Where Travel Writer Jen Murphy Finds Inspiration on the Road

Words Alexandria Baker
Date

From traversing the winter snows of Fogo Island to kiteboarding around Madagascar, travel writer Jen Murphy has never been one to say no to adventure. But her travels are about much more than personal wanderlust. Murphy’s writing connects readers with the people she meets along the way and the individual perspectives that can only be discovered after thousands of miles on the road.

After more than a decade in the publishing world as a celebrated writer and editor, Murphy decided to take her passion for travel out of the office and to the places around the globe she was writing about. Murphy said, “What I love most about travel writing is telling the important stories of those I’ve met while delving into another culture. It’s very easy to think things are one way in the United States, so I make it my mission to show there are multiple solutions to problems around the globe.” 

Not only is Murphy’s energetic and optimistic personality contagious, her ability to evoke the details of her unique adventures on paper is undoubtedly why she’s become the accomplished travel journalist she is today. She is based in Boulder, Colorado, after working for prominent publications like Food+Wine, WSJ, and AFAR in New York City and San Francisco. These jobs honed Murphy’s skills but also sent her down a career path focusing more on advertising metrics rather than the reason she got into the industry: to share important stories through first-hand experiences.

When we sat down with Murphy, she had just come back from a trail run after arriving home late the night before from Hawaii. Then she was heading on a quick trip to New York City and from there off to Europe and Bhutan after that. That’s the life of a freelance travel journalist. 


What does a typical day look like for you?

Colorado is a great time zone to work in as a freelancer. I am a morning person, so I’m usually up by 5:30 a.m. — my best writing is in the morning. I will write for about 2 hours before emails start to come in, and then I like to go for a trail run around sunrise, there are a lot of trails right outside my house. I divide my time between interview days and writing days where I can have uninterrupted writing time to get my thoughts down on paper. I’d like to say that I don’t work at night, but I often dig through emails and respond to things that came in during the day.

Why is it important to cover travel?

My family didn’t travel much when I was little, and I didn’t start traveling until midway through college when I went to study abroad in Australia. Their culture is very well-traveled which opened my eyes to the world of travel, and I love experiencing new cultures. If I didn’t cover it for work, I’d still travel. 

It’s effortless to think things are only one way. And we are particularly spoiled in the U.S. in a lot of ways. So, reading about the struggles of young girls in Morocco that don’t have access to education, or who have a high rate of child marriage — those things remind you how lucky we are at home and it shows that there are a lot of different solutions to problems out there and in our borders. We tend to think that we know everything in the U.S., but all of these different countries have different solutions to global warming, education, and more. It reminds us that the best way to learn is to work together. And that the world is a big place.

What advice would you give people looking to get into travel writing or freelance writing?

Try to have some form of income on the side. Even if you are successful at pitching and writing, it often takes a long time to get paid and it can be stressful waiting for those checks to come. Try to get facetime with editors because putting a face to a name will help. Also, don’t write for free trips. Treat freelancing as a business, and with a business, you have to invest —often I foot the bill for my trips, I think about how many stories I can get out of a journey and pay for it myself.

What are your travel must-haves?

A water bottle. Pen and paper journal. Pair of sneakers, I love to explore by going on early morning runs to gain bearings. Always have a book, and for practicality, I have a photocopy of my passport for all international vacations.

Have any of the destinations you have visited changed your perspective in a significant way? Where was it, and what made it a powerful experience?

Last year I went on a week-long camping trip in Ethiopia where I camped alongside the tribes of the Omo River Valley. Climate change and damming of the river has drastically impacted the tribal traditions. For example, some tribes perform a bull jumping ceremony to celebrate manhood. Only after boys go through that ceremony can they get married. The ceremony requires a feast and that can only occur when the land is bountiful, which it has not been for years due to the lack of rain. The village I visited had not had a marriage in nearly 5 years. It was very eye-opening to realize that some of these tribal traditions may not exist in a few years.

Since you’re always on the road, what travel advice do you have? 

It’s hard to tell people not to go to Machu Picchu or Paris because if they’ve never been, that’s where they will want to go. But, embrace the beauty of the off-season to save money. Also, strive to get off-the-beaten-path. Try to never check luggage and get status with an airline. Also, always call a hotel and restaurant before booking. If you talk to someone in person, you’ll often get a better deal or a better table than booking online. A lot of people tend to over-plan, and that usually doesn’t leave room for serendipity. Pick one or two things that you want to see, and then leave room to explore the area without a plan or itinerary. 

What upcoming destination are you excited to visit this year and why?

I have long wanted to visit Misool, a regenerative resort in Raja Ampat Indonesia. The surrounding area used to be a hub of turtle poachers, shark finners and dynamite fishermen but largely thanks to enforcement by Misool’s community ranger patrol the reefs have made a comeback. Research estimates that in 6 years the Misool Marine Reserve has seen a miraculous 250% increase in fish biomass. Shark and ray populations have also rebounded. Misool is a true success story and proves that nature can bounce back.

What’s next for Jen Murphy?

I want to slow down and work on another book topic that I would love to delve into so that’s on the forefront of next year. I want to strive for stories that have more depth and meat. To focus more on quality and passion — I want to be able to say that I’m incredibly proud of everything that I do and put out there. 


To learn more about Jen Murphy, visit her website at jenrunsworld.com or follow her on Instagram @jenrunsworld.

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