How I Travel: Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins: Roaming Poet

Ellen Hopkins is the author of several NYT bestselling novels. Though her work deals with gritty subject matter, Hopkins has a great affection for her characters—often teens in desperate situations—and handles their stories with a deft touch.

At one of the Lord of the Rings movie sites in NZ

I used to be all about backcountry travel.

Camping. Fishing. Hiking with my dogs. However, as I’ve matured (sounds better than “gotten older”), I’ve come to enjoy the cultural aspects. Museums. Architecture. Great restaurants. And the history of wherever we are. Plus today, I’m all about comfort.

Trips for me now are often born of invitations to speak somewhere.

For instance, back in 2010, I was invited to speak at the Bologna Children’s Book Festival. Voila! My family and I were able to explore Italy for ten days. It was our first time there, and we were very excited. Similarly, I was invited to a conference in Sydney a few years ago. That led to a three-week Australia-New Zealand excursion.

I’m an Aries, and can happily veer from the plans.

However, my husband is a Capricorn, who needs everything settled before he hits the road. He’s the guy with the little string on the map, figuring out how far we can go in a day and planning where to stay.

I am not the gym type, so fitness rooms don’t interest me.

However, I tend to walk a lot when I travel, and I walk fast. To really get the feel of a place I explore on foot.

Horseback down into the Haleakala Crater in Hawaii

Because I hate feeling rushed, I now figure out how much time I will have somewhere, then look at possible daytrips, choosing the ones that mean the most to me.

With Italy, for instance, I had evening commitments in Bologna, but time for daytrips. We saw Florence and Siena. And, of course, Rome, before and after.

I’ve gotten into trouble by trusting outdated guidebooks.

I prefer Internet research and recommendations by friends/family.

Favorite country by far, so far, is New Zealand, although my husband preferred Australia.

Good marriages are cemented when you don’t always agree, right? I did love our time Down Under, though. And Sydney has to be the most beautiful city in the world. (Not that I’ve seen them all… Yet.)

We did get terribly lost in Sydney though.

They were out of GPSs at the car rental place, so they gave us a map book. But Sydney has “boroughs” and isn’t on a grid. We would be driving down Queen Street and all of a sudden be on some other street. And when we’d try to find Queen Street in the map book, there would be a half-dozen of them, all in different boroughs. We just sort of lucked into finding our hotel, where our hostess reiterated, “I TOLD you to take public transport.” It might have been funny, except my husband was driving (on the left side of the road, which was correct, but also “wrong”) and I was navigating. Sort of.

On the Sugar Cane Train in Maui

Two of my best travel secrets are Zicam and Airborne.

The minute I hear a seat companion sniffling, out they come. I swear by them, and rarely get sick when I travel, despite the germs floating around everywhere.

To play fair, I often travel in a shirt that says, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.”

Used to be I’d get in my van and go.

Sometimes just me and my dogs. But when you have kids, you want to know they’re safe and warm at night. And because my career has peaked later in life, I can now afford to stay at better hotels and enjoy finer restaurants than I once could.

I absolutely despise the back of the plane.

When I arrive at my destination, I want off RIGHT NOW.

I recently flew into JFK and as the luggage hit the carousel, one of my bags came up with a priority label (yay for first class upgrades!).

I picked that one up, just as my second suitcase came up. Grabbed that one, too. It is one of those hard nylon suitcases, silver. Both bags had my unique fluorescent orange luggage tags, and orange priority tags. Got in a cab, rode the half hour to where I was staying. Went to change and discovered that, despite the loudspeaker announcement warning to “check your tags,” I had taken the wrong silver suitcase. It was EXACTLY like mine. Sooooooooooooo . . . back a half-hour to JFK. Around a $100 lesson, learned.

Lava hunting by helicopter on the Big Island in Hawaii

My most humbling travel moment was standing in front of a DaVinci at the National Museum.

I’ve never been quite so affected by a painting before. It wasn’t very big, and the model wasn’t beautiful, but the things DaVinci did with light! The true definition of “masterpiece.”

Greece is on the top of my Bucket List.

I studied about it in school, and have long wanted to visit there.

The first place I eat when I get home is my kitchen.

Back to the familiar, which only makes eating out again that much better.

Lost bags. Flight delays. Perhaps even having to stay an extra day or two somewhere. The more you travel, the likelier that is to happen.

Time is such an issue for me, I generally prefer to travel by jet.

However, to relax and really see the countryside, I love train travel. We traveled extensively by train in Italy.

Plan for the unexpected.

Lost bags. Flight delays. Perhaps even having to stay an extra day or two somewhere. The more you travel, the likelier that is to happen. So keep a spare toothbrush in your briefcase or purse.

On a 4x tour in New Zealand with Orion and husband John. (Note sheep in background. Lots of sheep in NZ!)

As a writer, everyone is interesting, and a potential character.

Literally. On the road I people watch serially. And I talk to my seat companions (as long as they want to, and they usually do!).

To play fair, I often travel in a shirt that says, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.”

Business travelers can be especially rude.

I can’t tell you how many times businessmen (male gender specification intended) have pushed in front of me to get onto an airplane first. This is WITH assigned seats, and most often in the first class line, where they’re getting on in front of nine-tenths of the plane anyway, and there’s always overhead space. Seriously, guys?

The best beach I’ve ever seen was at a little out-of-the-way resort in the Virgin Islands.

On the road I people watch serially. And I talk to my seat companions (as long as they want to, and they usually do!).

Deserted. Best snorkeling ever. Clean, white sand. And next door, at night, this guy used to sit outside, playing his guitar and singing. We asked about him. Turned out it was John McVeigh, from Fleetwood Mac.

Ellen with her son, Orion, and husband, John, in the Blue Mountains, Australia

I most often travel alone.

But I love to travel with my husband & son. Except they do slow me down through security! Men and their change/belt buckles/foil wrappers!

I think it’s hugely important to remember that we aren’t just Nevadans or Americans… we are people, and the human experience should speak to us all.

By going new places and seeing new things and meeting new people, we come to realize that we are more alike than different.

Post 9-11, America reverted to isolationism, but we share this planet, and we need to remember that. Traveling helps us remember that.

Her website is not only a great place to learn more about the author’s background & work, but also an excellent resource for aspiring poets and novelists. She can also be found on Twitter @EllenHopkinsYA.

“How I Travel” is a BootsnAll series publishing every Friday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. 

all photographs provided by Ellen Hopkins and may not be used without permission

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