Interviewed by Rolf Potts, International Known Travel Writer
Andy Trincia (Romania 2002-04) is an American freelance writer and editor based in Romania. Having visited nearly 60 countries, he writes mainly about travel, with special focus on Eastern Europe. He recently edited three European history books, and a travel guide focused on Jewish history in Romania. Before embarking on a lengthy career in corporate communications and public affairs, he was a newspaper reporter in North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and Kansas. He also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, doing economic development in Timisoara, Romania. More than a decade later he moved back to Romania — he and his family now divide their time between Timisoara (2021 European Capital of Culture) and the Transylvania countryside.
How did you get started traveling?
I grew up moving around – mostly in suburban Philadelphia but with stints in Houston, Tampa and Charlotte – and with domestic family travel to grandparents or the beach. Nothing fancy but I always loved it. My first trip “abroad” was a canoe trip to Canada in high school. I’d worked and saved for it all summer. It was a remote part of Quebec although we stopped in a few decent-sized towns along the way. I remember hearing French and seeing it on signs – even the accents in English and the candy bars were different. I was enthralled. I went again to Canada (Toronto) during an exchange program in college, but right after graduation I did the classic American backpacker tour through Europe – from then, I was totally hooked.
How did you get started writing?
I loved writing for as long as I remember. My family has a photo of me sitting at a typewriter when I was 5 – and I recall pretending to be a foreign correspondent, growing up watching NBC Nightly News. I did well on writing assignments all through school (it made up for my math deficiency!) and was editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, and rolled with it from there.
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
Late in my junior year of high school, my family moved from Tampa to Charlotte. I quickly joined the school newspaper and was named editor for my senior year. My journalism teacher was a wonderful lady and former reporter whose husband was then the business editor of The Charlotte Observer. They inspired me and opened doors – I freelanced for its sister paper, The Charlotte News (some readers will remember when big cities had two newspapers!) while still in high school, and the couple remained mentors to me for many years. The bylines were important, but it was working alongside real journalists at a young age that gave me a leg up – I hit the ground running at my college newspaper and journalism school.
Much later, during my Peace Corps service, I benefited from the encouragement of John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil, who run Peace Corps Worldwide (formerly Peace Corps Writers) from their own time and pockets, and gave me – and many other grateful writers – a platform for chronicling Peace Corps service and experiences beyond.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Language barriers, and sometimes failing to take better notes (or not being able to read them later) and trying to reconstruct things from memory.
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
I love the research – my journalism background helps, and technology has made that much easier – but I struggle with putting the structure in place, or spend too much time rewriting and reworking the narrative. And procrastination – like the book I’ve never done but still hope to do.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
Knowing what to charge for freelance writing or editing.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
Aside from my several years as a full-time newspaper reporter, with pretty meager salaries, I’ve never had to survive solely on writing. It’s always been a side gig and passion. It’s not easy to live as a freelancer and I respect those who do – they probably have way more talent and guts than I do.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
In high school I was riveted by the adventures of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, along with Edward Abbey and Truman Capote. Later, anything by Paul Theroux, Jon Krakauer, Tim Cahill and Bill Bryson; Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell and River Town by Peter Hessler (incidentally, Theroux, Bissell and Hessler all served in Peace Corps); Balkan Ghosts by Robert D. Kaplan; The Best American Travel Writing annual anthology; of course, Vagabonding; and over the years I’ve really enjoyed longform journalism pieces on travel and sports (for example, Outside magazine).
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
In addition to the life and death tragedies of COVID-19, it’s terribly sad to see the travel industry so pummeled right now. But in general, I’d say read and write (and of course, travel!) as much as possible, focus on a specific niche or geographic region, and have a specialty or expertise that sets you apart. Living abroad is also a distinct advantage, allowing a writer more time to explore (vs. a cramming visit), better understanding of the culture and discovery of the obscure. The proliferation of bloggers, vloggers and social media influencers in recent years has put myriad new content providers in the mix on top of mainstream media covering travel or travel-specific publications (dwindling as they are) and web sites. I also see an old-school vs. new-generation gap related to interests and tech skills.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
Travel has given me opportunities of a lifetime, helped me appreciate people and other cultures, and made me more open and accepting. Travel is one of the best forms of education, period. Also, travel writing takes people to places they can’t reach due to distance, physical ailments or financial means. Or perhaps read about things they’d be afraid to do themselves. I remember so many people I’ve met along the way, the faces, the interactions, the kindness – from Hanoi to Helsinki – and I’ll cherish those special moments forever.