My Third Act – Becoming a Travel Writer

As a card-carrying travel writer in research mode, I do things solo I would have never done previously—bellying up to a cowboy bar in small-town Montana, slogging through the Amazon jungle on a guided night hike, eating guinea pig.

In the brisk March weather, as I stood pondering Estonia’s iconic Song Festival Grounds, it was hard to imagine the vast, empty stadium filled with the combined choir of hundreds of smaller choirs lifting their voices in choral defiance of the Soviet Union’s occupation. But trying to visualize it was important. I was there to write a story about Estonia’s Singing Revolution, which helped bring down the Iron Curtain in 1991.

Two months earlier I’d known very little about the Baltic country’s story. Now, while standing there, I tried to recall where the Iron Curtain boundaries lay beyond Berlin. What had I learned from watching Walter Cronkite? My knowledge gaps were bigger than I’d thought, which is usually the case in my rebooted life as a travel writer. However, that’s precisely why I keep doing it. Travel writing keeps me humble and it keeps me learning.

I’ve always been a journeyer. As a child, I’d be first to the mailbox the day the new National Geographic arrived. My bedroom walls had maps instead of Beatles posters. I’d relished family road trips—four kids, our parents, plus gear and sometimes the family dog stuffed into the Ford station wagon. Between the end of college and my first adult job, I’d wandered mostly solo through Europe with an outdated copy of Europe on $5 a Day as my guide. Later, scraping together money and vacation days, I continued to travel whenever I could—through jobs, marriage, divorce, single parenthood, solo, with friends, with my son. So it made sense that my backpack—now a roller bag—would keep going when I retired.

There was one problem. Despite my economical travel strategies (air mile hacks, hostels, public transportation, and mostly budget countries), travel is expensive, particularly if you’re maintaining a home base. I wasn’t ready to abandon my roots for a nomadic lifestyle, no matter how many baby boomer blogs promote it.

Facebook friends had appreciated my travel posts and photos from my trips. I liked to write and was reasonably good at it. I loved to research. And I wanted an identity: a business card with a title so I wouldn’t have to admit to my new seatmate on the plane/train/bus that my job title was retiree. Travel writing seemed the perfect fit. Many published articles into my reboot, I can report the transition was filled with lots of learning. And some ego readjustment.

I’d been a teacher, but I had to relearn writing for magazines and websites. My former careers never expected me to market or invoice my work. Though an active Facebook user, I needed to learn other social media platforms (as I did just this week taking Pinterest instruction from a 21-year-old fellow travel blogger). I could take a picture, but not a publication-worthy photo. And learning to take rejection and edits with grace was harder than I thought. It turns out there’s an entire community of support—classes, workshops, online groups for writers, kind editors, and “atta-girl” friends and family to cheer every newly published article.

Traveling as a writer changed me as a traveler. Since I depart with writing assignments and a focus, I do far more research before leaving. I travel deeper into a slice of my destination than I would have previously. And because I’m always on the lookout for additional stories to pitch, I engage locals in more conversations and explore with more abandon. My rebooted identity makes me braver. As a card-carrying travel writer in research mode, I do things solo I would have never done previously—bellying up to a cowboy bar in small-town Montana, slogging through the Amazon jungle on a guided night hike, eating guinea pig.

Last July, I saw the Song Festival Grounds again when the stadium hosted Estonia’s quinquennial Youth Song and Dance Festival. A 150-year-old tradition, the performances showcased 25,700 young singers, ranging in age from 4 to 24 from 700 youth choirs singing to an audience of over 10,000. It was the first festival in 76 years in which all the singers were “children of freedom,” born after Estonia’s independence. Though I’d published articles from my earlier trip, sourced from interviews and research, this time the experience was visceral instead of envisioned. It was National Geographic come alive.

I’ve discovered that this rebooted version of me is my younger self 55 years later, racing to the mailbox for National Geographic. Now, though, the wall-sized map is no longer just for daydreaming; it’s filled with pins—green for where I’ve been and red for where I’m going.

Discussion6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Becoming a Travel Writer – 3rd Act Magazine – Wichita Falls Times

  2. This is just so inspiring!

    I do love to travel but my mode of transportation is either by car or train and I’m intrigued by all there is to learn and see in the United States and Canada. For years I’d document the trips that my husband and I took in a blog for our friends and family. Since he passed away I let that slip away.

    You’ve given me a renewed sense of adventure. I’m planning a trip from my home in Arizona to Kansas for my granddaughter’s high school graduation and I’ve ordered a travel guide for the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. I’m so looking forward to that detour. It’s exciting!

    Thank you,
    Cheryl K

    • Hi Cheryl,
      I love a good road trip! If you visit the Navajo Nation, I highly recommend the Hopi Native Reservation. Its within the Navajo boundaries and features three mesas, one with an ancient village that can be visited. Hopi artists carve beautiful kachina dolls that have significant cultural meaning. And when I was there the tribe operated a motel and restaurant that was well worth the overnight stay.
      Happy travels!
      Ann

  3. Caroline Stuart

    I have lived a gypsy life, all of my life. My father was a PTSD survivor of a WWII prison camp who couldn’t hold a job, my family moved so many times I had only the city of my birth to call home when I finally landed there after I graduated, raising myself and headed toward a medical career. I worked 44 years in the healthcare field. I do have much to blog about here on 3rd Act. I reached the top of my field in healthcare management consulting. The place I called ‘home’ was always my new job or assignment. I would live in a place for a year or two then move to a new job. Then I began working health care contracts reengineering hospital systems, or interim management. Major projects that would last six months to a year. Eventually, I married and settled on an Island but I wasn’t home much. Of my first twelve years living here, I was actually ‘home’ on the island for a total of two years, that is when I count up the days I was home. Many of those days were spent outdoors reclaiming my beautiful yard from the overgrowth of blackberries.
    The last two winters are my first winters ever spent in Washington. My husband and I haven’t traveled for two years because of his health issues. Getting old isn’t for wimps! I’ve discovered that our home tucked into the woods on Camano Island is very dark, without reflection from the snow that I was accustomed to in Alaska and Wisconsin. It is a much colder rain than the torrential rains of California, or a Texan tropical storm. It is a very different kind of rain than the warm soaking showers of Hawaii or St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Washington’s rain is now my rain, the rain that I call home.
    I’m retired from big contract work in healthcare but I don’t hesitate to share what I know. Helping someone navigate through the healthcare system is very gratifying. All aspects of navigating into Medicare, supplemental insurance, finding good health care provider systems, and of course billing and payment issues. Our healthcare system can be confusing and often overwhelming for someone who doesn’t know how things work. My 3rd Act is that I am once again feeling the pleasure of using my knowledge to help others. Healthcare advocate – why not reinvent myself? I’ve worked in thirty-eight hospitals, multiple large and small corporations, clinic systems and every aspect of the healthcare field. Why not share that a bit without the travel? This year we may pull our rig South to California for the winter and to be quite honest – the gypsy will stay in me until I can’t do that travel anymore, then I will simply enjoy my Washington rain.

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