Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer...Pam Mandel

Today we talk with travel writer Pam Mandel. A dedicated blogger, Pam is travel editor over at BlogHer and writes the highly entertaining Nerd’s Eye View. Her writing can also be found over at Snowshoe Magazine, World Hum,, and Jetsetter Magazine.

Having just finished working on a guidebook for Vancouver BC, Pam has just headed over to Hawaii to collect information for a new guide book she is working on. But if you think being offered a book contract to write a travel guide is all wine and roses, check out Pam’s post ‘Aloha? Oy, or, a Travel Writer’s Angst'

Hi Pam and welcome to ‘My Year of Getting Published’. Thanks for taking time out from your travels to talk with us.

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

It was never that intentional. I always wrote postcards and journals while I traveled, and even when I was little I wrote stories. I guess I never thought I'd work as a writer, it was just something I did, but then, it was the 90s and I was in Seattle and it seemed that anyone who could scribble a phrase got a good job doing something with writing. I was hired to write captions for the art history section of a digital encyclopedia (I have an art degree) and that was that, as far as the career shift to writing was concerned.

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

Has it happened yet? I'm only sort of kidding. I think I just got it, I'm currently working on a travel guide to Hawaii, but I got that because the writer they wanted to do the guide had taken another job and I'm the closest to the islands on their contact list - plus, I got a nice word of mouth recommendation. Oh, and I'd just done a fact check for them on another guide, work I didn't really enjoy but was hoping it would lead to more writing work.

I once got paid 750 dollars for a travel story, and that seemed like a huge break, but it didn't lead to continued lucrative assignments. What seems like a "break" is often just a little gig, and maybe it leads to something else and maybe it doesn't. It's a funny market.

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

Write. A lot. All the time. Keep a professional looking blog and do your best writing there - it gives great visibility to your work - if it's good people will find it and read it and who knows what that can lead to.

Don't, don't, don't quit your day job - I haven't quit mine and don't imagine ever doing so.

Don't go in for the money, because wow, is that the fast track to disappointment.

Don't believe the hype about how it's a glamorous free ride.

Don't stay home because you don't have a plum assignment to the exotic destination of your choice.

Write. A lot. All the time. Did I say write?

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

Print media often feels like this impenetrable fortress to me - I look at the glossy travel mags and think about how much I want a story in there, but truth be told, I do much of my reading about travel online and it's often more appropriate to my travel experience, making all those glossy mags seem more like brochures than anything else.

I love that story telling is in such a public forum, but I do tend to worry that with everyone giving it away, the opportunity for income travel writers collapses to the select connected few.

On the other hand, I like that online media means that authoritative credible voices come from just about anywhere and that I can connect with a travel writer in Australia who can recommend me for gigs out of Great Britain...I also enjoy that the clout that online media is gaining means that providers contact insignificant hacks like myself because they think our opinions matter.

I don't yet see grand possibilities for travel writers to make better bucks, but I do see an increase in real, credible voices when it comes to writing about travel. That doesn't really answer your question, but if I could see the future, I might not get on that next flight!

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

I recently read Linda Ellerbee's Take Big Bites, I loved that. I enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love too. I've been a long time fan of Paul Theroux, though he aggravates me sometimes with what seems like misogyny, I adore Vikram Seth (though I suppose he's not traditionally a travel writer). I love to hear David Sedaris talk about Paris, and Cormac McCarthy - again, not traditionally a travel writer - has that traveler's sense of moving through unknown spaces. Alice in Wonderland is my favorite travel book, ever, and I'm a huge Gabriel Garcia Marquez fan because I love magic realism - it captures that "did you see that?" aspect of the traveling life.

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

I don't have enough time or money to do it all, and oh my, I really really really really want to. Also, I'm a big fan of slow travel and while this makes for great literature style travel writing, for most projects it's not an appropriate approach. You run about trying to absorb as much as possible in as little time as possible because you only have 16 hours in which to capture the zeitgeist of, oh,let's say Vancouver, Canada (I recently did this to shoot photos for a project and it was crazy) and it's frustrating because what I want, more than anything, is to squander the slow part of the afternoon chatting with the very nice staff at the Turkish cafe, asking them about their food and how they ended up in Vancouver from such a far away place. It's also hard to walk away from things that aren't appropriate for an assignment when they're things I personally adore. I was in a tiny place in the Dolomites to write a story about a snowshoe race and there were all these medieval castles nearby. I did not have time to visit them, and I love castles. Instead, I spent time talking with the athletes. They were fun, but oh, the castles... the castles...I still have not seen those damn castles.

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

The place I'm going next is always my favorite place. It's the undiscovered sense of it, of not knowing entirely what I'm getting into. I love that feeling. It's why I travel.

Sphere: Related Content


Sheila at Family Travel said...

I know Pam and she's such a fun writer and thoughtful person; it's great to see her featured in your series, Liz.

Leif Pettersen said...


R U single? U look gr8.

Is it true that guidebook writers have more fun?


Hi Sheila,

Pam is a fun writer who seems to be on her way as a travel writer...imagine getting to write a guide book to hawaii

you will have visited the nerd's eye view blog...definately one to bookmark




Hi Leif,

I think you might be on wrong blog...this is not the matchmaking site....!!!

Pam, by the way, appears to be a husband...

as for whether 'guidebook writers have more fun' will leave that question to Pam.



ian said...

great interview and advice, pam!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...