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Coming to Terms With Changing Locations: When Travel Leads You Home

Two months ago, I moved to another city. And I still haven’t gotten over it.

This isn’t a tale of culture shock, though my old city and my new one are quite different. Nor is this a tale of hardship. My life is comfortable — more comfortable than most — and I didn’t have to flee war or famine to get to where I am now. My move was a professional and familial obligation, the kind of thing required by foreign service life.

Still I feel a void. I am caught up in a purgatory of unfinished business from my last city and the feeling of Torschlusspanik, the German word for the panic you feel when a gate is closing, the feeling that time is running out. There’s a gate (Tor) in front of and behind me and both of them are inching shut.

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How I Live as a Writer

Clandestine coin collection in front of the Pantheon

Sponsorship.

If you’re a travel writer, this is a topic that often comes up. Will you take a sponsored press trip, a trip that is planned for you and/or a group of other writers, so that you can see places you may not be able to afford to go? Or, do you go it alone, rebuffing PR offers in order to maintain your objectivity or, at least, to stay in the good graces of publications like the New York Times, which blacklists – at least temporarily – those writers who have taken them?

Being sponsored is murky territory in the travel writing domain. It is the crux of discussions over travel writing ethics, conversations which seem to come up every time there is a conspicuous travel blogger hashtag campaign on Twitter. Sponsorship in travel writing – that is, having a trip partially- or fully- funded by a third party – is a grey area because many of those who write about travel cannot afford to work otherwise.

But there is another type of sponsorship that has been setting the writer discussion boards ablaze. At the end of January, Ann Bauer published “Sponsored by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from,” an article with a cringe-worthy title and similarly obnoxious anecdotes relating to writers with money. Bauer offers a sympathetic tale of her own writing career path, one that she forged while poor, overworked, and living with her parents and that is now sustained by her second husband’s “hefty salary.” She makes the point that writers “do an enormous ‘let them eat cake’ disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some ways succeed.”

I read many angry responses to Bauer’s piece. The article seemed to draw a line in the sand between those who are “sponsored,” i.e., those who come from money, have connected families, or married well, and those who are the “real” writers, i.e., those who hustle while living paycheck to paycheck or write on the side while working a full-time job. Writing from the perspective of those in the second camp, Laura Bogart, for Dame Magazine, writes, “I live in that in between of deadlines and bagged lunches, scrawling dialogue and outlines of scenes on the back of an agenda for a nine a.m. meeting. But it’s better than relying on anyone else for the roof over my head.”

As I read both of these articles, I couldn’t help but think there is a third reality. It is my reality. And in the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal the circumstances that allow me to write and publish.

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The Best American Travel Writing 2014

The Best American Travel Writing 2014

The Best American Travel Writing, which highlights the best travel stories from the previous full year, arrives in bookstores and on tablets this week. The 2014 edition is edited by Paul Theroux, who has selected some outstanding reads from a variety of print and online publications. Here are few that you can read online right now:

Some honorable mentions include Thanksgiving in Mongolia, Ariel Levy’s devastating personal essay; The Fallout by Frank Bures; A Sort of Happy Ending by David Farley (yay, Farley!); Go Your Own Way by Douglas Mack (yay, Doug!); and How Hipsters Ruined Paris by Thomas Chatteron Williams.

The Best American Travel Writing 2014 is available from Amazon in print and on Kindle and as an Apple iBook. You can also buy directly from the publisher.

*These are the print magazine titles of these articles. The online titles are slightly different.