Ann Marie Brown is the author of 13 outdoor travel guidebooks to California and the West. Her work has appeared in Sunset, VIA, Backpacker, Sierra, Travel + Leisure, Wanderlust, Cross Country Skier and other magazines and newspapers.
How did you get started traveling?
When I was 20 I received a fellowship to study at Oxford. I’d like to say that I made the most of that educational opportunity, but in truth I spent most of my time looking at maps of Europe and planning a five-week Eurail trip. During the break between school terms, I took that trip, and I got hooked on travel.
How did you get started writing?
I wrote and read a lot in high school and college. When it was time to choose a graduate program, I figured my best chance at securing a writing career was to study journalism. So I got my master’s degree in journalism, and I learned a lot about research, interviewing, fact-checking, story structure—all the important skills.
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
In the late 1990s, I had written and published a few travel guidebooks, but they weren’t selling very well. I hung on to my day job as a book editor. Then one day the phone rang, and it was the travel editor at a national magazine. He said he had one of my guidebooks, and he wondered if I would write a short piece for him. I was thrilled. After that big confidence boost, I started writing for magazines fairly regularly.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Staying focused. I’m a bit frantic about gathering information when I’m on location. I usually come home with much more raw material (notes, interviews, brochures, etc.) than I can use, which is good and bad. I want to make sure I’m not missing anything that I might need when I sit down to write. But I often overwhelm myself with too much information.
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
Too often I use research as a way to procrastinate. I’ll research a subject far more than necessary, and then end up wishing I had spent more time writing and editing.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
I have to force myself to spend time on marketing. I have little or no interest in social media. It’s torture for me just to keep my author website updated. I love to travel, research, and write, but I really do not enjoy the other stuff.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
Yes. I’ve been earning income as a travel writer for more than 20 years, but during that time, I’ve also taught college writing classes, worked as an editor for several magazines, guided hiking and backpacking trips, and taught travel writing seminars. I’ve also had a couple fun, offbeat jobs, like crewing for a hot-air balloon company.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
I’d definitely recommend Pico Iyer, Freya Stark, Jan Morris, Sara Wheeler, Thomas McGuane, Ian Frazier, and Mark Jenkins. But there are many writers who don’t bill themselves as travel writers but who have written great travel pieces, people like John McPhee, Jim Harrison, and David Sedaris.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
It’s a depressing cliché, but keep your day job. Making a full-time living as a travel writer is hard. But it can provide a nice supplemental income.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
I love to search for stories when I travel, and that act of searching shapes and enhances my adventures. Travel with a purpose is very different from travel without a purpose. Often what I set out to find is not at all what I find, but that’s just fine. For me, it’s the intention — setting out in search of a story—that gives depth and meaning to my travels.