The problem with that NY Times Travel gig

Sunset out the window of a Delta 717 somewhere over Pennsylvania, 2-NOV-2017
Sunset out the window of a Delta 717 somewhere over Pennsylvania, 2-NOV-2017

What better way to make your mark on the travel world than by completing an incredible itinerary in a year, right? The New York Times is looking for someone to do precisely that. A couple weeks ago the company put out a call for an intrepid traveler to join its staff on a one-year contract, taking each of the 52 destinations featured by the paper in a year and turning that list into an itinerary. Twitter and Facebook were agog. It would be heaven, right?


I respect the move for its ability to attract attention and even maybe to show off a little bit of what each of the destinations has to offer. But I see roughly zero chance of accomplishing the stated goal in a manner that is compelling content.

We are seeking a journalist who, over the course of 2018, will go to every destination on our list and tell us the story of each place and the story of life on the road. The ideal candidate is a permanent student of life and astute documentarian of the world. This person should have a well-worn passport, the ability to parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images.

Living out of a suitcase for a year is not impossible. Nor is telling good stories along the way. But switching location every 3-5 days makes that a way more challenging task. And the idea that one can “distill the essence” of a location in just a couple days on the ground is pretty ridiculous. Especially trying to do that 50 times in a row.

Put aside jet lag and language challenges and it is still a brutal task. I know, because every year I do it just a little bit.

Read More: Does a bar count as a cultural excursion?

Hit-and-run travel is what I call it and I’m guilty in many cases. A day or two here and there is far from rare in my adventures. Generally speaking I love getting to drop in on a city and see what I can see in a limited amount of time. But I’m way too smart to believe that I’m to the point I can tell the story of a place based on such a short visit. Sure, I can tell A story of a place. We all can. But that’s far from getting to understand what life is really like, far from understanding the essence of a place.

Earlier this year I had a couple nights in Antwerp. It was my first visit to the city, though my 5th(ish) to Belgium. I can talk about the foodie scene a bit thanks to an amazing meal we had while there. I can talk to the architecture of the city center because we managed to explore that a bit. And I even could’ve adjusted the itinerary to hit the old port area and some of the museums there, ones that show off a modern edge to counter the history of the Plantin-Morteus Museum’s historic printing facility, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent a day mostly drinking beer instead, which is also cultural in Belgium, so maybe that counts.

I did Reykjavik as an overnight stop twice before spending a week on the island. I’m pretty sure I need another few weeks to get a proper feel for the place.

I spent a full day wandering around Shanghai, searching for dumplings of every variety. I had great experiences, but I’m hardly authoritative on that topic for my efforts.

Ditto for Macao/Macau or Santa Clara, Cuba. Or the Faroe Islands. Or Palm Springs. Or Taipei. Or Fukuoka.

And those are just the ones I can remember visiting in the past year. I know there are many more. Great trips with amazing experiences, but hard to claim I really “did” those destinations.

It is a glossing over, a quick hit. And that’s okay if that’s what a schedule permits. I’m happy that I managed to visit for a couple days and understand part of what Antwerp is like. Just how I’ve done for dozens of other destinations over the past decade and beyond. But I’m under no delusions that I’ve distilled the essence of anything, save for perhaps my sanity.

Maybe I’m just no good at it. But I’m guessing that’s not the problem. I suppose we’ll see once the reports start rolling in. But given the recent “just traveling for the instagrams” study results I cannot help but think that’s all the Times wants anyways, not the real story of the place.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I did about 13 consecutive months of international travel every single week in 2006-2007. NEVER again. The only people who think this sounds like fun are those who don’t understand what it involves.

  2. Not applying. I could absolutely do it, but the thing that holds me back is the criticism the winner will face. Everyone will believe they could do a better job and, as 52 places in 52 weeks leaves little time to truly get to know a place and its people, they probably could. And there’s knowing that I’m not the personality they’re seeking. I daydreamed about it for the first day the “job posting” was live, but I recognized that it’s the same sort of high given from playing lottery numbers — you’re buying a few hours of imagining yourself hopping helicopters and phoning home from Fiji, but it will never come to be more than those few hours of buoyant hopefulness.

    1. Also, do you really believe the budget for the position will be such that you’ll have the helicopter hops and high life travels? I’m skeptical of that and many other bits.

      And last I checked NYT doesn’t accept comps from tourism boards and such so the expenses budget very much should a consideration of this position.

    2. I replied just for shits and giggles, but I’m 99.99999% sure that I won’t hear anything back. Even if I do, it will at that point be up to me to decide if it’s something I *actually* want to do.

    3. Seth Miller Yes, no comps. They’d be paying for it all, something clarified by Monica Drake (editor), but her response makes it seem like all this will be in economy class, too, so hopefuls need to account for getting sick during the year, and be mindful of DVT warning signs.

  3. I agree. I’ve done this before, 2009-11, in primarily F and C, and found it exhausting. I’ve advised others against doing anything similar.

    Seeing it’s an NYT gig, I can’t imagine their budget would be anything near a corporate travel budget for flights, room, and board. After awhile, it was draining in F/C. My gestalt says doing it in Y would be much worse.

    The more confined quarters of Y, combined with what is likely to be some lower end hotels, will probably have a result in being sick in some places you really don’t want to be sick.

  4. I don’t know enough about the offer to made a judgement on its merits, but I know enough about my travel habits to know the assignment would bring me no joy. I like to hit the ground and either leave the next day or stay put for weeks, depending. I travel to see what I can learn about myself, really. Having been 15 years a newspaper reporter, I believe the old truism that four reporters sent to cover the same story can be reasonably expected to return with four different stories. And since any general assignment reporter writing to deadline will be called to task when her work is parsed by a credentialed expert in the field, the lucky winner will get a lot of heat. Still, if they’d made it 12 stories and 12 destinations in 52 weeks, I’d have applied and crossed my fingers for luck.

  5. I’d argue differently- looking at previous 52 places lists, I’d estimate I know half of them pretty well. So for those, I could do an overnight trip, blog about familiar places or catch up with an old Friend.

    So that leaves 26 places to explore in detail over the 52 weeks- a couple of weeks in some, only a week in the smaller places- definitely doable without feeling rushed.

    I don’t get sick much, but if you can knock off 3-4 buffer in the first month, you could take a couple of weeks off and still meet the publishing deadlines.

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