Travel writer and publisher Q&A: Julie Schwietert

Julie Schwietert, known for her work with MatadorNetwork and Collazo Projects, is a writer, editor, and translator whose work bridges the worlds of service travel writing, culture, and politics. Though travel writing is a big piece of her métier, it’s not its sum. This profile of Julie is the first in a Gadling series on writers and publishers who have found a way to turn their enthusiasms for travel into a profession.

Q: How do you fit into the travel writing and publishing world?

A: I’m a freelancer, though I work primarily for MatadorNetwork as writer, managing editor, and the lead educator of their travel writing program. I also write for print magazines. I contributed to the latest edition of Fodor’s Puerto Rico, and I am waiting excitedly for August when it will hit bookstore shelves.

Q: How long has Collazo Projects been up and running, and what is it that you do?

A: I collaborate on Collazo Projects with my husband Francisco Collazo, who is a photographer, chef and translator. Collazo Projects is the online home for our writing and photography and other projects that haven’t found a home elsewhere. It’s in the process of evolving, though. We’re considering turning it into a proper website that functions more as a portfolio with a blog rather than a straight-up photo/writing blog.

Q: Is travel writing a means to an end for you, or is it the animating focus of your work? Or is it something else entirely?

A: I’m slightly uncomfortable with the term “travel writing” or the label of “travel writer” because both feel really limiting. When I say it, sitting next to someone on a plane in response to the question “What do you do?” I always get squirmy because their first association with the term tends to be Travel + Leisure. That association isn’t bad, but glossy magazine writing is just a portion of what I do. I’d like to think that my writing is less about the things anyone “should” or “must” do in a destination and more about what that destination is like when you stop viewing it as, well, a destination.

A diversified income stream is how I survive economically. In addition to my writing work, I’m a freelance academic editor and a translator.

Q: What are your favorite regions?

A: I’d happily go almost anywhere, but I really love to return again and again to places I’ve visited previously and get to know them more deeply. The focus of my work is on ferreting out the untold stories about a place, looking for alternative narratives, and giving a voice to people without a voice. And because I’m fluent in Spanish, most of my work focuses on Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Q: Any absolutely favorite destination?

A: Mexico, Mexico City in particular. I know what everyone says about Mexico City. They’re wrong. It’s a dynamic, fascinating, complicated city where the traditional and the contemporary are in constant interface. I lived there for two years and loved it. I wish I still lived there.

Q: Have you ever had to travel to a place to follow an obsession?

A: Cuba. I had to meet the family that produced my husband. Once I got to Havana, I had to go on to the town of Mariel, which is the port from which my husband left Cuba in 1980. I went there and was completely underwhelmed. Plus no one wanted to talk about 1980.

Q: What sort of advice would you give to people who want to enter the travel writing and editing world?

A: Do it, and diversify your income. Having a diverse income stream not only ensures you’ll stay stable economically but it also helps you tap into multiple interests.

Q: And finally, what’s in your carry-on?

A: Always books, at least two, and magazines. A journal and a couple pens. A sarong, for which there are at least 96 uses. You can place a sarong on a changing table to change a baby’s diaper and drape it over your head to block out obnoxious passengers, among other things!