I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by a friend from a small business conference I attended who also happens to produce several podcasts and wanted to include me in one on travel writing. Check out the recording here, or the highlights in the transcript below.
Hello Gabi, we have had the chance to talk in person and now you’re on the show and we’re going to talk more about travel writing because you made this full-time, which is pretty exciting. How long have you been doing this full-time now?
This whole time now, seven years.
Wow that is that’s a long time to make it go it at Travel writing. How fun, how did you get your start?
I actually have a degree in a foreign language. So when I was in school I lived in Italy for a year, I went to an Italian University and just always wanted to go back. Originally I intended to go back and do a PhD and I thought, well if I’m going to be living in another country as a grad student how on Earth am I going to earn income to pay for my degree? So I thought well because I’ll be in Italy and I can find stories and send them back.
The original idea was actually not to become a travel writer but to become an Italian professors that I could teach you the same thing that we do as travel writers. We teach people to see the world differently in the stories and other places that change their perception of their own lives but I thought I would do that with students. Then as I started travel writing, in preparation for applying to grad school, I realize that everything that I wanted to do as a professor, I could do with a wider reach and less oversight as travel writer.
Very very neat so you actually got to start at this pretty young, right?
I used to work at a University, actually I used to work for MIT. I worked there after graduating for about 5 years. Then I met my now husband he was living somewhere else then so I needed to move anyway to be with my husband. I was like, well if I’m leaving my job I might as well really leave my job and that was the being.
I’ve mentioned already that you do this full-time so when I say full time does this… do you make enough to support your trips and your travel or do you do pretty well travel writing?
I’m really big about transparency because I think one of those things among writers, typically freelance writers and especially with travel writers talking about money is really a ghost in the room. People have either a sense that they’re not doing very well, and in fact they’re doing fine, or that everybody else knows something that they don’t know. So when I started, like my very very first year and I think I left my job in April, I didn’t make a lot of money. Maybe like 17 or 20 grand or something like that, but that was also the time when I was essentially full-time wedding planning my wedding.
Then over the years, you know, every year it sort of doubled for a while until I got to the point I was making six figures. Which three four years ago was something that writers of any kind didn’t talk about. Being a six-figure freelance writer just seemed unattainable, and now there’s a lot more literature about it. I also have the Six Figure Travel Writing Road Map and I am very happy that a lot of people have really embrace the idea of thinking that you can be a writer and especially a travel writer. Not just for the perks, but also for them income.
For a lot of us, when we think about travel writing we think that it would be great just to get a trip paid for or even some perks on a trip to help offset the costs. What I’m really impressed about with you is you obviously have moved well beyond that. Is it really big thinking to think that as a travel writer starting out that we could move beyond just getting the perks and just getting a trip here in there?
You know that there’s really two paths to answer this question. On the one side is that how do you get on a trip in the first place? You get on the trip by demonstrating to the pr person, or whoever is the organizing body of the trip, that you will get them an amount of coverage that they’re happy with based on your attendance on their trip. The way I have found to make them the most happy is to get them the widest coverage. Not necessarily just an article in the Dallas Morning News or the Washington Post but to get them seven articles. They’re both ways to make their clients happy but as a new writer giving them many different places that you would publish something about the trip is easier and it is very agreeable to the PR people.
So the thing is that the more places that you publish about the trip, the more income you get from that trip. I think to go to the base of your question they really go hand-in-hand. To go on a trip and get it paid for is made easy by getting more income for yourself out of the trip. The second thing is that I took the A-Z stay-home course when I started. I basically read everything on every course there is on travel writing or read every book.
I remember, there was one that I won a prize actually, there was some webinar and I won the give away. It was a very short sort of rudimentary e-book, I don’t think it was a print book by this guy named Bob Howels. He had started out writing about cycling gear, I believe, and used that to break into Outside Magazine. I believe he eventually became the editor of Outside Magazine’s gear guide.
He said that if you want to make money as a travel writer just travel less. Because every day that you’re traveling that you are the roads doing research it’s time that you’re not writing and thus not making money. I thought that was silly, the whole reason I was doing this full time was to be able to spend more time traveling, not less. So, what I actually ended up doing is I actually don’t take free trips, almost ever. Because they’re very owners time wise and you essentially surrender your whole life in your schedule for anywhere between 2 and 7 days. Then you’re so exhausted from the crazy running around schedule at the end that you need like 2 days to recover and that’s not even counting your flying days.
What I actually usually do is I essentially sort of temporarily move somewhere. I’ll go to Italy for a month, or I’ll go to Berlin for two weeks. I work for 6 hours a day and then I’ll spend the rest the day exploring. I’ll go for a walk in the afternoon, go somewhere for dinner, if it’s Christmas Market I’ll go to a couple different markets every day and take photos. So, I essentially I’m kind of working halftime and traveling halftime.
Now, you’ve also had opportunity to write for some large Publications can you tell us about that?
The thing about writing for large Publications is that I think when we see them as something different, not necessarily a feather in our cap, but as a process that is different than writing for a smaller publication is where it becomes hard. So I got this story in the Dallas Morning News and it was a very odd circumstance. I have been in southern Portugal visiting and ecotourism “Resort” they called it, but that’s sort of a generous word and I had had a very bad bicycling accident. I had a centimeter-deep hole in my hand and I had a concussion that I didn’t know about. Essentially, I was not able to work for 3 months or something like that due to these injuries.
Then in the fall when I started working again and I doing like literally anything to get writing work. Not that I was looking for part-time jobs but I went through every newspaper in the US over a certain circulation and I found the name of the editor and I made myself a big list. I just sent them all pitch after pitch after pitch and I made a list of all of the travel list magazines that matched various backgrounds that I have from when I was working and I sent them all letters of introduction. I just kind of did several marketing initiatives and that actually was how one of the ways that I got some my bigger clips. Because I just didn’t really care about it being a big thing that I just treated it like any other type of pitch.
Let’s tie these together, you do this full-time, you do a lot of writing so what does a day look like for you if your a full-time travel writer? Do you spend most of your days writing?
You know it really depends, like I was talking about, I tend to sort of write halftime in a certain way because some of that time is traveling. Also I think there’s a school of thought around this idea of the Pomodoro but that people’s attention sort of peters out I think run 80 minutes or 90 minutes. So, you’re better off having two, or maybe more, 90 minute sprints where you work really hard and then doing something else, something not work related at all. I have a couple of different types of days. In fact, because this concept of what does a travel writer do that is so interesting in their day, I actually have a chapter in my book where we talked about this. I have some days written from myself, and also some other writers, and I found that when I was working on that I have different types of days depending on whether I am at home or away. I’ll give you two.
When I am at home I don’t wake up very early unless I have some meetings to do and I live in New York City and so that means you that if there’s a networking event it usually starts around five or six. Since I work until 8 that usually means that I have to wake up early. So, say I get up like at 10 and then I go for a walk because I think for writers the time that you’re not in front of the computer, but you’re working, whether it’s walking or in the shower, is when you’re putting together the angle of your story or figuring out what is the kernel of the trip that you just went on that you want to pitch to an editor.
Now, I walk to a cafe about 20 minutes away because I think 20 minutes is kind of the perfect amount of onboarding time to get yourself ready to work. Then I usually work for a little bit longer than I was saying, usually like a two or two and a half hour stretch, and then I go home and I do something else. So I have lunch maybe, I watch some TV, or I read some other online article. Then around 4 or 5 o’clock I go out again, same thing, I walk there, I work for two or two and a half hours and I walk home. In your average day, even if I’m not traveling, I usually am working in terms of writing for 4 or 5 hours. When working I have a bit of a hit list so I know what I need to do during that time.
If I have some articles that are due I’ll have an order in which I would like to work on them and I time my first religiously to make sure that I’m keeping a good hourly rate on on my projects. I know that it takes me approximately 50 minutes to write a thousand words. So as I’m working I try to make the semi arbitrary limits inside that time limit to make sure that I’m keeping my writing time as in synced as possible. I also write in places that don’t have internet as much as possible. I think that this also keeps you from going off on a research tangent when you’re writing and falling down the rabbit hole of looking at things that don’t really need to be in your story, that just make it harder to write your story later. If I’m working on something like blog posts, I’ve historically had a fee clients that I do blog posts for then I will typically batch them. I’ll sit down and I’ll do as many as I can until I get tired for one client of one type at a time. I used to write for this website about reward travel and we had a couple different type of posts that we would do for that site. Some would be more of an analysis of how a certain airline reward program worked to follow the specific rubric, or some would be slightly more narrative stories about how I can use points and miles to book a particular trip.
So, in any given writing session all sit down and I’ll do the same type of thing for as long as possible until I feel like I’m starting to slow down. Once I feel like I’m starting to slow down I stop and I go out for a walk or I do emails for a little while. And when I’m traveling the main difference here is that typically try to have the same two writing sessions. Sometimes it ends up just being one, but when I’m traveling on my own I’ll typically work in the morning. So, I work in the morning depending on when I need to go out for 2 or 3 hours and also do it big batch of emails then because I won’t be able to do them in the afternoon. I’ll go out in the afternoon and then I usually try to work again for a little bit, similar to when I’m at home, between 5 and 8 on some things and I go out for dinner.
These are just the times that work for me, that I found through energy mapping and some other things that I am most productive. Different people have different times. Where some people do their best writing first thing in the morning, some people do their best writing late at night. These are just the times that work for me and so I try to make sure that I never have phone calls scheduled during these times. The way I look at it anything that I’m doing during that time that’s not writing I know what I’m taking away. So, I know if I spend one hour during the phone call during that time I’ve lost an entire article I could have written or three blog posts.
That’s actually some great Insider tips and I know we haven’t talked about that much on this show. I know people that are sitting right on their laptops, some people hand-write, some people actually type into their phone and write that way. What’s your method?
Oh I do that also. I’m kind of notorious for doing almost all of my work on my phone. I like the phone because, on the one hand, you have no distractions. On the other hand, I like it, and a lot of people use an internet blocker for this, but I like it because if I want to look up something online it’s much more difficult. I have to hit the home screen, I have to go to the internet… I can’t just have another window open. I also do it for the practical reason that my laptop just dies. I typically try to work in places where my laptop when will die unless I have just a lot of email or internet related things to do because it puts the time pressure on me. It keeps me focused on the task at hand.
Like I said, it’s like it’s a cost analysis and any time that I turn the internet on and I go on the internet look for something I’m losing a certain amount of battery which means I won’t be able to write something later. I know that there are studies about this but the limitations can really help you to maintain not only productivity but also creativity. If you don’t keep interrupting your workflow and you’re just staying only in that story, it’s kind of like meditation in the way. You have to train yourself not to be distracted by shiny thoughts. It makes it easier for you to write the best story the first time around.
I do edit my stories later, as in I often will let them sit and go back to them later but I typically try to get everything from beginning to final product in one sitting as much as possible. Because then you’re totally immersed in that, there’s this concept called switching cost, also known as contact switching, but every time you switch from one project to another you have like a mental onboarding time when you have to remember all the details of the project. So, I try to eliminate that as much as possible by taking one project as far as I can in one concentrated session while I know all of the details, and all the work load, and everything around it.
I want to turn towards some of the travel that you’ve done. Can you think of one of your most memorable trips?
You know this is a question I think every travel writer gets asked at cocktail parties all the time, and I think that Jodi and I actually had a conversation about that when we first met, but it’s hard to say because they’re all so memorable in their own ways. Part of our job, as travel writers, is to find that wonderful transformative inspiring moment in every trip that we write about. So, when people ask me a question like that I like to say wherever I just was. For instance, I just went to and Andorra, which is a country that most people haven’t even heard about it, and it’s in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. Andorra is a principality that was established I want to say in 1285, that’s independent and they speak Catalan.
They are known as being the duty-free shopping destination but really nothing else… maybe for their skiing but everyone says the Alps out there better. So, my husband and I were going to be in Barcelona and I wanted to go because I just wanted to see what it was really like. Because when I looked around online all of the stories are either of shopping or skiing. We went to try to find not to say the “real Andorra” but what is the culture, why do people live here? Why is it different? And you know I was so pleasantly surprised. This is a region that I really love, and I’ve been to many times. The Pyrenees have the sort of mountain to valley ratios that make you think of if not the Alps then like a Lord of the Rings movie or just something fantastical.
And the people were so so friendly and they had that sort of thing that you find in Brussels where everybody speaks so many different languages and communicating in this pigeon of so many different things. It’s just this beautiful mélange of culture and food. Kind of the type of thing that you would find in Spain but then they have these things called bordas, which were once upon a time barns. They’re these big old buildings that are made of stone and they’re out of the country somewhere and you can go there and have a typical meal. So, we went to one thinking like okay, we’ll see what the food is like but it wasn’t at all the food that I was surprised by, it was really good people.
I think this is something that people say in most of the best travel experiences. That it was about the people, rather than the place. It was at least one, if not two Michelin Star service. This little country place that didn’t really cost that much but the waiter always had the little silver tray to put the wine on. Everything was done to such detail, not in a subservience kind of way that you can see at somebody’s restaurant, but with such a great warm center of hospitality and showmanship for the sake of sharing rather than display. That was just a really struck me.
You mentioned that we talked about that the first time we met and there’s one thing I want to mention about the first time we met. Gabi and I met in Nashville and I mentioned I live in Port Townsend Washington and she started telling me these little things about the town I lived in, and it I knew she lived in New York City. I thought well, that’s really interesting. Then I mention that I’m from Peoria, Illinois and she starts telling me about Peoria. I was so impressed by the facts she gave me. That always made me think that it has got to be so fun being a travel writer. To end up knowing just random things about so many neat places.
For me, I think what was particularly striking about that Jodi was that you were saying you don’t think you’ve ever met anybody that knows both places. I, at some point a couple years ago, started writing for some trade magazines that were particularly about the US. I mentioned my background is Italy and so I know it’s obvious that there’s things that I don’t know, but I know a lot more things than a lot of Italians know. Just because that’s my field.
I just started writing within the US and in particular the Southeastern US when I met you and I had a huge learning curve. And I really had to realize while writing these articles that so many parts of the country, that many people often overlook, are filled with so many interesting things. Presently but also interesting stories in the way that the historic stories inform the present. I think it really goes back to what I was saying when you ask me what’s my favorite place. The beauty of being a travel writer and of having that mindset it is really looking at the world differently, and then showing other people have to do that as well.
Yeah that’s great, One last question about your travel. What’s the one thing that you bring on every trip that people might not expect?
Oh that’s a hard one. You didn’t prep me on this one. I would have to say tea, I would bring tea. As a travel writer, you are working random hours, and particularly late at night. Sometimes you just get stuck on something and you don’t want to leave where you’re working. Whether it is an apartment, which I try to do, or in a hotel, there is always a way to make tea. It just allows me to keep working and have that experience of being in a cafe, or just a warm beverage with that centering moment of taking a ship in between sentences that allows me to capture my thoughts.
I have found that when I first started doing this job that I would be up late I’d be hungry or something. I just wanted a little something and so now I carry a little plastic bag of all sorts of different tea bags. Anything that I particularly want any situation. I have all sorts of herbal teas, I have a Throat Coat tea if I’m sick, different black teas, I have green teas. In fact, it’s actually great to bring on airplanes because you can make friends that way. I had the person next to me on the flight out to Europe just now who wanted an herbal tea or something and they didn’t have it. She was very sad but I had tea bags so she picked out her favorite green tea and then we were friends. It’s a good ingratiate method I think.
That is not at all the answer I was expecting, but what a delightful answer. What a great idea to take with you when you travel.
Yeah, especially when you are sick.
Now Gabi, where can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?
G- I have actually not been travel writing so much lately. I have to say, and I feel bad about this every time people asked me are you really six figure travel writer? I am not doing much writing right now because I have been starting some other things to help travel writers become, not necessarily better at what they do, but to earn more. I have a website called dreamoftravelwriting.com and on there we have other little blog posts with some advice. Mostly through step-by-step things to help you grow your travel writing income, whether it’s to better organize your time, like the energy management I mentioned before. Or ways to find new clients.
I have done some blogging gigs in the past and those can be very lucrative. When you guest blog for small business owners you can easily earn $300 to $500 a blog post. The search sister project of that is also of course there’s my book, the Six-Figure Travel Writing Road Map, that I mentioned. Then we have something called the Travel Magazine Database where we have hundreds of travel magazines broken down into everything you need to send a pitch to them. The sections that are open for Freelancers, what the sections consist of, how long they are, the editors name, the other email addresses, and all that. So TravelMagazineDatabase.com then dreamoftravelwriting.com are where I am online.
Gabi, thank you so much for being a guest you’re so delightful and I’m glad we had the chance to talk. So thank you so much and thank you for listening to Great Escape radio.
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