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Nancy DePalma Headshot

Travel Writers Have Bad Days, Too

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I tend to be a favorite topic of conversation at parties and get-togethers. I'd like to think it's because of my sparkling personality but really, it's my job that lures the crowds. I'm a travel writer.

It's true, I get to spend my days crafting prose that inspires people to spend their hard-earned dollars at various hotels and restaurants around the world -- and, yes, I get paid for it. It is indeed a dream job for me, but that doesn't mean it's always dreamy.

This summer has been packed with social events and the inevitable "you're so lucky" comments, so I wanted to dispel a few myths about being a travel writer.

No, I'm not on perpetual vacation. It's still a job.
Would you ask a teacher if she plays on the jungle gym all day?

Don't confuse freelance with freedom.
If you're not chasing down your last paltry payment, you're stressing about your next assignment. And try being a freelance writer during the publishing meltdown and the great recession. Can you say double whammy?

Heaven = The Home Office
Sure, there's no commute or dry cleaning bills, but somehow working from home isn't taken as seriously as working in an office. Friends drop by, in-laws call to chat and my husband phones with errands. When I call him to stop by the newsstand on his way to lunch to pick up a few publications that don't make it out to the burbs, it's a personal affront.

The Glamorous Life
This is perhaps the biggest misconception of all. When people hear what I do, I can see the cartoon version of me in their eyes. I'm holding a frozen drink in my perfectly manicured hand and lounging by the infinity pool as I'm spritzed with an Evian mister and having the pool butler clean my Chanel sunglasses. I wish. It's not like that at all.

In order to maintain integrity, hotels don't know who I am or what I do, so there's no VIP treatment. In fact, I once stayed at a super-posh resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where I experienced a ferocious bout of food poisoning. Despite the fact that I never left the resort during my stay and couldn't have been sickened elsewhere, the rude management made me feel like a pariah for having contracted the illness, charged me an absurdly high fee for transportation to the hospital 10 minutes away, and then upon my return from the hospital, forced me to move suites so they could make room for an "important" guest. Hah!

Advice Seekers, One-Uppers, Kvetchers, Memoirists and Me-toos
Lawyers and doctors are asked for free advice all the time, so it's not something that's limited to travel writers. For the most part, I actually enjoy sharing ideas and advice and don't mind when people ask me for input. But I'm not a travel agent, so no, I don't want to book your trip or spend countless hours conducting exhaustive research.

One-uppers are the know-it-all posers, the ones that want to stump me with some tiny place they just visited. They think it's Shangri-La pure and simple, and "What, you haven't heard of it?"

Kvetchers are the ones that want me to right their wrongs. I can spot them right away, since they usually start the conversation with "Can you believe..." Actually, I can. You picked up the phone and got charged? Wow. Your son nabbed a Snickers bar from the mini-bar? Yup, they charge for those. I'm not with the Better Business Bureau, and I can't help you reconcile your grievances.

The Memoirists are also easy to spot. They get a misty look in their eyes and then begin to tell me every place they have ever stayed. I have some patience for them since I also subscribe to the life-affirming power of travel, but the life story part can get really tiresome.

Then there are the me-toos. These are the ones that think that just because they've been somewhere they could, and should, write about it. Novelists have this problem all the time since everyone thinks they have a book in them. Nowadays, everyone really is a critic.

So the next time you hear that so-and-so has a "dream" job do yourself (and them) a favor. The grass is greener -- and full of weeds and bugs and dry patches -- on every side of the fence.