Imagine getting paid to travel the world and write about it. Many bloggers do, but few have as much panache (or list of publications under their belt) as Kristin Luna — creator of Camels & Chocolate: Tales from a Travel Addict. What started seven years ago as a side blog has since won multiple awards for the plethora of stories, tips, and incredible photographs that she consistently manages to publish. The kicker? She’s a full-time journalist whose full-time job and full-time hobby is writing.
We spoke with Kristin about how she manages to keep sane in the world of words, how aspiring writers can work their way in, and how she got a nasty scar on her ankle.
- The Trip Tribe: As a journalist who writes for a living, how do you stay motivated to write a blog in addition to your other writing work?
Camels & Chocolate: To be honest, it’s tough, and I’ve found it increasingly more difficult to keep C&C up now that my blog is nearing the end of its seventh year and I’m stretched so thin. I write anywhere between five and 15 magazine and newspaper stories per month; participate in social media campaigns with Travel Mindset; do copywriting, web development, marketing, photography and project management for a handful of small businesses and corporate clients; and take other odd jobs here and there (most random to date: writing questions for a handful of new Trivial Pursuit editions) — and that’s all while being on the road at least 50 percent of the time. Plus, I expend a whole lot of energy and thought using social media both for pleasure and promotional purposes, which can be exhausting on top of everything else.
In my earlier days of freelancing, I used to blog Monday, Wednesday, and Friday like clockwork, but now I’m pleased if I manage to get two posts up a week. A lot of it has to do with time, but also a lack of inspiration. For example, I just got back from St. Kitts and crafted a blog post within an hour of returning because I loved the island so much. But often, I just pass through a city for a day or two while working on a project, which doesn’t give me enough time to explore and find a topic I’m passionate about, so I simply opt not to blog it.
Also, there are only so many hours in a day — and words in my head — so I tend to write posts those rare nights I’m not out and about while I’m sitting at home catching up on my TV (Nashville, Scandal, Homeland, you name it).
TTT: Any advice for folks trying to get into the world of travel writing?
C&C: Pursue another career and stick to travel writing as a hobby 🙂
To be candid, it was really hard jumping into travel journalism back in 2005 when I made the leap, but it’s nearly impossible these days. For those just starting out, I suggest focusing on building your own travel brand and audience and letting the opportunities come to you. It won’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it, the outcome could be very rewarding. These days, my “day job” as a journalist covers a wide variety of topics — including food, women’s health, technology, and a whole lot of startup profiles — and some of the favorite travel experiences and partnerships crop up due to my blog, not my magazine assignments.
So if you want to travel often and well, you’re better off a) doing it on your own (at least at first), b) trying to create a solid and authentic product (i.e. a blog) that has mass appeal to both readers and advertisers and c) work on building long-term partnerships with other brands rather than hoping some overworked travel editor is going to notice you and offer a cushy, all expenses-paid assignment to Tahiti. (News flash: That never happens.)
If you want more of a reality check about what this industry is truly like, this is one of my favorite posts I’ve written in recent years.
TTT: Your photos are stunning. Any great story behind a particular photograph that sticks out in your mind?
C&C: Shooting wildlife is always a bit risky. It’s fitting to bring up Rwanda during the 20th anniversary of its horrible genocide, but I was there four years ago and got the chance to trek deep into the woods in search of gorillas. Once we found the family we were looking for, we were less than 10 feet away from a daddy silverback… on foot, with 18 more of his kin in the general vicinity! That’s always a bit jarring. Luckily, we were escorted by trackers who knew the signals when the gorillas were getting too comfortable with us, which was our cue to hightail it out of the forest.
I’ve also been one to follow closely behind barracuda, sharks, and other marine life to get the perfect underwater shot. I’ve never felt immediately threatened by any of them, though funny enough I was once floating above a coral reef in Borneo while on my honeymoon and snapping pictures as I waited out the obligatory three-minute safety stop when out of nowhere, I felt a huge pinch in the back of my leg beneath my wetsuit and booty. Once I surfaced, I realized a triggerfish had bitten a hole in my Achilles (I still have the scar today)! Those are nasty little suckers; steer clear if you ever spot them in the water!
TTT: What is the one thing you must bring wherever you travel?
C&C: Hmm, how about three things? It’s a toss-up between my Kindle, my phone — a girl’s gotta Instagram! — and my MacBook Pro. I would say my Canon camera, but honestly, the latest iPhone cameras have gotten so sharp, if it’s a short trip, I simply shoot with my 5s.
TTT: Besides your own, what is your favorite travel blog?
C&C: I really love Alex in Wanderland. She and I have been online friends for years and finally got to hang out in person in Miami last summer (she’s every bit as lovely and fun as her online image would lead you to believe). As a journalist, I appreciate how well-written her posts are — you wouldn’t believe how many travel bloggers don’t know basic grammar rules; bloggers who regularly misuse “it’s” when they means “its” or commit other such faux pas immediately lose me as a reader — and all-tell very candid stories. Plus, she’s a fellow diver, and I envy how much time she gets to spend submerged as an underwater videographer. And I may be biased as I occasionally do projects for them, but I think Travel Mindset is an excellent group site with a beautiful aesthetic. It features a bevy of talented writers from all over the world, and you never know what destination will be featured next.
TTT: Describe yourself in six words.
C&C: Tenacious. Impatient. Adventurous. Loyal. Curious. Optimistic.
About Kristen Luna
Tennessee-based journalist Kristin Luna started her career in New York City where she worked at some of the magazine industry’s top publishing houses before adopting freelance status and eventually returning to her Southern roots. She contributes regularly to a number of national/international publications, including The Guardian, USA Today, Southern Living, Entrepreneur, Redbook, and Glamour, and also has penned more than a dozen guidebooks for Frommer’s. In 2007, Kristin launched her award-winning blog, Camels & Chocolate: Tales from a Travel Addict, and through it has partnered with various destinations and global brands. She won the Bloggie for Best Travel Blog the first three years of the category and since has been “retired” the the Hall of Fame. She loves Zumba, chocolate, bourbon and, of course, camels (though not all at the same time).