Friday, August 26, 2011

How to become a travel writer

Guest post by James Ullrich

People ask me all the time how I became a travel writer. It reminds me of the story about the guy who stops a stranger on the street and asks, “Excuse me, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and the man answers, “Practice.”

My answer is: “travel.”

The full explanation is more involved but also more interesting. I believe there are three keys to being successful: First, find out what you love doing; something you’d do even if no one paid you. Second, become really good at it. Third, figure out a way to monetize it by finding the right audience/market.

My road to becoming a professional freelance travel writer began with an interest for exploring the places I’d seen on PBS travelogues as a child. Images of cathedral spires soaring toward the heavens ignited my interest in history. Gauzy shots of half-timbered villages laced with cobbled alleyways captivated my imagination. I wanted to go there and see it all for myself.

After college I got a passport and went. I never looked back.

The single best thing I did was bring a journal with me. It was the first thing I packed. The clothes came second.

After scouring Europe over many long trips I’d amassed journals full of observations and adventures. More importantly, I tried to make meaningful connections with the cultures I’d come so far to see. I struck up conversations with strangers in trains, busses, bars, and anywhere else I found myself.

It could be frustrating. Sometimes they didn’t speak a word of English. Sometimes they just weren’t interested in talking to a bedraggled traveler. But more often than not I found a new friend and gain some insight into their world. That’s the thing to remember: Everyone has a story you’ve never heard before, and everyone knows something that you don’t—and it’s often worth knowing.

My point: Readers don’t want a travelogue. They want to make an emotional connection to the place. Make them feel it. That’s your job. The essence of a good travel writer is one part anthropologist, one part vagabond and one part journalist.

You’re ready to do this when you realize that the best souvenirs are the discoveries, memories and friendships you make.

Seek them out. They’re worth the trip.

Feel free to contact James Ullrich at

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The European Summer

Hello. I’m an American and I was going to do a lot of things this summer.

I was going to finish one last edit of my memoir.

I was going to make sure my entire novel was outlined.

I was going to pitch additional inflight magazines after finally breaking into one.

I was going to keep up with this blog.

I was going to work full time as a copywriter.

I was going to keep up with my magazine column.

I was going to tell everyone that asked how busy I was.

But the only thing I accomplished on this list over the summer were the last three.

As an American, I feel like a slacker. And I hate this “if I’m not busy then I’m not worthy” thing that still haunts me, even five years after being abroad. So I’m trying to embrace my European status instead. Key word, trying.

A European would feel fine about my accomplishments this summer. After all, many small stores and restaurants in Switzerland close completely in July and August. I think as creative people (and especially as Americans), we can learn from this. So I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for not accomplishing everything I wanted. After all, it is summer. I am in Europe. And with the little free time I have, the pool is calling my name.

Anyone else trying to embrace their European side this summer?


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