Tag: About.com Luxury Travel

Behind the words: a glimpse into a Travel journalist’s writing process

Here I am on one of the main streets in the legendary city of Granada in southern Spain, where I traveled last month with a group of fellow freelance Travel writers.

As you can see by the date of my last entry, it’s been a challenge to regularly write and post lately. With a full-time job and my freelance Travel writing, there always seems to be some deadline or priority competing for my time and attention. But I’m determined to get back to my regular conversations with you, which I’ve certainly missed. International travel is my true love—and sharing this passion with UrbanTravelGirl readers for the past five years (!) has been an honor and a joy. While I love sharing insights I’ve discovered through my travels, hearing about your global adventures keeps me encouraged and inspired. So I’m back, and looking forward to reconnecting!

Even though I often feel as if I’m moving 100 miles an hour, I was flattered when my friend and fellow freelance journalist Rosalind Cummings-Yeates invited me to take part in a “Blog Hop” that introduces bloggers from around the world to each other as they talk about their own writing processes—and how they uniquely share their perspectives. (Read about Rosalind and how she brings her words to life in this post.)

Going through this exercise and consciously thinking through what makes me tick—and how I move from concepts and ideas to a notebook or laptop to published articles and blog posts—has been a treat in itself. And I’m thrilled to introduce you UrbanTravelGirls to three other writers and bloggers I greatly respect—and who you’ll love getting to know. Please read on ….

What am I working on/writing now?

I recently visited the enchanting Spanish city of Granada, as well as its surrounding province, on a press trip for Travel journalists from the Midwestern United States. While in España last month, I also traveled to the capital city of Madrid and the much smaller but historically important northern city of León. I’m currently writing a series of posts for my Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine Travel blog and full-length articles based on that nine-day trip, from the incredible new Business Plus in-flight service offered by Iberia to the awesome cuisine offered at León’s Michelin-star Cocinandos to high-end experiences for About.com Luxury Travel.

Although I have a full-time “day job,” being able to still stay engaged as a freelance Travel writer gives me a way to maintain my creative muscle and endless sense of wanderlust. Obviously, I don’t have the time or flexibility to travel as often (or as far) as I’d like, so I’m delving more into scenes and stories closer to my home base of Chicago. Sometimes we’re so focused on exotic and far-away locations we miss rich adventures right in front of us!

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

Because I studied journalism as an undergraduate at Northwestern University’s renowned Medill School and have had the pleasure of covering everything from fashion and beauty to popular culture and music as a newspaper and online reporter, I bring a range of insights to the Travel writing I do. I’ve done Corporate Communications for large multinational companies like Boeing, and have been fortunate to see much of the world while on work assignments in countries as diverse as Iceland and Saudi Arabia. I also earned a master’s degree in Theological Studies at a United Methodist seminary on Northwestern’s campus, where many of my courses explored cross-cultural ministry and world religions. Delving deeply into the fundamental ways people of all races, ethnicities and cultures experience the spiritual and divine has given me invaluable insight into what makes us wonderfully different, yet on some levels very much alike.

My writing is (literally) richly colored by my perspective as an African-American woman who grew up in the American Midwest, but who’s traveled to nearly 35 countries and territories on four continents and lived abroad in Florence, Italy, and in a charming village outside Paris. So whether I’m waxing poetic about the rustic Italian cuisine at a restaurant on Chicago’s North Side, offering tips on renting apartments when traveling abroad, or encouraging folks to check out houses of worship when they’re on the road, I infuse this sensibility into everything I write. And in fact, my personal background often inspires the topics I choose to explore in the first place. That’s the importance of bringing your “full self” to the table, regardless of your career.

Why do I write what I do?

Paradoxically, I’m never more comfortable than when I’ve chosen to be an “outsider”—and I’ve made the challenging decisions to live as an expatriate and an immigrant in two European countries. At heart, I’m all about exhorting and evangelizing about the life-changing aspect of travel, whether you do it in your own backyard or on the other side of the globe. I believe it broadens your worldview, makes you more tolerant and accepting of other folks’ perspectives and viewpoints—and gives you greater appreciation for your own.

That’s why I encourage my readers to occasionally take the road less traveled. To “do one thing every day that scares you,” as former American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is often quoted as saying. I’m adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity, and try to go with the flow as circumstances change and evolve. While moving to the other side of the world isn’t possible, practical or even desirable for most people, sampling the unfamiliar—whether it’s a cuisine you’ve never tried or checking out an ethnically different neighborhood in your own town—often leads to a much richer experience than you ever imagined.

How does my writing process work?

After more than two decades as a journalist, I believe that everything I write—whether for UrbanTravelGirl or my Today’s Chicago Woman Travel blog—needs to be professional-quality before I put my name on it. (Yes, my perfectionist Capricorn tendencies are as strong as ever!) I’m TOTALLY old-school about taking notes, scribbling furiously and illegibly (at least to others’ eyes) in narrow reporter’s notebooks when doing interviews or on the road. Once I’m back at my laptop, I need utter silence to write. No TV, no background music. While it drives me nuts, I’m a procrastinating writer—but I feel I do my best work with deadline pressure staring me in the face. Tortured or not, I absolutely love the work.

Whether I’m on staff as a reporter, freelancing Travel stories for publications such as CNN.com, or working full-time in Corporate Communications, I always define myself first and foremost as a WRITER and a storyteller. You know when people ask whether you’d keep working even if you won the lottery? THIS is the work I’d do for free, even if I didn’t get paid (and very often, I don’t!). Words help me make sense of the world—and hopefully, those I write help others do the same.

Here, please meet my fellow “Blog Hop” writers!

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a freelance journalist, blogger and arts critic specializing in travel and lifestyle topics. She’s the author of Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside The Scene, Past and Present (History Press),  a guidebook to Chicago blues history and landmarks. Her other credits include Woman’s Day, Hemispheres, MSN, Salon, Brides, Yoga Journal, Travel + Escape, Go Magazine, Relish, Time Out Chicago, Mojo, Allmusic.com, Get Lost, Rough Guide to Women Travel, and the Chicago Sun-Times, among other publications. She writes a monthly blues column for the Illinois Entertainer, travel blogs for various publications and teaches journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She’s based in Chicago, from which she manages to escape during the Windy City’s six official winter months. You can read more of her work on her website and on her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl.

Kelly E. Carter

Kelly E. Carter is a New York Times-bestselling author and founder of TheJetSetPets.com, the luxury travel source for pampered pets on the go. Her latest book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, was released in spring 2014 and marks National Geographic’s first dog travel guide book. Carter and her posh pooch Lucy, a longhair Chihuahua, have globetrotted together for 13 years, including a two-year stint in Italy. A popular speaker at travel conferences, Carter is also the pet travel expert for AOL’s pet site PawNation and Elite Traveler, where she’s a Contributing Editor. She has written for numerous publications and websites, including on staff for People and USA Today and as a freelancer for Departures, Men’s Fitness, Black Enterprise, Los Angeles Times, History Channel MagazineSouth China Morning Post in Hong Kong, TownandCountryTravelMag.com and CigarAficionado.com. With Venus Williams, Carter co-authored the New York Times best-selling book Come to Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession

Terra Robinson

Terra Robinson is an American Black Chick in Europe. She chronicles her time living, working and travelling in Europe through the filters of being an American, a woman and black. One part travel, one part expat and one part personal blog, American Black Chick in Europe serves up tidbits and information about life in Europe straight up with no chasers. Having lived in Europe since 2008, with stints in England, France, Belgium, and currently Denmark, this American Black Chick in Europe seeks to demystify what she affectionately refers to as these crazy Europeans.

Kate Silver

Kate Silver has been writing professionally for 15 years, seven of which have been full-time freelance. She got her start writing news and features as a staff writer in Las Vegas in 1999.  Along the way, she’s stalked celebrities for People Magazine, co-authored guidebooks on Las Vegas, and investigated off-the-beaten path stories (like one about the so-called “Wedding Chapel Wars”) for national outlets. In 2007, she quit her job as associate editor with Las Vegas Life magazine and took the freelance plunge, eventually moving to Chicago to live closer to family. Today, she juggles a healthy mix of editorial and corporate work, specializing in travel, food, wellness and feature stories. Her work appears in Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Crain’s, and she also writes and blogs for a number of businesses and non-profits, including Chevrolet, General Motors, American Heart Association, Behr Paint and others. Silver also works on a number of ghostwriting projects, large and small, and is wrapping up her second ghostwritten book. In addition, she recently completed the 2015 Frommer’s Easy Guide to Chicago, to be published in the fall. She is a member of Association of Women Journalists (AWJ) and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), and serves on the planning committee for ASJA’s Content Connections, an annual writer’s conference that will be held in Chicago Nov. 13-14. Silver also blogs and maintains a website.

3 Comments June 26, 2014

Moving from one chapter to another … leaving France, returning home

Here I am, standing underneath the Eiffel Tower — in my favorite city in the world — in November.

When cleaning out a dresser drawer this week, I ran across my permesso di soggiorno per stranieri, or the Italian “Foreigners’ Permit of Stay” that became a prized possession during my time in Florence nearly 10 years ago. It allowed me to legally live in Italy and to work as a libero professionista, a freelance professional. Just seeing this folded piece of blue-tinted paper—to which a passport-sized photo of me is loosely stapled—took me back to those days in 2004 and 2005 when I temporarily called Firenze home. Looking at my smiling, youthful face, surrounded by freshly done two-strand twists, I remember how idealistic and fearless I was when launching my first living-abroad adventure as a freelance writer.

In many ways, I felt the same way when leaving Chicago last January for my year-long stay in the charming French village of Samois-sur-Seine. It wasn’t a well-known Renaissance city like Florence, but it has its own renown and as a welcoming place for artists and writers over the centuries. When I left for Samois with a French visa glued into my nearly full American passport, I also was excited, hopeful—and dare I say, wonderfully optimistic about this new chapter overseas.

With a scenic village as a backdrop—and a central location in the middle of Europe—I planned to write freelance Travel and Food articles for a wide range of publications. I wanted to travel to nearby European countries and to explore France. Since Samois was about an hour south of Paris, I vowed to take the 40-minute SNCF commuter train into the City of Light at least once a week. I hoped to finally become a fluent speaker of French. And I wanted to start writing a book on African-American women and our love affair with France. Nothing like having a list of goals as long as your arm, right?

But alas … I decided it was time to close this year-long chapter of “cultural immersion,” or what I came to think of as my “mid-life sabbatical” in France. Some weeks ago, I moved back to Chicago, realizing it made more financial sense to return and resume my freelance writing and communications consulting career here. Since coming back, I’ve been working nonstop, settling back into my condo in downtown Chicago, and readjusting to an American life that after a year away sometimes feels a bit foreign. Although there are many things I miss about France—crusty baguettes, safe streets and charming accents are near the top of the list—I’m surprisingly happy to be home.

Still, I managed to do much of what I hoped during my year in France. I got lots of great writing assignments, expanding into publications like CNN.com, About.com Luxury Travel, and Ebony. I traveled some, mostly to the south of France and across the border to Italy for media trips. I got myself to Paris as often as I could, as it’s still my absolute favorite place in the world. Every time I’d get off the train at Gare de Lyon and stroll out into those city streets, I instantly felt lighter and more at home than I often feel in my native Chicago.

Sadly, I’m nowhere near fluent in French. I’d hoped that living in an authentic village would have me conjugating verbs in the subjunctive in no time, but when you report and write in English all day, it’s hard to develop the fluency that comes from truly LIVING a foreign language day in and out. But I haven’t given up. I’m going to enroll in classes here in Chicago to keep myself engaged with le français. And I definitely plan to still write that book about black women and France. I got a start on the project while I was overseas, but there’s much more to be researched and great stories to be told. I’ll need to do it during occasional trips abroad, but I’m determined to get it done.

What I DO know is that my year in France will continue to shape my perspective—and my outlook on life—in ways I can’t yet imagine. I’ll write about some of my initial impressions in my next post, and about others as they hit me later on.

Charming restaurants, like the La Patte d’Oie gem in the small town of Mennecy, are among things I miss about France. But fortunately, the country — and the wonderful folks I met over the past year — are just an airplane flight away.

One thing I’ve realized is that my adventure wasn’t mine alone—or really even about me. I’ve been touched and amazed to find that family, friends and my UrbanTravelGirl readers felt as invested in my time abroad as I was. I’m psyched that I inspired many of you to pack your bags, grab your passports, and head out on those first overseas trips. Others have told me that like me, you long to live abroad and are preparing for the day that you make that move. I can’t wait until I can return the favor and become your cheerleader, encouraging you to do it and to just go. We only live once—and we owe it to ourselves to experience as much of this incredible world as we can.

But this is hardly the end of my traveling and wanderlust. Even though I’m back in Chicago, being a traveler is who I am, an intrinsic part of my being. I’m making a trip back to France with my pianist dad Farnell Jenkins this summer as he pursues his own overseas adventure—and I’m thrilled beyond words to know my time there helped inspire it.

And that’s the reality of life. Our international journeys are often circular; they don’t always lead us in a straight line. Some of us discover them early in life, others later. But the point is to get there and to take advantage of all the great stuff we find once it presents itself.

Personally, I can’t wait to see where my own journey leads from here. But you’d better know that wherever it goes, I’ll have my passport firmly in hand. As European travel legend Rick Steves always says at the end his public television shows, “Until next time … keep on traveling.”

Amen to that!

12 Comments March 12, 2013


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