"Writing about chocolate was not a deliberate intention."
Guest Post: Doreen Pendgracs
As a travel writer, I’d been to a number of terrific wine resorts, and had actually wanted to write a book about wine travel. But when I began researching what had already been written on the subject, I soon realized that there were dozens of books about wine travel already on the shelves. But no one had ever written a book about chocolate travel. So I decided to carve my own niche and be the one to introduce this delicious form of travel to the world. So far, I’ve spoken at a number of chocolate festivals in places such as Puerto Vallarta, and Hawaii, with the International Chocolate Fest in San Mateo, California, next up in April. I’ve also been a judge at and consultant to a number of chocolate events. I love talking about chocolate—sharing my passion for chocolate and all the incredible people who are growing the cacao, processing the cocoa, and making the chocolate.
I’ve been a freelance writer since 1993, when I accepted a severance package from my employer. I had been working in the field of general insurance and corporate communications for our provincial insurance provider for nearly 18 years when the (then) Conservative provincial government decided to make major cuts to Crown corporations. I gave up a terrific salary and great benefits to put my faith and my future in my own hands and go freelance, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. In the time I’ve been working on my own, I’ve co-authored two books (one of them was a local bestseller) and authored two solo projects—the most recent one won me an international book award.
I’ve written for numerous magazines and online publications since 1995, and launched my own blog in 2009 when I began researching the first volume of Chocolatour after an unexpected and eye-opening visit to a cocoa plantation in the Dominican Republic while on holidays. I didn’t know it then, but writing about the world of chocolate would take over my life. And what a delicious journey it has been. My chocolate research has taken me to 16 countries to date, and hundreds of destinations around the world. And the best thing about all that is that most of my travel is subsidized by the destination that is hosting me. I’ve gotten to stay at some of the most luxurious resorts in the world and then write about them in freelance articles, on my blog, in social media, and in my books.
Under my Chocolatour brand, I host and organize a lot of chocolate events. Those might be chocolate dinners, where I collaborate with a culinary team or chef to create a multi-course menu that features both the sweet and the savoury side of chocolate. These cocoa cuisine events have been popular with attendees, and have been a good source of income for me. I also organize custom chocolate tastings and pairing events for various kinds of groups or organizations that may wish to do something special to thank their volunteers or donors, or create a unique theme for a fundraising event or conference. Speaking at these events generates a good portion of my income. I do have plans to eventually lead small group custom chocolate tours to select destinations around the world, but as I am currently in a caregiving role at home, I have not been free to take long trips away from home for an extended period of time and have put that idea on the back burner for now.
The biggest thing I’ve learned as a self-employed writer, author, blogger, professional speaker and event organizer is that people’s likes and interests are constantly changing, and you have to be creative and innovative to keep your ideas fresh. In the first volume of Chocolatour, I focused more on the chocolate and chocolate makers, and the destinations where they live and work. There will still be some of that in the second (and third) volume(s) of Chocolatour, but for volume II, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate Adventures, I’m focusing more on the active side of chocolate in visiting cocoa plantations, chocolate spas and resorts, chocolate festivals and attractions, and recommending pairings that chocolate lovers can enjoy and experience. I’m hoping to have the second volume wrapped up and published in 2018, but new information and opportunities keep presenting themselves to the point where I will eventually have to save the rest for volume III!
To date, my chocolate travels have taken me through Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Holland, England, Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and all over Canada and the US (including Hawaii.) I’ve even eaten camels’s milk chocolate from the UAE! But the Middle East, Asia, Africa, India, and Oceania are regions that I am planning to cover in volume III of Chocolatour. So you can see where this quest has truly taken over my life, and my travels.
That said, the biggest challenge for me has been dealing with the travel costs associated with my research. I was fortunate to get a couple of small travel grants from the Manitoba Arts Council to help with travel costs at the beginning of my project. Since then, my professional credits and reputation have helped me get sponsored travel from most of the places I visit. Without that help, I would not be able to truly experience the world of chocolate. I would just be tasting chocolate, as so many chocolate bloggers do. And that is not at all what Chocolatour is about. The mission of Chocolatour is to educate, entertain, and entice chocolate lovers to experience the world through chocolate.
I am able to fulfill that mission by drawing from my strengths. As a journalist, I am a good storyteller, and love to educate my readers in a fun and entertaining style. That combined with my love for photography, brings each and every story and post to life, and I think, encourages the readers to want to experience some of the things I am writing about for themselves.
My advice is to find and follow your own passions—regardless of how old you are, or at what stage of the life journey you are in. My life has been so enriched by following my passions, and leaving the security and predictability of corporate life behind.
Doreen Pendgracs lives in Matlock, Manitoba, Canada, near the beautiful shores of Lake Winnipeg with her husband and cat. You can find her online at http://chocolatour.net where you can connect with Doreen via social media, subscribe to her blog, or buy her books.
Photo Credit: Doreen Pendgracs - With and without chocolate on her face.