Travel Writers & Photographers Conference – Day 2

Jim Benning & Rolf Potts discuss travel writing in the digital age
Updated: Aug 16th, 2009

First, before I dive right into divulging any more of the great travel writing advice I’m gleaning from the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, I have to extend major kudos to the wonderful folks here at the Book Passage bookstore – it takes a special type of person to pull off a conference of this caliber and all the attention to structure that it requires, and yet still offer the kind of warm and welcoming environment that they have here in spades. The owners have clearly instilled a great spirit of family here that you find only rarely in business.

Second, I want to answer the question I’ve received most often – is a Travel Writers Conference worth the time and expense? My answer: absolutely yes.

Regardless of your level of experience (never-published, oft-published, book author or periodical essayist) or area of interest (print or online travel writing, travel photography, travel video) you will find much you can take away, many from whom you can learn, and multitudes of inspiration.

I’ve always said that the Travel Writing community is one of the most supportive of any I’ve encountered, and it’s so true here, as everyone I’ve met has been open and giving of their time and generouse with their experience. The opportunity to connect with other travel writers, travel book authors, travel photographers, travel editors, literary agents, and publishers is priceless. Sure, it’s not cheap and you may have to plan, save, or budget for it……but it’s an investment in your career. If it’s your dream to be successful as a travel writer, you should take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow, and invest in yourself. The high quality of instruction I’m finding here would still be a great value at twice, or even thrice, the cost.

And Third, I have to tell you how unprepared I was for one aspect – I sincerely believed I would have time to write as I experience this event, and share with you more of it in “real time’….HA! Much to my surprise (and delight), each session that I’ve atended has been so engaging that I could not bear to tear my attention away for anything more than a few hastily scribbled notes and some Tweeting of points I found most valuable to share. So once again it’s well past 11pm as I write this, trying to regurgitate some of the best bits and pieces for you before I grab a few hours of much-needed rest for my brain and body before starting again early tomorrow. People sometimes say “I wish I had three hands” ……right now I’m thinking “I wish I had five hands, four ears, three notepads, two brains, and a tape recorder!“…..

There was such a wealth of advice and experience shared with us today that it’s not possible to capture it all in a single blog post… instead I’ll humbly share a few highlights of wisdom: (If you’ve been following me on Twitter, some of this will be repetitive, some new…)

  • From Jim Benning:
    • “Readers want a vicarious travel experience – they want to be transported”
    • “People and dialogue are the most important aspects of travel stories”
    • “Evoke a ‘sense of place’, use all of the senses to show, not tell, the story”
    • “Avoid travel writing cliches
  • From Rolf Potts:
    • “Find the ‘nugget’ in the story that readers can relate to”;
    • “Never discount a spectacular failure as a lesson for how to be successful”
    • “You need to read a lot, write a lot, and travel a lot, but also to read well, write well, and travel well”
    • “There is a sacrifice you make for a venue that will publish in your voice” (whereupon Jim elaborated “for print you write what the editor or publisher wants, you’re writing for the readers, on the web there is more opportunity to write what you want, to write for yourself”)
    • “If you write well, things will happen, you will find an audience”
    • “When you’re traveling, be in the moment. Don’t get caught up [in technology – tweeting or talking on a cell phone] and miss opportunities to explore and find a story”
  • From Don George:
    • “I realized that I wanted to be a student in the classroom of the world”
    • “Write your own job description – pursue your passion”
    • “Find a way to make your dreams work, and don’t accept less. Sometimes this takes sacrifice, but stay true to your core”

    (Don said a number of other great things but I was trying to follow Rolf’s advice to “be in the moment” and missed writing down a few other gems…being in the moment is hard!)

  • From Phil Cousineau (from the afternoon session):
    • “What is the single biggest passion in your life – what can’t you live without?”
    • “If you’re feeling stifled, put down your pen and grab a camera, or put down your camera and sketch. Shift to a different form or format”
    • “The story is the hub of the wheel”

The evening keynote and highlight of the day was Phil Cousineau’s discussion of his book, “The Art of The Pilgrimage” which quite frankly was such a wonderful gift that it deserves it’s own blog post – anything less would not do it justice. I’ll share more on that with you tomorrow, but I will tell you that it was WELL worth the very sore behind I have from sitting on a hard platform, and I was glad that the room was dark [in order to share his amazing images onscreen] as I felt tears welling up listening to quite a few of his stories.

Please take time to learn more about these authors by starting here, at the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference 2009 Faculty page, and explore their individual websites from there – you’ll find much to inspire and educate you.


What wisdom have you gained from other writers? What (or who) inspires you?

About Trisha Miller 116 Articles
Trisha Miller Editor-in-Chief, - Trisha joined the Travel Industry in 1996 with a background in telecommunications and helped to build (and later sell) one of the industry's top inbound call centers specializing in air travel. Her career in Travel Writing began with creating destination-specific content for a corporate travel intranet, and continued as she contributed content to a large number of travel-related companies that were establishing an online presence throughout the late '90's and early '00's. Currently she is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and a former Board Member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (2009-2015).  Still a frequent world traveler, and occasional guest-blogger on a number of other Travel Blogs, Trisha writes about travel and technology, sometimes both at the same time. You can follow Trisha on Twitter at:


  1. Thanks for sharing this post. Travelling is fun and to make it more glamorous, you need to write your whole experience. To master the art of writing, you need to read lots of novels and biographies.You need to write all the details of your experience. Start with an interesting sentence which will create further interest amongst your readers. Think of some creative words and never make grammer mistakes. You can mention a couple of jokes to entertain the readers.

  2. Sounds like it was a great conference; one that was worth the money. The advice from Rolff, Jim, and Don was very refreshing to hear. I can apply their advice to my life in general.

    It’s true that when you write for a publication, you’re writing for their readers. You can always write on the side, whether it’s a blog, articles, or a novel :)

  3. Hi Rebecca – it really was a great travel writers conference – I hope that you’ll get to go next year, I know you’d really enjoy it.

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