Travel Writers Don’t Get No Respect

I wish I could remember the exact words of the writing teacher at a workshop I took a couple of years ago. It was something like “I guess as a travel writer, you wouldn’t be used to writing narratives.” As if travel writers can’t write a story, but only know how to write flowery descriptions and glowing praise of hotels that have hooked them up with a free room. At the other end are those ‘real’ journalists who consider travel writing a joke because it’s not hard news. Really, we can’t win.

Even in the travel industry we’re marginalized. About a year ago, I went to a memoir writing conference in Mississippi where an editor from Conde Nast (Conde was Nasty) told the audience he makes it a policy to not hire travel writers. If it’s an art piece he wants in Florence, for example, he’ll send an art historian, or, for a piece on Tuscan food, he’ll send a food writer. I liked the editor, and while I can see his point, I’m less thrilled about the implication that travel writers are ‘experts in nothing.’ Isn’t travel writing an art? Is it easy balancing history, dialogue, description and travel information, all the while trying to create a sense of ‘place’? Just because we consider ourselves travel writers, we don’t know anything about art, food (okay, I don’t know that much about food), history or architecture? Finally, I have a career my mother can be proud of … and now I have to tell her it’s shameful? I knew I shouldn’t have quit H&R Block (yes, I did taxes for a season).  But I don’t need to win the debate about whether travel writers are valid or not, I’ll just go ahead and ride that elephant in Thailand, have that gemstone facial in Miami or take that river cruise down the Yukon (oh, wait, I’ve already done those) while crying into my chardonnay because no one takes me seriously.

I'm so sad! No one takes me seriously!

Look at me! I'm so sad!

Actually, there is a reason for this tirade. It’s because I’m trying to get my application in for an Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Works in Progress grant. (The deadline is Oct 15 so for any wannabe writers out there, hurry it up.) You need to submit 40 pages from your current project – I’ve been working on a travel book forever – and I’m already anticipating the rejection and getting ready to blame it, not on my crappy writing, but because travel writers just don’t get respect.

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One Response

  1. It’s funny that this is the perception because, not just to me but to a lot of successful travel writers out there, one needs a solid grasp of narrative and craft to produce decent travel writing. Keep your head up–and keep writing great work. Eventually we’ll convince them all otherwise!

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