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I looked into joining SATW but don't have that insider friend in there that can "sponsor" me. I understand the need to vet people but don't understand why you need that method -- people whom you compete against finding it in their heart to let you into the travel writer's club.
Scott, your qualms about finding competitors to sponsor you would seem to make sense, but as chair of SATW's Northeast Chapter, let me suggest two theories about how people manage to get sponsors in spite of that:
1. Just as people don't necessarily vote their wallet (e.g. in 2008 Obama bagged the majority of votes of people earning more than 200K a year), people in SATW are good to their competitors.
2. Their competitors are not necessarily competitors. Some of us are photographers, others are writers, still others are broadcasters, etc. Moreover, I like to specialize in northeast Pennsylvania; my friend E.P. covers skiing; E. K. covers road trips and green travel -- so we're all freelancers (at least part of the time), but we aren't really competitors.
In short, I'd welcome you to look into SATW, Scott. Visit the site (satw.org), check out the "how to join" section, and feel free to contact Lynn or me if you have questions.