The original travel influencer, Jimmy Im is a nationally recognized travel expert, writer, instructor and personality. He was a host on Travel Channel (Confessions of a Travel Writer), critic on Bravo’s Best New Restaurant and travel expert on various morning and evening news show including NBC, Nightline and Morning Blend. In the past thirteen years, his work has appeared in top, national and global publications, including Conde Nast Traveler, New York Post, Hollywood Reporter, Travel + Leisure, Yahoo Travel, New York Magazine, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Details, American Airlines/American Way, Robb Report, Passport, BBC Travel, Travel Channel and dozens more. While Jimmy has visited 113 countries, he splits his time living among New York City, Los Angeles and New Orleans, and he often travels with his pup, Ruby (who, yes, has a Instagram: @JetSetRuby!).
I first met Jimmy about 13 years ago; I was fresh off the boat, broke, and trying to make it in NYC. I was just blown away by the stories I heard of his travels. First class flights, 7 star resorts, exclusive access to incredible restaurants before they opened to the public, and more. We are talking the most experiential, the most luxurious, the most ‘bucket list’ worthy trips imaginable. His Instagram feed will make you hate your life. DO NOT check it while in an office or cubicle else risk jumping out of the window. Even his pup Ruby has a better life than most of us; she rides on private jets too! Times have only gotten better for Jimmy; I am still living vicariously and inspired by him to this day.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? I started my travel career young; I got a job at Business Traveler magazine when I was 24. After that I went freelance, writing for Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, New York Daily News, Details, the list goes on. I also appeared as a travel expert on several morning and evening news programs, and I was one of the stars of Confessions of a Travel Writer on Travel Channel.
What was your ‘gold lining’ that led you down the path to this point in your career? To be honest, my very first real job, after moving to NYC, was at Ralph Lauren, in advertising, where I quickly learned a ‘9-5’ was not for me. At Business Traveler I was “full time freelance,” which allowed me to make my own hours and work from home a few times a week. I quickly built my network and within a few years was a household name in the travel industry because I wrote for so many outlets and traveled so much. Tourism ministers in, like, Zimbabwe, know who I am. I was also a DJ in NYC for 8 years (!) so I was already well known as a socialite (MTV did a reality show on me and 2 of my friends but it didn’t get picked up), and you know it’s all about connections in this world, right? If I didn’t know the editor of a magazine I wanted to write for, my friend’s cousin’s sister’s roommate’s dog would. You have to network and use all your resources.
How did you get to where you are today? Honestly, working my ass off. I'm constantly traveling, researching, pitching, writing, traveling, researching, pitching, writing. Throw in networking too. I was constantly networking.
What does a typical day look like for you? Traveling, researching, pitching, writing, and I throw in gym time when I can. The last two years I have been writing a book. Imagine working 8 hours a day then working an additional 4-6 hours on top of that on your book. This is 7 days a week. I gained tons of weight and fucked up my vision by being at the computer for so long. Thankfully, my book is in my agent’s hands. Freelancing is very hard if you start out now, so I’m thankful I started a decade ago.
Who or what inspires you? I feel like I inspire myself. I’m very true to what I do, and I launched travelbinger.com because some editors these days have no idea what they’re doing. One editor at an outlet edited my story so much, it read differently, it wasn’t my voice, so I never supported or shared the piece. Also, the art of the travel story is gone. Advertiser conflicts within magazines also limit the types of stories you can run. I’ve seen many huge outlets recycle stories, which should tell you how little they are paying for creative ideas, or maybe they’ve simply run out of ideas themselves! So I inspire myself by writing stories I think are original, engaging and make some sort of impact on people.
What has been the most exciting moment in your career to date? That hasn’t come yet. It will be when my novel is published! But I do remember landing my first feature story with Travel Weekly back in, like, 2006. It was a really big deal because they are so selective with writers, and they went out of their way to hire me specifically for that story (the editor even called and left a voicemail, which will never happen in 2017, but I remember playing it over and over again. I knew I “made it” at that point).
How has the space changed since you first started? Oh gosh. Freelance travel writing is HARD AF. I taught travel writing for many years, and I told my students a) it was all about connections/networking (you are more likely to land a story through referral or meeting the editor or whatever) and b) not giving up. You have to stick with it. Also, again, due to the state of the publishing industry, nobody pays well anymore, and a lot of the writing is now done in-house due to limited budgets. Some still pay great, but not as good as it was 10 years ago. I do very well for myself now, but my expenses are very high, and there can be months when you wait for a check. I do a lot of copy writing for tourism boards, which helps financially. Travel writing is so so so hard to get into, especially now with social media (“influencers”) who have somehow gotten into the biz thinking they are owed two free hotel nights for posting a photo. Social media and the internet generation really changed the landscape. Because EVERYTHING is read online now, proper travel writing is a lost art. You don’t really read feature stories anymore. It’s rare. Everything is a round-up or an friendly little story that’s short and to the point for those with limited attention spans. Even headlines are the story these days. It’s sorta sad but it’s also not surprising.
As someone who has done so many different things, what is the secret to your success? Networking. Making a name for yourself. Obviously you have to be a good writer too.
What quotation or saying inspires you and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love? Tennyson’s last line in Ulysses “… and not to yield."
Is there anything exciting coming down the line for you we should keep an eye out for? I launched my own travel site, travelbinger.com, this past summer and I’m actually very surprised with the great traffic it’s been getting. I love it. I write all the original content (for now) so I try to bang out at least 5 stories a week, but again, as you know, this is a lot of work considering I already freelance write. To be honest, I want to make travelbinger.com self sufficient so I can work for myself and hire great writers to make it the best luxury travel site for inspiration, tips, features and more.
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