Anne Lowrey is living her dream. While many travel writers dream of never-ending travel, Anne dreamt of the freedom to nest in one place, while exploring the world part-time. Now she lives in her “soul city”, San Francisco, and still manages to work full-time as a travel writer.
If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to make a living as a writer these days, Anne is proof that even in our country’s most expensive city — yes, it most definitely is.
In August, Anne attended Book Passage — the premiere conference for travel writers and photographers. As this month’s Member of the Month, Anne shares the lessons she learned from that powerful weekend of immersion in the travel writing industry, and how it reaffirmed the path she’s now on.
How long have you been blogging at Part Time Traveler and what inspired you to start a travel blog?
I’ve been blogging since the end of 2012. Crazy!
I was consuming travel blogs like mad and had this tiny little whisper of a desire to start my own (way back in the day, circa like 2009!) but wasn’t sure what value I could add. It wasn’t until I thought of something new, that (at the time) wasn’t being talked about, that I felt inspired to chime in. I thought that if I wanted to read something that emphasized more of a balance and less of a leave-it-all-behind mindset, perhaps someone else did, too. That idea became the concept of ‘part-time travel.’
Like many others, I was also infinitely uninspired in my day job and needed the creative outlet. Yet I was so intimidated by it all, and I still get nervous when I press ‘publish’ sometimes. It was the urge to create something I myself needed that influenced me to finally jump in and start writing my own.
Have you always considered yourself a writer? Can you remember when you realized writing was something you wanted to do professionally?
I think deep down I’ve always considered myself a writer. (Confession: I used to stay up late and handwrite short stories under the covers at night as a kid.)
When I got back from a year of travel and found myself home and unemployed, I was desperate to change my title on LinkedIn and remove myself from my former industry. In the early days of searching for a job, all I was doing otherwise was writing the blog.
So, rather than announce myself as unemployed, I began to call myself a writer. It made me wildly uncomfortable, but soon enough professional writing opportunities were popping up in my inbox.Though I studied English literature in college, I never expected or planned to write professionally. I believe it was a deep-seated dream that finally happened when I gained the courage to call myself one.
What type(s) of writing do you do outside of your blog?
I write for whoever pays me. (Just kidding?) I write mostly for the web.
I make my living writing content for travel websites and travel companies. I also write personal, memoir-style long form stories (one of which I am thrilled to be reading this month at the Weekday Wanderlust travel writing gathering in San Francisco!) and am preparing to take it to the next level and enter the world of print journalism and books.
At the end of the day, it thrills me to be able to sustain myself doing the two things I love most: traveling and writing (and, somehow also affording to live in San Francisco.)
What has been the greatest challenge in creating a career as a freelance writer?
There have been oh-so-many challenges, but far many greater joys. With all the freedom comes uncertainty and instability, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find many clients who give me regular work.
I think honestly the greatest challenge has been the amount of time I have to spend alone (as I’m a total extrovert,) along with the fears I have to overcome to be truly creative and productive on a daily basis. The procrastination struggle is real, and I myself am my only boss.
I’m also terrified of rejection (from the reader, from my peers) which can really set me back if I’m not connected and focused in my work. I have to fight to find the optimal mindset and environment for myself for creating.
What was your favorite part about attending Book Passage?
The best part about Book Passage was by far the people: the faculty, the staff, the guest speakers, the other students. It was like suddenly I found a group of people who not only shared the same career goals, but valued the same things in life. There was a creative energy and a level of complete warm generosity of spirit from everyone involved.
It was a stark contrast to other professional gatherings I have participated in.
Then there’s the fact that this conference all started 26 years ago by Don George, the man who literally wrote the book on travel writing. I actually met Don over champagne at TBEX in Cancun, and he opened up this whole travel writing world and incredible community to me — that exists in my own backyard.
He has since become someone I not only look up to from a career perspective, but as the kind of person I want to be. His inspiration and spirit has a ripple effect on the entire conference.
What’s one valuable lesson you took away from that conference?
Just one? It’s tough to say because the four days were filled with both professional and personal revelations. Here are a few:
Practical — Revisiting basics like how to structure a story, how to pitch it to a publication, industry do’s/don’ts, why writing matters…all of this was clarified and solidified for me. I also learned from editors why and how different styles and stories are right for different mediums (magazine, newspaper, web, anthology, etc.) Also: it’s not about you, it’s about your reader.
Personal — The conference and award affirmed to me: You are on the right path. You should keep going. I can’t tell you what that meant to me.
I think all of us who attended took this away as well: that what we put into life is truly what we get out of it. And that is never more true than in travel and in freelance writing.
Can you tell us about the writing contest you won and what you submitted? Was this something written at the conference or something you had written previously?
Conference participants were encouraged to submit a story for a writing competition, due a few weeks prior to the event.
I remember that I considered skipping it, but urged myself to fully participate and just write something…anything.I wrote a nearly 2,000 word story about an experience I had learning from a monk in Burma. In previous writing classes, I have agonized over every word of every sentence. With this piece, I sat down to write and the words poured out of me.
I submitted and then didn’t give it much more thought.
Many writers and photographers return to this conference year after year, and I had essentially written a first draft and pressed ‘send.’ Never in my wildest dreams did I even consider that my name would be called by Don George as a writing award winner!
I was in shock then and I still kind of am. I’m thrilled to now be able to share that travel story with a wider audience.
You say on your about page, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from travel, it’s that it’s really never too late to change the road we’re on.” What has travel inspired you to change about your life?
Travel gave me the courage, even for a few weeks a year, to take risks, to chase dreams, and feel fully alive. What I didn’t realize at the time was that that was the only place in my life I was doing so.
Travel also gave me the chance to step away from a life that in a lot of ways was on ‘auto-pilot,’ and to ask myself who I was and also, who I wanted to be. These were all powerful catalysts for personal change.
At times making changes to my life after returning from travel has been heartbreaking, but I’m so grateful for the perspective and courage it gave me to make those changes. And I’m now beginning to see that taking risks and chasing dreams pays off at home as well.
What inspired you to live in San Francisco?
I think completely stepping away from my life as it was (career, location, relationship,) and subsequently losing all of those things in the process…it allowed me to essentially press ‘restart’ on my life and build anew.
My experiences traveling urged me not to settle in any area of my life. That led to me being a travel writer (which I didn’t anticipate) and to living in San Francisco, which was always a dream of mine.
I call it my soul city, as it inspires and delights me on a daily basis.
What is one goal you have for your professional writing career?
Ahhh, okay. I’ll share my hairiest, scariest goal…like most writers, my greatest dream is to someday be a published author. More than that, though, I want to look back at the end of my life and see a body of work that I’m proud of, and that means creating things that will inspire other people to travel and live well.
Do you think you’ll get the itch to hit the road full-time again?
Frankly, no. I think I solidified that when, against my better judgment and planning, I became fully remote in my work but still desired a home base.
There is so much I want out of life that requires a home, and now that I’ve found a home I love to explore so much (San Francisco,) my urge to wander indefinitely has been essentially squashed.
What does “success” in travel blogging mean to you?
I’ve said before that if I can inspire just one person to go on a trip, and it changes their life the way it changed mine…I’m happy.
I don’t pay attention to number of followers (though they’re welcome!) or other metrics, and I’m often criticized for that.
I blog because writing helps me understand even more about the world — it helps me process my travels. Blogging allows me to share those lessons with others. Though I do hope to grow my blog and aspire to reach an even wider audience, blogging for me is about authenticity and connecting with others. That doesn’t always fit with others’ definition of success, and I’m okay with that.
You can read more about Anna’s adventures at The Part Time Traveler, or follow her on Twitter. You can also catch Anna speak at Weekday Wanderlust in San Francisco on September 17.