Life on the Road
This post is from Kristin from Camels & Chocolate. Thank you, Kristin!
I often wake up and have no idea where I am.
What? This isn’t normal?
This sort of travel vertigo has become a normal part of my daily existence. I literally live out of a suitcase. No, really. Even when home in San Francisco, I don’t see any point in unpacking, as I’ll likely be hitting the road a couple days later. I currently have three pieces of luggage sprawled out on my bedroom floor and just dig through their cluttered remains when I need to get dressed or find a pair of nail clippers.
You see, I travel for a living. Jack Kerouac had nothing on me. My business cards say it all: TRAVEL WRITER. For such a self-explanatory profession, you have no idea how often I have to explain myself.
“So…what do you do for a living?”
“Well, I’m a travel writer.”
“Um…well…I travel…and then I write about it.” I try to say this in as unpretentious a manner as possible, but really there are only so few words that describe what I do.
But it’s not all fun and games (a lot of it is). For example, I’ve spent 54 out of the last 82 nights in a hotel, crammed in a boat cabin, or trying to catch my beauty rest on an overnight flight. While I love hotels, I really do, the appeal starts to lose its luster when you forget what your boyfriend looks like, have left something vital at home and couldn’t tell a stranger what shade of paint dons your living room wall. Poor Scott (we live together), always getting stuck with the shopping, chores and housecleaning. (On second thought, this isn’t a bad set-up for me at all!)
It’s a lot of time spent with my best friend and worst enemy: myself. Yes, an all-expense paid trip to the Indian Ocean is a complete dream, but it’s nowhere near as appealing when you realize you’re going to be there solo. With no one to share the experience, no one to turn to and say “Remember that time we were in Thailand…” months after your return.
Five years ago, I would have never felt secure enough to eat meal after meal in a restaurant alone. You get odd, I-feel-so-sorry-for-the-loser-in-the-corner, can’t-she-find-a-suitable-lunch-companion looks. Smug marrieds glare when you break out your leisure reading at the dinner table (I grew up in the South, where that is definitely considered rude). Creepy old men “take pity” on you (or at least act like it) and try to join you for coffee.
But I’ve come to handle it just fine; in fact, I even like the solitude…at times. Consequently, I’ve become one of those Americans who walks around with her Blackberry glued to her palm. I text and e-mail like it’s going out of style. It’s my way of not feeling so lonely when I’m miles away, and also reminding my friends and business contacts that while they may not see me on a regular basis, I’m still right there, completely accessible, via the daunting black hole of cyberspace.
Travel writing is an expensive job to have, that’s for certain. Sure, the hotels and flights are usually covered, but there are all sorts of little fees you don’t think about upfront. The things you must pay for yourself, like gas (which rose to as much as $4.99 a gallon in my neck of the woods in June), gratuity, parking, tax, and anything you may want to eat or drink while away from home (Trader Joe’s 100 calorie packs only get me so far).
In the declining state of the media, no publication wants to pay my $52 parking fee at the Four Seasons, even when they sent me there in the first place to write about the hotel for their magazine. I’m not about to complain, as I wouldn’t put it past any of them to hire a younger, more eager writer who is willing to work for peanuts to replace me. After checking out from any given establishment, I usually accrue somewhere between $60-$100 in fees, money I wouldn’t have spent if I were staying in my own home. Not the way I would choose to spend my own funds.
There are always the people who think they can do your job better than you. (I blame the Internet for turning everyone on the planet into “a writer.”) On any given day, I’ll receive five or more unsolicited e-mails and Facebook messages from people who want to break into my profession, people who have already enjoyed successful careers as lawyers, accountants, architects, real-estate agents, but think that my job sounds so glamorous and, well, easy that they could do it as well. These unwelcome notes read something like this:
So I’m thinking about a career change and travel writing sounds fun! I loooove to travel, and I’m not a bad writer either. How did you do it? Can you help me get a job?
Um, no. I didn’t just wake up one day and think this is something I might want to do. It was many years in the making. I went to school—twice—for this. It took years of interning for free (since the age of 14), years of working thankless graveyard editing shifts, years of writing pieces where someone else got the byline, years of country-hopping and living in Europe on my own dime to establish myself as an expert in the field. I find it a bit offensive, as if I were to write a lawyer friend and say, “Hey! I woke up this morning thinking a life in court would suit me. Could you swing me a job at your firm?” without any prior education or experience.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure how it all happened, this whole bizarre-o travel writing career. One day I was your average run-of-the-mill journalist begging anyone who was hiring for a decent paying job with benefits (a few years back, I interviewed for 38 magazine jobs in New York in three months—to no avail); the next, magazines and online pubs were beating down my inbox wanting to hire me (still no benefits, but I’ll compromise).
There are others who don’t really think what I do is a job. They think of it more as a fun hobby and kind of write off all of my travels as “vacation.” When I first met an in-law of my boyfriend’s family member, her first response to my profession was, “Awww, you write for some little magazines! Isn’t that sooo cute?” Puppies and babies are cute; my job is not.
Before I go any further, I should explain that on many assignments, you’re hauled around by someone from the tourism board from sunup to well after sundown, no time to soak in your surroundings, no chance to explore on your own time, no spare hour to hit the town. You only see what they want you to see. At the end of the day, it really is work. Just thousands of miles away from a normal cubicle.
You still don’t feel sorry for me, do you?
Well, I wouldn’t want you to anyway. It’s true, I loooove what I do. I mean, what other profession sends you to the Maldives, Singapore, Cuba, Florida, Maine, Vermont, Iceland, Holland, Germany and the Dominican Republic, all in the same calendar year? In 2008 thus far I’ve been to Brazil, Italy, the Bahamas, home to Tennessee a few times, and all over California for a couple guidebook assignments, with trips to Texas, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador on the horizon in coming months. I’m not complaining, because in some respects, I do have a dream job. I just want to be taken seriously, ya know? Is that asking too much?
I’ve always believed in the whole do-what-you-love mantra. I’ll never make it big as a travel writer. I’ll probably never even break six figures many years down the road. If I ever want to buy a house (have you looked at prices in the Bay Area recently? Utterly ridiculous!) I’ll have to sell some novels on the side, another pipedream that will hopefully come to fruition one day. As it is, I take on anywhere from 15 to 25 assignments a month just to be able to live comfortably.
But I’ve never once contemplated a career change. I don’t know what I’d do if it weren’t this. Should Scott and I ever decide we want to start a family (currently not in the plans, though every picture and cute anecdote about Baby Bug make my ovaries start to throb!) I’d probably have to choose another path of writing, as I’ve experienced firsthand that babies and airplanes are a deadly combination.
But for now, I’m not going anywhere—metaphorically, of course.
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