Travel Writing: How Wanderlust Fueled a Career
By Lisa Halvorsen
Posted on the bulletin board in my office is the saying, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." It's a philosophy I live by, and as a travel writer have parleyed that sentiment into a fulfilling career.
I never set out to write about travel. I was well-rooted in agricultural journalism with a respectable faculty position at the University of Vermont producing feature stories, press releases and annual reports for the Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station. And on the side, I wrote dozens and dozens of articles a year for various agricultural trade magazines, a lucrative way to supplement my academic income.
But I rarely chased stories outside New England, which only frustrated a wanderlust that began when my engineer Dad relocated the family to five different states before I finished high school. And as a young adult I moved to five other states, starting with college in Maine.
In late October 1992 I found myself temporarily homeless, when my landlord sold the house I was renting. At the time I had a few travel pieces tucked away in my portfolio. But I didn't consider myself a travel writer.
Many years before I had clipped an article from a newspaper travel section about a polar bear safari in Churchill, Manitoba. And their migration through town to the shores of frozen Hudson Bay dovetailed perfectly with my time frame to travel. So I soon found myself in the Canadian arctic sleeping in a mobile lodge on the frigid tundra and snapping hundreds of photos of playful bears, curious arctic foxes and other wildlife.
Targeted pitches led to multiple sales, which paid for the trip and jump-started a freelance career as a travel writer that has allowed me to explore six continents.
I've enjoyed sundowners on the Serengeti in the company of roving elephants. Snorkeled with beluga whales and learned how to call moose in Canada. Roughed it like the Vanderbilts in an Adirondack great camp. Discovered Heidelberg with Mark Twain's writings as my guide. Birded with expert ornithologists in Maine's Moosehead Lake region, the Rio Grande Valley and the Amazon, Africa and Australia.
All of these experiences became fodder for hundreds of published articles in newspapers and magazines as well as books.
Travel writing has changed dramatically since I first penned those stories on my polar bear adventure. Magazines have folded. Editors are slower to respond, if they do at all. Dwindling advertising dollars have impacted the news hole in most publications. Long-form narrative is out. Short, snappy pieces and top-10 lists are in.
While sometimes less profitable than the days when print was king, and there was an embarrassment of riches for markets, travel writing continues to provide infinite rewards.
If the world is a book, then my travels--and writing about those experiences--have allowed me access to an entire library.
Lisa Halvorsen's love of travel and the natural world has taken her around the globe in search of the next great story. She has turned her adventures into hundreds of illustrated articles for U.S. and foreign publications. Lisa is the author of eight travel-geography books and two biographies for children and is a regular contributor to National Geographic Society coffee table travel books. When not on the road, she calls northern Vermont home.