How One Reader Scored Two Paid Vacations and 41 Bylines: Interview with AWAI Member Sandra Kennedy
BONNIE: Hi Sandra. I understand you’ve turned your travels into paid vacations. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you got started and how, specifically, you went from sitting in a chair at the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop to sitting in an airplane seat on your way to an all-expenses-paid trip to Ecuador?
SANDRA: It began, as you said, with the Ultimate Travel Writers Workshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina back in 2005. Initially, I didn’t realize how much the workshop had affected me. But when I returned home, my mind started racing with possible ideas for articles.
I arrived in Buenos Aires a week early and rented an apartment there. When the workshop started, I moved into the hotel where the workshop was held.
I told Steenie Harvey, one of the instructors on that trip, about my experience in the apartment and she encouraged me to write about it. So I did.
It helps so much to have that additional support when you’re starting out. The article, “Live Like a Local,” was a lengthy “how-to” on renting an apartment in BA, accompanied by photos. Escape Artist published it soon after I returned to Oregon. I was so thrilled to see my first article and photos in print.
Everything after that took determination, curiosity, perseverance, and lots of reading and writing. You must be able to accept rejection and keep on “keeping on.”
BONNIE: Speaking of rejection… what about the fear of failure? Has it ever been a problem for you?
SANDRA: Basically, I have always had to fight my fears every time I tackled something new. In fact, it was more like “terror” at times.But travel writing is one of my passions in life. So I work hard to put away those doubting thoughts and just go for it.
This is an aside. Throughout my life, I have had an image of me on my deathbed. I never wanted to be saying to myself, “why didn’t I risk following my dreams?” It seemed that I would feel such regret.
Many times in life, such as when I first went to Europe at age 20, my life changed. There was an entirely fascinating world out there to explore. At that point, I decided that I would teach in Europe one day. That dream never left me. First, I went to Peru. After that I taught in Europe for seven years. It is the same with travel writing. It had been a dream through the years.
BONNIE: So, after all those years of hesitation, how did you get started traveling and writing “on spec,” landing free stays in resorts and destinations around the world?
SANDRA: My first “comped” trip was to a hotel in Idaho for three nights. I think it was through Mediakitty.com. By then, I had the two clips from Argentina. I used those in my query… and they responded immediately.
By the way, my first two “comped” trips were all set up but unforeseen circumstances prevented me from taking them. Hurricane Wilma kept me from one and I had to cancel the other for personal reasons.
In March, I had a “comped” individual press trip to Guatemala for nine days. It was through a tour company. All my expenses were paid except airfare, lunches, and dinners. It was an absolutely amazing experience. That trip was not listed anywhere.
BONNIE: How did you manage to find it, if it wasn’t listed anywhere?
SANDRA: I was inquiring about a possible “media rate” on a trip to Ecuador last year. Turns out the company remembered me and
invited me on the trip to Guatemala.
BONNIE: Do you have any press trips planned for the near future?
SANDRA: Recently, I was invited to go on a circular tour of boutique hotels in Mexico!
Travel writing can “snowball” on you. As you get published, you gain more confidence. I felt like such a fraud at my first press trip. I don’t feel that now. I know that even if I am not writing for Travel & Leisure, I will provide good coverage for all these places. It does take a great deal of time and creativity. I work very hard to do my best.
BONNIE: Do you have any last pieces of advice for newbie travel writers?
SANDRA: Push for your dream. It is possible. Yes, there is a lot of competition, but you bring your own background, experiences, and skills to it. Ultimately, you must persevere in your querying and writing.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]