Travel writer extraordinaire, Jill K. Robinson, joins us this week to share her travel writing story, tips and experiences. Jill’s magazine and newspaper articles have won Lowell Thomas and Society of American Travel Writers awards. She’s a member of the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, and works on the road as much as she does at home, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
What originally inspired you to become a freelance travel writer and what’s the journey been like for you?
I have a thoughtful group of friends who gathered my early postcards from trips, bundled them together, and returned them to me—saying that I needed to pursue writing. I dabbled for quite some time, throughout grad school and jobs in performing arts and tech, before I truly took it seriously. I’ve been freelancing for a little more than nine years now, and I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would go back to work for someone else. It’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone, but it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked and even on the most challenging days, I wouldn’t change it.
In addition to travel writing, you also own a kayak and stand-up paddleboard company, participate in an abundance of activities and manage family time. That’s a lot to juggle! How do you manage it all? Any tips for keeping it all together?
There’s no such thing as true balance. The work/life blend that may have gotten me through this week will change next week, and I have to change along with it. In order to be successful in my work, be there for my family, and make sure I’m tending my own fire (which gets shoved to the bottom of the list fairly often), I’ve had to be flexible and look honestly at what I really want to achieve. I have the most incredible husband on the planet, who makes things happen while I’m on the road, as well as when I’m home. And I also have a badass collection of friends who (while talented writers, editors, photographers, and PR pros themselves) have my back and help me along the way.
You are one of the most productive freelancers I’ve met. Do you have a system or formula you use for sending queries to keep plenty of assignments in the pipeline? And what advice do you have for other freelancers trying to fill up that pipeline?
I suffer from the feast/famine paranoia that afflicts a lot of freelancers. Even when my plate is full, I’m looking ahead to the future and what I need to do to keep that stream of work going. That means that the work never stops: I’m making time to research and send pitches, as well as complete assignments with deadlines, and sometimes all that happens while I’m on the road. I likely overtax myself in times, like now, when I’ve just finished a big project, have two more with immediate deadlines, and am taking a meeting for yet one more. We all organize our work in different ways, and my most important advice is to know how much you can do at any one time and to never get yourself in a place where you’re kicking out sub-par work. I’ve had to turn down some assignments when I knew that I had too much going on, and that one extra article wouldn’t be my best. Future work hinges much more on the quality of your work than on the number of things you’ve done.
Your work has won numerous awards—all well-deserved! How do you feel those awards have benefited your freelance career? And which award has meant the most to you?
I’m thankful for those awards, even though I’m not an award-chaser, and I forget to enter competitions more frequently than I remember to enter them. I’ve never gotten work where an editor told me it was solely because of any award I’ve won. Maybe the awards make me stand out from the crowd, but so does my writing, my work ethic, and the relationships I’ve developed over years of solid work. Awards are nice to put on your resume, and I love that my work is recognized, but the best reward for me is hearing that someone loved a story of mine and that it changed how the reader looks at the world.
What’s the most bizarre, frightening or funny travel experience you’ve had to date?
While driving long-distance in Namibia, I took a break to stretch my legs. It turned out that a black mamba decided that the protected space under my parked car was an ideal place to be, so when I returned, I realized that my break was going to be longer than I’d anticipated. While snakes are on my list of things I’d rather not encounter, I’m fascinated by them and know enough to identify and keep away from the dangerous ones. Luckily, a good Samaritan stopped and kept me company (we shared his lunch while telling stories of our lives) while we waited for the snake to move on. It’s one of those travel moments that had the potential to be bad, but Solomon changed that in an unforgettable, positive way.
What’s on the horizon for you for the remainder of 2018? Trips? Projects? Anything you’re particularly excited about that you’d like to share?
There’s always travel—some trips I have already planned out based on assignments, and others are just in the idea stages at this point. 100 Things to Do in San Francisco Before You Die, an indispensable guide to San Francisco, is a book that I’ve co-authored with Kimberley Lovato, another awesome travel writer. Published by Reedy Press, it’ll be out in the fall. Sooner than that, I’m launching a project that’s focused on recognizing small accomplishments by all who love the outdoors. The first news on that launch will be announced through my newsletter (sign up on https://dangerjillrobinson.com/) and my Instagram feed.
Jill writes about travel, adventure, and the environment for the San Francisco Chronicle, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Saturday Evening Post, Sunset, Robb Report, Private Clubs, Virtuoso Life, Sierra, AARP, Delta Sky, Rhapsody, American Way, and more. Her essays have appeared in Travelers’ Tales The Best Travel Writing and The Best Women’s Travel Writing. Clips of Jill’s work can be found here. Connect with her and follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.