“What do you do?” It took me a few years to get to the answer I wanted, but I was pretty darn excited when I could start truthfully answering, “I’m a travel writer.” Now that I’ve been answering that way for quite a few years now, I’ve noticed that nearly everyone seems to ask one of the same questions to follow up, with only slight tweaks for nationality. So here are the answers so we can talk about something else should you and I ever come face to face. (Like where you are going next, maybe.)
What’s your favorite place/country? This one comes up close to 95 percent of the time, but for most of us travel writers, it’s a trick question. One writer I know just says, “Wherever I’m going next.” Maybe that’s the best response, because it’s a moving target. At different times I would have said Nepal, Indonesia, Peru, or Turkey, but there were other times where a specific place at a specific time were close to perfect. Plus some places are great when I’m on assignment and someone else is paying, but sucky if I have to reach into my own wallet. For me, enjoyment and budget worries don’t go hand in hand. I’ve had a blast in Lexington and London, Buenos Aires and Botswana, Aswan and Amsterdam, Sukothai and Sharm el Sheikh, Hampi and Hanoi, all for different reasons. So I know that everyone is looking for a short cut and a superlative, but I can’t provide it. Sorry. You’ll have to find your own #1 — then keep going until it changes.
Do you get to travel a lot? Well, not as much as I did when I was a full-time backpacker, but yeah. There are a few travel writers I know who don’t really travel much anymore (like troubleshooter Christopher Elliott), but over time it’s pretty hard to write about travel without being out and about on a regular basis. (One reason why an editor’s job at a travel mag can be a drag: you’re chained to a desk most of the year and can only take short trips.) I have a wife and child though, so I can’t just toss some wrinkle-free clothes in a bag and disappear for a month. I compromise by taking three or four relatively short solo trips each year and a couple long ones with the whole crew, like this family trip to Guatemala. But if I didn’t spend a lot of time holed up in my office writing, I would never get paid…
How many countries have you been to? I have two words for you. Who cares? Life is not a reality TV show and this is not a competition. I’d rather spend three quality weeks in one place that to breeze through five countries to to add more notches. To be polite I’ll say “probably a few dozen,” but I’m just not a country counter.
Is it really safe to go to Freakmeoutistan? If you’re the type that worries about airline crashes instead of car crashes or Avian Bird Flu instead of a heart attack, no amount of logic or common sense from me is going to help you. But unless you are headed to Afghanistan or the latest African civil war zone, chill out and go. That dot on a map you’re so worried about probably has a crime rate that makes the place look like a Girl Scout troop headquarters compared to your local inner city. Watch your local news for a week and then read the local paper online for where you are going. Be honest, which is worse?
How do you afford to travel so much? I’m cheating on #5 since this one was more constant before I started getting expenses covered a fair bit of the time for my solo trips. My wife still hears it a lot though since we tend to pay for most of the family vacations out of pocket, even if I’m working on a few articles while I’m there. The people asking are usually ones making more money than us, living in a bigger house than us, and driving nicer cars than our paid-for unglamorous sedans. Even if I weren’t a travel writer, we would still spend four to six weeks a year traveling as a family. It’s just a matter of priorities.