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Travel with Shannon Hurst Lane

The Travelin' Mama's shannonigans

We're honored to welcome Shannon Hurst Lane (@CajunMama) to GoGirlfriend to share her travel writing journey. Shannon, founder and CEO of TravelingMamas.com, has been named one of the top 50 Online Power Moms (Nielsen's) and has been featured in the New York Times, Good Morning America and ABC News - to name just a few...   

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Up close & personal with a world class Travelin' Mama

Julia Rosien: Can you tell us how you first got into travel writing? What was the catalyst?

Shannon in ItalyShannon in ItalyShannon Hurst Lane: I've always had a love for travel since my first solo trip by plane at age seven. Coupled with my love of storytelling, I guess it was inevitable that life would push me in the direction where the two would merge. It was unplanned and accidental, with my original intent to write romance novels. I majored in music education, was dissatisfied with that path after taking some creative writing courses and took a job offer in the fire service at age 21. I married at 22 and few years later (along with a few children) an offer from an acquaintance at a local newspaper came my way, with me writing content for the paper in exchange for learning journalism on the job. I wrote about a botched vacation to The Bahamas and soon after received my first offer to attend a press junket. And it morphed into the monster it is today.

JR: What inspired you to jump into online travel writing first?

SHL: I was raised in a household with my dad being interested in the newest electronics. I was the oldest and held the flashlight as he wired new devices and I would observe the process. In high school I loved my computer science class and was very interested in old school computer programming. It was inevitable that I would become interested in technology and innovation. I was working full time with the fire service and wanted my own publication, but also wanted to start a business with as little cost as possible. Online publishing provided low overhead, so if I failed it wasn't much of a risk. Plus, the online world allows anyone with a dream to become what they want. I was able to create what I wanted with the tools that are available to everyone. And then, a few years later social media came into play and oh my goodness has it been exciting to be a part of that world!

JR: What's the best travel writing advice you've ever received?

Shannon at the Dixie StampedeShannon at the Dixie StampedeSHL: Write as if you are telling a story to a friend.

JR: What's the worst travel writing advice you've ever received?

SHL: I don't know that anyone has given me bad advice, because most times people are being sincere with sharing their own experiences, whether the outcome was positive or negative.

JR: Have you ever had an experience with a travel publication (or travel writer) that made you rethink your decision to be a travel writer?

SHL: For over a decade I've felt as if I wasn't really a travel writer, just an imposter that would be found out one day. Because let's be honest, being a travel writer has to be one of the top dream jobs anyone could ever have and some moments seem to good to be real life. I've been able to experience unbelievable adventures that otherwise would never have been possible for my lifestyle. But with any industry, there are some VERY competitive and negative people who will do anything and say anything to push their way to the top. I've learned about greed and nastiness, especially when you are somewhat successful or have a halfway viable idea. I've received cease and desist letters, I've had publishers not pay me, and I've even had so-called friends take ideas from conversations and use them as their own. So yes, I've had moments where I've questioned the desire to continue in the field, but the bottom line is I love traveling and I love inspiring other people to take a chance on life and experience something amazing.

JR: Have you ever been compensated to travel to a destination and not been able to find something positive about it to write about?

Shannon in IndiaShannon in IndiaSHL: In being compensated, I'm going to assume you refer to having lodging and travel expenses hosted by the destination (press junkets). Everyone has a story, as does every destination. I was raised with the school of thought that if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. With that being said, for me I only want to share the positive in travel. I'm not going to spend my time or effort writing about someplace NOT to visit. And to be honest, I've been many places where a variety of businesses took part in hosting my experience and sometimes I feel uninspired, so I don't write about it. A travel writer should never promise positive content even if being hosted.

JR: Have you ever been asked about your ability to be unbiased when you're compensated for your travel?

SHL: I have been questioned before and this might get me some flack, but the comments usually come from people who don't get the invites to participate in the particular hosted/compensated events or they are independently wealthy and can finance all of their travels. I'm a blue collar worker on a blue collar budget running a business, so I have to be unbiased to provide authentic content for my readers.

JR: What are you most proud of with your portfolio?

SHL: I am proud that I have made it to where I am by going to the School of Life. I left college before attaining my music degree and took a job with the fire service, had a dream to see the world and now I have a long list of magazines, newspapers, and websites that have mentioned my name in a positive way. I honestly don't know the how or why of what I'm really doing with all this, but I sure am enjoying every darn moment of this life.

JR: Tell us more about TravelingMamas.com.

Shannon visiting ThailandShannon visiting ThailandSHL: I began TravelingMamas.com in January 2008 as an avenue for myself and a few other travel writing colleagues to share travel experiences we were unable to place in other publications. It's a free, online site that provides valuable travel information and tips. It isn't just about family travel, but includes anything and everything travel related that interests me. I put a lot of work into building the site itself, and all the writers contributed quality content. It has been a catalyst for many other aspiring travel writers since then to learn about online writing, build up their portfolio, and go on to build their own sites. It's very rewarding and what was a fun little project grew into something I never even dreamed of.

JR: What's next for Shannon in 2013?

SHL: March 6 on Lifetime TV's Kid Spaces I get to be a tv travel host and take viewers on a family friendly tour of the city where I've lived my entire life -- Baton Rouge, LA. I'd love to have a regular travel show, but I know what my limits are and I would need a full production crew for this to be possible, as well as a major network to air the show. It's a dream at the moment but one never knows what can be a reality. I have a few projects in negotiations, but I'm hoping to dip my toes into the world of Fiction Novel writing this year. And somehow I've landed a regular gig as travel tech writer for Business Traveler Magazine. The traditional family travel stories have somehow become trite and I want to get back to the roots of how I began this journey, by inspiring people to take those dreamed of adventures now.

JR:  What's the best advice you can give to an aspiring travel writer?

SHL: If you can dream it, you can do it. Take a writing class. Begin by writing about places you know well and your past experiences. Don't be afraid to take some risks, but still be practical. Read everything you can find online. Attend a conference. Get out there in the world and meet people. Find what inspires YOU and then you can inspire others.

About Shannon Hurst Lane

Shannon Hurst Lane ~ @cajunmamaShannon Hurst Lane ~ @cajunmamaCajunMama (aka Shannon Hurst Lane) is a native of South Louisiana and is the mother of two teens. She is the author of Civil War Sites in the South and has contributed to Louisiana Life, MSNBC.com, Louisiana Tourism's Official Travel Guide (2008 and current online) and a host of other print and online outlets. Shannon and her travel adventures have been featured on BBC Radio, Good Morning America, The Around Town TV Show, and ABC News Now (to name a few). Find out more at ShannonLane.com and follow her on Twitter: @CajunMama

How do you travel? We'd love to hear your travel stories - connect with us on Twitter and Facebook. We'd love to hear from you!

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