Elliott Hester’s stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Endless Vacation, Caribbean Travel & Life, Salon.com, Glamour, Maxim, Details and more than thirty newspapers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. He also writes Out of the Blue — a syndicated newspaper column that reaches more than 1.5 million readers. Hester’s first book, “Plane Insanity: A Flight Attendant’s Tales of Sex, Rage, and Queasiness at 30,000 Feet,” was published in January by St. Martin’s Press.
How did you get started traveling?
At the age of 14, I traveled alone from Chicago to Los Angeles — where I would be staying with family friends. Although it was my first flight, I wasn’t the least bit nervous. As a matter of fact, I felt exhilarated. When the airplane sling-shot down the runway, I remember feeling a sudden, irrevocable joy — an out-of-body happiness that stayed with me till the plane touched down at LAX. Like a teenager who had just experienced his very first kiss, I wanted to do it again and again … .
This is why I became a flight attendant. Not so much for the thrill of flying, rather the joy of traveling. The pleasure of being somewhere else.
How did you get started writing?
Writing always came easy to me. I took to it like a frog to a lily pad. I remember the first day of class in the eighth grade. Our teacher asked the class to write a “What I did on my summer vacation” essay. I put pencil to paper and didn’t look up until 30 minutes later when the essay was complete. I don’t even remember breathing.
Throughout high school and college, however, I breathed way too much. Sports, parties, motorcycles, girls — these distractions, and my own inability to concentrate, made it impossible to write more than what was required in class. It wasn’t until the age of 30, when I moved to Sydney, Australia, that I began to write in earnest. I completed a novel — an unpublishable fiasco rife with adverbs and glittering adjectives. Dejected, I turned to magazines. On my first attempt at writing an article, I was lucky enough to sell it to the Australian edition of Elle magazine.
What do you consider your first “break” as a travel writer?
Career wise, attending the annual Book Passage Travel Writer’s Conference was the best thing that ever happened to me. During one 3-day weekend in Corte Madera, California, I learned how to craft an article, how to sell it, how to carve out a niche for myself. I learned that if I wrote every day and sent thoughtful queries to the right editor, eventually my work would be published. I met accomplished writers who encouraged me. I listened to advice from the speakers and put their preachings into practice the following year. As a result, I was asked to return as a faculty member. During my 5-year association with the BPTWC, the lessons learned and contacts made have aided my career immeasurably.
As a traveler and fact/story-gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road/in the air?
Time. Because I like to travel at a relaxed pace — and don’t allow my trips to become fact-gathering reconnaissance missions that leave no time for fun or discovery — it seems that just when I’m beginning to get the “feel” of a place, it’s time for me to leave.
What is your biggest challenge in the writing process?
Getting started. If volumes have been written about procrastination, whole chapters could be devoted to me.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint? Editors? Finanaces? Promotion?
Like professional musicians, painters and other artists, travel writers wish we could spend all our time perfecting the art of traveling and writing. Instead, we have to deal with the business side of the profession. Querying editors, tracking payments and invoices, rewriting articles, dealing with rejection — these are real-life aspects of the biz that separate the women from the girls and the men from the boys.
Do you do other work to make ends meet? If so, what kind of work?
Luckily for me, my “day job” allows me to travel and pay the bills simultaneously. Working as an international flight attendant has exposed me to unique situations — many of which were parlayed into writing assignments. For example, on my first layover in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I went out on the town alone. The result? A four-page essay that appeared in National Geographic Traveler.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
Although he is not a “travel writer” per se, I have learned much from novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle. He is, without question, my favorite literary stylist. His powers of description are mesmerizing.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Few travel writers spend all their time writing about travel. I’ve sold stories about health, relationships, crime, etc. Although many of these pieces were travel related, I realized early on in my career that man does not live by destination piece alone.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
The ability to investigate the world.