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Lessons From the Road: A year in the life of a travel writer

Travel writing is an enviable gig.

Distant exotic lands to explore, fascinating cultures to uncover and a sense of wanderlust to share with readers who long to experience the taste of adventure travel brings to their life.

Solid lessons accompany life on the road too, as frequent travel often tests one’s values, beliefs and resolve.

Time away from home is a reflective time for me and an opportunity to take what I learn on the road and incorporate it into my daily life. Here are five lessons from my past year’s journeys:

1. It’s not about me

Writing about travel for others requires an appreciation for how those with varying budgets, interests and values will view and appreciate destinations and experiences. My early-spring road trip to Roanoke, Virginia was for a family publication. Taking in the kid-focused Center in the Square with the geek-friendly Science Museum of Western Virginia , the buzzy Roanoke Pinball Museum and Mill Mountain Park let me see things through a child’s eyes and opened up fun new venues I might have missed otherwise.

2. Less is often more, much more

Travel for many is cramming as many things into as few days as possible. I get that. Time is precious -- so much to see, do and Instagram about. This fall, my wife and I spent three weeks in Vancouver . Yes, we did some great tourist attractions like Flyover Canada and Granville Island Public Market yet some of our most enjoyable time was spent walking on their fabled seawall, exploring UBC Botanical Gardens, enjoying long coffees at the corner bakery and simply letting serendipitous walks in Chinatown determine our next spot for lunch. Not everyone has three weeks, but by taking the time you do have and going deep, you’re likely to have much richer experiences and memories than the blur-fest of an over-scheduled tour.

3. Say yes to the unfamiliar

When a recent assignment took me to Florida’s Amelia Island, the tour organizer arranged for me to learn about Petanque, a curious boulle-sport similar to Bocce. My initial thought was, “No way is this keeping me from serious beach time,” though I fought this and put on my best face along with a hearty “Yes.” Not only did I love it, but I met one of the great characters in all my travels, Phillipe Boets, Petanque expert and local celeb. Lesson : Rewards favor yay-sayers over nay-sayers, or as lotto fans often say “You gotta be in it to win it.”

4. Look beyond the surface

Over the summer I traveled west to Lake Tahoe where part of my research was checking out hipster-ish co-working space and “rustic” boutique accommodations. At a pre-scouting mission to one destination, I was initially put off by a '70s motor-lodge street appearance, but kept my appointment and was absolutely stunned by the inviting and well-appointed hidden gem I found past the exterior. Basecamp Hotel enjoys open, communal spaces; a beer garden, taproom and newly opened onsite-microbrewery; seven fire pits (unlimited s’mores, anyone?); and even a boardroom inside a retro Airstream.

When visiting Columbus, Ohio earlier this year I learned that some of the coolest public art in the city was located at the convention center, a public venue that most casual visitors wouldn’t even think to explore. As We Are is an interactive work allowing visitors to literally get inside local artist Matthew Mohr’s giant head and project, then meld, their image with thousands of others and reflect the diversity of the city and its visitors.

Making data-driven decisions while traveling employs the same principles as in most things: get as much information as you can before making a final call.

5. Home is where your heart is

For me travel isn’t “getting away,” it’s finding a sense of home and belonging wherever I happen to be. Nowhere was that truer than when I went to Ireland. From the Mourne Mountains of County Down and the historic railway property, Slieve Donard, the country charms of the Bushmills Inn to the Hawk Walks at Mt. Falcon Estates. The people I met made me feel welcome and at home. When I demonstrate genuine interest and curiosity about others, I’m always rewarded with friendship and a sense of belonging far beyond transactional travel.


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