You have more than 35 years of travel-writing experience. How has your travel style changed since you first entered the field?
These days my spare time is negligible—as a result, I generally follow a tight schedule and find local guides invaluable. When I was younger I embraced serendipity and getting lost, which was no less insightful or rewarding.
What sparked the idea for your best-selling book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die?
I had long been gathering favorite places and experiences around the world and sharing them through my writing in guides and magazine assignments, and with friends and strangers who called on me for suggestions. I was excited to find a publisher, Workman, who believed in the 1,000 Places project and patiently waited as I traveled, scoured, interviewed, researched, wrote—and then traveled some more—before submitting it to them six years later. Here we are 15 years (and many updates and revisions) later, and it is still inspiring people to get off the couch and broaden their horizons. Carpe diem!
Is there a part of the world you feel especially connected to?
My inclination is to say Italy and all of the Mediterranean—I’m of Italian heritage and lived in Florence for three life-changing years—but the truth is that everywhere I travel I am completely taken in the same way: by the light, the smells, the sites, visual vestiges of history and rich cultures that are both foreign and familiar. I love the vast steppes of Patagonia, the vibrant energy of Shanghai and Rio. The beauty of the Antarctic moved me profoundly, as did the skies of Norway when filled with either the midnight sun or the spectacle of the northern lights. And all the people I meet along the way.
Can you share any fun anecdotes from your travels?
When 1,000 Places came out, I gave myself the gift of a trip to Machu Picchu, where I had wanted to visit since—well, forever. In Cusco, I ran into a lovely American woman who was thrilled at having made it to the Lost City of the Incas—a destination she had chosen from a recently published book called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. She asked if I’d heard of it! She was celebrating her 90th birthday with her first passport, and Peru was her first stamp. She left me with these pearls: “Make sure you see the difficult places first!”
Who is the best interview subject you’ve had on the road?
The first interview I ever did was with Mel Fisher of Key West, Florida, one of the world’s most famous deep-sea treasure hunters. He was an Indiana-born chicken farmer who sacrificed everything before eventually finding a 1622 wreck with a cache estimated at $450 million. Until then, considered a madman by all, he set off every day uttering his motto, “Today’s the day.” I was intimidated to interview him and must have rewritten that interview dozens of times. It was translated for a foreign magazine—men’s Italian Vogue—and I didn’t recognize any of my words, but I was still thrilled to see it in print.
What’s one thing you recommend folks do when visiting your hometown of NYC?
I can see your eyes rolling, but I always suggest the local hop-on/hop-off bus—usually with a live commentary by an aspiring actor with great flair and brio. NYC’s different neighborhoods and history can be mind-boggling, and this two- to three-hour loop gives you the lay of the land and an idea of where you want to return for solo exploration.
What do you always bring with you?
I’m a big fan of Ziploc bags of all sizes—I keep a stash in a side pocket of my suitcase. I use them for everything, from receipts to damp umbrellas to a pilfered banana from the breakfast buffet that I’ll save for a snack. Oh, and Xerox copies of my passport and credit cards in case my bag and/or iPhone (where I keep a photo image) get stolen or lost.
Is there anywhere you haven’t explored yet that you’re excited to?
I’ve never been to New Zealand—I am way overdue! I have been to nearby Australia many times but never seem to have the time to explore both of New Zealand’s islands. The world is huge, and my wish list is pages long. I doubt I’ll ever feel like I’ve seen it all!
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Summer 2018