Traveling Lives: Professor and Travel Writer Kristin Winet
Kristin Winet is one of the many wonderful women I met through Wanderful and the Women in Travel Summit (WITS). A native of Atlanta, Georgia, she and her husband (and their two cats) relocated to Florida this year after living in Arizona for eight years. She is both an English professor and award-winning freelance writer, and you can read more of her beautiful stories on her blog, Bon Touriste.
NAME: Kristin Winet
RESIDENCE: Winter Park, Florida
OCCUPATION: English professor at Rollins College & freelance writer
How have you made your life a “traveling life” and why?
What a great starting question! I’d say that there are two very obvious ways I’ve made my life a “traveling life,” or a life that blends my wanderlusting spirit with my yearning for home. The first? Working on my writing for years until I finally mustered up the courage to 1) start sending it out to editors and 2) to start blogging as myself. This process, which I’d say took a few years, taught me patience, humility, and finally, to revel in the light of seeing my words on screen and page.
The second? Going into education. Not only are the long holidays critical to me having the ability to travel (and great for planning trips far in advance since I know when those holidays will be), but as a professor, I am encouraged to attend events worldwide and work on my writing through professional development opportunities.
Why is travel important to you?
Whew…how could travel not be important? For one thing, it’s given me the most loving, difficult, and heartening lessons about life that I could have never, ever gotten in my textbooks. As an avid reader, writing teacher, and academic, I always knew that I loved exploring the world through words, but it wasn’t until I finally took that leap of faith (when I was 20 years old and decided to study abroad in Spain!) that I realized my true muse—my visceral, tumultuous muse—was the art and experience of travel. It has taught me humility and to be sensitive to racial, cultural, and socioeconomic lives; it has taught me to understand my privilege more fully and deeply and to appreciate the diversity of the world’s cultures, peoples, and ways of living (and, consequently, of my own!).
What are some of your first travel memories?/How did you first get the travel bug?
My first travel memories are probably quite similar to many suburban American kids who grew up with two working parents: watching the whirring by of the world from a car window in the backseat of my parents’ station wagon. Growing up, we didn’t take many vacations, but when we did, we were in a pretty strategic place: From our home in Georgia, we would usually drive up to Pennsylvania to visit my Pappap or drive down to Florida to visit my grandma. These long road trips were usually accented with my sister Elizabeth filling up the back seat with our bickering, our Barbie dolls, and our portable games.
And yet, the travel bug didn’t really hit me until I started combining my love for writing with my love for movement. When I finally went abroad for the first time by myself in college, something became ignited in me and, in the newness of everything, I realized I couldn’t wait to chronicle it all. Write it all down. It was almost feverish, actually—I was writing every single day. Sometimes, I look back on those days and miss the innocence and fervor with which I wrote. There was never any writer’s block back then! After that, there was no looking back. I was destined for a life of travel.
What is your most significant travel memory and why?
My most significant travel memory? Wow, that’s like asking a manic shoe lover to pick out one pair of heels to wear for the rest of her life! Really, though, if I had to pick one significant memory (or set of memories), it wouldn’t be a moment at all but rather an entire three months: working on the island of Malta from May through August 2004, when I was 21 years old. To be completely honest, the summer I spent working as a group counselor at an English school on the island of Malta has been the single most formative moment in my young adult life. In fact, I’ve written about it so many times and in so many different ways that I’m not even sure, now, how to characterize it. That summer changed the entire course of my life, from realizing what I wanted to do with my life (teach English and writing to both native and ESL speakers) to helping me break through a lifetime of struggling with anxiety and depression, to introducing me to an international group of friends with whom I still travel today.
On my last night on the island that fateful summer, while we sat drinking local Cisk lager, sharing stories from our summer, and sitting on the rocks in St. Julian’s Bay, we promised we’d meet again. And so far, even though we’ve all grown, taken different careers, gotten married (and for some, divorced), and traveled all over the world, we have done exactly what we promised: we’ve met every five years, on our favorite island in the Mediterranean. I’ve never had the privilege of knowing such a beautiful and dedicated group of people in my entire life, and I’m so grateful for their friendship.
What are some misconceptions friends & family have about your travels?
Ha! Misconceptions. Yes, OK. Well, the first thing that travel writers always hear (and I’m sure other writers you’ve interviewed have said this very same thing) is, “Well, at least you got to go on vacation for free.” Or, “I would travel as much as you do if somebody else would pay for it too.” Or, and perhaps the worst of all, “Can you get them to pay for me too?” I will say it one more time: Sponsored press trips are NOT vacations. Yes, they are wonderful, they are an absolute joy most of the time, and yes, there have been those mind-blowing moments where I’ve, let’s say, woken up in a bungalow in Malaysia and thought to myself, “Wow, I am so, so lucky,” but here’s the thing: I worked my butt off to have those chances. I didn’t just sit around and wait for paid press trips to fall in my lap. It started with a LOT of cold-calling, emails, letters, and building my portfolio by guest-posting for free on other people’s blogs. If I had to put a cost on my time, I’ve probably spent more time writing, revising, pitching, getting rejected, trying again, rewriting, pitching again, and revising than it would have cost to simply take the vacation by myself. But I do it because I adore it and I believe in spreading the word, ethically, about places other people might like to someday explore. It’s a privileged position to be in, I know, but it doesn’t come without costs, either.
What advice do you have for others who want to incorporate more travel into their lives?
I tell my friends and family this all the time: if you want to incorporate more travel into your life, you have to do some prioritizing jujitsu. For one, I hear a lot of people say that they don’t have any money to travel and yet are always in line the first day the new iPhone comes out, are always redecorating another room in their house, or are putting everything that’s left over at the end of every month into a rainy day fund. Let me clarify by saying that I am NOT one of those travel writers who espouses a rhetoric of “quit your job, sell off everything you own, and travel the world!” I’m also not saying that people should give up their material possessions that they love, or sacrifice updating an old room in their house to travel to Fiji for a week.
What I am saying is that with a little shifting, it’s entirely possible for many people in this country to travel if they would shift their spending habits a little bit and funnel that into money for travel. For instance, let’s say that on the way to work, you buy a $5 gourmet coffee drink every day for a year. That comes out to, roughly, $5/day = $150/mo = $1,800/year. $1,800 is about the total amount I paid to travel to Malta last summer: I paid $1,200 for my airfare (ouch…it was in the middle of summer, so I kind of expected that); $300 for my share of our apartment rental; and $300 for meals, drinks, bus fares, and outings.
Of course, life throws us quite a lot of curveballs, too, and I also understand how impossible it is for a lot of people to travel. For instance, my best friends have a beautiful special needs child who is not mobile; my parents have had health issues that have been unforgivably and unexpectedly expensive; and I know people who support other family members, have jobs that do not allow for any real vacation time, or just literally have not a penny left at the end of the month. What to do, then? Travel around town or bring the world to you. Try cooking a new dish from India; rent a French movie; read a book that takes place in Hawaii.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
If you’d like to get in touch with me to talk writing, travel, or life, don’t hesitate to send me a note! I love meeting new people.