Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Foundation Award Finalist in Journalism and award-winning travel writer. She is the author and owner of PratesiLiving.com with her husband, coauthor of Southern Heat, and co-owner of On the Road Culinary Adventures, a culinary travel business. She is a contributor to the Travel section of U.S. News & World Report and freelances for other publications including USA TODAY, Cruise Critic, Reader’s Digest, Forbes Travel Guide, Smarter Travel, TripAdvisor, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, and World Travel Magazine. Her work has also been featured on MSN, Yahoo!, and Business Insider.
Gwen chronicles her love of international travel and experience as a professional home cook on PratesiLiving.com, where she shares the stories of some of the world’s most sought-after destinations, highly regarded chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, wine and spirits producers, and culinary artisans.
She and her husband traded in big city life in Atlanta for shorts and flip-flops on Fernandina Beach, Florida. They are enjoying the coastal lifestyle with their Tibetan Terrier, Rhythm.
1. What got you into travel writing?
I have always loved to travel, so becoming a part of this industry on a professional level has been an exciting transition. I started writing culinary stories online, but the blog quickly turned into a food, travel, and lifestyle website. My husband and I began to interview and work with chefs, and we traveled to many places to do that, including several destinations overseas. We also collaborated on a cookbook with a chef, which involved quite a bit of travel, and we operated a culinary tours business. Some of the stories written about these trips and tours garnered attention, with our website being named a James Beard Award Finalist in Journalism. That was the catalyst for turning this into a career.
2. What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
This year has been the most challenging time for me to be a travel journalist. I still had work opportunities, but it wasn’t easy to put the personal spin into my writing when I wasn’t traveling at all or only taking road trips that were not very far from home. It’s much easier to write from firsthand experience and far more inspiring to be on the road traveling when you’re working on stories and assignments. I find I’m much more creative when I’m experiencing new places and cultures and meeting new people.
3. What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
My iPhone. I’m sure that’s a standard answer, but now that the camera and video on the iPhone are more advanced than ever before, it’s even more indispensable. I probably would have said a camera several years ago, but I’m finding that in many cases the phone works just as well, or even better, especially when it comes to video. Of course, I would still take a camera when going to places like the Galapagos, but for general travel photos, the iPhone has really advanced.
4. What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
Everyone likes to ask what’s your favorite place that you’ve been in the world, and of course, that’s not an easy answer. I’ve been to many beautiful destinations and have had incredible experiences, and they’re all memorable for different reasons. One of the most unforgettable views is in the South of France overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from high above in the medieval town of Èze. I’ve been there several times, and it never disappoints. Another unique experience I had was flying in a bush plane into a remote area in Alaska. We passed between mountain tops and over glaciers, and it appeared as if the wings of the plane could almost touch the peaks. It was pretty unbelievable. I was so amazed that I didn’t have time to be nervous. Soaring over the Arabian Desert in a hot air balloon is another experience I’ll never forget.
5. How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
I connected with several travel journalism groups years ago. I wanted to network with other writers and, hopefully, connect with DMOs, public relations firms, and others to provide access to more travel and writing opportunities. I have also submitted my work to NATJA’s annual awards competition several times, and I’m proud to have won several honors for my work.
6. What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Stay authentic and write from your heart. Don’t focus on yourself. You want to share the travel experience in such a way that invites and encourages others to travel there. I’d also recommend that you have a backup plan for a career. As we’ve seen over the last 1 ½ years, this is a volatile industry, which may be fine for part-time journalists, but not easy for full-time careers. While travel writing may be your passion, “Don’t quit your day job,” – at least until you are well-established in the industry.