(Note: This post was updated June 2, 2022)
Every year, I give about a dozen speeches on travel across North America. When I sign books afterwards, a familiar scenario inevitably will play out.
I’ll hand back the book that I've just autographed and notice that the individual standing in front of me looks very, very nervous… and doesn’t want to move away from the table. She or he will chit-chat for a few minutes before taking a deep breath and asking, “How can I become a travel writer?”
Of course, there’s no one path to this type of career. But I do have advice, which I share, and it boils down to this: Attend the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, which is held each August in Corte Madera, California (right outside of San Francisco).
It's one of the best first steps I know toward becoming a travel writer.
I know, I know. There are lots of gatherings for bloggers and travel writers. But I think Book Passage is tops for beginning travel writers for three key reasons.
A Focus on Craft: Unlike other travel writer conferences where networking is the key activity, attendees come to Book Passage to master basic and advanced writing and photography skills. Each morning, they attend a three-hour-long seminar, studying for three days in a row with one teacher or a team of two teachers, and covering such topics as newspaper and/or magazine writing, travel memoirs, or creating one’s own brand through blogging.
It's a hands-on approach, with the students creating their own short pieces, reading work aloud, and learning how to better edit their own work. In the afternoons and evenings, there are lectures and panels that cover various genres of travel writing and photography as well as sessions on the business side about making a living in this field.
All-Star Teachers: And I realize that I’m going to sound like quite the braggart with that headline, as I've taught at Book Passage over the years, and will be doing so again this summer. But I don’t refer to myself. I’m in awe of my fellow faculty, which has included Pico Iyer, novelist Isabel Allende and The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean.
This year’s staff includes Phil Cousineau (author of the seminal book The Art of Pilgrimage), Marcia de Sanctis (author of A Hard Place to Leave, which was already named one of the best books of 2022 by Vogue), Tim Cahill (one of the founders of Outside magazine), Catharine Hamm (former Travel Editor of The Los Angeles Times), and Don George (founder of the conference and an Editor-at-Large for National Geographic Traveler).
Not only are these folks, and others on the faculty, all whip-smart, they’re also unusually generous and kind with their time and attention.
Intimacy: Unlike SATW and the TBEX yearly conference, which are held in the types of places that house conventions, Book Passage is a small bookstore. There’s room for no more than 200 students, and all but one of the meals are held on the store’s patio and shared between teachers and students. That means that even though the conference isn’t focused on networking, some great networking can be done. I’ve hired authors here, and several of the conference’s faculty are alumni who got their first jobs here.
And since an in-person conference did not happen in 2020 or 2021, I expect this year's gathering to be even more joyous than usual.
In 2022, the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers conference will take place August 18-21. Go to www.bookpassage.com/travel for the price, housing options, a detailed schedule, and more.
Note from Pauline: This blog post was reworked from one I posted two years ago—though it's just as heartfelt.
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