Stephanie Pearson is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Outside magazine. Stephanie grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, worked as a wilderness guide in the Boundary Waters, was a ski bum in Vail, and has lived in Chicago, Santa Fe, Quito, and Bogota. During her 13-years on staff at Outside Stephanie wrote “The Wild File,” a column about science and nature, and numerous features, three of which received honorable mentions in The Best American Travel Writing series.
How did you get started traveling?
Until I graduated from high school I spent summers at my parents’ cabin in northern Minnesota. I loved my near-feral existence on our island in the middle of nowhere, but I didn’t see much of the world so I was very curious about life outside of Minnesota when I went to college.
How did you get started writing?
My grandfather kept a diary, and he and my grandmother gave me one when I was about five years old. My first entry: “I played with my best friend Peggy.”
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
Brad Wetzler, an editor at Outside magazine, assigned me a story about Mapinguari, a mythical beast in the Amazon.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Feeling vulnerable as a solo female traveler and feeling ignorant when I don’t speak the country’s language.
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
Making sure that I get as much as I can on the ground so I don’t have to double back when I’m thousands of miles removed from the story.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
When I feel a strong emotion for a story and know it’s viable from a storytelling perspective, but get feedback from editors that there’s not a strong enough commercial viability to the story.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
When I graduated from the Medill School of Journalism, I did a paper route that required me to get up at 2 a.m. so I could continue my job search during the day.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
Paul Theroux. He’s beautifully honest and brave.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Do it for the right reasons: You’re curious about the world, you’re willing to see it from unique perspectives, and you don’t aspire to make millions, although it could happen — it just hasn’t happened to me.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
Having experiences you can’t even imagine until you’re on the road, like sleeping in a hammock in the middle of the Amazon or getting up at 4 a.m. to watch the sun rise over Tikal, Guatemala.