Travel writers, relieved to be on the road again, gather in Milwaukee


Naturally, travel writer Larry Bleiberg was on the road when the pandemic hit.

It was early March 2020 and Bleiberg was in Switzerland, taking advantage of the sites while keeping tabs on the news. Then he left for Milan and, after arriving, had a quick reality check.

Bleiberg said he was greeted by a man “in a hazmat suit with one of those forehead thermometers. Every day I was there it just got scarier and scarier.”

More than a year later, Bleiberg and other travel writers are slowly and cautiously back on the road.

This week, more than 200 members of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) are in Milwaukee for their annual convention. They had one last year, but it was a virtual event, heavy with professional development.

Zoom may be sufficient for office meetings. But the zoom does not travel.

Bleiberg is the chairman of the organization, leading a group that reconnects and reassesses itself as it faces a transformed travel landscape.

The SATW was founded in 1955, as a press release put it, “before the birth of the Internet and when print media reigned.” The wide range of members includes journalists, photographers, editors, broadcasters, bloggers and media relations experts.

While in Milwaukee, they network and also attend seminars on topics such as the future of cruises, what publishers buy, cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation, and the ethics of write about destinations with anti-LGBTQ attitudes.

They also visit the city and Southeastern Wisconsin. Several of the participants will also be touring the state.

Visit Milwaukee is hosting the convention, which includes evening receptions at places like the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Fiserv Forum, and the Lakefront Brewery.

Let’s just say there should be plenty of argument for the Milwaukee travelogues on the five-day event that ends Thursday.

Next year the group will have its convention in Bogota, Colombia.

It’s not as if all travel and all travel writing has ceased during the pandemic.

But it has certainly become difficult for those who are trying to make a living by traveling. During the pandemic, several prominent outlets have closed, including airline magazines, while others have significantly reduced.

“You know, if you can’t travel, you can’t write about it,” said Christine Loomis, SATW board member. “And there was no travel. So without travel, you can’t present a story to an editor.”

Loomis lives in Denver, has visited 49 states (he misses North Dakota), and is the author of 17 children’s books.

She has worked in travel writing and editing since the 1990s.

Even during the pandemic, she noticed people were on the road. On a trip to visit family in Florida, she made stops at state parks and major cities like Dallas and New Orleans.

“You know there were people everywhere,” she said. “And every time I got on the plane, the flights were full.”

In May, Loomis helped organize a trip for freelance travel writers to southern West Virginia. And there were a lot of travelers, she said.

“In Milwaukee, I got there early to visit a friend and said, ‘Pick a restaurant you think I should go to,’” Loomis said. “We went to Odd Duck’s. She had to make the reservation at 5pm because the place was booked and it was fabulous. It was so great to see so many people trying this wonderful restaurant.”

Bleiberg, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, is an eight-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award. She said the pandemic hasn’t stifled people’s love for travel.

“It’s an innate desire to travel, it’s human nature,” he said. “So, maybe people weren’t taking a plane to Europe, but they were going to national parks, going to outside areas. Taking road trips. People wanted to leave home. They do. always. They just traveled different ways. “

And it turns out Milwaukee is a perfect place for travel writers to get back to work.

“This is an example of a city that is a little off the radar of people nationwide for a travel destination,” Bleiberg said. “Like so many other cities of this size, there is so much interesting going on, there is so much to see. So as an organization our members love it here. And frankly, that means it there are great stories to write. “


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