Travel writing seems an ideal occupation for any aspiring Jet Set Citizen. What can be better than getting paid to write about places you visit around the world? Professional travel writer, Anja Mutic of EverTheNomad.com explains how her career started and offers some insights into her life.
How did you get started in travel writing?
It’s been quite a journey: At 18, I moved from Croatia to England to work as an au pair. The following year, I enrolled at University of Kent in Canterbury to pursue an undergraduate degree in philosophy and comparative literature. I always wanted to work in publishing so during my last year at uni, I started a paid internship in a publishing house in London and worked during all my holidays to gain experience.
When I moved to the States in 1997, I continued in publishing. Granted, not the kind of publishing I thought I’d be doing – it was entry-level editorial work on statistics and economics textbooks and reference books – but it paid the bills and gave me some experience.
In 2000, I got my first job in the travel writing industry through a New York Times ad, as an online editor for RoughGuides.com. I enjoyed it at first, particularly commissioning stories from travel writers scouring the globe. I soon started to get itchy feet and a serious case of wanderlust. In 2002, I convinced my bosses to let me leave the office for a research trip, to experience life on the other side. They said yes and off I went to Bolivia for five weeks, a country I had never been to before. I loved every minute of it.
Although I’d been writing from an early age (mainly short stories and poetry) that was my first official travel writing gig. And it went on from there. I gave in to the call of the open road.
Is writing for larger publications like Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Time Out more lucrative than blog travel articles?
Writing for larger publications has been my bread and butter since 2004 when I went fully freelance. What some people don’t realize is that travel writing is actually my profession, not a hobby. While I’ve had help along the way, in various incarnations, I have been supporting myself wholly from travel writing.
When I started, I had a lucrative writing gig for a popular travel website that allowed me to work from anywhere and email the writing to my editor. So I would just decide to pick up and set up temporary base elsewhere, mainly to avoid New York winters.
One winter I spent three months in Buenos Aires, dancing tango and writing. The next winter I set up proverbial shop (read: a tiny cheap Bairro Alto sublet apartment) in Lisbon for three months. It was like having these mini-lives in different places around the globe.
I also picked up more work along the way, contributed to more guidebooks, and started building a portfolio. When the recession struck and I lost that steady writing gig last fall, I was nervous. But somehow things have been working out. It’s definitely more nerve-wrecking since there is no check at the end of each month. My income is now project-to-project. But so far I’ve been managing without any major changes to my lifestyle.
As for blogging… I started keeping my own travel blog, EverTheNomad.com, in 2008. It was and still is a labor of love, an online showcase for my travel musings and a way of keeping my friends informed about my movements around the globe. As of now, I haven’t been making any significant money with it and, to be frank, I haven’t been trying to. I had this idea that I want my blog to be ad-free, more of an underground-type of online entity. But as my readership is growing and advertisers approach me more often, I may change my mind.
Do the big publishers cover your travel expenses?
Guidebook publishers generally do cover travel expenses, yes. Each publisher is different, however. Some will give you a flat fee and it’s then up to you to purchase your flights, accommodation etc. Others will take care of your plane ticket and car rental and give you an on-the-ground stipend. As for magazines…. I have yet to be sent on a magazine assignment where all my travel expenses are paid.
I was doing online research one day a few years ago and noticed that Lonely Planet was looking for new writers. So I applied and passed a writing/research/map test what every LP writer had to do to enter the author pool. Once I was in, together with another 300+ writers, it took a few months before I got my first assignment.
I had just come back from Buenos Aires and the editor of the BA guide hired me to update the front and back chapters of the new edition. It was more of a desk job but I actually loved it – researching art, history, cinema, dance, music and networking with my Buenos Aires friends.
My first on-the-ground gig was the current edition of Lonely Planet Croatia. While it seemed it would be a piece of cake, writing about my own country, it turned out to be more complicated than I thought. Perhaps because I was writing about my native land and wanted everything to be perfect and well-covered…
Your LonelyPlanet.TV videos are great. Do you have a cameraman that travels with you?
I wish I had a cameraman or camerawoman traveling with me! So far I’ve been lucky to have had dear and talented friends shoot my travel videos. These days, I travel with a flip camera and try to collect footage on my trips. I haven’t gone into the whole video editing sphere and not sure I even want to. It’s a whole other world and I’m not sure I’m ready to focus my energies there. I’d much prefer working with a team, where everyone is a specialist in their own field and we all do what we do best.
Do you think travel video will overtake travel writing in the near future?
I don’t think travel video will overtake travel writing in the near future… or ever. People still love a good read, I think. Well, I hope. True, there is a lot of video out there right now but much of it is of poor quality and with no real twist. I think we’re really missing a good travel show. Most travel video and TV is either personality-driven (think Anthony Bourdain) or just silly and empty. I would like to see a show that has depth, some thoughtful social and cultural commentary, a slice of “real life”.
What advice would you offer for others interested in getting into travel journalism?
I get emails from people asking for advice, wondering how I got to where I am now. I always say that everyone has their personal journey. The way it happened for me felt quite organic, somehow. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder how I ended up here – from a country in transition (Croatia) to a city in constant flux (New York) via 45+ countries along the way.
I guess one thing I can say: I love travel and adventure so much that this passion made me push hard, it made me fight to get outside of the mould and break the pattern. My friends and family always tell me that I’m overly ambitious and motivated and can’t sit down. If they’re right, perhaps this combination is a winning recipe.
I’d say it’s important to love the journey, expect to put up with the unexpected, have your eyes set on the faraway horizon, write (write write!), and travel with an open mind and deep respect for wherever you are.
Is Croatia a good destination for digital nomads to work from?
I must say it’s difficult for me to talk about my home country. I have a bit of a love and hate relationship with it. I’ve been spending a couple of months per year there since 2005, for work and pleasure. I can see why visitors rave about it and why it’s become such a hot destination – it’s truly a beautiful place. Yet if I moved back, it wouldn’t be to a city since I’m not a fan of Croatia’s urban life. I think the coastline and the countryside of Croatia would be a perfect place to work, if you want peaceful good healthy living.
If you had to choose only one place in the world to live, where would that be?
I haven’t been able to choose a permanent place to live since I left Croatia in 1993. New York has been an ideal base for me but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m here for the quality of life or the affordable cost of living. I am here for the adrenaline rush, for the network of friends and kindred spirits I’ve built in the last ten years, for work connections, for the culture… If there was only one place in the world for me to live, I’d probably be there right now. So I guess it’s still New York.
Any plans to have a more stationary life?
I often talk about leaving New York, moving to someplace with more calm and quiet… And even though I leave the city on extended sojourns (I was away for seven months last year, for example), I still see my rent-stabilized Brooklyn apartment as a real home. When I arrive here from a big trip, sit down on my sofa and look at my bookcase, I feel a sense of peace, a refuge from the madness outside, a safe harbor…
There’s a thought that’s been running through my head recently, about moving back to the countryside of Croatia where my family has a historic mansion in dire need of renovation (that we cannot afford). I’m trying to keep the place alive and get some funding for restoring it. I have a dream about opening a cultural center or a culturally-themed B&B there. More to come!