Patricia Schultz is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and 1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die. A veteran travel journalist with 25 years of experience, she has written for guides such as Frommer’s and Berlitz and periodicals including The Wall Street Journal and Travel Weekly. She also executive-produced a Travel Channel television show based on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Her home base is New York City.
How did you get started writing?
I was working as a fledgling stylist for a fashion shoot in Key West for Men’s Vogue Italy. The editor needed to rush back to Milano for an emergency, and asked me to do his scheduled interview with Mel Fisher, a local personality and well-known treasure hunter. I had never given any thought to writing and it was my first interview ever. I was surprised that it got published – beginner’s luck and the sheer chance of being in the right place. But it was my epiphany: I could make a career doing this! I started writing guidebooks after that, and writing for any publication that would have me – often on spec, for free or for some negligible amount that never seemed to cover my expenses. It was not a lucrative profession until 1000 Places was published, but it was a life rich with experience and travel and friendships made around the world.
How did you get started traveling?
Three trips in my impressionable years stand out: at 15 my wonderful parents gave me my first passport and sent me to visit a friend who lived in the Dominican Republic. It was two weeks of total immersion in a vibrant Latino lifestyle infused with family, music, food, beach, an idyllic island pace and warm, wonderful people. Those same generous parents sent me on my high school trip to Europe – the classic London-Paris-Rome tour. And in college, I did a Junior Year Abroad in Madrid that turned my life around. How do you stay home after that?
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Finding the balance between a) being the professional when on assignment, gathering material and utilizing every contact or connection, and b) absorbing the location and spirit of place because that is equally important. When I’m enjoying the latter too much, I always feel guilty, like I’m slacking off – though I always come to see that without that intimacy with the destination, the fact-finding stuff can’t stand alone.
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
Knowing when enough is enough. I am currently writing a story about a 3-week trip I just took to the ‘Stans of Central Asia. I knew little about the region before I went, and enjoyed it enormously. I want to do it justice, and have spent way too much time on this particular article. I want to make sure I’ve left nothing out, and so I am way over word count and past deadline.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
Assignments pay so little that I have to scramble to line up other things to justify the expenses and the time spent on the road. And I always assume that I will also be able to use the experience down the road for another reason at another time – and I almost always do.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
For the better part of my career – simply put, pre-1000 Places – I did various other projects and work to pay the bills. And it was still a precarious balance, a shoe-string lifestyle. My apartment always saved the day: whether traveling for 2 weeks or 2 months, I always rented it out in my absence – through word-of-mouth or to friends from abroad who always wanted a place to stay when visiting Manhattan.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
I wrote travel guides for many years – mostly for Frommer’s but also Berlitz and Access. I tried to learn through observation and osmosis the art of a good guide, what the balance was between fact and fancy, creating ambience while giving up all the details and particulars. I bought second-hand guides from Amazon.com by the dozens – and was often surprised how one guide’s take on a city or country could be different from that of the next guide.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Considering to start a career in travel in 2014 vs decades ago ( I wrote that interview in Key West in 1980!) – well, I’m not sure how relevant or transferable my experience and advice would be. But I can say this: if you find something in life that fills you up and makes you happy, and you have it in your character to devote a lot of time and energy and conviction to make it happen, then go for it. Never turn down anything, get used to feeling like you are often working for free, make contacts and believe in your work, and enjoy every minute of it and let it show.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
Travel fills my life. If I am not traveling, I am planning my next trip – or the one after that. Then I get to come home from a trip and attempt to commit the wonder of it to paper. And when I am not writing about it, I am traveling around the country talking about it. I am sharing with others places that as I child I thought were make believe. It brings me a profound sense of satisfaction. I may possibly have the. Best. Job. Ever.