Documenting the World for a Living: An Interview with Kristin Luna

Kristin Luna circles the globe by profession as a travel writer. She’s already been to more than 80 countries with even  more awesome experiences, including interviewing celebrities on the red carpet.

Check out her travels and work at her site, Camels & Chocolate.

2695977043_c78a654dbb_b

Most people look at what you do and consider it a dream job (a pet peeve of yours, I know). You’ve written pretty extensively about the reality of your profession. For those who still think they can make the leap being a travel writer for a living, is there one key trait you’ve noticed among those who’ve managed to make it happen?

Persistence. Sitting around waiting for assignments to come your way is not a realistic business model. You constantly have to have your eyes and ears open for fresh story ideas and new angles, do all the necessary research and preliminary interviews before you decide where the story is a good fit, target your idea to a particular publication and craft the perfect pitch that sells your story, then follow up when inevitably the editor doesn’t respond. If they say no? You take it elsewhere and don’t quit until you’ve sold that idea. It can be tiresome, and so often really amazing stories don’t see the light of day (i.e. make it into print) for varying circumstances. But when they do, all the failures make one success that much sweeter.

My business partner for KEEN Digital Summit—the networking and technology conference I co-founded in Nashville—told me just this morning that there are a lot of worker bees out there but very few queens. I love that analogy; to succeed as a freelancer, you really have to be a queen bee.

Traveling so often, many times by yourself, seems like it could be lonely at times. How do you maintain your connections back home while traveling as many as 7 months a year? Have any particular social technologies made a big difference for you?

Social media! I’m never really alone, as there’s always someone to talk to if I simply hop on Twitter or Facebook. Instagram is my number one tech love, so my husband and my family know where I am at all times, but I also use apps like Viber and FaceTime that allow me to communicate with them verbally and via text while overseas.

What do you think are the necessary ingredients of a perfect trip?

A great travel companion and a loose itinerary. Too often, I see people go somewhere for a short amount of time and try to cram so much into that stretch that they don’t truly experience the destination. I love the concept of slow travel, though I realize that for most Americans that’s not a viable option due to limited vacation time.

What’s one destination or experience that greatly exceeded your expectations? What’s one that was very underwhelming?

I hit up Cambodia and Vietnam on the same trip—while traveling through Southeast Asia on Semester at Sea—and previously had never had a desire to visit either, so I was shocked when I became so enraptured by both countries. I only spent a few days in each, but I was smitten with the people, the culture, the food, the tragic pasts both nations had overcome in recent years and the natural beauty. Those are two places I’d love to hit up for a longer trip.

Honestly, I was underwhelmed by Cuba, and I really wanted to love it. Don’t get me wrong: It was beautiful and I dig the Cuban culture, but it wasn’t as mind-blowing as I had hoped (then again, extenuating circumstances kept me in Havana the whole time, so perhaps I would have had a better experience seeing more of the country). Still, that trip taught me not to have too high of expectations going into a new destination.

You have an awesome “Life List” on your site of all of the experiences you want to have. I’m sure it changes frequently, but which five are you most excited about now? Of the ones you’ve done, which 5 have been the best so far?

Taking the Trans-Siberian Express all the way to Mongolia, island-hopping in Mozambique, cruising around Greenland by ship, diving in Palau and snorkeling with manatees in the Florida springs.

Recently, I checked a few off that were great memories: I saw Holland during tulip season, I toured St. Petersburg by canal under the veil of Russia’s famed white nights, I took a tall ship through the Caribbean and I was an extra on my favorite TV show, Nashville. But traveling through the US by RV back in 2011 for a couple months was probably my favorite life list item to date. Nothing beats a good road trip, particularly one where Yellowstone, Glacier, Canyonlands and the like are your “backyard!”