TRAVEL INTERVIEW WITH ABIGAIL KING OF INSIDE THE TRAVEL LAB
In this week’s travel interview, I’m thrilled to present beautiful and talented Abigail King of Inside the Travel Lab. Abi’s a highly successful freelance travel writer / photographer who’s had her work published in such prestigious magazines as National Geographic Traveler, BBC and Lonely Planet. As soon as you start reading her blog, Inside the Travel Lab, you’ll quickly find out why.
Today Abi fills us in on how she ended up switching careers from medicine to journalism, tips for starting a writing career, her favorite places in the world and future projects for Inside the Travel Lab. Let’s get started!
Q1. Before you became a world traveler/journalist/photographer you were a doctor practicing emergency medicine for 6 years. Talk about a huge change in careers! What was it about practicing medicine that made you want to leave that life for a life on the road?
Well, that does seem to be the number one question people ask me but to me it never seemed like such a big change!
Both journalism and medicine involve meeting people from all walks of life, asking them questions that you could never reasonably ask in polite conversation, assimilating that information within the framework of your own knowledge and then summarizing that in a way that connects with people.
They’re both very practical, studious, people-driven careers – and both come with plenty of risk, uncertainty, drama, joy and suffering. Both see people at their very best – and at their very worst.
With medicine, amongst other things, I realised that if I carried on as an ER doc, I’d never have the chance to experience anything else. My weekends, nights, evenings and days would all pass beneath the same fluorescent glow – and that seemed like a waste.
Our culture has an unwritten rule that you should only have one career but I’ve no idea why. You only have one life and there’s just so much to see and do in the world. To me, it seems surprising that most people only do one thing!
Q2. Did your decision to change your life so drastically come upon you as a slow dawning realization? A final last straw incident? A sudden ‘ah ha’ moment?
Ha! Well, as I guess I said above, it never seemed that drastic to me. At some point, it just seemed like the natural thing to do.
Q3. I’m making a guess here. I rather suspect that the people in your life- parents, colleagues, friends- were rather surprised, perhaps shocked, that you decided to give up being a doctor and hit the road? How did they respond to your decision? Anxiety? Support and understanding? Excitement? Or?
My family were hesitant but supportive and my friends were enthusiastic. Many of my colleagues said they were jealous…
I think that many non-doctors have a fantasy they’ve fallen in love with about life as a doctor and that’s why they find my decisions surprising. But I’ve never had a doctor ask me why I made the switch, they’ve always said “good for you.” It’s interesting because today I receive emails from doctors around the world saying “I wish I had the courage to do that.”
Q4. Reading through a few of the travel stories on Inside the Travel Lab, it’s easy to see why your work has appeared in such prestigious travel journals as Lonely Planet, BBC, and National Geographic Traveler. Your writing is excellent! How did you become such a great writer? Have you always been able to write well? It’s a natural talent? Or did you take some courses? Have a writing mentor?
Aw, shucks Lash! Flattery like that will get you everywhere!
Well, as the cliché goes, I began writing as a child and always wanted to be a writer (along with a doctor, vet, Hollywood actor, Nobel Prizewinner and, every now and again, space astronaut and marshmallow maker.)
When I switched from medicine to writing, I grabbed a copy of the Freelance Writer’s Handbook and enrolled on a travel writing course from Amanda Castleman at writers.com. Both gave me useful writing and business advice that I still use every day.
Q5. Do you have a favorite type of travel writing you prefer doing? Narrative travel stories? Destination pieces? Editorial? If so, why do you like that type of writing so much?
I love storytelling most of all. Ultimately, I’d love to write fiction but in the meantime I look out for stories when I travel. I think we all like to be captivated, surprised, thrilled, scared and overjoyed, that’s why we watch films and read books. It’s a little harder to do that with a travel piece but I like to try whenever I can.
Q6. What would you recommend aspiring travel writers do to improve their writing?
Ooh, plenty of things. Read some really, really good travel writing. Re-watch films you love and listen to the dialogue, the rhythm, and the pacing and notice how the whole thing fits together. Read Story by Robert McKee and On Writing by Stephen King. Ask for as much feedback as you can get, and then only listen to the points that everyone keeps on bringing up. And, er, cough splutter, why not take an online course? I’m developing one myself, so if you’re interested, you can sign up here at the Social Footprint to find out more.
Q7. How did you break into journalism and start getting your work published in such top quality magazines?
Once you have your first feature clip or cutting (depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on) things get much easier.
I followed the advice I found in the books and simply began pitching ideas to editors. Months passed in eerie silence, with me largely emailing myself to check that my computer and internet connection were actually working.
I’d picked up few small, low-paid pieces when out of the blue I received a reply from a major magazine. They rejected my idea but a staff writer of theirs had just fallen ill/had a nervous breakdown/moved to Mongolia. They needed an article on a village in France by the following week – could I help out?
I danced around the room for a while, took a deep breath and replied to say that, yes, thank you for asking, I would be able to meet their schedule. A hectic week followed but I got that first feature and things became much easier after that.
From there, it takes more pitching and more involvement in social media and then more assignments follow. I wish I could make it sound a little sexier, but at least this advice is easy to follow!
Q8. You’re considered one of UK’s leading figures in ‘new world media’. What exactly is that?
Sounds like a typo to me, although I’m not sure who’s to blame! If it’s on one of my sites, please let me know and I’ll change it! The description someone used at the World Travel Market was “new travel media” which basically includes blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and all that jazz.
Q9. You’ve traveled extensively all over the world. What are your 3 favorite countries or specific places in the world thus far? Why?
Thank you for giving me three…although if I had my way I’d probably list around 30! I loved my recent visit to Colombia, because it blasted away my preconceptions through the force of friendship and colour. The ice and forests of Patagonia were remote, surreal and beautiful. And Jordan, wow. I know as travel writers we’re supposed to avoid the classics but for me, Petra remains one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.
As far as cities go, the classic hits of Paris, London and New York always keep me entertained. I think I could live for a year in each place and still find something new to do each day.
Q10. Are there any places you’re just dying to visit? Why the attraction?
I’d love to visit the wild expanses of Iceland and Antarctica, as well as the salt plains of Ecuador. I’m still longing to see polar bears and whale sharks in the wild and I’m curious to see a real-life Texan rodeo. Then there are the plains in Mongolia and the beaches in Bali. Ethiopia, Israel and Syria once the struggles there settle. Oh, I could go on and on and on! There’s so much to see in the world, I can’t ever imagine running out of ideas!
Q11. What are your upcoming travel and blogging plans- say for the next couple of years?
Well, I have a few big projects up my sleeve at the moment but, being the big tease I am, I can’t tell you much about them yet! Expect plenty more travel, writing and photography and perhaps even a detour into TV. Watch this space or follow along on any one of the gazillion social networks I spend my time on (see exhibit A below.)
@insidetravellab on Twitter
The much-maligned Google Plus
The highly addictive Pinterest
The interesting work in progress on Foursquare
And surely there must be another one…Ah yes, Youtube
and of course the blog itself: Inside the Travel Lab
Right, that’ll do for now I think. Thanks for listening!
Thank you, Abi, for enlightening us on how you became a world traveler and professional writer, giving advice on starting a writing career and filling us in on travel destinations that excite you most. Hope to meet you out on the road one day soon. cheers, Lash