Elaine Glusac
  • Paige Wynne
  • Elaine Glusac

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Elaine Glusac, freelance travel writer.

“If you’ve ever flown in an airplane, you’ve probably read something by me; I write a lot for the in-flight magazines. I also write quite frequently for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Departures, Afar. Because I’m freelance, it’s up to me to find the stories and pursue them and find someone who wants to publish them. I tend to like writing contrarian stories, like ‘Take your kid to Vegas.’

“Travel writing’s really competitive. You’re not competing just with other writers, but also with everybody who goes on vacation and says, “I have a great story to tell.” You have to be pretty tenacious and very knowledgeable about the industry. People find out what I do and are immediately like, ‘Can I get in your suitcase?’ or ‘Do you need an assistant?’ And I say, ‘You wouldn’t want to travel like I do.’ It’s insane. What most people do in one week, I have to do in two or three days.

“The basic economics of writing a travel story are very expensive, because you have to fly or drive somewhere and spend all that time there. So you have to be really fast. I plot out my days by the hour. I’ll do a hike for a couple hours, and then I’m off to see some museum for an hour, and then I’ll interview some chef or artist. That way it’s really efficient for me. And I’m back home a lot quicker, which is good, because I’m only making money when I’m in my office and writing. That’s really not sexy. People are like,
‘Oh, you don’t get to lie by the pool?’ I really don’t. I get to take a photograph of the pool, usually.

“You have to fall in love with every aspect of this job or you’ll go crazy. I feel lucky that I never have lost my enthusiasm for flying. When I’m in a plane, I’m usually looking out the window, always sort of surprised and delighted. I even like airports. You’re watching people in transition. Some people are agitated; some people are really calm. I like watching people I don’t necessarily understand. Also, airports have gotten so much better since 9/11. Now that you have to be there so much earlier, they have to entertain us better.

“All the bad [travel] stuff has happened to me. I’ve had my luggage lost above the Arctic Circle and on Easter Island. I’ve been projectile-vomited on on a plane. The guy threw up on me and on my copy of The Da Vinci Code; I had to buy another one at the next airport. I’ve had dengue fever. It’s really painful. They call it breakbone fever; your joints are just so sore. You feel like you’ve become an octogenarian overnight. I’m really careful now if I go somewhere tropical. I’m a big fan of long-sleeved linen shirts and Off! Deep Woods.

“My family has a cabin in northern Michigan, and that’s the only place we go that I don’t write about. I’m never going to tell you about northern Michigan. It’s my sanctuary. Fortunately, not that many people want to hear about northern Michigan.”