The Life of A Travel Writer
A.L. Westgard was an adventuresome soul. The Norwegian immigrant was a railroad survey engineer before he eagerly accepted the task of mapping roads suitable for use by daring automobilists. His exploits were the stuff of legend in the first decades of the 20th century.
Obituaries published upon his death in 1921 lauded his accomplishments. A few noted his legendary exploits such as mapping nearly 20,000 miles of roads in one year. And that was five years before Edsel Ford’s trip on the National Old Trails Road when in his journal it was noted that the drive from Williams to Kingman, Arizona, about 150 miles, was a good days run.
One succinct obituary referenced Westgard as the “Daniel Boone of the modern era.” Another noted that, “… dean of American motor car pathflnders, died last night after an illness of several months. Westgard, who was field representative of the American Automobile association and vice president of the National Highways association, had more than 20 transcontinent.al roadfinding trips and roads all over the country bear his name.
Anton L. Westgard was in every sense of the word a pioneer. On more than one occasion his was the very first automobile to drive into remote mining or logging towns in the west and southwest. And it could be said that he also helped lay the foundation for Route 66. Trail to Sunset, a road mapped by Westgard to connect Chicago with the wonders of the southwest. That road shared a western terminus with the future Route 66. And sections of his Trail to Sunset were incorporated into the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in New Mexico.
He was also a pioneering promoter. And that takes us to the subject of today’s blog post, travel writing for fun, for profit, and to provide a service. Westgard not only mapped roads, he inspired road trips with lectures that included magic lantern slide shows, and the writing of books as well as feature articles.
There was, and is, a distorted view of a travel writers life. Case in point is an incident that came about when I was writing a weekly travel column for the Kingman Daily Miner.
My dearest friend and I were at dinner one evening when a follower of the column approached us with kind words expressing appreciation. They also noted that to be paid to travel must be very rewarding. Granted this was in the early 1990s but at the time my compensation for a 500 word column was $25.00.
Fast forward thirty years. Today our entire income is derived from various and creative ways to use the written word. There are now more than 20 books with my name on the cover. I have written hundreds of feature articles on a diverse array of subject. And we have developed the multifaceted Jim Hinckley’s America network.
So, to fledgling travel writers everywhere, I can attest to the fact that it is possible to make a living fomr such an endeavor. But there is a caveat or two.
You will need to hustle. You will need to adjust expectations on a regular basis. You will need to multitask. You will need to adjust to changing markets and trends. There is a constant learning curve as you will need to become adept at harnessing new technologies. You will need to learn to live with bitter dissapointment, frustrations, and on occasion, debilitating depression. And you will need to enjoy what you have, and not focus on what you hope to have.
One key thing to keep in mind. You are providinig a service. And there is one more item to consider. Simply put, the worst day spent writing for fun and profit is better than the best day with a 9 to 5 job.
Starting on August 7, I will be providing advice, tips, and outright assistance to travel writers, seasoned or dreamers, on Coffee With Jim, our interactive Sunday morning travel program podcast. And, of course, I will also be handing out heaping helpings of road trip inspiration. As the theme song for Jim Hinckley’s America says, come along for the ride.