Heather Greenwood Davis is a Contributing Writer and on-air storyteller for National Geographic and a freelance feature writer with a host of national and international publications including The Globe and Mail, AFAR, Travel+Leisure, EnRoute, Outside, Virtuoso Life, and Travel Age West. She has been reporting and writing stories professionally for more than 20 years.
You have a long and impressive list of publishing credits, with many big names everyone has heard of. What has helped you climb that success ladder and get pitches accepted by top editors?
Reputation has been key. Most of my work comes through referrals from editors I’ve worked with in the past, or other writers. A lot of writers rely on cold pitches—writing a letter they hope the editor will pick out of their inbox—I’ve never been good at that approach. I prefer relationship-building.
I attend a lot of conferences (in-person and virtual), join Facebook groups (even the ones where I’m just a lurker), and utilize LinkedIn to forge connections. And I refer other writers a lot. I’m a big believer in the idea that there is more than enough work to go around and try to only write the things I think I can do really well.
You started your blog GlobetrottingMama a decade ago as you took off on a trip around the world with your family. As it hits 10, what are you concentrating on now?
We are definitely rethinking GlobetrottingMama. It has become more of a place where I can share some of the insights I’ve gleaned (or am still learning) as I look back on traveling with the kids. I’m lucky that my kids (now 18 and 16) still enjoy traveling with the family and can now voice for themselves how much travel affected their lives. I hope to continue to share those moments with readers for years to come. My professional work has a new home at www.heathergreenwooddavis.com which I think offers a more global view of all I’m up to.
What are some of the most rewarding moments you’ve had traveling with your family?
The pandemic has really provided an opportunity to look back at that year and realize some of the gifts it gave us. When we went into lockdown, I found that for our family it felt like old times. We know how to be together and we enjoy it. I hope that families were able, despite the challenges that the pandemic has posed, to find moments of joy with their kids and I hope that it inspires them to consider how they will ensure they don’t lose that when things shift closer to normal.
Some of our favorite moments:
- Realizing how paranoid I am as a mother as I watched my kids ride ostriches in Vietnam
- Watching the boys overcome their hangups (Ethan was a picky eater and Cameron was super shy) and triumph in their own successes
- Going to Egypt even when everyone said we shouldn’t and finding incredible people there
- Falling in love with India and Portugal
- Experiencing the lantern festival in Thailand and finding friends we’ll love forever in France
Many print publications have gone under or cut way back during this travel slump and it has been a mixed bag with online ones depending on how much of their material was about international travel. Where do you predict we’re heading for freelancers once we get closer to “normal”?
That is the question, isn’t it? I think it’s all still very uncertain. I think the publications that make it through this will thrive, but I think it is still very uncertain as to who will make it through.
I do think travel will return stronger than before but I think it is at risk of becoming more divided. Not everyone will come through this with a slush fund at the ready and while everyone is yearning for travel, I worry about how much of the population will be able to attain it. I also think freelancers, in light of the information so many have learned over the last year about the inequities that persist (due to socio-economic status, racism, ageism, ableism, etc.), will need to be far more discerning in where they go and the stories they tell.
As a prominent Black travel writer who appears in major magazines, you get invited to be on panels a lot that talk about diversity and inclusion. The last few years have been a very mixed bag when it comes to racism and ugly tribalism. Have we made some progress in the travel industry?
I wouldn’t describe it as a mixed bag. Racism has been here and ever-present for anyone who was affected by it. What has shifted over the last few years is the recognition by those who weren’t affected that it exists. I think it’s too early to talk about progress. The protests that have happened since the murder of George Floyd have definitely sparked some interest in the industry—and the stories to match—but we haven’t yet seen any real actions, have we?
I’m seeing more Black travel writers in the space, but the editors and editorial boards of many organizations remain unchanged. We’ll all need to pay close attention to make sure that the messages of anti-racism that sell books and allow for panel discussions don’t amount to a dusting of our hands and saying, “Well, that’s over now that we’ve talked about it.” There is real work that needs to be done.
What’s one piece of advice you gotten as a writer that has really rung true and stuck with you over the years?
Write what you know.
My entire career is based primarily on the things I’ve experienced first-hand and finding the universality in those experiences.
Where are you going when you feel safe flying again?
Everywhere! I want to get to places I haven’t been to like the Greek islands, places I love like Portugal and people that I’ve missed like friends and family in the Caribbean. My first flight will likely be within Canada. I can’t wait to be able to explore the east and west coasts when the time is right.
If you’d asked me that a year ago, I wouldn’t have had an answer for you. Today, I feel like once I’ve had the vaccine I’ll be ready to go. We are all far more comfortable today with what we need to do to stay safe (masks, hand washing, social distancing) and I feel far more confident that we’ll be back on planes again soon than I did a year ago.
A recognized expert in the industry, Heather Greenwood Davis is an experienced freelance travel writer and blogger. She is also a trusted expert on television (including Good Morning America, The Social, and morning shows across Canadian networks including CTV, CHCH and Global.) She has shared insights from the stages of conferences and trade gatherings and her experiences have also been featured in O Magazine, CBC, and NPR.
Heather was named a National Geographic Traveler of the Year in 2012 in recognition of an adventure which saw her and her family (including two sons under the age of 10) ditch the routines of daily life to explore the world. Their trip took them to 29 countries on six continents over 12 months. She was named a double gold medalist for her writing by the North American Travel Journalists Association in 2021 and the 2020 Family Travel Association “Person of the Year.” Heather lives in Toronto, Canada. Find her on Facebook as GlobetrottingMama, on Twitter as @ByHeatherGD, and Instagram as @ByHeathergd.