Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Being a Travel Writer

I love history, I actually love to research (I can't help myself), and I love fieldwork (aka touring, road tripping, and trespassing). I see public history as a way to be able to do all of those things and even earning a living while doing it. To a certain extent, I toy with the notion of becoming a travel writer. When that comes up in conversation, someone invariably says, "Seriously, how does someone get a gig like that?"

While getting a job as a historian or cultural resources manager is still at the top of my priority list, I recently dipped my metaphorical toe in the heritage travel writing pool. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has started a Heritage Travel division. To get their website off of the ground, they've been inviting people to submit reviews of historic destinations. I believe that I saw their booth at the Tennessee Governor's Conference on Tourism this past September, and I know that I saw their booth at the most recent Trust meeting in Tulsa. I simply saw that they were asking for reviews and I'm sure that I heard something at the time about a contest, but I honestly didn't give it much thought. I put in a couple of reviews of places that I like to travel to, take guests to, and places where I am a repeat visitor.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from Heritage Travel saying that my review had won the contest. I had just gotten in from my morning walk and my morning participation in a Wii Fit study (it's nice to know people in the Recreation & Leisure Department who need test subjects), and I thought that I was dehydrated and wasn't reading the email correctly. So, I loudly proclaimed that I needed a drink, left my desk in a huff (much to the confusion of my coworkers) and got myself a glass of juice. After reading it again and having other people read it, I filled out the forms and started to come to terms with the result of writing a decent review of a heritage destination.

Heritage Travel just sent out a press release and made a post on their blog about me winning their contest. I confess, that I am the one who submitted that silly picture. I tend not to like being in front of the camera, and when I do, then I overcome my discomfort by really hamming it up. The picture is actually of me posing behind a mellowing vat at the Jack Daniel's Distillery on one of my many tours of the site (they do a corporate tour like no other). The only picture of me in Winchester happened to be one where I was wearing a bag of ice on my head (don't ask), so I opted for something fun but not too over the top (there were several other options that I disqualified).

Me soaking up the smells at Jack Daniel's Distillery.

This is what I did with my free time when attending OAH in Manhattan in 2008, but I will not repeat this pose for any press releases on the Trust's theater tour. Inappropriate for a press release, but totally fitting for a blog.

I doubt that this bit of success will swing wide the doors into the world of travel writing, but it was nice to get such a great compliment of my writing (of which I am fairly insecure and overly self critical). It was just the boost I needed to dig back into my dissertation. So at the end of October, I will be doing a tour of New York's theater heritage thanks to the National Trust. I will be fully armed with a camera and will most certainly be writing about that adventure here.


  1. Congrats, Heather! You rock!

  2. just for the record... your writing always comes complete with dramatic hand-waving gestures in my head, which helps ensure the never-ever boring. i'm kinda curious people who haven't seen you talk in person get the effect!