This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has trekked across the Mongolian steppe, dived with Red Sea sharks, and explored Parisian cafes: Diane LeBow. She is president of the Bay Area Travel Writers.
What is “home” for you? Is it a particular place or person or thing?
I became a traveler pretty early on so “home” is often wherever I am. Growing up in the pre-feminist 1950’s on the East Coast, by about age 4, I was aware that my life was not going to be about settling down with a traditional family and female role of that day. So, straight out of college I began traveling and then moved to Europe when I finished graduate school. I’ve been creating my “home” wherever I’ve been since then. Being open to people and other cultures, enjoying new friends—as well as, for many years for me, new lovers—are key ingredients to feeling at home. These days I’m fortunate to enjoy being at home with my honey in our Victorian cottage in San Francisco—except when I’m somewhere else.
When did you first hit the road? How did it go?
Straight out of college, I took the Grand Tour of Europe, hooked up with several Dutch university students who taught me a lot about traveling as a European and seeing the world from a different perspective. That summer changed me in major ways and made it clear that there was a lot of world out there I wanted to explore and so much to learn about.
How did you break into the travel writing scene?
One day when Salon.com was new, I was telling the editor about how often in my life my love affairs had begun or ended in public phone booths—while I was on the road. These were the pre-cell phone days. He said: “Great story. Please write it up and send it to me.” “Love on the Line” was the result.
What travel story will you still be telling your pals in the nursing home?
I’ll be telling tales of how I met my network of friends around the world that are my family.
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?
Freya Stark (1893-1993), a British travel writer, who led the way for all of us. She traveled in the Middle East and through the Arabian deserts solo, often disguising herself in male attire. She’s written more than 20 books, perhaps the best known being The Valleys of the Assassins (1934). I’d like to go with her to some of her favorite places and observe her perceptions and interactions with local people.
Name one place that should top everyone’s travel dream list, be it a nation or a landmark or a village.
There are so many: from walking at dusk in the snow on Ils St. Louis in Paris to exploring the Mongolian steppes on a horse to spending some time in an Afghan village in the Panshir Valley in northern Afghanistan.
What specific travel resources (websites, guidebooks, blogs, etc) do you always consult when planning a journey?
I look at the usual guidebooks and websites but also older writings about the place I’m going. Of course, I make contacts with people who live there or know it well.
Which travel writers or books have been especially inspirational to you?
Tim Cahill and Paul Theroux are my gurus. Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light is brilliant writing and amazing for the detailed adventure it portrays.
What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned on the road?
That the best stories often come from the worst (at the time) experiences. Some examples for me include being chloroformed and robbed on an Italian train at 3 a.m., or jilted by voice mail message while standing in a sweltering phone booth in the Corsican mountains, or being bucked off my camel on the Libyan Sahara.
What advice can you offer to women with itchy feet?
Getting started to a great adventure can be like diving off a high board. Once you spring for it, the rest can be delicious. Often the night before your flight is the hardest part.