3 Things The Pandemic Taught Me As A Top Travel Writer – Best Tips

Delta One on 757-200

As a travel writer for 16 years, I’ve traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 650 hotels, and I’ve flown nearly 2 million air miles. I’ve written for every publication you can think of, from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure to Travel Weekly and American Way (American Airlines). My job is literally traveling, but like millions of Americans, I was in quarantine, lockdown and Zooming for two years — and the pandemic taught me a lot as a travel writer, and some of the best travel writers can attest.

We all know Covid-19 upended travel, but it had a significant impact on some of the best travel writers who bring travel destinations to life in stories you read. My 2-3 trips a month flatlined to 0 trips for years.

Puerto rico

But there is a silver lining. Covid-19 allowed me to have a normal home life for once, and it also gave me clarity around matters I failed to see had I been auto-piloting my regular travels. It’s one of the things the pandemic taught me as a travel writer.

Also, side note: I DID ditch iPad for Fire tablet. A 10″ Fire tablet is only $149, but it’s weird to make the switch. When I was at CNBC, I wrote a huge story on how I went from iPhone to Samsung, and I loved it, so it’s crazy I’m making this move to non-Apple products! Anyway, here’s the tablet if you want to see the features and different sizes and prices.

Here are 3 things the pandemic taught me as a travel writer

  1. Travel magazines showed they can’t survive without freelance travel writers.

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Travel magazines have been suffering the past few years. Many general interest and lifestyle publications have put emphasis on travel in their editorial to offer competition, and the rise of travel bloggers and travel influencers gave travel magazines plenty to worry about. Ultimately, the public no longer needed a travel magazine to tell them a destination was cool; readers were learning from their peers.

Travel magazines have also been shrinking, meaning they have less budget to pay travel writers — and Covid-19 essentially pulled the plug on any sort of freelance work for travel writers. This is because travel was shutdown for months. There was nowhere you could, nowhere you could write about.

I was surprised that top-tier travel publications were simply re-posting and recycling older stories for the first few months of the pandemic, and no staff writer had been writing relevant, inspiring and educational content. I was banging out informative and research-intensive content (some examples below), while major travel magazines were still writing about cool places to discover in Norway. Here are some examples.

9 airline predictions based on aftermath of 9/11 and Great Recession (2008)

7 positive predictions for travel after coronavirus pandemic

It just goes to show that some of the best freelance travel writers make the travel magazine, not the other way around. I’ve been in the travel industry and worked at magazines long enough to know the staff at a travel magazine have less knowledge of travel than you would believe. They know how to research, they know how to rehash press releases, and they know their audience, but these full time employees are behind a desk. They don’t travel. They don’t go see the world as much as travel writers do.

Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico

They’re not on the ground speaking to locals, finding the best secret restaurant, or stepping inside hotels. They rely on travel writers to do this. Travel magazine staffers rarely have the travel experience that brings their publications to life (I’ve known dozens of staffers at travel magazines who came from beauty or fashion backgrounds with no travel experience).

So when travel magazines cut off travel writers, you can really see how that plays out in their daily editorial, and it’s one thing the pandemic taught me as a travel writer.

2. Some of the best places are just around the corner from you. 

Fort Tilden Beach
Fort Tilden NY Beach

A travel writer has a strong desire to travel, to experience other cultures, to bring destinations to their readers, to see the world with a different lens. It’s why they became a travel writer in the first place.

But during the pandemic, I learned I didn’t have to go far to share an experience. Some of the best places were just around the corner from me.

For the safety of others around me and myself, I have not gone on a plane or traveled outside my city for almost a year, so I set out to see what was inside my NYC bubble. I visited places like Domino Park in Williamsburg (the park got global attention as one of the first parks to draw white social distance circles in the grass). I checked out Fort Tilden Beach just 30 minutes away. I discovered cool pizza places that would rarely make any glossy travel magazines list but rival the ones that are written about.

I was able to spend time in my own city, and it helped me see places I normally wouldn’t have made time to visit. Of course, this inspired me to upgrade my shoes to be more comfortable, like these insanely comfortable sneakers from Bloomingdales below.

3. There are good destinations and bad destinations 

Chicago skyline

During Covid-19, many destinations were fighting to return to normalcy, but there were some destinations that went above and beyond to keep any potential visitors at bay. Places like Colorado wanted tourists to wait out Covid-19 until it was safe to travel again.

New Yorker did a great story on destinations that were promoting “don’t come here” campaigns (they interviewed me to get my thoughts on the trend).

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This struck a chord with me and some of the best travel writers I know. It was interesting to see destinations that were prioritizing public health over tourism dollars, and what leaders were doing to help reduce the spread of the virus to protect their communities (for instance, New York governor Andrew Cuomo enforced a 14-day quarantine for any travelers coming into New York).

This story was originally published December 2020.

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and has flown a million airmiles. He lives in New York City.

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