Having lived in such glam locales as Paris, St. Moritz, New York, and Los Angeles, this week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has crafted a living writing about food, wine, art, fashion, home design, and, of course, travel: Colette O’Connor. Her current gig entails editing a lifestyle magazine for owners of private aircraft: Flying Adventures.
What advice can you offer women with itchy feet?
Pack nothing. Or next to. My best trip ever was the 10 days I spent in Paris after Delta sent my luggage via the Bermuda Triangle. A tiny tube of carry-on toothpaste and a mini jar of face cream that Homeland Security cleared saw me through – beautifully. And wearing the same thing every day – doing washables each night in the sink – taught me the truth about travel: most everything you think you need you don’t. And being stripped of all that stuff you can’t live without is wildly thrilling. I am free! you feel. And, really, we end up wearing the same thing every day anyway, right? Of course, you’ll want your derring-do along, as well as your willingness to go with the flow, your passport and, just in case, a credit card not already over the top with charges. But leave the hot rollers (especially!) at home. Also, a skirt is best. Jeans may be the obvious, most comfortable costume de voyage, but no: from plane and train and public bathrooms (where pants drag in we don’t even want to know what) to the people of foreign cities (who treat you better), I have found the splendors and hazards of travel are usually more happily navigated in a really great skirt.
How did you break into travel writing?
My first job after college was as a ski instructor for a French ski school in St. Moritz, Switzerland. An incredible experience. After two seasons I returned home and, positively plump with impressions (and Swiss chocolate), I put them to paper in a rambling yet enthusiastic story that a travel magazine actually published. Later, work as a newspaper lifestyle writer, freelancer and magazine editor polished the ramblings so that if ever I had other travel adventures – something everyone has all the time, even if their trip goes from nowhere special to no place in particular, like from work to yoga or home to the beach – my recollections of the experience held to journalism’s reporting and writing rules. More or less.
What is “home” for you?
It is so funny you ask “what” and not “where” because that’s just it! The conundrum. “Where” is the torment of me because where, indeed? I don’t seem to know where my right and perfect home is, and I long for it – always. I am from the San Francisco Bay Area and have also lived in L.A., New York and Paris. These days I am staying put in the Monterey Bay Area. For now. But like the dogs and cats at the SPCA, I seem still to be seeking my “forever” home. So it really comes down to “what” home is, and for that, happily, there are heaps of answers. Home is good books, a great beach, a wonderful meal, my cats happy, my sisters and brothers and parents and friends doing well. Stuff like that. Every little (big) thing that I love, from a luscious tarte aux framboise from my favorite boulangerie in Paris to the bark of the sea lions in Monterey Bay to the thrill it is to see a story in something most others view as ordinary and write it. Home is where the joy is, I guess. And the fun. And, absolutely, the love!
Hardest lesson learned on the road?
How to master loneliness. If you are by yourself – completely – for any extended length of time in a place not peopled with your near and dear, life can feel pretty bleak and weepy. Learning to befriend your own little self, to comfort and amuse and care for her when far from those who usually do, is hard. At the same time, the opportunity to get to know this person you call you apart from everyone and every thing else “back home” is the greatest of all travel’s gifts.
What travel story will you be telling pals in the nursing home?
If I’m ambulatory, the one about the adventure I had just that morning. If I’m parked in the hall, the one about the new vista I plan to enjoy when they roll me down to Bingo. And if I’m flat-out flat in bed, unable to speak, I hope to be dreaming of those interesting times sure to be had in heaven.