Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer...Christopher P. Baker

Today we talk with award winning travel writer Christopher P. Baker whose publishing credits include Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Islands, and Christian Science Monitor. He is also the author of numerous guidebooks such as Moon Handbook Havana, National Geographic Traveler Costa Rica, and Lonely Planet Jamaica.

Hi Christopher. Thanks for stopping by ‘My Year of Getting Published’ and sharing your experiences in travel writing.

1. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get started in writing?

Yes, I did always want to be a writer. My first travel reports were dispatches from the U.S., published in my local newspaper in Yorkshire, and dispatched during a six-month hitchhiking journey around North America in 1978. During the following two years I also wrote about land issues in Latin America for a London-based political journal, Land & Liberty. I wanted to be a political reporter, and I also always wanted to attend UC Berkeley. In 1980 I got a Scripps-Howard Foundation Scholarship to attend the Graduate School of Journalism, but around the same time I fell in love, quickly got married and decided to find a job. Fortunately I ended up working within the adventure travel industry, quickly realized that I could be paid to write about travel, and the rest, as they say, is history.

2. What do you consider your first "break" as a travel writer?

While employed in marketing for Adventure Center, in California, I was asked to write a report of a travel agent's fam trip to Australia. The report appeared in a travel industry publication, and I received $250. It flicked on the lightbulb for my future career.

3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into travel writing?

Mentor successful travel writers.

Attend at least two workshops on travel writing, and read at least two books on how to become a travel writer.

Realize that you need to view this as a business and focus on gaining the marketing knowledge and skills as much as the writing skills.


Learn about the travel industry.

4. What do you see as the future for travel writers in the printed media and online ?

We're in an era of increasing specialization. Traditional markets continue to shrink, and the successful travel writers are those whose specialist expertise is recognized and in demand. Newspapers continue to shrink, as do the stories they buy (if they buy at all). But new and increasingly focused magazines continue to launch, and there will always be a future for magazines. Online continues to offer broadening opportunities for travel writers, but very little of it is creative feature writing.

5. Which travel writers and/or travel books have influenced you?

In the early days Paul Therouxand Graham Greene. Real-life adventure reporting, such as Chris Bonnington's Everest and Geoffrey Moorehouse's The Fearful Void. I've always preferred English travel writers. I can't explain why!

6. As a writer and traveler, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?

For the past 15 years, I've specialized in authoring guidebooks, so I'm often working seven days a week for two or even three months at a time researching tropical countries. Keeping going day in day out, staying focused on the task without skipping anywhere is a challenge. And getting back out at night to check out the entertainment scene when my body and sore feet want to rest.

7. Finally, what is your favorite place and why ?

I still love Cuba. It's surreal, it's inspirational, it's entirely unique, and the people are profound and gracious. And India for the way it sets all the senses buzzing.

(Note from Liz: Christopher has written a number of books about Cuba one of which Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro’s Cuba, won the 2002 Lowell Thomas Award as "Travel Book of the Year.”)


Christopher is on the faculty of the annual SATW Institute for Travel Writing and Photography being held from January 25 to 27, 2008 in Orlando, Florida.

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