Andrew Hempstead has been a fulltime travel writer for the last 20 years. He specializes on writing about Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition to authoring six guidebooks and co-authoring and contributing to a dozen others, he is a regular contributor to various magazines, works with a number of online clients, and has written on guidebook writing for a higher education textbook. Hempstead also operates a stock photography service, with over 25,000 images on file that are used by editorial, commercial, and government clients worldwide. He lives in Banff, Canada, with his wife and daughter.
How did you get started traveling?
I grew up in Australia and my parents were keen travelers. In addition to yearlong trips through Europe and Asia, it seems like I spent my childhood on the road, whether it was a weekend camping trip or an entire summer holiday traveling up the coast surfing, diving, and fishing.
How did you get started writing?
The classic way a travel writer should. I left Australia with a one-way ticket to Las Vegas, from where I hitchhiked to Alaska. I got talking to a guy outside a general store in a small Alaskan town. Turned out he’d had some photos published in a guidebook. After an afternoon chopping wood at his cabin, he slipped me a name and address, and so began a chain of events that got me started as a writer.
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
Signing the contract for my first guidebook. It was 1990, and I had it checked over by a lawyer in my local pub. I’ve got it filed away somewhere – beer stains and all.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Juggling the need to cover as much ground as necessary in the shortest amount of time possible, while making sure not to miss anything. Researching the destination before leaving home makes the travel a lot easier.
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
The number of hours required to write and update a guidebook is staggering. Minimizing my travel and computer time without sacrificing the accuracy of the finished product is something I’m always trying to improve on.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint? Editors? Finances? Promotion?
I try to live a fairly stress-free existence. I don’t take what editors have to say to heart, my royalty contracts are a reliable income source, and I leave book promotion to the publisher.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
No doubt about it, making a living as a travel writer is difficult. In this regard, I consider myself lucky that when I was starting out I lived frugally enough to be able to concentrate on writing, and now manage to live comfortably – think mortgage, mini van, one kid, two dogs, annual vacation – from writing and photography.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
It was John McPhee’s Coming into the Country that first led me north to Alaska. I’ve enjoyed reading most of James Michener’s work, but generally now only read about destinations I’m writing about, and then I try to find something on an offbeat topic. This summer it was a couple of books on Oak Island (Nova Scotia), site of the world’s longest treasure hunt. Before that I read The Golden Spruce (by John Vaillant), about the disappearance of an eco-terrorist on the Queen Charlotte Islands.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
In a word: specialize. Guidebook publishers often look for local talent. Keeping this in mind, unless you have strong ties to another part of the world, the city or region where you live should be at the very top of your list of areas of expertise. Having written or contributed to a guidebook, the author is assumed to be an expert by other publishers and the general public, which makes building a reputation around a specific destination an excellent way to convert expertise to monetary returns. Using a guidebook as a “business card” opens doors throughout the industry. Submitting travel articles to magazines and newspapers is the most obvious option, but writers can also sell their skills as copywriters for travel companies and build up a specialized collection of stock photography images.
The web page Travel Writing as a Business delves a little deeper into my thoughts on earning a living as a travel writer.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
Being able to see the world at my own pace, even if it’s something as simple as turning the computer off and going for a hike on a sunny afternoon.