Travel Writing Gave Me a VIP Experience in Italy

An intimate cooking class in the Tuscan hill town of Montepulciano, Italy, in the company of Oscar-winning filmmakers, a charismatic restaurant owner, and a head chef. A private water taxi picking us up from our complimentary hotel in Venice and delivering us to the doorstep of one of the finest glassmaking factories in Murano for a personal tour. A beautiful five-course meal with a local Monterosso wine, starting with a warm welcome from the owner, all the while enjoying the view from the best seat in a fabulous seaside restaurant in Cinque Terre.

These are just a few of the experiences that came my way on a trip to Italy after I discovered the perks of being a travel writer.

I have always enjoyed traveling, but like many people I have done so on limited information and a modest budget. Being away for a week or two was an extravagance —there was little money left in the budget for indulgences like fancy hotels, fine dining, expensive excursions, and the like. My wife Julie and I often skipped outings because they were too expensive, or we didn’t know the right people, or we were just oblivious to what is out there.

But traveling writing has opened up doors that were never available to us before. It gave us the opportunity to share a Tuscan restaurant’s cozy kitchen with the owner Massimo, the head chef Federico, and another lovely couple who joined us for a very entertaining cooking class. The couple, who happened to be Oscar-winning filmmakers from Australia, were fun and engaging throughout the class.

Because we enjoyed the morning cooking class so much, Julie, our son Jacob, and I later returned to the same restaurant and were treated to one of the most delicious, and eye-appealing meals I have ever had. Dishes included octopus ragout with gnocchi, pigeon breast with “Vin Santo” wine sauce and foie gras, sirloin beef steak from Val di Chiana, and a warm compote of seafood, tuna, shrimp, marinated salmon, squid, mussels, vegetables and seawater. And then came three delectable desserts, including their popular chocolate “cigar” with tobacco ice-cream and rum sauce.

Travel writing has helped me discover the best places and activities, and reach out to great people at my chosen destinations. In addition to getting some great complimentary perks, I have formed relationships with hotel and restaurant owners, chefs, business owners, artists, writers, and other interesting people. This has opened so many doors of opportunity that I would never have encountered in my previous life.

This past weekend, for example, Julie and I had a lovely two-hour lunch with wine and conversation with the owner of Jobel, a lovely new restaurant in the Texas Hill Country. The owner shared his personal story of moving from New York City and his struggles to get started in the early years. We shared stories and pictures of our children…we met his lovely wife…and when leaving we shared hugs and warm wishes to see each other again.

This powerful travel secret has given me the opportunity to have richer, more meaningful travels, and to meet creative, fascinating people. It has also provided perks like free lodging, free meals, and free admission to attractions and activities to make my travels more affordable. For me, this has opened many doors to exciting new worlds.

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