Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interview with a Travel Writer...Kent E St. John.

Today we talk with Kent E St. John, Senior Travel Editor and part owner of Kent also writes a travel column in the Lincoln Eagle in New York's Dutchess County and has had travel articles published in the Hartford Courant, Valley Advocate, Preview Magazine , and Transitions Abroad. His travel narratives have been published in Travelers’ Tales Ireland, Pilgrimage and the Best of Travelers’ Tales.

As well as writing about travel, Kent also talks travel for the Around the World Radio (which broadcasts on ten stations in California and on thirty throughout Australia) and is a frequent guest on the Travel Planners Radio show that is on several stations throughout the Midwest.

And of course, like the rest of us, Kent maintains a blog - Be My Guest - that looks at life as a travel writer. Be My Guest was chosen as one of the 100 best travel blogs by Frommer's Budget Travel magazine.

Hi Kent and thanks for stopping by Write to Travel for a chat.

1. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get started in writing?

I was a voracious reader long before writing ever came into my world; it was traveling that changed things. I owned a tour company in Scottsdale AZ and once the airlines put a cap on my commissions I knew it was time to find a new avenue into places I wanted to see. I sold the agency and bought some books on travel writing. I sent my first query to Transitions Abroad and they took it. I sent a second and third… until finally they offered me a title of contributing editor; I no longer booked others’ tickets, I booked mine.

2. What do you consider your first "break" as a travel writer?

By studying the markets I was aware of who just might take a piece, very important for a beginner. I also think that a vast background of jobs helped liked bartending in New York, and owning a restaurant a wee bit later. I wasn’t into a career being the end all—odd jobs build a base. Hell, I flunked out of college ‘cause I was too busy to attend class. Again, I truly believe that reading is the best teacher.

3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into writing?

Be aware of what you love. For me it was always traveling. Owning a restaurant myself I never got away. I did do well though and built up some dollars. The money wasn’t what I really craved, however. I longed for new places to see. It was a paradox; I had money but no time. If at all possible stash some cash before leaping full time into travel writing.

4. What do you see as the future for travel writers in the printed media and online ?

That is a great question because I was one of the first original writers for and actually I am the only one left of the six originals. I was told by some publications that it interfered with print so I needed to make a choice. I did. Many told me I made the wrong one, online. Today I get numerous emails from people I met in print years ago who now want to get some kind of online presence, and they were big in print. I follow the theory that an existence in all kinds of media is key. I am online, in print, and I also do travel radio. In order to make a living you must be flexible, but I enjoy all of them. I think that when I was published in several Travelers Tales books it was the most satisfying experience. I like narrative yet the market is so small. Today I own a wee bit of and work with Max Hartshorne. I met him when he worked for Transitions Abroad. People like Max are changing the online travel writing world.

5. Which travel writers and/or travel books have influenced you?

My god, Bill Bryson and Tim Cahill have made me laugh when I have been in hell and it wasn’t just lost bags. When I first haunted bookstores there wasn’t even a travel section. People like Jon Bowmaster fear nothing and he lives nearby my small town, just a short way down the road. Have a beer with Tim Leffel, Jen Leo, David Farley or Johnny Jet and you can feel that excitement we all share—what’s next? Yet we are all different.

6. As a writer and traveler, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?

I am beginning to be known as an older guy, but I can still beat the young ones up a mountain even with a cig break wearing just Tevas. I am not as intense as some new writers; I am just doing what I love, what has been put on my plate. Eventually I may have to beg for a Travco trip. It goes back to love what you do.

7. Finally, what is your favorite place and why ?

Home here in the Hudson Valley, NY is my favorite spot yet I never write about it. I have always wanted a barn and space I now have both. I have cats and wide plank floors and pictures of my adventures. I walk a rail trail and look at the Catskill Mts. I am married to an AP English teacher who always reminds me that there is so much to read. Life is great. Even though every two weeks or so I itch for cramped seats on a plane, I now know where home is.

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Steph said...

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Hi Steph, glad you liked the interview...thanks for info on the money saving site...will check it out.


Anonymous said...

What a great interview! I've met him several times and recently heard him speak at the New York Times Travel Show. He is a hilarious speaker with great information about travel writing. The travel writing seminar was really helpful. Kent St. John also blogs religiously for so we can keep up with his thoughts and travels. Other travel writers I know always say he is the most fun on a trip. Thanks for such good content on your blog!

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