Trudging the Road to Travel Writer-dom: Struggles, Successes and a Couple Happy Dances

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The ole ball and chain

It’s been an exciting, exhausting week in my journey (bad pun alert) to become a travel writer.

It’s pretty counterintuitive when you think about it—trying to become a travel writer. As Tim Cahill said, travel writing is a forgiving genre, “because as soon as you step out the front door it’s travel writing.” By the same token, the moment your fingers start scribbling or typing, you’re writing. So, bingo-bango—I’m a travel writer.

But when it comes to the more pressing business of business, of embarking upon building a profession around overlapping passions, in an industry so tumultuous seasoned experts are scrabbling to make due—well, that’s another story. I’d like to say I’m writing that story, but I suspect that this is a story that’s writing me.

First with the successes. They say bad things come in threes, but I’m convinced good things do too. The travel-writing stork delivered three little bundles of joy to my laptop this week.

My run of good luck started on Tuesday, when a StumbleUpon link to my blog generated 346 pages views, making the day’s total 494. My previous record had been 97, so, yeah, I was a little stoked. I knew it would only be downhill after that (indeed, the downward slope in the line graph is a little sad), and the busted link-back kept the original Stumbler a shadow-shrouded enigma. But I was tickled nonetheless. There may or may not have been a happy dance involved.

Wednesday I discovered that a local TV station’s website had published an excerpt from my Dia de los Muertos post, along with a link to my blog. This is the closest I’ve come to being on TV. (Happy dance #2)

Thursday, the editor from the new female-oriented travel site Girl’s Getaway contacted me to see if I’d be interested in writing for them. Um, yes. While I brainstorm ideas of girlie stuff to do around the Bay, my post on getting hassled and humiliated in Marrakesh will be appear on their site (guess my grand entrance will be on the bummer-ish side). I’m now listed on their writers page, which evoked more of a happy giggle than a dance. My feet hurt—it’d been a long night at work.

Which brings me to the “struggles” side of things. I don’t mind the long hours at the computer, and taking my laptop over to the cafe and eating cake while I work may or may not be the highlight of my day. But that’s also indicative of the adventure level of my life right now. Which, even if you don’t want to be a travel writer, is pretty lame.

Here’s the scenario: this week, I wrote the post on Dia de los Muertos; worked on a sizable, ongoing freelance project from NileGuide (fun with regional descriptions); continued reading the Pico Iyer book I’m deep into; spent hours online reading and commenting other people’s blogs; wrote an article on Caracas—and worked full-time. This means that pretty much every minute I wasn’t at my actual job (the one where I make enough to support myself), I was at the computer, doing what I love. Now, I love writing, but this scenario doesn’t leave a lot of time for friends, for going out, for doing the kinds of things that generate compelling writing in the first place. If great writing is the end product of great living, this ain’t cutting it.

Something’s gotta give, and I don’t think it’s gonna be the writing. I’ve been grappling with financial insecurity this week, on working up the nerve to release my grip and leap into the unknown.

I face, of course, the American Dilemma. No, not Gunnar Myrdal’s—I mean health insurance. If I cut my hours at work, I lose my health insurance. I can stay on the company’s plan and pay out of pocket for up to 18 months, but the last time I did that, it cost me nearly as much as my rent. But wait—if I cut my hours at work, how will I afford another monthly bill? Ah well, who needs thyroid medication anyway? Oh wait—me.

So I’m working (in addition to working) on letting go of my comforts, and getting comfortable with the idea of less security. Or no security. Careers that offer security don’t appeal to me—thus the debauched grant writing stint. Sometimes, a lot of times, I wish they did. But we don’t get to pick what we love, now do we?

I read an excellent interview with writer and fresh lady (and perhaps role model) Daisann McLane, in which she talks about how scary a life without security can be, the life of a travel writer. But, she says, “when you travel to so many different places, and you see how people live outside of your little bubble, you realize how ridiculous the very idea of security is, from a global perspective” (Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, p. 140).

Well, amen, sister. But now I’ve got some margaritas to sell… do you take salt?

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11 Responses to “Trudging the Road to Travel Writer-dom: Struggles, Successes and a Couple Happy Dances”


  1. 1 Hal Amen November 8, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Let travel writers eat cake.

  2. 2 Abbie November 8, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Yay for the successes! I, too, am working on building up my travel writer ability before taking the big jump, so I’m right there with you 🙂

  3. 3 Deborah November 9, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Congratulations on your successes! I love that quote at the end. It is so true how we (Americans) feel that there are certain things we simply cannot do without – when all over the world people do just fine without them every day. I am moving abroad soon and I am concerned about health insurance, as well. On one hand, I am sure that we will be able to pay out of pocket for normal visits, etc., but what one of us develops something chronic or needs major medical attention. Then again, I sometimes feel the whole insurance thing is a scam – but, I digress.

    Here’s to hoping that your successes continue!

  4. 4 The Travel Nerd November 9, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Hi ,

    I will be running a series of weekly interviews on my blog http://thetravelnerd.blogspot.com/ and would love to interview you in relation to both your struggles and success’s with your new travel writing career.

    If your interested let me know.

  5. 5 neha November 9, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Yaay for all the good stuff and keep it coming!

  6. 6 Nancy November 10, 2009 at 4:08 am

    Congrats on all the great news. You deserve it; I love your site and writing.

    This post eloquently expresses my life now too. I’m finishing my masters in a month and working, but I find myself spending almost all my time developing my travel writing career. I love travel writing, blogging, networking with other travelers/writers, and the act of travel itself so much that I find myself having very little time for anything else.

    I feel this is the time for me to be building my craft before I take a big leap. I’m also having so much fun learning and growing that I’m achieving my end result: to do what I love. Now to just make enough money from it in the Daisann McLane sense.

    This post also reminds me of one of my favorite zen sayings, “Leap and the net will appear.”

  7. 8 peregrina feminina November 10, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Congrats on your successes! Just yesterday I was staring at my closet, thinking about a lightened load and the open road.

    I think security is an illusion, even for those living a “normal” life!

    • 9 laurenquinn November 10, 2009 at 7:53 am

      Yesterday, a guy I know was talking about clinging to the illusion of security. Said it was like hanging on to shadows. Damn.

      Thanks for the words from the road. They keep me from getting too sucked-back-in.

  8. 10 wanderingcarol November 10, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    I think your happy dances well outweigh your struggles – you’re doing amazingly well – but I know how it feels. Sometimes you just want to pay the rent.

  9. 11 clickclackgorilla December 20, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Ah the health insurance dilemma. The bane of everyone, everywhere. (Well, ok maybe mostly the writer and artist types who refuse to settle for anything less than their passion.) I gave up on the stuff two years ago, and it was an excellent decision. Tragically where I live it is illegal to not have health insurance, but that’s another story. If I bought health insurance I would have to get a second job, one besides writing, but then I would be stressed and unhappy and probably get sick more often so fuck it. I suppose the thyroid medicine you mentioned needing will be a hurdle, but I bet if you search long enough you’ll be able to figure out a way to get it without insurance. Best of luck anyway.


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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