When not riding the rails through Burma, getting lost in Laos, hitchhiking to Honduras, or bribing her way into Bali, this week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor is spinning exotic tales and clever copy from Northern California: Laurie Weed. Visit her website at www.laurieweed.com.
When did you first hit the road? How did it go?
In 2002, I took a year off to backpack through Southeast Asia and Australia. At that point, I’d never been out of the U.S. for more than a few weeks’ vacation. I was such a late bloomer that I didn’t even own a passport until I was 29. So, I assumed I would go out and have that “travel experience,” then return to San Francisco and pick up where I’d left off. Instead—inevitably—traveling changed the way I viewed the world, and the way I wanted to live in it. When I finally came back, I lasted all of six months before it was time to hit the road again.
What is ‘home’ for you? Is it a particular place or person or thing?
Home is a fluid concept for me. The San Francisco Bay Area is a longtime base camp, where I have an amazing network of friends that seem to tolerate my constant coming and going. It’s also where my stuff lives (what’s left of it). But I haven’t been there in person since last December and I don’t keep a permanent residence anywhere.
Currently, my home base is an ’89 Volkswagen campervan I call Rocio. In the past seven months, we have puttered from Berkeley to southern Mexico, then back up to the Midwest. Having a home-on-wheels is a new phase in my traveling life, but I’ve been experimenting with nontraditional living arrangements for years—from lining up house-sitting, pet-sitting and other live/work gigs to simple couch-surfing. And I’ve happily holed up for weeks or months in far-flung places like Luang Prabang, Auroville, Southern Thailand, Ubud, San Miguel de Allende, and Oaxaca.
How did you break into the travel writing scene?
The same way I do almost everything else—by accident. When I found myself bouncing around the developing world with no job, no continuous social network, and no plans, I started writing to communicate with people I missed, and to process the massive influx of new information and experiences. A friend who enjoyed my dispatches from the road suggested I try a travel writing class, so I found a one-day workshop, adopted one of those early emails into a story and sent it out. I didn’t know travel writing had a scene; I’d never even tried to write for publication. I knew nothing about pitching, marketing, querying—seriously, I think I sent my little story to four publications. When an online ‘zine bought it for $50, I was thrilled (even though I’d spent weeks polishing it). I thought, Gee, that was easy. Of course, I didn’t publish anything else for years—classic case of beginner’s luck! I’m still a beginner, getting lucky every once in a while.
What advice can you offer to women with itchy feet?
I know it’s been said many times before, probably on this very site, but I think it’s worth repeating: Just go. You’ll be fine, and it’s definitely worth it.