Oh my god.
When I asked Carrie Speaking if she would be interested in being interviewed for my blog I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. She’s an absolutely incredible writer but it turns out that she’s also incredible at telling her own story.
This is a woman with purpose. This is a woman with passion. This is a woman who lives.
Yes, she travels and makes money off it and of course we’ll let you in on exactly how she did that but there is something much larger in these words.
She was fearless. When things felt awkward and as if she was proclaiming herself to be a professional writer that she didn’t feel like she actually was she persevered through those feelings and came out on top.
I could not be more grateful to have all of these insights written down for myself to reread and for everyone else to learn and grow from.
Carrie-thank you for your honesty, your humility, and your passion to help others find their way to where you are now.
- You’re a traveler, photographer, and freelance writer aka you’re living the dream! How did this all start for you-take me back to when you originally decided that this is what you wanted to do?
Well, my first impulse would be to tell you it started 2 years ago when I opened my blog. But let me take you a bit further up in time, about 6 years ago. As soon as we got our jobs as teachers, my wife and I started traveling every summer. Over time we got good at it. It started with 10 days backpacking Ireland. And then we left for longer periods, farther away and, consequently, in a more and more minimal fashion, let’s say “Tent & Oatmeal” style. And finally last year we took a leave of absence and traveled 8 months in the North American West, everywhere west of the Great Plains, from the Mexican border to Alaska.
As soon as we started traveling, my wife gave me a travel journal as a birthday present, so I can pen down details and impressions. From then on, without knowing it, I started travel writing. Nobody except my wife read me, but still. Travel became addictive, and so did the writing of it. Every September, I was looking at our map and longing for the summer, for the moment when our key would turn in the lock of our door and we would walk down our street with a huge backpack on our shoulders.
“I was longing, literally, to get lost.”
And one day, in Lapland, we met a teacher who had left his job and was living with the local Lapp people. I told him all about our teaching and about the way every year I was waiting for and dreaming about our next travel. It seemed all natural to me, but not to him. He told me: “But then, this isn’t good. Those 10 other months… This is your life!”
It came as a small shock and started the process, I think. On social media, when I was speaking out for LGBT rights, my friends told me: “You should write, you know!” I showed my travel writing to two acquaintances who happened to work in connection with editors. Both loved them. They came up with two very different pieces of advice. One told me to open a blog, to get started and trained for the real thing, and the other told me I should send those texts to editors.
I started with the blog. It was 2 years ago. I did it all: I read up on blogging, I bought a domain name and opened an account on almost every social media. I branded myself with a head shot, a nickname and a title: “Freelance travel writer & photographer”.
“I didn’t feel like a freelancer. I just felt like a fraud who was traveling and writing and taking pictures and pretending. But pretending helped. It gave me confidence. It left the door open, for myself to go for it, and for strangers to contact me for my writing.”
I got my first Like on my Facebook page, then my first Recommend on Medium… Many months passed. I got invited in more and more Medium Publications. I revamped my website several times to give it a more professional feel. I recently was contacted by Matador Network and thus started getting paid for my writing.
2. What was it about writing/travel/photography that drew you in and made you think-this is something that I need in my life and something that I will prioritize bringing into it?
Many of us have a job that pays the rent, and something else they do. Their very own thing. Something they made, something they do, all by themselves. Something they think about when they commute, when they are waiting in line to buy their lunch, when they are squeezed against some stranger’s shoulder at rush hour in the bus.
Travel writing and travel photography is my very own thing. Something I do all by myself. That encounter with the teacher in Lapland definitely made me realize how important that part of my life was. But all I did for many years was shut it down. And finally, 2 years ago, when I felt like I was drowning, when I felt that the 10 years of studying non stop, followed by 8 years of teaching, were taking their toll, I gasped for air, I guess. I opened that blog and all those social media accounts.
“At last, I was letting that part of my life live.”
The more I wrote, the more I realized that I could be good. That it could be something I “do”, like people say. A part-time job. I started doing it more professionally, I started pitching, accepting or declining offers, reading up on travel writing as a job, writing for money, working on my travel journals to eventually make something out of them. This is where I am now.
3. What are some of your passions and how do you act on them daily?
I collect travel journals. I rummage around second-hand bookshops everywhere we go and try to find rare pieces from travelers who have written just that book.
I miss hiking but I live in a big city and don’t have a lot of spare time during the school year, so I walk and run 3 miles everyday on a running carpet, like a hamster in its wheel, closing my eyes sometimes and listening to tunes I listen to when I am on the road. That might be just mid-age crisis though. Now that I wrote it down it kind of sounds pathetic.
And right now I’m putting my latest travel journal online, on a personal, private website we made for our family and friends. It contains 142 entries, one per day for the days we spent on the road, sleeping at the back of our car, hiking, photographing, writing. My wife wrote a journal too this time. With each entry there is a Google Satellite map for our exact itinerary that day, and the pictures and movies we shot that day. I publish one entry every day, six months after it was written (like today is Feb 8, and I’m going to publish the entry for Aug 8). Nobody would have read such a long travel journal in one go. So we’ve decided to take the people in our life by the hand and live that travel all over again with them.
It kind of had interesting effects so far. Relatives getting interested in travel journals, or in people and places they didn’t care about so far… Two of our friends left with their two kids for a one-year backpacking trip around the world.
They told us: “This is your fault. We saw you giving everything up for 8 months, we started reading your journal, and we thought that someday we won’t be able to do it anymore, so we should do it now when there is still time.”
It made me happy. Overall, I guess I try to wake up or tease the traveler hiding in every person I meet! Travel is many different things. Sometimes travel lies just down your street.
4. What has been the most influential lesson you have learned along your journey of becoming a traveler, a writer, and a photographer?
One — Write.
Writing requires training, no matter how good you may be at it. You must write a lot, and read a lot. This will help you find yourself as a writer. This will help you find what it is that you love to write about, what it is that keeps your heart pumping. Scribble, everywhere. Always carry a notepad with you. Never leave for a trip without your travel journal.
Two — Pretend.
Pretend it’s for real, from the very first day, from the day you realize that this is who you are and what you’re going to do.
“Pretend you have readers from Day 1.”
(You may affectionately call them your “invisible readers”.) If you make a website, make it look professional. If you open a social media account, make every post count. If you publish a piece, do your best on it. If you disclose a set of photographs, do them justice. Be consistent in the name you use to sign your work or to sign up online for different related services. Make yourself visible to your invisible readers. If you pitch, read up on pitching. If you start feeling confident, stay modest. If you connect with others who travel & write & photograph, read them, explore their work, comment, share their work. And have patience, don’t give up or give your work some slack just because you think: “nobody will read that piece anyway”.
“Somebody will, and passion talks to passion.”
A reader will read you passionately if you wrote your piece passionately. A reader will care if you cared.
Three — Keep your travel journals personal.
To me, the worst thing that can happen is that you start writing only for the purpose of being read. Don’t forget that originally this was your very own thing.
“Write your journals as if nobody will read them. Let yourself be poured on the paper. You were a traveler and a writer before being a travel writer.”
When you travel, write journals you’ll hide, not pieces you’ll pitch. Unless this is a professional or sponsored travel, pitchable pieces should come after. Regardless, there should always be moments during any travel when you scribble in secret. Remember: “your very own thing”.
5. What is your perspective on this coming year and how you plan to execute on continuing to follow your dreams?
I will revisit some of my first blog posts and make something out of them, rewrite them into pieces and pitch them to different platforms and editors. After two years, those posts definitely feel like drafts, like training. It’s time to let go of them and write them anew.
I will pitch more pieces to editors and travel writing competitions.
“I will put myself more at risk of rejection.”
I will freelance more. I have been writing a lot on feminism and equal rights, not just on travel. If I want my freelance activity to become an actual job in the near future, I know I mustn’t limit my writing to travel writing. I never really did, although it is and has always been my core activity.
In the years that come, we are thinking about moving to the Yukon Territory. It’s been a dream for us for many years. It is high time that I start thinking about what kind of job I could do there if it is not teaching.