Interview with Travel Writer Mary Bartnikowski

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by Sandra Murphy

Hawaii MaryMary Bartnikowski used to photograph weddings and events. When her son graduated from school and decided to travel, she wondered, “Why does he get to go and I don’t?” There was no answer for that, so she worked hard for six months, banked the money, and traveled for the next six months. “I live in Hawaii, on Kauai now,” she says. “I’m also spending time in Mount Shasta, California—a magical, special place. Over the years, I’ve used Airbnb worldwide and other creative spaces to rent and live in homes, ashrams, temples, campers, boats, and apartments, in thirty-two countries.”

Mary says her best rental was on Hawaii. A creative homeowner rented tents in his backyard for those traveling on a budget. “It was a little weird with people coming back late and headlights shining in, but I fell asleep. Then I woke up with a huge weight on me, felt a lot of hair and kisses. I thought someone was in the wrong tent or worse. Instead, it turned out the owner had forgotten to tell me about his big chocolate Labrador retriever!”

Living Dangerously MaryShe’s written four books about her life and solo travels and has her own YouTube channel full of short videos about the places she’s traveled (Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Guatemala, Myanmar, Belize, Burma, and Laos, to name a few), the people she’s met (the Dali Lama, for one), and experiences she’s had (swimming with dolphins).

Mary also learned how to create a magazine available only on iTunes and iPad. Readers can subscribe or pick a specific issue to read. “Apple is challenging to learn, but it is another way to make money,” she says. “It’s not for the faint of heart, but I taught myself how to do it. It’s harder to make money as a traditional travel writer now. Some publications expect fabulous photos, but don’t want to pay extra for them. When I started to write about my travels, I went around the world twice, buying one-way tickets, one at a time. I didn’t wait for an answer to a pitch to a publisher. I started writing the books, the magazine, and a blog.”

Rather than pitch to high-end travel magazines, Mary suggests pitching to Hemispheres or in-flight magazines. While their budget will be lower, there’s less competition. Editors like to work with established writers and photographers they know they can rely on to meet a deadline. It takes time to develop a relationship.

“When writing, take a different angle on the story, come up with something that hasn’t been done before,” she says. “High-end vacations mean you’re farther from the local people and miss a lot of potential stories. Having a blog lets people see how you write and gains you a following.

“My advice is to turn down publications that are not respectful of the work you do. If they expect a lot of work for little pay or expert photos for no money, they’re not who you want to work for. Photos and writing make you creative, but the business of selling your work uses the other side of the brain. You have to explore to find good markets.”

While the era of free luxury vacations in exchange for a magazine endorsement is long gone, it’s possible to make money as a travel writer as long as you are willing to explore not only the world, but the world of publishing. Do something different, find a new venue to share it, and enjoy the trip!

Below are links to Mary’s books, website, classes, videos, and travel magazine. Allow plenty of time to check them out, as it’s easy to get hooked!

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