Cool Job: Travel writer's career is going places


When Becca Hensley steps off the plane in Paris, London, Beijing or some other foreign locale, her job is just beginning.

Hensley is a widely published travel writer whose work is other people's play -- she spends her road trips trying to mine the "story" in a particular destination and then chronicles her experiences after she returns home to her Austin, Texas, base.

Hensley specializes in luxury travel for national and regional publications, including National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Austin Monthly, the Austin American Statesman and Washington Flyer, with Europe counting as one of her favorite "beats."

"Travel is almost like a spiritual journey for me," Hensley says. "I definitely love the joie de vivre, the people I meet and the access we get to things."

Work, life balance

At the same time, the married mother of three nearly grown children tries to strike a balance between her globetrotting ways and her life at home.

With her younger son about to graduate from high school, Hensley now has more flexibility to hit the road. But even when her children were little, she tried to incorporate her family into her travel writing by bringing them along on her adventures as often as proved practical.

The five of them spent last Christmas together in Vienna, where her college student daughter is studying for the year, and last summer went to the Maui's Kapalua Food and Wine Festival.

"I see my travels as an opportunity for the family," Hensley says. "With [experiences] like those, your family can't complain too much."

The writer's life

Hensley, who has a bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from the University of Colorado and a master's degree in history from the University of Texas, Austin, fell into travel writing. But she started on her career path by being a creative person, with poetry, fiction and painting as her outlets.

"Instead of calling myself a journalist, I call myself a writer, she says. "Being a writer, that's how I process the world."

After publishing a series of creative non-fiction essays about travel, Hensley became an "expert" in the subject, and began landing travel writing assignments. "People thought I was a travel writer -- that's how I became one," she says.

If it's Tuesday, it must be…

Similar to most vacationers, Hensley always starts with an itinerary filled with major sites and attractions to investigate, but she usually allows herself the luxury of being in the moment.

"Some places are icons because they're cool to see -- the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower," she says. "Sometimes the great, new bar won't be there next year, so a mix is the right thing."

Traveling with children helped open her up to the joys of less-touristy spots frequented -- and often preferred -- by locals.

"Kids don't allow for being rigid, so you have to be open-minded, and say these are the 20 things you'd like to do, but you probably will only get two done, because we've discovered two other things," she says. "You have to run through [Madrid's] Prado faster than you want, but then you end up in a park, and you meet somebody who tells you about their favorite place, and you have to go."

So many places, so little time

Where in the world has Hensley been? The list is lengthy, and includes all of Europe and many places in Asia and Africa. She recently added India to the list, but still there are plenty of destinations left for her to discover, including Thailand, Greenland and Iceland.

"I don't really keep track, because it's not all about checking things off a list for me," she says. "I took a different perspective back when I was beginning."

When pressed to pick a favorite place, Hensley concedes it probably would be in Europe. However, as one who has written on everything from Stockholm in the footsteps of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," to shopping for the best shoes in Charleston, S.C., to biking to noodle bars in Beijing, she says most places have something compelling in them.

"I have a real affinity for Europe, and feel really at home there," she says. "My favorite cities are Venice and Vienna and Oslo, and I love Paris. Everything is wonderful in its own way."

The writer in her can't help but spin a few tantalizing tales from past -- or maybe -- future stories. "Sometimes, it's not just the place, but everything coming together in a perfect storm. One of the most magical places I've ever been was Finland in the winter, when everything is covered in snow, and it's like Narnia."

And then there was the time in the bush at Kruger National Park in South Africa. "The stars, the night sky -- that was really overwhelming, too. There's something magical about safari, if you're with the right people…"

More about Becca Hensley:

1. What did you eat for breakfast? A banana and tons of coffee with hot milk

2. Which day of the week is your favorite? Saturday, though I still work, it feels like a free day

3. Which day of the week is your least favorite? Monday

4. What was the first job you ever had? Bakery worker

5. What makes you angry? Mean people

6. What makes you joyful? Thunderstorms, furry beasts at my feet, uninhibited laughter and serious kisses

7. If you could have any job, other than your own, what would it be? i would paint full-time or write really long novels

8. If you had the time and the money to study anything at all, what would you choose? Languages -- all of them

9. What did you want to be when you grew up? A writer

10. Can money bring you happiness? Sadly, no, but it does sweeten every stage of the ride