“Traveling has given me a confidence in myself that was previously untapped. I truly feel like I can travel anywhere and overcome anything!” – Terri Marshall, Travel Writer
The funny thing about interviewing a travel writer is that you have to first track them down. Terri Marshall was on a press trip to Latvia and Estonia when I connected with her, but thanks to the power of technology, it worked out well — minus the interludes where she jumped on a jet boat to check out an island, dined on lauded Estonian cuisine, and caught a long flight back to her home in New York City. But true to her reputation as a reliable, approachable travel writer, she offered tremendous insight into her lifestyle and I’m delighted to share her story with you today.
Terri’s journey into the travel writer’s life began when she was handed an eye-opening bit of information while at her previous job. She took a leap of faith into a career that was worlds away from what she’d been doing with her life, and plenty has happened since then.
Terri is now a member of the International Food, Wine, & Travel Writers Association. Her freelance writing work includes not just travel, but also chocolate and bar reviews. She began a monthly column called “Travel with Terri” for Around Wellington magazine back in 2007 (a Palm Beach County, Florida online magazine), where she covered domestic and international destinations. That led to other opportunities, such as becoming the National Chocolate Examiner for Examiner.com in 2009, where she wrote about all things chocolate, including little-known chocolatiers in the travel destinations she visits (and a few chocolate spa treatments were even involved!).
She’s also contributed to lifestyle magazine International Living, to Barzz.net, an online magazine featuring bar reviews, and she’s the “Globetrotting Traveling Grandmom” for TravelingMom.com. On top of that, Terri has served as a weekly featured guest on Denver’s KZKO Radio Morning Express show, where she offers travel recommendations.
Just some of Terri’s adventures include driving a reindeer sleigh in Norway, fishing for Piranha in the Peruvian Amazon, harvesting cacao in the jungles of Belize, and hand-feeding Little Debbie snack cakes to black bears in West Virginia. Enjoy the following account of how she got to where she is today as a travel writer.
Did you travel much before getting introduced to the travel writer’s life?
Not at all! When I was growing up, my parents almost always did a two-week road trip in the summer. We traveled all over the USA and I visited many states during my growing-up years. I think that planted the seed for my love of travel. But, the reality of being a grown-up and raising children was that there was not enough time or money for a lot of travel. And with family living in different states, most of my travels were to visit relatives.
How did you go from accountant to travel writer?
About 10 years ago, I participated in an office personality profile. Without knowing what my position with the firm was, the man reviewing our results told me the worst possible career for a person with my personality was to be stuck in an office all day doing math-related work like tax returns and accounting. I decided that very day that I would figure out a way to transition to something that feeds my soul.
I have always been a happy traveler, so I ordered The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program from Great Escapes Publishing and started figuring out a way to turn my love of travel into a career. Using some of the advice in the program, I pitched the idea of a travel column to a friend in West Palm Beach who was the publisher of a regional magazine. That was the beginning of my “Travel with Terri” column! I loved seeing my name in print but I did very little else to make travel writing an actual career. So in 2011, I attended The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Chicago with the same publishing company. The contacts I made there, along with the additional advice, catapulted my travel writing career. It’s hard to believe that was only four years ago!
And now you’ve been to how many countries?
As of now, I’ve been to 14 countries and countless USA destinations. It’s pretty amazing to me considering I’ve had my passport less than four years. If I had to choose a favorite, I would say Norway. I’ve been three times and can’t wait to go back again! I love the landscape, the people, and really everything about that country.
Has traveling so much influenced your ability as a writer?
Absolutely! The more I travel, the more I learn. And learning is key to writing. I’m constantly introduced to new cultures, foods, people, and experiences. All of these things have enhanced my writing.
Has travel writing and traveling changed your worldview?
Oh yes, definitely. One of my favorite quotes is, “Travel is fatal to prejudice,” by Mark Twain. Although I was never a prejudiced person, traveling to other cultures has broadened my view of the world. When I meet people from a vastly different world, I realize just how much we are alike on the inside. Also, traveling has given me a confidence in myself that was previously untapped. I truly feel like I can travel anywhere and overcome anything!
What’s your funniest travel experience to date?
I had an altercation with a reindeer in Norway. I was gearing up to drive a reindeer sleigh across a frozen lake when I stepped between the wooden harnesses attached to Rudolph. Apparently he was in a hurry to get the ride over with so he bolted before I could sit down. I flew backwards into a snow bank! It gave a whole new meaning to the song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and gave the reindeer resting behind me a good chuckle!
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently when you first started out as a travel writer?
Yes, I wish I had started sooner. As I mentioned before, I started writing the “Travel with Terri” column but didn’t move beyond that for almost four years until I attended the workshop. I can only imagine where my writing career would be if I had worked diligently at it for the last eight years instead of just the last four. So my advice to anyone pursuing this dream would be to go for it and don’t waste time — it’s the one thing we can’t get back.
Have you established any tricks-of-the-trade — things you always do when you sit down to write a travel article?
The biggest thing for me is making myself write a rough outline of my article before I try to write the lead. If I get hung up on writing my opening paragraph, it can take me forever to finish an article. So I try to do a rough outline first, fill in some details, and then write the opening.
Another trick that helps me capture the essence of a destination is to take tons of photographs. Most of them won’t end up being published with the article, but they help me remember details I might otherwise forget. And, instead of taking handwritten notes during a tour, I usually ask if I can record the tour guide using my iPhone. Recording allows me to experience the tour without constantly looking down at a notepad.
What are your travel goals for the future?
In the immediate future, I have a trip to St. John’s Newfoundland and an extended trip to Germany’s Black Forest region. But early next year, I am heading to Antarctica, which is bound to be awe-inspiring! I’m rapidly approaching my 55th birthday and have vowed to visit every continent before I reach 60. So Africa, Asia, and Australia are coming up in the next couple of years.
I also write a “Globetrotting Grandmom” column for TravelingMom.com and recently traveled with my seven-year-old granddaughter to Aruba. [Editor’s Note: Please see this month’s Featured Essay on page XX to read Terri’s article about traveling to Aruba with her granddaughter.] It was such a wonderful experience that we are planning to take a trip to a new country together every year. I have two grandsons who I also want to travel with when they are a little bit older. I believe those memories are priceless.
If you won $20 million in the lottery, what would you do with the money?
My practical (accountant) side would immediately set up gifts and trust accounts for my adult children and grandchildren. After that, I would keep doing what I’m doing — traveling and writing! It’s a great feeling to know that I am already living my dream … even without that lottery jackpot. But, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn it down!
What’s your most prized possession?
Honestly, I really care very little about possessions. I collect experiences … and to some extent, people! If I had to choose something, I would say my collection of Christmas ornaments from all over the world that I have collected in my travels. They aren’t worth a lot of money, but they represent my memories.
What lessons has your work life taught you?
As you know, I have had two careers in my life. As an accountant, my work was all about long hours and tedious projects. As a writer, my work is about experiences, exploration, and researching destinations. In both careers, I have worked hard to do the very best work possible. The biggest difference between the two careers is one was sucking the life out of me and the other one feeds my soul. I think you can figure out which is which! Life is too short to keep that soul-sucking career.
Please tell us something very few people know about you.
Oh boy, that’s a loaded question! I’ll go with something my Mama can read! Years ago, I had a huge crush on Brad Pitt. My co-workers knew it, so when I came into the office on my 40th birthday, they had covered the walls with photos of Brad. I’m over it now, though; I don’t have time to help him raise all those children!
What’s your top piece of advice for aspiring travel writers?
Have confidence in yourself! I think the biggest hurdle for most aspiring travel writers is fear. We all think our writing isn’t good enough. But if you don’t put yourself out there, you will never know what you are capable of accomplishing. Also, once you do start writing, I’m a big believer in networking. Meeting and socializing with other writers has been invaluable in my journey. You never know who you will meet and where that contact will take you.
Click here for an EXCLUSIVE Member Bonus: Read Terri’s published travel article about visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.