Living the Dream: I'm a Travel Writer
"My superpower is that I can have fun just about anywhere."
Welcome to Living the Dream, a Livability.com series about people who made their big dreams a reality - and the places and communities that made it possible. Do you know someone who's carved out a unique lifestyle or business in a small town or small to mid-sized city? We're always looking for great stories. Email our editor for a chance to be featured!
Name: Brittany A.
Occupation: Freelance travel & lifestyle writer
City: Denver, CO
Tell us about your career as a freelance journalist.
I’m writing in the travel and broader lifestyle realm (translated: the fun stuff!). I’ve carved out specialty niches in adventure travel (I have an outdoorsy travel column with Forbes) and tequila (I’ve written about it a lot for Men’s Journal). I’m actually in Guadalajara this week, visiting agave fields and learning about the art of spicy tequila making. I write for about 20 publications, including Livability, which I’ve got bookmarked and read every day, too!
What initially drew you to this line of work?
I loved playing reporter as a kid! I had a fedora and sucked on candy cigarettes (child of the 80s; those can’t be sold anymore, can they?!) and would punch away at a vintage typewriter. I’d shout “I’m on deadline” when my parents called me downstairs for dinner. One of my favorite things to do was to ride my bike to the library on Saturdays and read encyclopedias and then write “travel stories” about places I had traveled to in my imagination. My grandma bought my stories for a $1 a piece.
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I graduated from the journalism school at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where I was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. I started working at The Denver Post my senior year in college, and, while in daily newspapers, I covered everything from crime to science to higher education. But, I always loved writing personality profiles about people. I think travel writing is an extension of that because I try to capture the personality of a place.
How did you turn your dream of being a travel writer and freelance journalist into a reality?
I got my start in daily newspapers, working for both The Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera. In 2013, I won an award for investigative reporting, which gave me the idea to pursue a career as a background investigator, contracting with the federal government. I thought it was the “safe route” to take because of the financial instability of newspapers. I got my Top Secret clearance, wore a lot of blazers, and I was working 60 to 70 hours a week in a job I really, really didn’t like. I missed journalism. I missed writing. I missed satiating my curiosity. The best way I can describe it is feeling like I was homesick, but for a career. A close friend of mine who is career-savvy told me that my “talent was my safety net” and that was the nudge I needed. I decided to quit the “safe job” and build a career around what I loved. I feel lucky to say I enjoy what I do and that my talents are once again aligned with my job.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I write at least a couple of articles a day. Some are quick hits, some are more in-depth. But, where I’m writing from varies. My favorite spot is my home office, with my Boston Terrier snoring (and snorting like a lil’ piggy) on my lap. Other times, I’m hunched over the computer, typing like I’ve got T-Rex arms on an airplane. Last week was special, though: I was writing from a hotel in Venice and I could hear the Grand Canal lapping up against my hotel building and gondoliers singing Italian love sonnets. In addition to writing, I also carve out a morning each week for pitching editors and block out chunks of time for interviews.
You're based out of Denver, CO. What about the city makes it a great home base for a travel writer?
I am one of Denver’s biggest fan. I think Denver is getting a lot of tourist attention, so it’s been great to be here, spreading the Mile High gospel to outlets interested in all of the fun our city has to offer. It’s an active city with lots of sunshine, which fits well into the outdoors writing I like to do. Plus, there’s always something fun going on, whether that’s catching a show at Red Rocks or trying out a new brewery. I recently wrote a story about distillers harvesting herbs from our botanical gardens to make a local gin.
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What is your favorite thing about traveling for work?
I like to think of it as a scavenger hunt. I love finding delicious local eats, the best swimming holes, funky boutique shops, you name it. My superpower is that I can have fun just about anywhere. I think the whole “discovery” aspect of traveling is something that excites me.
Your least favorite?
The lack of sleep. I travel about twice a month, so when I’m on the road, I’m writing early in the morning and late at night and exploring during the day. Then, throw in jet lag!
How important is it to immerse yourself in the local community when you're writing about a place, and what's the best way to do that?
I think we all want to experience places on an authentic level; not just get stuck in the tourist traps. (Though I will say: I do think touristy spots are popular for a reason and worth indulging in! I was in Chicago recently and had a Bingo card for all of the touristy things I wanted to do: Navy Pier! Chicago-style hot dog! Boat ride on the river!)
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I have a few tricks to getting a good pulse of a city. It’s kind of a no-brainer, but I love taking Lyft to get an introduction to a city through a local’s eyes. I also stop into a local bookstore and see what the “local picks” are, and, my favorite thing to do is to go to a local comedy club for an amateur stand-up night. Shopping farmers' markets is another great lens into a city. If I were a guy, I’d make it a point to go to a barber shop and get a haircut in every city I’ve visited (but I only cut my hair twice a year, so…).
What is one 'must do' thing that every visitor should do when visiting a new city?
Pick up the local newspaper, alt-weekly newspaper or buy a local magazine!
What is your favorite 'hidden gem' city you've visited in the US, or the place that surprised you most?
San Luis Obispo: It’s got everything you want in California, but without the LA or San Fran prices. The beaches are pretty, the wine is great, the vibe is friendly and laid back, and the farmers market is worth planning a vacation around.
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Which small U.S. city would you recommend to someone looking for an affordable, fun vacation spot?
Providence, Rhode Island! Maybe it’s in part because Johnson and Wales has a culinary school there, but the city has a phenomenal food scene. Plus, in the summer months there are these beautiful, free “WaterFire Festivals” that take place on the river. It’s like floating bonfires, and it sets this peaceful scene; the city is glowing and you can hear the crackling of the wood.
Are there certain places you find yourself recommending or going back to again and again? If so, why?
I crave Charleston because of the food scene. I also love Santa Fe; it’s an easy roadtrip from Denver and they have a funky art scene (Meow Wolf is a trip!) and a spa, Ten Thousand Waves, that transports you to Japan.
Where are you most excited to travel to next?
I’m excited to explore the outdoors scene and chase waterfalls in Redding, California.
Any advice for other people who dream of becoming a travel writer?
Carve out a niche within the travel beat and own it! Maybe you’re great at skiing or you’re an expert in oysters or you love museums or you’re a genius when it comes to traveling on a budget. I think owning a beat gives you authority and confidence.