Whitworth Alumna Finds Her Calling as a Travel Writer
by Charlene O’Connor, ’13
Last week, a team of sled dogs pulled her through the snow-covered terrain of Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, British Columbia. This time last year, she was picking mangoes and lounging on the sunny beaches of Kilauea, Kauai. This time next year, there’s no telling where she may be. As a freelance travel writer, Amy Whitley,’98, enjoys a burgeoning career that allows her to express in writing her love for outdoor and adventure travel.
Receiving her degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing, Whitley found journalism to be a natural fit for her talent.
“I got into journalism because I love to write, but knew I wanted to write current, relevant stories,” Whitley says.
Breaking into the world of journalism just after graduating from Whitworth, Whitley began her career as an intern for the student division of People to People Ambassador Programs, a Spokane-based organization that provides international educational travel programs for students all over the world.
“After my internship was up, I was offered an entry-level job heading up the alumni publication and editing copy on other promotional materials,” says Whitley. “It wasn't glamorous, but I enjoyed the work.”
Whitley’s employment with People to People not only taught her inside information about travel, but also cultivated a passion for travel that she had developed at a young age. “My grandparents instilled in me a love for travel,” says Whitley. “They traveled extensively around the world and brought me and my family with them occasionally.”
Now, having traveled throughout the United States and Canada as part of her job, Whitley focuses her work mainly on family-centered outdoor and adventure travel. She currently lends her travel expertise as a staff writer for three online publications: Outdoors NW Magazine, Practical Travel Gear, and Go Green, Travel Green. All three are well-known tools for the avid, eco-friendly traveler as they offer insights on travel destinations as well as tips on how to keep your trip within a budget.
Along with her staff positions, Whitley does a large amount of freelance writing. She has now established herself as a credible and authoritative writer, but successful freelance writing in the travel circuit was initially hard to break in to.
“There are a lot of people writing freelance, and it takes time to set yourself apart and establish yourself as an authority in your field,” says Whitley. “When I decided to launch a freelance career, I had to spend significant time and effort writing for next to nothing—and sometimes nothing—to build my reputation.”
As a freelance writer, you are your own boss, Whitley explains. This means that it can take a while for publications to get around to paying you for your work. “The biggest challenge of freelance travel writing is keeping track of your assignments and making sure you get paid promptly for them,” she says. “The least favorite part of my job is chasing down paychecks.”
With a desire to transition her career from freelance writing to predominantly established staff positions, Whitley is continually building her reputation and credentials as a respected voice in family travel. Writing mainly from her perspective as a travel-savvy mother, Whitley gives those who journey with their families some much-needed advice.
In 2009, she started Pit Stops for Kids, an online hub for family-friendly travel reviews and advice. Sparked from a love for road trips with her family, Whitley noticed that it was difficult to find information about parks, restaurants, and play spaces that were kid-friendly while on the road. “I started reviewing our stops, and it took off from there,” says Whitley. “Pit Stops for Kids still lists road trip itineraries, but also covers resort travel, outdoor adventure travel, and theme park travel.”
With tabs for kid-friendly pit stop options, resorts, road trips, and other adventures, the site gives extensive information to make family travel doable. Whitley created the site to be a resource for families looking to travel with young ones. With three sons of her own, ages 8, 11, and 13, Whitley sees firsthand some of the values of traveling with family. Her job has provided them with a plethora of exciting travel opportunities.
“If you asked them, they'd probably say that their favorite experience has been [going on] a Disney cruise to the Caribbean on a story,” says Whitley. “Mine would be opening their eyes to cities such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Chicago because of my job.”
Getting paid to travel has been thoroughly rewarding for Whitley and her family as it provides opportunity for family adventures while keeping the cost down. “[We’ve] had experiences such as flying in helicopters, extreme river rafting, celebrating inaugural cruises on new ships, and experiencing high ropes courses and zip lines, that [we] otherwise would not have,” Whitley says.
Extensive travel gets expensive, especially when it becomes a family affair. Therefore, she says the beauty of being a travel writer is that you essentially get paid to travel. Along with exciting activities, Whitley’s job provides, at times, opulent accommodations.
“Our most surreal experience was staying a night in a presidential suite that was larger than our house. [We’ve stayed in] five-star hotels I could never afford otherwise,” she says. “It's a double-edged sword: incredibly fun, and yet not necessarily practical for most of my readers.
“My kids have been ruined for simple motel rooms,” she jokes.
Although travel writing has afforded Whitley and her family many positive experiences, Whitley is returning to her roots as a creative writer. She draws from the foundation she built while a student at Whitworth.
“I definitely learned editing and writing skills that have carried me through my jobs, but also a love of writing and writing in a community of other passionate writers has stuck with me,” she says. “I am still involved in writing groups for travel writing and creative writing because of the good habits for passionate yet disciplined writing I learned at Whitworth.”
Always busy with some sort of writing endeavor, Whitley recently finished her first novel and is in the process of finding a publisher. “My future plans are to continue this transition from freelance writing to established staff positions, as well as building my novel-writing career,” she says.
Someone else who explored the realm of fiction, the famed short story writer, O. Henry, once said, “Write what you like; there is no other rule.” Whitley, it seems, has been fortunate enough to discover his formula.