‘Travel isn’t about going far but about having a sense of exploration’
Freelance travel writer Katrina Woznicki once spent an hour in search of a goat cafe in Tokyo. Not too long ago, she flew to Paris for an iPad exhibit. That said, Woznicki is just as likely to jump into the car and drive to upstate New York in search of adventure. As her blog and her countless travel articles demonstrate, the New York City freelancer knows how to turn work into a vacation and vice versa (a bonus), not to mention the merits of packing smart shoes and a paperback travel guide.
Woznicki, who I met on Twitter a couple of years ago, was kind enough to indulge me in a Q&A about how to get going as a freelance travel writer. Our recent dialogue is below. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do. And, for other freelance travel writers out there, how did you get started? Share your stories in the comments section, below.
Anna: How did you get started in travel writing? How long ago? Where did you go? What did you end up writing about?
Katrina: There was no real start to my travel writing. My first travel articles were both published in newspapers during summer 2001; one was about Pacific Northwest wineries that ran in Portland’s The Oregonian, and the other was about the Houses of Parliament in London that ran in The Boston Globe. A few years later, we had a baby and didn’t travel anywhere. I started a personal blog in 2005, and when we started traveling as a family, I found I enjoyed writing about our vacations. The travel focus, dare I say it, happened organically, for lack of a better word. We go anywhere and stay almost anywhere. This year’s travels include staying at the five-star Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel, which is where the 2003 movie “Lost in Translation,” was filmed, and staying in a yurt in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Every destination has a story.
What advice might you have for someone who is interested in breaking into travel writing — for getting started?
Following what’s being said about travel on Twitter proved very helpful to me. I might find a particular locale interesting because it’s new to me, but am I the umpteenth person there? What’s already been said about a place? It helps to find the negative spaces in travel writing. Read your local newspapers and for national and international coverage, read The New York Times and Los Angeles Times travel sections to see how travel is packaged. For example the Los Angeles Times has a column called “Weekend Escape” that talks about the bed, the meal, the lesson learned. Do you want to write travel articles that are service-oriented, such as ways to maximize frequent flyer miles, news, such as the Transportation Security Administration reconsidering its pocket knife policy, or destination-focused pieces where you can wax poetic about a beach somewhere? I prefer the latter.
What kinds of publications have you written travel pieces for? How do the travel pieces usually happen? Do you pitch them or do they get pitched to you? What kind of form or format do the pieces usually take?
I already mentioned The Portland Oregonian and The Boston Globe. This year, my travel articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Lonely Planet, and I’m a contributor to CheapOAir.com. Like any freelance writer, I hope to break into new markets and certainly sell more travel stories. All of my travel pieces were ideas I pitched to editors. Formats include the Los Angeles Times’ “Weekend Escape,” which I mentioned earlier. I write blog posts for CheapOAir.com and the other stories I write are old-fashioned reporting.
What factors in to what places you’ll visit? How about ideas for pieces? Where do you get your ideas? Do you ever write about places that are close-to-home (maybe for a wider audience) and if so, any thoughts about how to go about that?
We’ll go almost anywhere. We travel as a family, so destinations don’t need to be DisneyWorld, but we’re not backpacking the Amazon right now, either. Our daughter has traveled eight countries in the past five-plus years. Sometimes the inspiration for a trip comes out of nowhere. True story: in December 2010, I was driving to work and heard on NPR about David Hockney’s iPad art exhibit in Paris. I just had to go. I convinced my husband we should go to Paris for a long weekend that January to see this exhibit before it closed, and we did. Sounds nuts. We’re not jet-set to Paris types and we don’t have a heap of money (our beat-up 2002 Honda can speak to that fact). We found inexpensive flights and an inexpensive B&B in Paris near the Latin Quarter and had one of the best long weekends of our lives. I wrote about that trip on my blog, but that was it, which was fine by me. It was just something for us to enjoy. I do have a “thing” for hotel pools and turned my little obsession into an article for the Los Angeles Times. Inspiration can happen anywhere.
As for writing about close-to-home, New York City is my backyard, so it’s easy to write about things to do when not traveling. But you don’t need to live in a big city to have interesting travel articles worth pitching and selling. Off-the-beaten path destinations and trends appeal to editors. I really believe every location has a story and a history worth sharing. There’s so much you can experience and learn on road trips. I write frequently on my blog about upstate New York, including the Catskills, Adirondacks, and Finger Lakes regions, as well as the Lake Champlain Valley and Vermont. These places are further up the road, about two- to five-hour drives from where we live, and we try to visit these places as often as possible.
Travel isn’t about going far but about having a sense of exploration. The distance shouldn’t matter.
Assuming you don’t do this full-time, how do you make sure to carve out time for travel writing?
I was just at the TBEX travel writers conference held in Toronto this past June, and I can tell you very few people earn a full-time living travel writing. Unless you’re Peter Greenberg, most of us are doing something else. I’ve spent most of my career writing about health and doing communications management for medical centers in New York City. I have freelanced on and off throughout my career and in 2012, I left my staff position as a communications manager to launch Katrina Communications, and am fully committed to growing my business. I write for national associations, hospitals, medical schools, nonprofits, websites and even for small businesses. I consider myself extremely lucky to do this for a living. I always take work with me when I travel. When you freelance work days are vacation days and vice versa.
Any favorite trips or any special memories that would be good to highlight in regards to your travel writing experience?
The best example occurred very recently when we went to Japan this past April. I was writing about animal cafes in Tokyo for Lonely Planet, and we had a hard time finding this one cafe that had two goats. Apparently it was the only “goat cafe” in town. We spent nearly an hour walking around in the Shibuya District, which feels a bit like Times Square, trying to locate this tiny side street cafe. I wasn’t wearing smart walking shoes, my husband was getting frustrated with Google Maps, my daughter was getting annoyed because more than once we literally walked in a circle and had to backtrack a few times, and everyone was getting tired and cranky.
Ultimately, we found the place and it’s featured in the Lonely Planet article. During this same trip, we struggled to find the snake cafe in suburban Tokyo, and, again, got a little lost. I noticed a veterinary clinic as we searched for this place, and figured if anyone knew where there might be a snake cafe nearby, it would be these guys. We walked into the vet clinic and kind of mimed our questions since we don’t speak Japanese and the vet staff didn’t speak English. Turns out, the vet staff knew exactly where the snake cafe was, and it was just down the road from where we were standing. Never underestimate the power of smiles and hand gestures in finding your way! And if I have any advice, whatever your writing assignment and wherever you are, wear comfortable walking shoes.
Any recommended reading or resources about travel writing or groups people should consider joining?
I’ve been buying and reading DK Publishing Eyewitness Travel Guides for the past 13 years and still find them very useful when researching a region. I have a whole book shelf lined with their guides, and regardless of what’s online, I still believe there’s a place for printed guide books. Batteries in smartphones die (which almost happened to us while hunting for that snake cafe in Tokyo), wifi signals are spotty and smartphones get stolen on trips. When’s the last time you heard of someone stealing a travel guide book?
Lonely Planet is also a favorite, and is a longtime leader in the travel writing realm. I like Lonely Planet’s thematic approaches to exploring destinations. National Geographic Traveler…need I say more? They are the pros of pros. This past June, Peter Greenberg published a piece about the pitfalls of travel writing. It’s an excellent article worth rereading. I admit, I try to not be too florid. Not every beach has to be “pristine,” not every tropical resort needs to be “lush.” A little Ernest Hemingway goes a long way in travel writing.
Even though I have my own travel blog, I don’t read or follow many travel bloggers, but there’s one blogger I enjoy reading and I just met her at TBEX in Toronto. Pam Mendel writes the blog Nerd’s Eye View. What initially grabbed my attention was her photos, but then I started reading her posts and found her style light, funny, and anchored in tremendous depth and respect for nature, people and culture.
She’s not a conventional travel blogger and I think that’s why her work works. She has a fantastic writing voice. As far as groups go, there are many tribes out there, so read up first, start following the folks you like to read on various social media platforms and publications, and you’ll likely find groups that appeal.
What makes travel writing enjoyable or stimulating? Where do you find your inspiration?
I always like having a trip on the calendar. I would feel untethered if we didn’t. A study published in 2010 suggested people who planned vacations were happier. That feels true for us. The size of the trip doesn’t matter to me. If we went camping all year to save money, which we probably should do, that would be fine. Posh hotels, mileage perks, getaway packages, new restaurants are all nice things but really have nothing to do with travel for me.
I actually hate flying, but obviously get on planes, otherwise I wouldn’t get to see very much. I genuinely find the world an interesting place, and if I want to see the world, I need to leave my house from time to time. I like traveling with my husband because he’s funny and can speak Spanish, an invaluable skill when we traveled to Spain, Cuba and Ecuador. And I like traveling with my daughter because she brings perspective to everything we do and ensures we don’t do anything too risky or bizarre. Later this year, we travel to California, New Mexico and Arizona. We’re on a Southwest kick these days.
Katrina Woznicki lives in the New York City metro area and writes about travel and health. You can follow her musings on her blog, katrinawoznicki.com/travel, or on Twitter at @katrinawoz.
As a staff reporter-turned-freelance journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fistfight in a church basement, all for various stories. Over the past nine years, her byline has appeared in the Star Tribune, The Line, the Southwest Journal, the Minnesota Independent and several suburban and community papers, web publications and broadcast media in the Twin Cities. She’s had many beats, including education, community news, business, development, arts, civil/human rights and immigration. Pratt chairs the programming committee for the award-winning Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ and she’s running for president-elect of the chapter. She also serves on the organization’s national programming committee. To read more, visitannaprattjournalist.com.