This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has had a rather scintillating career, writing about books and bodies for publications like Bust, Elle, Red, and Best Sex Writing 2010: Johanna Gohmann. An Indiana native, she currently resides in Dublin Ireland and at johannagohmann.com.
What is “home” for you? Is it a particular place or person or thing?
Well, like most people, I guess home for me is about the people I love. I still think of Indiana, where my parents and siblings are, as one of my homes, even though I haven’t lived there in years. But I also feel I have a home in New York City, because I have so many good friends there. Right now home is in Ireland, because that’s where my fiancé is. And it’s also where I can eat lots of cheese and watch bad television, two other important features of what makes a “home.”
When did you first hit the road? How did it go?
The first major trip I ever took by myself was to Japan, to visit a friend who was doing the JET program. The flight over was an Ambien-induced haze, and I stepped off the plane completely delirious, wearing a sweat-soaked David Bowie t-shirt. I entered the airport meeting area, and was immediately surrounded by a group of Japanese policemen, who took my passport and fired off a bunch of questions that I of course didn’t understand. They wrote stuff down on their little pads then walked away. I have no idea what that was all about. Maybe they didn’t care for Bowie. Anyway, after that rather strange welcome, I finally spotted my friend, who had chosen that week to quit smoking, and was eating an ice cream cone even though it was freezing outside.
From that moment forward, the trip was amazing and hilarious, though certainly not without its challenging moments. I’m not a huge fan of sushi, so I spent most of the trip dining on spaghetti and coffee, which for some reason is what they offer to foreigners with boring palettes. Also, they should give out small medals to anyone who successfully navigates the Tokyo subway system. I ended up hopping the turn-style at one point, in a fit of confused rage. Oh, but an absolute must – do not leave Japan without visiting the Parasite Museum. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a tapeworm the size of a garden hose. All in all, it was an amazing trip. Despite the fact that the only thing I brought in the way of a guidebook was Memoirs of a Geisha.
What travel story will you still be telling your pals in the nursing home?
Well, if it’s a hip nursing home, I’ll probably tell them about my unique experience modeling for an artist in Brighton, England. (Which people can read about in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010.) If it’s a more sedate assisted living home, then I’ll just tell them about the time in Amsterdam I fell over backwards in the street. (I was trying to make fun of my friend’s dancing ability. Alas, instant karma.)
Let’s say you could take a free trip with anyone of your choosing (a historical figure, an ancestor, a super hero, etc). Who would it be, where would you go, and why?
Can I travel with a super hero who has the power to magically transport me to any location without having to take a long distance flight? Or is that a bit like wishing for three more wishes? Hmmm. Well I’d love to hit a party in Paris with Anais Nin. Or go pretty much anywhere with Oscar Wilde. Kite-surfing with Mary Magdalene? Zip-lining with Betty White? This question is too difficult. Next.
Name one place that should top everyone’s travel dream list, be it a nation or a landmark or a village.
My fiancé and I were completely charmed by Lucca, a walled town in Tuscany. It is ridiculously pretty and romantic. We entered the city at night, through an underground tunnel, which gave the whole experience a pretty magical vibe. You can rent a bicycle and ride atop the city wall, or through the insanely narrow streets, if you’re brave. The architecture and views are stunning, and the food is of course delicious. I still daydream about a meal I had there… In the evenings, these beautiful Italian people would flock to the front steps of an old cathedral to sit and drink wine, and just chill out in their tall boots and leather jackets. Our whole experience there was so lovely it nearly felt pretend.
What specific travel resources (websites, guidebooks, blogs, etc) do you always consult when planning a journey?
Trip Advisor totally sucks me in. I don’t even know that I trust it completely, but I get so caught up in reading about other people’s experiences. It’s fascinating to me what some people find important when traveling. They’ll give a big ol’ thumbs down over the weirdest stuff, like the fact that their hotel bathroom didn’t have a west-facing window or something. I also love that you can see what the hotels really look like in the traveler photos. I’m sure the hotels don’t love it, but I think it’s brilliant.
As for other guides, I like the old standbys: Time Out, Lonely Planet, and the Rough Guides. And a friend just introduced me to i-escape.com, which is great.
What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned on the road?
I struggle with the old tourist mistake – wanting to see and do everything. I can completely exhaust myself on trips if I’m not careful. Which is dumb really, because the best travel experiences always come when you put down the guidebook and just let a situation carry you along. Those are my favorite moments. It’s not when I’m touring the Boboli Gardens, but when I’m lying in the grass overlooking the Boboli Gardens, drinking wine the guard let us smuggle in in a water bottle. Or when I’m sitting below the Eiffel tower, eating a croissant in the sunshine. Or stumbling into a costume party in Barcelona, where a man is wearing nothing but a map of the world around his waist. Guidebooks can be extremely helpful, but you really have to know when to put them down, and just go with the flow.
What advice can you offer to women with itchy feet?
Don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Just go. Find a way to make it happen. If you can’t afford it, look into teaching abroad programs, or volunteer service programs. Apply for jobs overseas. Or just pack up your stuff and go. While I don’t necessarily advise going into debt for travel, I think if you’re going to blow money on any extravagance, make it plane tickets. I realize Suze Orman might disagree, but Suze could use a mojito or two by the sea, if you ask me. Travel creates experiences that you will never forget. It opens your mind, and alters your world-view. Four years later, I think I’m still probably paying off tickets to a sumo match in Japan. But would I trade the experience of sipping cheap sake from a jar, and watching those monster men stomp the stage? Not for all the lower APRs in the world…