Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, a travel writers' life for me...

Sooner or later, friends, family, casual acquaintances, just about anyone I meet actually, all get around to asking me one question when they find out I'm a travel writer.

"How did you get to be a travel writer?"

It sometimes takes the form of, "What school did you attend to learn journalism?" Other times, it takes the form of, "Boy, I'd sure like to find out how you got that job!" Sometimes it even comes disguised as a not-so-subtly-veiled hint, "Do you ever need anyone to come along with you on one of your trips?" (the latter because travel writers are often hosted on press tours where the expenses are minimal.)

First of all, I don't think anyone ever sets out to become a travel writer. A writer, yes; a travel and tourism industry professional, of course; a travel agent, maybe. But I don't remember anyone I ever knew in high school or university who set out with the career goal of becoming a travel writer upon graduation. Most of us just fall into it.

And as far as "tagging along" with a travel writer on assignment's not all pina coladas on the beach and free massages at the spa (although there is a bit of that). A working travel writer often has a tough schedule in order to get to all the destinations, see all the sights that need to be seen in order to meet the demands of the trip itinerary/assignment.

Ready to launch our kayaks and paddle to the cays in Belize.
A travel writer is usually up early, going all day long, and even after the schedule is done for the day, there is often work to do at night - especially these days with social media becoming more and more a part of the picture. That means that not only do you stay up late, going over the days' notes, organizing photos and preparing equipment for the next day's activities, and perhaps journalling about the day's, a writer may also end up writing a blogpost or posting photos and videos on social media.

Opting out of scheduled events is NOT really an option, as it is on a family vacation. If you're on the trip, you have to attend everything. The schedules can be very demanding.

That being said, I cannot imagine myself enjoying any other career as much as this one.

So ... How did I become a travel writer?

First you have to understand how I became a writer. I went to the University of New Brunswick enrolled in a Bachelor of Science-Forestry program. Ever since I was 12, I'd wanted to help conserve our natural resources - forests, lakes, wildlife - and made up my mind to go into forestry. While working as a junior forest ranger in Gogama, Ontario in the summer of 1973, the head foreman told me about UNB. I decided to go there rather than one of the Ontario universities because I wanted to see another part of the country - I wanted an adventure.

The first week at UNB, I made very good friends with Dan Arsenault...he had joined CHSR 700, the on-campus AM student radio station and eventually convinced me to join, too.

I might as well have said good-bye to a forestry career right then, but I tried to combine the two for another two years, eventually giving in to my passion for radio and switching to a degree program that would allow more leisure time for my broadcast interests. Eventually, I worked my way up through the station as program director, then station manager before moving into my true broadcasting love: sports. After leading the station's sports department into the era of FM broadcasting, I got work as a professional freelance sports reporter first at CFNB then CBC Radio in Fredericton while finishing my business degree.

I also began writing sports for the student newspaper, which led to my first full-time in Barrhead, Alberta, after graduating. For the next 15 years, I bounced back and forth between broadcasting and newspaper jobs in Alberta and B.C.

While still working as sports editor for the Alaska Highway News, I took my first international vacation, an ecotour in Belize. It involved paddling sea kayaks for a week, then touring around the jungle in caves, on horseback and at Mayan temples for a week, swimming in underground rivers, seeing wild parrots, finding scorpions in one's shirt --- I loved it!

I went back and wrote up two articles about it for the paper, and I was hooked. This was even more fun than sports-writing.

Fast-forward to 1999: my SO and erstwhile companion the Divine Ms. K. got a killer job in Calgary, and I began my freelance career. Not focused strictly on travel, but a mix of the outdoors, conservation, adventure, food and travel.
Looking at parrots on Grand Cayman Island.

In essence, I'd come full-circle. In many of my articles, I was informing people about the importance of protecting the environment and by sharing many of my travel adventures, I hoped to connect them to nature.

Kind of a convoluted path, but a path none-the-less. And I've travelled on it now for 15 years.

It's helped me enjoy some incredible experiences... seen places in the world I might never have seen, otherwise... I've met some wonderful people that I am still friends with - and I've even made a few bucks along the way.

And it's something I intend to do until they pull the camera and keyboard from my cold, dead fingers.

Your takeaway from this?

No matter what path you're on, no matter what background you come from, no matter what your education background is, if you can write well, or take good photos (better if you can do both) you can be a travel writer.

And remember what T.S. Eliot said: "The journey, not the arrival, matters."

Enjoy your journey.

On assignment: Playing with sharks and rays at the Maui Ocean Centre