How did you become a freelance travel writer?
I’ve always wanted to write travel and I’ve always been obsessed with travel and leisure magazines. I was sitting in a hotel in Urbino, Italy and gazing out the window and just started to write. A friend of mine was the editor of the Sun Herald and he offered me some work coming back. It kind of just evolved when I filled in as travel editor there. It’s a road that wasn’t necessarily linear but always leading to travel because I love stories about place, history and the people in them. I’m interested in the human condition, I think what we do and how we feel is very dictated by where we are. It is something that has always fascinated me so I explored and followed my dreams.
What is the best thing about your job?
What a travel writer gets to do is extraordinary, just getting on a plane and getting somewhere is amazing. What I find to be very rewarding is the people and the connections that you make. I was in Antarctica a couple of years ago with Abercrombie and Kent and it was absolutely wonderful. In addition to writing many stories on that trip, I just got to meet the best people, I hung out with these great New Yorkers, so that side is really fabulous. I guess it’s three-pronged – it’s the travel itself, the people you meet and the chance to write really creatively.
What is the most challenging aspect?
I think the most challenging thing about freelance writing is uncertainty but I think the gig economy is evolving and I think we all have to get used to it. The world is a very uncertain place and the most important thing in overcoming that is having confidence and believing in yourself. But I do believe you need to be in a strong place of trust and confidence. I had to adapt and go where the work is.
How do you build contacts or interviewees?
There are two ways travel works for freelancers. First, an editor may assign you a place to travel as they may be offered a trip from a tourism body, airline or hotel. Secondly, the freelancer themselves does it and pulls in contacts from different industries and creates the trip. For me, it’s the build-up of years of relationships and some research. There are databases available, you just have to put yourself on there. Be courteous, friendly, open and it comes back to being confident to make contact with people to show you are interested.
What’s some of the most memorable stories you’ve written?
One of the most memorable things was being one of the reporters on the ground at Banda Aceh, Indonesia after the tsunami. I felt privileged to be in the epicentre of the world’s compassion at that moment. It was tough, scary and phenomenal. Surrounded by death and destruction, I certainly learnt what I was made out of. I also got to meet some incredible journalists and photojournalists so that side was amazing. It was pretty full on but I’m proud that I went there. Also as a correspondent in the US, being able to meet to meet many big names, incredible talents, directors and being part of the Hollywood machine for a few years was incredible.
Any advice for journalism students looking for a job?
Congratulations to those who are brave enough to enter this great profession. It’s one of the greatest things you can do in the world. I think, because of the variety, you can truly make a difference. My advice is to be flexible and think about how you can get in, what you can do and where it can take you. I would say start small, you don’t have to get there straight away. The landscape has changed but the fundamentals have stayed the same. You have to be somebody who is the solution not the problem. Someone who can be the first person that the editor can think of when work comes up. Everyone is always going to want to read, there’s always news, don’t be disheartened and try to keep confident about it.
Any last piece of advice when you’re travelling as a journalist?
If you go on a holiday, just take a journal. Writing in a notebook is a different kind of rhythm. Always have it in the back of your mind to look for angles. There are stories in a weekend away – take note of what you did, where you went, how it felt and any possibilities. Stay open to the story ideas with everything you do and ask that question, is there in a story in it? The way through is to be brave.