Kit Bernardi is an award-winning travel journalist, photographer and marketer. Her articles have appeared in U.S. News & World Report, USA TODAY, GoEscape Magazine, Delta Sky, Midwest Living Magazine, South China Morning Post, CruiseCritic.com, AAA Magazines and numerous other outlets featured on her website KitTravels.com and blog KitChat. And I happen to know she’s a fun person to travel with! She joins us this week on TravelWriting2.com to talk about her career and offer a little encouragement for budding travel writers.
What initially inspired you to travel?
Looking back in life’s rear view mirror, I see that travel shaped me early on. My grandparents were Italian immigrants; my father, a traveling salesman driving the Midwest’s back roads; and my mom, a teacher who invited me to first dream of exploring unfamiliar places through reading about them. I met my husband while working in the travel business, and we left our corporate jobs to backpack around the world well before being a global nomad was a trend. And we’ve raised our son as a global traveler.
My earliest travel memory is going to the library. In the center of our small town’s library was a giant globe. My mother would spin the globe. I’d close my eyes and point. Where it stopped under the pressure of my fingertip determined where we were going that week through books, recipes and newspaper articles.
My earliest travel writing memory is scribbling my stories in snow drifts while walking home alone from elementary school in a blizzard. I caught heaven’s chunky flakes on my tongue. Oh, the tingly, sweet first taste of solo travel! Since that childhood winter trek, I’ve logged a lot of miles exploring six continents and more than 55 countries.
You’re career spans over 25 years and you’ve been published in a long list of top publications, please tell us what you think has been the key to your success in this extremely competitive market.
A strong work ethic, unwavering family support and the fellowship of travel journalists. To continue being relevant in the ever-changing editorial landscape, one must adapt, retool and maintain relationships. Some of my competitors are also friends and business partners.
What tips do you have for writers who are just starting out or aiming to reach the next level?
Don’t give up! Please have patience with yourself as you develop the writing craft. Even the most seasoned writers hit roadblocks. I keep close by some of my early works. When stuck, I review them to remind myself of how much my work has evolved and return to the blank page, hopeful.
Develop a thick skin. Rejection is part of the business. It is not necessarily a reflection of your work. Often factors unrelated to your writing influence how assignments are made.
Participate in the travel and writing life. Attend industry events and conferences. Join travel and writing organizations. Engage in online communities. Subscribe to newsletters. Follow online and in print the outlets you wish to write for, and support fellow travel writers on social media.
“All boats rise with the tide.” Today, we must travel more than ever, therefore we should share our resources and skills to encourage exploration of the world we share.
Be professional, always. Before hitting send for an email or posting in social media, be very aware of how you are communicating your personal brand in the language and photography you choose.
You are a member of several professional organizations. Why and what is the benefit of being involved in them?
Freelance work requires constant self-motivation. Thankfully online communities have dramatically changed the work environment making valuable connections possible. However, in my opinion, they do not replace actual face-time.
Depending upon your career goals, some of the organizations to consider joining include Society of American Travel Writers, North American Travel Journalists Association, International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association and the Family Travel Association.
What do you see as the greatest benefit of travel?
Travel teaches tolerance for who and what is different than the familiar, as well as promotes understanding and appreciation of those differences. I like how travel challenges my perceptions of how the world works and my place in it. This is a constant learning process exercising essential life skills. I must keep fit, and teach my child so he is a global citizen.
Travel makes me stronger and happy. I love how a new location awakens wonder in everyday things, such as a sunrise, a child’s unfettered laughter and fresh baked bread still warm from the oven. When I’m lost, the kindness of strangers pointing the way serves as a gentle reminder that it’s just easier to navigate this big, amazing planet together.
Part of your work includes teaching at local universities and speaking at conferences. What are the top 3 things you want to impress upon your students or attendees of a conference?
Map out your publishing strategy. Study the outlets you wish to write for and the writers whose work you admire. Know what kinds of stories your target outlets purchase from freelance writers. Read all kinds of material about your destination, besides previously published travel stories.
Your check can equate to your by-line. Some outlets do not award by-lines, but write handsome checks for editorial work.
Travel with an open mind and heart. Not only will you discover much about yourself, openness makes you a better storyteller. You’ll find multiple angles to a subject, which then affords opportunities to sell several stories birthed from a single trip.
It seems you’ve been almost everywhere! What’s left on your bucket list?
I am an active, adventurous traveler who loves to write about artisans, culture and architecture, so anywhere feeding these interests captures my heart. I enjoy long road trips and train travel. I try to look at my travels in the context of what I can learn overlaid with what stories I could sell, and, when possible, what my family can experience together to create lifetime memories.
Often places choose me, based on what is happening in my life at the time. For example, my teen son is looking at colleges, so we are building family travel itineraries around college visits. He is very interested in science, and the environment. Family travel destinations may include our National Parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, North American wilderness, New Zealand, Africa, Antarctica and the Amazon.
But not all my travel dreams are far-flung destinations. I never tire of exploring my hometown Chicago or the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, my go-to nature getaway. A small town dishing delicious pie is always on my radar.
Kit has traveled to 55 countries and six continents writing and photographing cultural, adventure, culinary, art and family travel stories. Kit teaches and speaks about travel writing and publishing strategy at industry conferences and universities. Follow Kit’s travels on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.