Note: As many readers may know, I’m the lead faculty member for MatadorU’s travel writing program. You may also know that I’m in Mexico City this week, working on a couple of assignments and projects. I thought it would be both fun and useful for students to “follow along” as I work here this week. Getting a transparent perspective of how travel writers work (or at least this travel writer) may help make some of their lessons real that they themselves haven’t been able to put into action yet. Now through Sunday, I’ll be posting a few times a day about my working process, and I welcome your comments (regardless of whether you’re a U student).
As I mentioned in a post last week, I recently pitched an editor I hadn’t worked with in a while. The pitch was a long-shot, I thought; it was to Singapore Air’s in-flight magazine, and the pitch was about Mexico City. Singapore Air doesn’t fly to Mexico City, and very few in-flight mags publish stories–especially features (which is what I was pitching)–about destinations the airline doesn’t serve.
But don’t think for a second that I hadn’t done my due diligence; I’m serious about pitching only articles I feel totally confident about writing to publications I actually read and feel like I know well. And because I keep up with the magazine, I knew that in the past year it’s been publishing lots of features on cities it doesn’t fly to (or even near), so I felt like the pitch at least stood the chance of thoughtful consideration.
Even before the editor said yes^, though, I had plans to come back to Mexico City (where I used to live). A friend had given me an Aeromexico travel voucher, which reduced my trip overhead considerably. Plus, I’m always working on projects about DF (that’s Distrito Federal, Mexico City’s other name). One of those projects is an iPhone app (the second one I’ll be releasing. My first app, San Juan Insider, was just made available in the iTunes store last week). I made my flight reservation in early November and as soon as that was set, I began reaching out to contacts and leads to set up some appointments and book some lodging. Though I always leave room for spontaneity, I also need to be pretty highly focused on these trips. There’s a lot to get done and little time to do it all.
- Laptop/headset (to call home to Francisco & Mariel via Skype; to connect with MatadorU students and Matador colleagues if needed)
- Blackberry (subsequently lost)
- DSLR with three lenses; two memory cards; external hard drive, USB cable
- Three pairs of pants (one nice, one casual, one pair of jeans)
- One funky jacket (can dress up or dress down)
- Five shirts
- Osprey backpack
- Baggallini day bag
- Extra Osprey bag to bring home stuff that a friend has stored here for me since I left last February.
- Three books to read on the plane, including Bolano’s The Savage Detectives (set in Mexico City; I feel like I have to finish this book here), Tony Hiss’ In Motion, and Travesias’ df de la gente (a Mexico City guide).
- I never carry toiletries; I figure I can always pick them up wherever I land.
Of course, there was a problem with the Aeromexico voucher, so I got stuck paying full fare for my flight down to DF. Eventually that will get resolved, either with a reimbursement (not likely) or a replacement voucher (more likely), but it was a big cash hit. The voucher problem also bumped me off my original flight and onto a later flight, so I landed in DF around midnight. Not surprisingly, my backpack was lost.
I changed some cash and got a Sitios taxi to Santa Fe, a newer neighborhood I’d never been in before. “Do you know where the hotel is?” the driver asked me. I told him the address a few times, but he wasn’t impressed. “It’s just that they build a new hotel here everyday,” he said. And looking out my window the next morning at the skyline of cranes, I could believe him.
Tuesday was really the only day I’d left free in my schedule– though free is a relative term. “Free” simply meant I didn’t have any pre-established meetings, and I could explore some places I want to include in the article and the app. But I woke up sick and fought the urge to go out and be productive. Sometimes, you’ve just got to listen to your body, even when it means losing an entire day of work. I rolled out of bed at 6, spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on my ultra contemporary shower, and then did some work, shot some photos of the hotel, and picked up the hotel’s press kit before I met up with a hotel contact of mine for dinner.
The contact was a person I’d met in Mexico City in September. During that visit, she had said she’d be happy to offer me a room the next time I was in the city, but I hadn’t wanted to take her up on the offer– there were some other places I needed to visit, and I don’t like to abuse any contacts. I did, however, email her to let her know I’d be in town and asked whether a Morimoto restaurant that’s going in her hotel was complete (in September, the projection was that it would open in December), as I wanted to stop by and take some photos. She said it wasn’t, but she’d love to take me to dinner at another one of her hotel’s restaurants. We spent 2.5 hours talking about perceptions of Mexico City, the relationship between writers and travel industry managers, Barack Obama, Felipe Calderon, Chef Morimoto, food, and at least a dozen other topics. It’s important to me to keep in contact with the people I meet when I travel. When you maintain those contacts and deepen your professional friendships, you not only have a source you can count on to keep sharing information and leads with you, but you have someone who becomes a genuine follower of your work. You learn a lot more about what drives other stakeholders in the travel industry. You get lots of new ideas for stories, and you can offer lots of ideas that your colleagues on the other end of the travel industry spectrum haven’t considered. And maybe you even make a friend. “Are you sure you don’t want to come home with me?” she asked me after my third cup of jasmine tea. “If you feel lonely or you need a doctor, or anything, will you please call the hotel and tell them that it’s urgent that you get in touch with me, and I’ll come and pick you up. No tengas penas, eh?” Though she lives about 45 minutes away, I had no doubt she’d do exactly that if I needed her.
Today–Wednesday–started far more auspiciously. It was a busy day, moving from one hotel to another, with just enough time to drop off my backpack before heading off to Mercado Medellin for a market tour and cooking class. This is another activity I’d organized before arriving; I met the tour leader, Lesley Tellez, via Twitter and then in person during my September visit. I hadn’t had the opportunity to participate in one of her tours yet, though, so I asked if I could be worked into one this week, as I wanted to consider including it in the app, as well as for some future articles. There were some other tours I’d learned about and had never taken which I tried to set up for this week (including a tour of “Jewish Mexico City”), but they didn’t come through.
I had just enough time to walk over to DF’s Tourism Board, where I had a 2 pm meeting scheduled with the director of tourism development. This was another appointment I made in advance, and one I secured after reaching out to Turismo DF via Twitter. When I contacted her, I told her I wanted to know what Turismo DF had coming up for 2011, what kind of messaging they’re working on right now, and whether they could provide any technical support for things like confirming statistics and facts, and providing photos for the iPhone app which I may not be able to get myself this week. I told her the assignments I was working on and a bit about relevant past projects. It was a positive, useful meeting.
I ate at some of the city’s top-ranked restaurants in September- some of which were comped as part of my press visit and others I paid for myself because I’d heard from local food friends how wonderful they were. (They were right). But I’d missed a few restaurants I wanted to eat at and which I want to include in the article/app, so I contacted the PR folks for several of these about a month ago. A couple came through, but a few didn’t, and I still wanted to eat at those few, so I ponied up the cash for the tasting menu at Jaso tonight. I chatted about travel with one of the meseros and took notes about and photos of every dish (except two– there’s always a point in each meal where I start forgetting to take notes and photos).
Then I hopped the Metro back to the hotel. Though I was tempted to go down to the Zocalo and take some photos of people ice skating in the outdoor rink (yes, in Mexico City) and go to the top of Torre Latino (which I’d never done), I decided to catch up on some work and start fresh in the morning.
^Note that this assignment does not pay expenses; it pays a flat fee for the article itself, and that fee is paid within 30 days after publication. The actual publication date hasn’t been established yet; the due date for the article, though, is December 15.
Questions? Leave them in the comments section below.