guest posters

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.”

“A what?!?!?”

“Travel. Writer.”

“What’s that?”

“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.

Capri 33 copy.jpg

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.

Glacier, Iceland copy.JPG

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:

Hi Kristin!

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?

me on lake louise copy.jpg

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.

If you would like to guest post on this website, please email me (SAJ). I will be posting guest posts from now until September 15th.


  • Calee

    Beautiful post and photos! I’m a writer, though not the traveling kind, and love it when people find out what I do and instantly exclaim that they have always meant to write their screenplayl/life story/science fiction epic but maybe I would like to do it for them or give them a few pointers how to get the big bucks without actually doing the work.

    Enjoy your travels and your work!

  • Kate

    Such an interesting post Kristin! You’ve totally made me see another side of your profession, and I love that. I can see how it has it downsides, but I say enjoy it while you can (as much as possible). Certainly that much travel takes its toll, and someday life will require a change. Live it up while you can and take the pictures to prove it!

  • Kaili

    I LOVED this post! Loved seeing what a travel-writers life is like. So interesting. Loved the photos and totally respect what you do girl!

  • Camels & Chocolate

    Thank you, guys! You’re so sweet! I should have mentioned that an excellent book that received some negative, unwarranted press, but sheds a bit of insight on the profession as a whole is Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? telling of one man’s outrageous experiences working for Lonely Planet. It reads like a novel, so if you’re looking for a good book, pick it up! I highly recommend it!

  • gorillabuns

    My husband travels as well, though the destinations are not as glamourous. His sentiment is the same as yours – while it’s nice to go to these places, it’s definitely not as exciting as it should be when standing at Niagra Falls and you are by yourself.

  • K

    Your jobs sounds amazing and overwhelming all at the same time. I personally think it would be wonderful to get to travel so much if it weren’t so draining. I give you props for being able to maintain your sanity while traveling alone and still maintain a nice homelife. I’ll have to check out your blog. Those pictures are gorgeous!

  • Moose

    When you’re 87, you can look back on these pictures and think about what an amazing life you had. Then you can bang your cane on the floor and demand chocolate pudding.

  • Sensibly Sassy

    Thanks for the great perspective on what you do. I think a lot of people (me included) think travel writing must be all gumdrops and rainbows-which I am sure it is a lot. But I never really thought of being out there on your own-how exciting but at the same time humbling. Great post.

  • Nothing But Bonfires

    You hit on it perfectly — it’s the going ALONE that makes a trip to The Most Beautiful Place on Earth go from OMGGGGGGGGGG to…..oh. This is why travel writers have to work in teams! Well, that and having someone else to hold the camera while you take a holdout picture.

  • Angella

    This. Was. AWESOME. I loved the whole thing, Kristin. Since we are new friends it is great to hear more about what you do.

    I loved the lawyer analogy. Am a a Chartered Accountant (Takes seven years to get that), and I have gotten emails from people who think I have it good and wonder if I think they could get in on it.

    Get a degree and get back to me.

  • Margie

    Great post and photos! As much fun as it can be to travel, I think most of us have experienced the not-so-glamorous parts, like un-planned for weather, airline delays, and getting sick (even if it’s only a run-of-the-mill cold) in a strange place.

    And if you’re alone, thinking someone else you know (husband, parent, child, friend) would really love this!

    But when I read that last sentence, I thought, not so! Chicken-and-Cheese ( keeps pimping her column at Travel Muse (, and she just had baby #2. Granted the travel-writing stint isn’t paying her bills full time (although she has other paid writing gigs by the sound of it)–but a lot of us cut back on the full time work when the kids are little, dabble a bit to stay current, and go back to full time when the kids are older.

    Dawn Friedman of This Woman’s Work ( is another mom who’s gotten paid to travel and write about it. Granted, Dawn mostly stays home and gets paid to write about other things. But it’s definitely possible to have a long-term career as a travel writer and be a parent — if you want to!

    And while traveling on airlines with babies can be a challenge, not ALL babies have a rough time of it. You just have to know your child, know what it takes to keep him/her happy and comfortable, what times of days (and night) to avoid, etc. The more a kid travels, the easier it usually gets (or perhaps the more experienced and better prepared the parent gets!).

  • Camels & Chocolate

    Hi Margie! Of course, you are totally right: Potentially, I could have a child, cut back at first and continue my career at a later date (still not sure if I’m cut out to be a mother, though). I hope I didn’t offend any mommies out there, I simply meant I couldn’t keep it up as a full-time gig, as it’s too taxing and I do spend more than a normal 40 hours a week working and most of my time is on the road. And it would be hard to take a child along with me on assignments, too (aside from the whole baby-on-a-plane thing), as it’s a lot of running from place to place. There are plenty of people, like the blogger you mentioned, who do travel writing as sort of a side supplemental income, but it’s probably 80% of my salary (I also work for People mag, and do the occasional piece for Glamour, Real Simple, etc.). It would be pretty hard to keep up my work load with a child around, although it would be necessary as I wouldn’t be able to support a baby without my income! Catch-22 right there, for ya. But I appreciate all the links–I’m heading over to check them out!

  • Donna

    Thanks Kristin, for reminding me of what I’ve been missing, both good and bad, during the past 16 months–I’ve been editing travel pieces as opposed to doing the writing and traveling–and for helping put into perspective for others the life of a travel writer. It used to piss me off when one of my friends would say, “Oh, have fun on your vacation,” right before I was to head off on assignment again. This, from a hypocritical musician who used to get annoyed when people thought all he did was party while on tour gigs.

    It’s not vacation. You are constantly taking notes and photos, meeting with officials and hospitality industry executives, and need to be on top of the business and economy and coming up with smart questions all the time. You have little free time. You then have to stay up late after an exhausting 12 or 14 hour day and type up your notes and start drafting your articles because very likely you have a deadline waiting for you as soon as you return home. Also, if you’re a freelancer, you’re always worried about and trying to secure the next gig because opportunities are dwindling, along with pay rates. (I realize my company is part of the problem too–online travel site; low rates.) You’re also eating a ton and can’t necessarily stick to a good workout routine. (I’ve gained 20+ pounds since becoming a travel writer full-time.)

    Still, I agree with those who may be jealous–it’s the best job I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I spent 15 years in better paying (but dull) corporate gigs before changing careers to journalism nearly 10 years ago. Am much happier now. I moved to a full-time editing position last year so I could make a decent living for a while before going back on the road, which I’m planning for next year. As for kids, it’s possible, but difficult if really traveling full-time. I chose not to. (Having a fiance who doesn’t like children made that decision easier.) Plus I love to travel too much, it’s in my blood. When I’m on the road is really the only time I’m truly happy.