A Conversation with Ellen Barone

Ellen Barone’s popular group travel blog, Your Life is a Trip (which she co-founded with Judith Fein), was born with the belief that there is no division between your travels, your life, your soul, your well-being, your relationships, your money, your work, and your play. In everything she does and in everything she writes, Ellen believes in the power of storytelling to inspire others and to influence change. Make sure to check out Ellen’s personal site here!

How did you break into travel writing?

Looking back, with fourteen years of freelancing in the rear-view mirror, I can see that the same thing that opened doors for me initially continues to sustain my career today: personal relationships.

It wasn’t an impressive portfolio, a distinctive voice, a unique visual signature, or special talent that created the series of extraordinary opportunities that has become my life. It was people. Editors willing to take a chance on someone new; photographers generous enough to invite me along on shoots and refer me for assignments; savvy public relations professionals who recognized the potential in online audiences before it was mainstream; and innovative travel providers who believed in the storytelling potential of their trips enough to send a writer/photographer off into far-flung cultures and transformative experiences.

And if there’s one thing I can take pride in professionally and personally, it’s the longevity of those relationships. Today I’m fortunate to include many early supporters among my most cherished friends and long-term clients. Even better, those friendships continuously expand into new ones and exciting directions, projects, and experiences.

What started you down this career path?

Unlike many of my colleagues who dreamed of being a writer, a photographer, or global explorer for as long as they can remember, I stumbled into travel and a creative career relatively late in life. At the age of 27, packing a brand new passport, I set off for the highlands of Scotland on a Fulbright teaching program in mathematics and a life-changing year abroad that would eventually snowball into a new career, global lifestyle and incredible journey of discovery.

Being a freelance travel writer who makes a living at it has become tougher in recent years for many, but it’s even worse for photographers. How have you managed to keep cranking on both fronts?

It’s the very fact that I can deliver both words and images, I believe, that differentiated me initially and continues to serve me, and my clients, well as publishers, travel companies, and consumers expect and appreciate having stories presented over a variety of multimedia channels.

I’ve always seen myself as a content creator and collaborator fusing visual and narrative journalism to help publications, media corporations and travel companies to inform and inspire people to pick up and go. And thanks to the sophisticated capabilities of today’s DSLR cameras, and growing client requests, I’m increasingly drawn to videography and the power of short films to better tell the story of travel.

I met you in person at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Chiapas, Mexico. How have you made use of conferences to further your writing success?

The annual Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) is a personal favorite because it’s such an exceptional example of how powerful a conference can be in facilitating professional connection and development. The sponsoring organization (the Adventure Travel Trade Association) gets it. They understand that they can best help their membership – travel providers, destinations, and media – succeed through community and creativity, not competition. Each year, I return home enriched – both professionally and personally – and equipped with another year’s worth of projects and partnerships.

Beyond ATWS, I’m always honored and enhanced by invitations to participate on media panels, to share my skills and experience, and connect with other professionals. A few years back the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) invited me to join their faculty at the then newly formed Digital Photography Institute. I gratefully accepted and during the two years I participated I learned as much, if not more, from the experience as the participants. Conferences can provide a powerful catalyst for innovation, connection and forward motion.

Recently you’ve become a semi-nomad, living for months in Grenada, Nicaragua and then Cuenca, Ecuador. Has staying in one place for a while opened up different story angles and ideas to pitch?

Let’s state the obvious. When you make a living in the travel industry it can’t hurt that you’re out there living it: Immersing yourself in exotic cultures, meeting interesting people, learning new languages and navigating the unfamiliar. But when my husband and I set out in June 2011 to live and explore in Latin America, it wasn’t about career advancement. It wasn’t about being strategically located for new stories. It was about the pursuit of freedom and passion.

The result has been a tremendous journey with little division between work and play, labor and leisure, and a multitude of opportunities, including an exciting book project, new outlets and extraordinary adventures. [Editor’s note – see a story she did on Grenada, Nicaragua real estate for expats.]

Friends and family keep asking us when we’re coming home. But as we pack our bags for Peru and plan ahead for extended stays in Argentina and Chile, neither of us feels compelled to turn back.

Where do you see yourself in three or five years?

I believe passionately in the ability of words and images to unite, uplift and inspire. My dream ‘job’ would be to partner with life enhancing organizations to create wide reaching multimedia projects and initiatives that introduce people to new places, attitudes and experiences.

To collaborate with an organization with both the core values and financial means to make a difference by creatively leveraging written and visual storytelling would be pure magic.

What steps are you taking to adapt to a changing media marketplace?

As a former mathematics major and self-professed ‘gadget girl’, I possess an inherent affinity for technology. At heart, I’m a geek with a soft spot for travel. So, I’m naturally drawn to both existing and emerging technologies – digital photography, mobile apps, tablet devices, etc. This plays well with current media trends: my bank balance, not so much.

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Consumer travel photojournalist Ellen Barone is the founder and publisher of Travel Updates at her website and the group travel blog, YourLifeIsATrip.com. Learn more about her work here or connect on Twitter, at Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Interview conducted in April, 2012 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Mock.

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