Updated: 8/24/20 | August 24th, 2020

When I started in the travel industry, one writer came up often in conversation: David Farley. He was a rock-star writer who taught at NYU and Columbia, wrote for AFAR, national Geographic, the new York Times, and numerous other publications. I always wondered who this man was. He was practically mythical. He was never at any events.

But, one day, he turned up and, over the years, we became good friends. His writing suggestions and guidance have helped me immensely, and his outstanding résumé and keen sense of story are why I partnered with him on this website’s travel writing course.

Unlike me, David is a much more conventional magazine/freelance/newspaper writer. He’s not a blogger. E. today I thought interview David about his life as a travel writer.

Nomadic Matt: tell everyone about yourself!
David Farley: A few interesting facts about me: My weight at birth was 8 lbs., 6 oz. I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs. I was in a rock band in high school; we played late-night gigs at Hollywood clubs, and we weren’t very good. I travel a lot, but I have no interest in counting the number of countries I’ve been to.

I’ve lived in San Francisco, Paris, Prague, Berlin, and Rome, but I currently live in new York City.

How did you get into travel writing?
The typical way: by accident. I was in graduate school and my girlfriend at the time, a writer, proofread one of my 40-page research papers — I think it was on the exciting topic of the house Un-American activities committee in the 1950s — and afterward she said, “You know, don’t take this the wrong way, but your writing was better than I expected.”

She encouraged me to write stuff other than boring history papers. I heeded her call.

One of the first stories that got published was about a pig killing I attended in a village on the Czech-Austrian border. After that, enough of the stories got published, mostly in travel publications, that by default I became a “travel writer.”

I ended up breaking into Condé Nast Traveler, working my way all the way up to the features section, as well as the New York Times. Eventually, I wrote a book that Penguin published. then I expanded my field of interest to food and now I often combine food and travel.

Having done this for about two decades, one thing I’ve learned is that the “expectations of success” is really just a myth in our minds. I always thought, for example, that once I write for the new York Times I’ll have “made it.” then it happened and didn’t really feel like I had done so.

Maybe when I write a feature for a big travel magazine? No.

Maybe a book published by one of the most significant publishing houses in the world? Non proprio.

The point is: just keep striving in the direction of success and forget about various plateaus you want to get to. I think it’s a much healthier way to go.

Do you have any favorite experiences/destinations that you’ve been able to write about?
I’d long been wanting to go to Hanoi to investigate, report on, and write about the origins of pho. I finally convinced the new York Times to let me do it in February. It was incredible and delicious.

But then, as we all know, the pandemic chose to swirl its way around the world, and, as a result, many travel stories—including this one—are rotting away on editors’ hard drives for the time being.

I’ve been really lucky to convince editors to let me delve deep into some things that I’m fascinated with and/or love such as spending two weeks hanging out with the men who cremate bodies on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi to see what I could learn about life and death.

I got to spend a month volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece and write a dispatch about it.

I went cycling across southern Bosnia with four great pals following a bike trail that was carved out of an erstwhile train track.

I got drunk on vodka with old Ukrainian ladies in their homes in the Exclusion zone in Chernobyl.

And I hiked across a swath of Kenya with my uncle, sister, and brother and law for a good cause: we raised thousands of dollars for an aids orphanage there and also got to spend a few days with the children.

I could go on and on — which is precisely what makes this a gratifying profession.

What are some of the most significant illusions people have about travel writing?
That you can peel off a feature story for a travel magazine just like that [snaps fingers]. It takes so much work for each story to get to the type of experiences we end up writing about — a lot of phone calls and emails to set up interviews and to get your foot in the door some places.

When a magazine is paying you to go to a place so you can come back with an interesting story, you have to do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to guarantee that you’re going to have a good story. It rarely just happens on its own.

Travel stories are essentially a fake or altered reality,filtered through the writer and based on how much reporting she or he did on the spot, as well as her or his past experiences and knowledge about life and the world.

How has the industry changed in recent years? Is it still possible for new writers to break into the industry?
Molto. In the last few years, we’ve seen an industry-wide push to be much more inclusive of female and BIPOC writers, which is a great thing. The publishing industry – magazines, newspapers, books – is always ready to accept great, new writers.

The essential is that you, as a writer, need to learn how the industry works first.

So, how do people even go about breaking into the industry?
In the decade or so I taught travel writing at NYU and Columbia University, the students of mine that went on to write for the new York Times, national Geographic, and other publications were not necessarily the most talented in the class; they were the most driven. They really wanted it.

And that made all the difference.

What that implies is they put enough energy into this endeavor to learn how the game is played: how to write a pitch, how to find an editor’s email address, how to improve your writing, learning the nuts and bolts of writing, and expertly knowing the market that’s out there for travel articles (i.e. learning the types of stories that various publications publish).

It seems there are fewer paying publications these days and it’s harder to find work. how does that affect new writers? What can new writers do to stand out?
I realize this is a hard one, but living abroad is really helpful. You end up with so much material for personal essays and you acquire a knowledge of the region that allows you to become something of an authority on the area. It gives you a leg up on other people who are pitching stories about that place.

That said, you don’t have to go far to write about travel. You can write about the place where you live.

After all, people travel there, right? You can write everything from magazine and newspaper travel section pieces to personal essays, all about where you’re currently residing.

How do you think COVID-19 will affect the industry?
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has put a hold on travel writing a bit. people are still writing about travel but it’s mostly been pandemic-related stories. That said, no one knows what the future holds. Which in a perverse way–not just about the travel writing industry but in the bigger picture as well–makes life and reality kind of interesting too.

And while numerous people are losing their jobs and magazines are folding, I have a feeling the industry will bounce back. It just might not be over night. Which is why it’s a ideal time to build up those writing chops. You can also shift your focus for the time being to writing about local places and about other niches (food, tech, lifestyle) based on your know-how and interest.

What can new writers do now to improve their writing?
Leggere. Molto. and don’t just read, but read like a writer.

Deconstruct the piece in your mind as you’re reading.

Pay attention to how the writer has structured her or his piece, how they opened it and concluded it and so on. Also, read books on good writing.

This really helped me a lot when I was first starting out.

For many of us, talking to strangers is not easy. Plus, our mothers told us not to do so. but the best travel stories are those that are many reported. So the much more we speak with people, the much more likely other opportunities occur and the much more material you have to work with. It makes the writing of the story so much easier.

Sometimes you’ll be best in the middle of a situation and think: this would make a great opening to my story. My good friend Spud Hilton, former travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, says that the dirty secret to good travel writing is that bad experiences make the best stories. This is true, but please don’t put yourself in a bad situation just for your writing. You can write a great piece without having to get your purse stolen or losing your passport.

What books do you suggest new travel writers read?
There are a few books out there on how to be a travel writer, but they’re all embarrassingly abysmal. For me, I write William Zinsser’s “On writing Well” and James B. Stewart’s “Follow the Story” when I was first starting out and they were very helpful.

For a memoir or personal essay, Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” is excellent.

For great travel books, it depends on what your interests are. For history-laden travel, anything by Tony Perrottet and David Grann are incredible; for humor, David Sedaris, A.A. Gill, bill Bryson, and J. Maarten Troost; for just straight-up great writing, Joan Didion, Susan Orlean, and Jan Morris.

I highly recommend reading your way through the series of annual best American travel writing anthologies.

Where do you find inspiration for your articles? Cosa ti motiva?
I get my motivation and inspiratida fonti improbabili. Penso ai maestri creativi e mi chiedo come posso attingere al loro genio.

Cosa vedeva il pittore austriaco Egon Schiele quando guardò un argomento e poi la tela?

In che modo Prince ha pubblicato un album un anno dal 1981 al 1989, ognuno di un capolavoro e ognuno all’avanguardia e non è simile a niente che nessun altro all’epoca stava facendo?

C’è un modo per applicare questa creatività alla scrittura di viaggi?

Non sto dicendo che sono alla pari con questi geni – tutt’altro – ma se potessi anche essere leggermente ispirato dalla loro creatività, sarei meglio per questo.

Più specificamente per gli articoli che finisco per scrivere, molti cadono in grembo. La chiave, tuttavia, è riconoscere che è una storia. Un amico menzionerà casualmente alcuni fatti strani su un posto nel mondo ed è nostro compito prendere questo fatto e chiederti: c’è una storia lì?

Qual è la parte più impegnativa dell’essere uno scrittore di viaggi?
Il rifiuto. Devi davvero abituarti e accettare solo che fa parte della tua vita. È davvero facile prenderlo sul serio e lasciarti abbattere. Lo so – l’ho fatto.

Devi solo spazzarlo via e trasferiscilo, tornare su quella bici letteraria e continuare a provare fino a quando qualcuno finalmente non dice di sì. Essere tenace.

La scrittura è un mestiere. Non devi nascere con un talento naturale per questo. Hai solo bisogno di un forte desiderio di migliorare. E, prendendo lezioni di scrittura, leggendo libri al riguardo, parlarne con le persone, ecc. Diventerai uno scrittore migliore.

Se potessi tornare indietro nel tempo e dire a Young David una cosa sulla scrittura, quale sarebbe?
Avrei preso molte più lezioni per continuare a imparare – non si dovrebbe mai smettere di imparare a scrivere – e di costringermi a scrivere quando forse non volevo.

Penso che tutti possiamo imparare gli uni dagli altri, e quindi metterti in quel tipo di ambiente istruttivo è utile. Ho seguito un corso di scrittura – un corso di scrittura di saggistica presso l’UC Berkeley – ed è stato molto utile.

Se vuoi migliorare la tua scrittura o semplicemente iniziare come scrittore di viaggi, David e io istruiamo un corso di scrittura di viaggio molto completo e robusto. Attraverso lezioni video, feedback personalizzati ed esempi di storie a cura e decostruite, otterrai il corso che David ha insegnato alla New York University e alla Columbia, senza il prezzo del college.

Inoltre, David farà un webinar totalmente gratuito questo giovedì 27 agosto per la scrittura di viaggi nell’ambito della nostra serie di eventi nomadi di eventi totalmente gratuiti.

Per molto di più da David, dai un’occhiata al suo libro, una curiosità irriverente o dai un’occhiata al suo blog, Trip Out.

Prenota il tuo viaggio: suggerimenti e trucchi logistici
Prenota il tuo volo
Trova un volo economico usando Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches sites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Prenota il tuo alloggio
Puoi prenotare il tuo ostello con Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the most affordable rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Non dimenticare l’assicurazione di viaggio
Travel insurance will safeguard you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s extensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it numerous times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Safetywing (migliore per tutti)

Assicura il mio viaggio (per quelli più di 70)

Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Pronto a prenotare il tuo viaggio?
Dai un’occhiata alla mia pagina delle risorse per le migliori aziende da utilizzare quando viaggi. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

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