Nicole Pensiero is a Philadelphia-based freelance travel writer. She began her professional career in the early 1980s as a Staff Writer with the Atlantic City (NJ) Press. She moved into a full-time career in public relations in 1991 but continued to write on a freelance basis, building a portfolio of travel and entertainment stories via publications ranging from the Philadelphia Inquirer to the Chicago Tribune. Over the past several years, Nicole has become a regular travel contributor to the South Jersey Times/NJ.com (14 million UVM), as well as with FollowSouthJersey.com, Washington Township Neighbors Magazine (Best Version Media), and the Gloucester City (NJ) News. Nicole’s domestic and international travel stories focus on “hidden gems” — both in terms of cultural activities and dining options – when on the road. Recent travel stories by Nicole include Cancun, the Catskills, Panama, Florida, London, Liverpool, Rio de Janeiro, San Juan, PR; Curacao, Nassau and Bimini (Bahamas), San Diego, New Orleans, Quebec City, Hudson River Valley; Amsterdam; Branson, MO; and Spain.
1. What got you into travel writing?
I originally was a newspaper reporter and did a lot of feature writing. When I went freelance in 1986, my original focus was on entertainment writing. But I always had a tremendous passion for travel. I did a few travel stories in the early 1990s for area daily papers, but things really took off in about 2011, when I started writing for NJ.com, New Jersey’s largest news website. Things just grew from there and I’ve never looked back. What a great opportunity to share my adventures with readers!
2. What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
Always finding a good “hook” for my stories. I try to find something unique about each destination that I can make into a fun read. When I learned, for example, that a gentleman from my hometown in southern New Jersey – John Collins – had played a key part in the development and growth of Miami Beach in the early 1900s (he’s the person Collins Avenue is named for), I knew I had a great feature for a local magazine. I wove the history of how he developed what was then basically a swampy stretch of land into a beautiful city into a feature about modern-day Miami Beach and its many fantastic attractions.
3. What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
My iPhone. I take my own photos for stories (along with using art provided by various resorts and CVBs) and find the quality of iPhone pictures to be pretty impressive.
4. What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
There are so many! I’d say that exploring the hundreds of waterfalls that make up Iguazu Falls in South America ties with enjoying a communal thermal bath in a turn-of-the-century resort in Budapest, Hungary. They were both ‘You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!’ kind of experiences. Beyond amazing!
5. How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
I learned through a friend and fellow journalist, Marla Cimini. I immediately joined because of its great reputation and networking opportunities for travel writers. It’s an excellent organization for any working travel writer!
6. What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Keep an eye on the details; look for unique, unplanned experiences … they help make your writing fun, engaging, and personal. To me, the worst thing is a travel story that reads like a press release!