2024 February Featured Journalist of the Month: Tracey Teo

Tracey Teo is a freelance travel writer based in Evansville, Indiana. A Kentucky native, she loves immersing herself in the culture of her home state and the rest of the American South. She’s covered everything from Kentucky Derby history to Mardi Gras for BBC Travel, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Star Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, and several AAA magazines.

Cruising is another specialty, and occasionally she sails away for the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or the French Riviera, writing about her travels for AAA Crossroads and other magazines and newspapers.

Husband Wesley is from Malaysia, and this has presented many opportunities to cover southeast Asia.

1. What got you into travel writing?
In my 30s, I was stuck in a stressful job that was no longer rewarding. I had an epiphany that I was only stuck if I allowed myself to be. I did some self-reflection, asking myself hard questions about what career path I wanted to pursue. Travel writing was the answer.
I had taken a few journalism courses in college but didn’t pursue it as a career after graduation, so I wasn’t sure if I had the chops to succeed. I took an online refresher course and just started writing- for better or worse. I wrote several travel articles about destinations that were within driving distance of my home in southern Indiana (nobody was going to send me on a press trip!), and I sent them to the Cincinnati Enquirer. I thought I wouldn’t hear back, but they bought everything I sent. Fortunately, my husband was supportive during this transition.

2. What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
Filling out endless forms. I hate paperwork, and sometimes I think I spend more time filling out forms than writing. There are forms for press trips, of course, and for every new publication, there are forms for taxes, direct deposit, contracts, etc. Comes with the territory, I guess.

3. What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
If only it were just one thing! I’m a bit of a fashionista, and even after all these years, I’ve never learned to pack light.

4. What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
A luxury African safari. Looking back, it seems incredible that I wasn’t keen to go and had to be persuaded. It’s a good example of how getting out of your comfort zone can lead to life-changing experiences.
Photographing and observing “The Big Five” made me view these majestic creatures in a whole new light. You can’t really understand elephants by seeing one or two in a zoo, but observing a herd of elephants interacting in the wild is fascinating. They each have their own personality. There’s a complex social structure led by an old matriarch. I never tired of watching and hearing them.

5. How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
I think I learned about the organization from other travel journalists. It’s nice to be part of a group that understands the growing challenges of the profession.

6. What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Don’t write for free for “exposure.” Even if you are just starting out, somebody will pay you if you’re providing good content.

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