What I Learned From Working at 65 Hotels Across 6 Continents
As a travel journalist, my texts with friends almost always go like this:
“Hey, want to get drinks on Thursday?”
“Sorry, I can’t! I’m going to a hotel opening in Miami this weekend for work. How about next?”
“Tough life, Linds!”
Before you nod along with my pals here, I will preface with this: I am lucky to have a job where traveling to all parts of the globe is part of my responsibility. But also — and more importantly, in my humble opinion — I hustled hard for it. In fact, I spent 18 months traveling non-stop, where I visited and reviewed 65 hotels on six continents.
In many ways, outsiders (and yes, even my dear friends) view my gig as the dream one. Who wouldn’t want to hop between one luxury hotel to another, or have the opportunity to dine at some of the most critically-acclaimed restaurants on the globe? There are so many aspects to my career that sound straight out of a movie, but the reality is much different than the glossy Instagram photos you see on your feed.
Here, a few of the lesser-known hurdles — and lessons! — from being a digital nomadic writer.
Lessons from freelancing:
1. The job doesn’t pause for reviews
Over the next two months, I’ll travel to Turks & Caicos, Houston, Beirut, Copenhagen, and London. No matter what plane I’m boarding or what hotel I’m checking into — I’m still on deadline.
In terms of writing (and many marketing gigs), a reliable income is often found in quantity, so I average 60 to 80 articles a month as a full-time freelancer. While some of these are tied to my zest for wanderlust, others are content or brand work, SEO writing, copywriting or ghostwriting.
There are very few journalists — or let’s be real, professionals! — who only do one thing and have a sustainable lifestyle.
To pair my travel adventures with my obligations, I have to compromise when I’m abroad. This often means skipping a sightseeing adventure to ensure I can turn in copy to my editor a few time zones away. It means declining a drink invite, or waking up at 5 a.m. for a call on another coast.
It also means staying at a five-star resort under the beautiful Caribbean sun — and writing about something completely unrelated for another publication.
2. You don’t travel like most other people
Think about when you and your family or gang of friends go away on a vacation. Your out-of-office is up, you’re ready for the drinks to free-flow ,and you will sleep in as long as your heart desires.
When a travel journalist goes to a destination, it’s for work– not for play. This means plenty of meetings, lots of experiences (dinner, classes, tours) — but they’re all on the clock. This requires professionalism, as well as self-restraint, especially when I’d prefer to have three margaritas rather than one, or want to wake up at 9 a.m., instead of 7.
Truth be told? I’m more than happy to do it and consider it part of my job — but it creates that same feeling that you probably have post-work trip when you can’t wait to come back to your bed. Or when you need a day to relax and unwind before diving back into meetings, emails and duties.
3. Ethics are a constant battle
If you follow influencers, you’ll probably see #Ad or #sponsored on some of their posts. As a new requirement to stay on the right side of the law, social media superstars have to disclose when they anything for free or they’re being paid to endorse a product or place.
For journalists who can’t be given a dollar amount to write specific copy, the shift in the media world has required all of us to be ethical warriors. Even if I thank a property for hosting me — which I often do — I’m under no requirement to write a word about them. This is something that has to be communicated from the get-go, as promises are never something any writer, in good faith, can make.
This is where the keyword of “review” becomes essential to remember: a travel journalist accepts a visit to truly dissect a property. After all, if I wouldn’t recommend a friend to stay at a specific hotel, why would I feature the resort in a round-up of the best honeymoon destinations?
Many folks see travel journalism as free travel that only requires a few sentences — but it’s the opposite. It’s forking over your time — with flights, commuting, and jet lag — to give an honest take on a place. Though I do jet set once or twice a month, I turn down many opportunities since I need time to, well, work.
4. Productivity is a learned skill
Before I built my homebase in Boston, I lived in 11 countries around the world, and visited so many cities, I’ve lost count.
Along the way, I would stay at various hotels for a handful of nights before retreating back to my homebase apartment. There was a stint of six weeks when I had many Mexican-themed stories and hopped across 17 different resorts across the nation.
I’ve written stories on buses, trains, boats, and tuk-tuks. I’ve worked from a cabana bed, a hotel lobby, a room, the random office of a stranger — you name it. Being forced to remain on task and focused in a wide variety of circumstances and locations has made me extremely productive, no matter where I am.
Most days, I write between four and six articles, all of which range from 800 to 2,000 words. Sometimes I pen these at home, other times at WeWork, and many afternoons or mornings at an airport or miles high in the air.
How do I do it? Practice, mostly. But also: meditation music on Spotify, headphones, and a strategy against distractions. I close out all social media, tuck my phone away, and write until the story is finished — no exceptions.
As the digital nomadic lifestyle continues to trend in popularity, you could find yourself growing green with envy as you stalk professionals on Instagram. It’s tempting, sure, but never discount the type of discipline and hustle it takes to resist the world in lieu of a paycheck. Even if I’m living throughout the planet — my laptop is never far away.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.