job for a Career Gypsy who has a low threshold for boredom and an inquisitive mind. Just don’t expect your bank manager to be quite so thrilled when you tell him/her that you’re going to become a travel writer. I can see their eyes rolling already.

Still think that becoming a travel writer is your dream job? Go for it! It’s rewarding, challenging, frustrating, fun, awe-inspiring and time-consuming. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s my dream job and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.

Fiona Harper Sat Telegraph – Click on the link to read an interview with Fiona Harper travel writer that appeared in Sydney’s Saturday Telegraph.

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5 comments

Andy Tope October 26, 2012 - 9:40 pm

Fiona,

Thanks for this post, a good read.

I admire you for doing what you want to do, and doing it well. I do a bit of travel writing, but I’m mostly focusing on travel copywriting, as it pays better.

Andy.

Andy Tope October 26, 2012 - 9:44 pm

P.S – I wrote the coconut article from Thala Beach Lodge that you posted here a while back. Nice to meet you!

Fiona Harper October 28, 2012 - 11:43 pm

HI Andy thanks for your interest. Anyone who can make a living from their passion has made a good career choice!
Fiona

Anita Mac October 23, 2012 - 11:41 pm

Great look into reality! While only a fledgling wanna-be travel writer, I have to admit, it is hard at the end of a marathon day to sit and write something someone would actually read! Still loving it – and the stamina or lack thereof can lead to some interesting, er….events!
In my past conventional job, I still couldn’t remember where I parked my car or what room I was in on yet another business trip! Heaven forbid the hotel have a makeover – I woke up one morning certain I was in the wrong town!! Ahhhh…the joys of life on the road.

Fiona Harper October 25, 2012 - 1:17 pm

Hi Anita thanks for sharing your own insights into being on the road. Good luck with becoming a seasoned travel writer!
Fiona

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