Connie Pearson writing on geographical independence

I loved being an elementary music teacher with the eager students, the fun songs, the dancing, and the noisy instruments. I loved my colleagues and our camaraderie…but, I also had a thirst to see more of the world.

As a teacher, my travel time was limited to two-day weekends, school holidays, and the few weeks in the summer that weren’t scheduled for continuing education workshops. But, even more than the time constraints were the budget challenges of traveling on a teacher’s salary.

So, I found a travel writer’s workshop and took the plunge to invest in reinventing myself. I bought my plane ticket, booked the hotel, paid the fee and flew from Alabama to Denver to attend that conference.

When I left, I had zero bylines to my credit. Today 58 of my articles have been published in 12 different travel publications. About half of those articles garnered a paycheck, and the travel freebies and complimentary perks total well over $5,000.

Now, I am able to let my teacher retirement check and Social Security pay the household bills, while my husband, Steve, and I travel almost monthly, often with very little expense out of our pockets, because of my new career and success as a travel writer.

So far in 2016, we ate fresh seafood on Alabama’s Gulf Coast in February…we spent a glorious week in Louisiana’s Plantation Country in March…and we received three days in a luxury resort on St. Simons Island in Georgia, complete with chef-prepared meals and island tours in April.

In May, we enjoyed a couple of days staying at an historic B&B in Birmingham, AL and ate dinner at acclaimed restaurants in the city. In June we visited attractions in nearby Huntsville, Alabama, again savoring delectable meals.

We just returned from a three-night trip to New Orleans. Next week we’ll be on the coast of Maine, and in November we’ll be in Orange Beach, Alabama participating in the Food Bloggers Summit during the World Food Championships. The dollars we were previously able to budget for trips have been stretched exponentially, and all of this occurred during my first full year as a travel writer.

A key piece of advice from the travel writer’s workshop was to begin searching for travel article material by locating the attractions, restaurants, notable people, and accommodations within an hour of your home.

I thought this might prove to be difficult. My small town of Athens, Alabama is about halfway between Birmingham and Nashville. It has very few claims to fame.

But, very quickly I identified a B&B nearby where Henry Ford and Thomas Edison spent the night. Then, I discovered the largest unmortared wall in the United States, built in memory of a woman who was taken from her home during the Trail of Tears and forced to walk from Alabama to Oklahoma. I also sampled the best hushpuppies in North Alabama and was given a behind-the-scenes look at how they are made.

When I started looking at my world through the eyes of a travel writer, I found plenty of passionate people and business owners. It has been my pleasure to share their stories.

In 2017, we’re planning trips to South America and to Alaska, which would previously have been too prohibitive, and I expect other invitations to come my way as I keep researching and improving as a writer. Now, the possibilities seem limitless.

Image: ©iStock.com/shapecharge

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