Interview: Landon Spencer

After receiving a master’s degree in English, this week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor Landon Spencerran away from academia and joined the circus: Landon Spencer.

When did you first hit the road?  How did it go?

I come from a family that doesn’t travel much (my father is married to a Mexican-American woman and lives in Southern California but has never been to Mexico) so I’m still surprised sometimes when I look around at this life on the road that I’ve been living.

About five years ago I abruptly gave up everything that was stable in my life.  I indulged in a couple of months of semi-depressed wine-and-chocolate directionless limbo.  Then the circus called, quite literally.  Cavalia, an acrobatic and equestrian show, knew that I had done some trick riding and roping in my youth and asked if I was interested in auditioning.  “Come and play with us…” beckoned the French accented message left on my phone.  Though it had been ten years since I’d even sat on a horse, I knew it was the opportunity I was waiting for.  I joined the show in Montreal and have been touring North America and Europe with Cavalia ever since.

It would be fun to say that I have never looked back, but in truth it’s one of my favorite hobbies.  I look back, but I never forget to look around as well.  Most of the time, I love life on the road.  I live in each city for two or three months, long enough to escape feeling like a perpetual tourist, but not so long that I get restless.

What is “home” for you?

Initially my life on tour left me feeling out of place in each new apartment.  Now I move into a new place, unpack and tack my scarves to the wall, and within 24 hours I feel like I’m queen of the place, almost as if I’ve never lived anywhere else.  I’ve learned to make home wherever I am.

On the other hand, scratching my restless itch for this long has also (finally!) helped me develop the urge to settle down.  When I consider doing so, it is always a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California that comes to mind.  I left Three Rivers in a hurry and haven’t actually lived there in over 15 years, but I find that now, after a pretty hefty walk around the block, I’d love to make my hometown into my home.

Landon Spencer

Let’s say you could take a free trip with anyone of your choosing (a historical figure, an ancestor, a superhero, etc).  Who would it be, where would you go, and why?

I’m going to have to go with Antione de Saint-Exupery and the Sahara.  I’ve always been intrigued by the world’s largest desert—what better way to see it than from the sky with the author of Terre des Homme and The Little Prince?  I’d soak up the beauty of the sand while Saint-Ex litters the cockpit with comical sketches on bits of paper and whips up tales from his days carrying the mail in Argentina and North Africa.

Landon Spencer

Which travel writers or books have been especially inspirational to you?

Some of my favorite travel writers haven’t actually been claimed by the genre—Saint-Exupery, my Saharan muse, for example, and Dubravka Ugresic, a Croatian author who now lives abroad and writes about cities like Berlin and Amsterdam with an inspiring combination of perception and poetry.

I also love Jenny Diski, the travel writer who claims to want nothing more than to stay home and keep still.

What specific travel resources (websites, guidebooks, blogs, etc.) do you always consult when planning a journey?

I always take Lonely Planet for the basics, but the majority of my pre-trip research is more literary than practical.  I read histories, literature in translation from the region, travelogues of foreigners’ impressions, and the occasional kitschy historical novel.  I love the Cities of the Imagination series for an overview of art and culture in a particular city.

Landon Spencer

What travel story will you still be telling your pals in the nursing home?

Morocco with the moody Frenchman I’d been wooing for a year only to be rebuffed for 12 solid months.

I told myself that the crush was over and I’d be able to travel as “just friends.”  I was also nursing the half-baked idea that if I spent a great deal of time with the impossible Frenchman, 24 hours a day for more days than most people who knew him could imagine, then I might just realize that he was in fact impossible.  A friend helped me mull over the hypothesis, suggesting that it would be like when parents force their children to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes.  I intended to smoke the entire Frenchman and never want another drag.

In a way it worked.  He drove me crazy with his insistence on chatting with every would-be guide and salesman in Marrakech.  He NASCARed his way through the often unpaved curves of the Tizi-n-Tichka pass (narrowly missing innumerable soccer-playing children) while I nervously munched dates in the passenger seat and thumbed through guidebooks for the nearest hotel with a liquor license.  When he ignored my protests and allowed a Berber hitchhiker to lead us off the paved road and down a sandy 4×4 track (repeatedly referred to as un piste, but a path is generally visible to the eye, no?) we stalled and argued ferociously in what seemed to be the absolute smack center of nowhere.  Before the end I was all but screeching to the well-meaning hoteliers who insisted on showing us to one-bed rooms in spite of our request for due lits: “We are not married! I don’t even LIKE him!”

(We kept it platonic for the duration of the trip, but I’ve been dating him now for the past two years.)

Landon Spencer


  1. Nadi

    Your stories never fail to fascinate!

  2. pam lockhart

    Exciting, and if you end up in Three Rivers, then “welcome home”.

  3. kitty

    Hope all your journeys are safe…I’ve no doubt they will always be full of gusto and interesting. Enjoy your writing, it’s style, and would welcome reading more of your work. Kitty(Nadi’s neighbor)

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