Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?
By Malea Ritz
Thomas Kohnstamm’s book “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” records the good, the bad and the ugly truth of a career as a travel writer, including the transition from a cubicle clone to an office-less traveler. This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read on the topic of travel writing.
Kohnstamm humorously, yet honestly describes a writer’s struggles maintaining relationships, money and sanity throughout his travels. This book provides a unique insight to a profession many would call, “a dream job,” however Kohnstamm conveys a different outlook on this opinion.
This “swashbuckling tale of high adventures, questionable ethics and professional hedonism” will keep readers entertained and hungry for more.
These excerpts demonstrate some of the trials and tribulations of a life as a travel writer, removing much of the hyped up glory that others fail to experience.
So, travel writing, like any job, has its issues. However, travel writing is particularly disorienting since you are expected to work in a tourist environment that is built for pleasure.
You must find a way to make yourself effective in that peculiar limbo between work and play. I imagine that the difference between traveling and professional travel writing is like the difference between having sex and working in pornography. While both are still probably fun, being a professional brings many levels of complication to your original interest and will eventually consume your personal life.
We travel writers live in perpetual motion. Relationships are transitory and fleeting. Friendships, even more so. Home is where you are on a given night. It is at once glamorous and pathetic, exciting and perversely routing. The longer you do it, the harder it is to return to normal life, and one day you wake up and realize the road is your permanent address. There’s no going back.
One in the Hand, Two in the Bush
Welcome to life on Wall Street. With such a character-defining foothold in the career world, I no longer have to make excuses for the life I lead. No longer do I have to explain my direction-less postcollegiate life to incredulous eyes and repetitive questions like: “What are you doing next year?” “Don’t you want to do something with your life? and my favorite, “When are you going to get a real job?” I am no longer just Thomas, the supposed slacker, backpacker bum, or permanent student. I am Thomas, the employee of ___, ___, ___ & LLP, and I am going places.
I make more money than I reasonable should, putting papers into chronological order (chroming, in office-speak). My skill set also includes entering numbers into Excel spread-projects and working the copier and fax machine. Between those projects, I search for old high school friends’ names on Google; play online Jeopardy against my office trivia nemesis, Jerry; and generally while away the hours of my life. Jerry thinks that he is better at Jeopardy than me, but really he’s just faster with the mouse.
I stare blankly at my computer screen. I want to gouge my eyes out with paper clips and gash my wrists with manila folders. Why am I sitting here, aiding and abetting white-collar criminals and merging with my ergonomically correct office chair, when I should be on the beach in Brazil?
As for my faltering romantic life, I didn’t intend to end things with Sydney. I really did love her. While I couldn’t fault her for being practical or wanting to be with someone with a guaranteed financial futue, I didn’t know if I was, or could ever be, that person. I explained to her what had transpired at work, and when I made it clean that I would not apologize to Marilyn or return to the job, she told me, “It’s me or this dead-end job in Brazil…. You need to learn to deal with a real job and learn to deal with being a man.”
I tried to negotiate for larger fee, a later deadline, and the possibility of royalties. I am denied on all three and, as for royalties, am told that it is “a Lonely Planet book, not a Jackie Collins novel.” I ask if they can cover my flight to Brazil, but am told that writers do not work for the company, they are only freelancers. I must arrange all expenses myself. Their only concession is that I earn another small fee if I write the unwieldy “Environment” chapter and the “Wildlife Guide” to go in the front of the book. The two chapters will double my page count and add an extra few weeks of library research. Yes it sounds like a fu***** sweet deal.
So, am I doing this for the pure love of travel, as an independent dedicated traveler or whatever Lonely Planet claims its writers are? Am I an altruistic provider of travel information to my global backpacking brethren? Am I doing this as a way to get laid? Judging by my advance, I am surely not in it for the money.…
Thomas Khonstamm.We are led to a leather-upholstered booth in the back room. It is still hard to tell if there is anyone else in the club. I am sure that a couple of highly attractive single women are close by, waiting to meet men like us; men who don’t follow conventions; men who are pushing thirty but have the courage and vision to start drinking shortly after breakfast on Thursdays.
Isn’t it almost obligatory that some woman should sleep with me the night before I depart for South America? Maybe I can tell her that I am going to be a writer. Even without a Pulitzer or significant writing experience, I’m about to do some kind of writing/data-entry hybrid thing. Either way, I’ll tell her that I’m about to be published and will be on the road in Brazil and then she’ll understand the importance of this unique and fleeting opportunity to fornicate with me.…
…The bottle is listed as $200. There is a mandatory gratuity of 25 percent. As we don’t look too trustworthy and it is approaching closing, they bring the check along with the bottle….
I fork over my debit card and feel myself take one step closer to total financial ruin and becoming one of the old drunks at Bellevue Bar. …
I stare down the long carpeted hallway at JFK, everyone in transit, everyone in liminal zone, walking in ones and sometimes twos: heading home, heading abroad.
I am terrified. I am exhilarated. I am unfettered.
Malea Ritz is a former editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and a graduate of UMass.