Lisbon, Portugal, 2016

If a decade of travel has taught me anything, it’s that change is the only guarantee we can really count on. Destinations evolve, technology advances, motivations to move or root down rise and settle like the tide. And after ten years, the evolution of how and why I travel has also shifted (to note: I’ve loosened my grip—a lot—on trying to control everything), and I imagine it will continue to do so in the future. As someone who has had enough means and opportunity to traverse the globe for both work and play, below are ten lessons I’ve learned from a decade in travel, with a heavy dollop of nostalgia, ahead of 2020:

You Don’t Have to Go Very Far to Travel

Perspective begins with mindset, whether you’re driving around your hometown or you’re battling jet lag somewhere completely new. And while Americans—more than half, according to the U.S. Travel Association—are still notorious for leaving vacation days on the table, studies suggest that cashing them in may help you de-stress and even be more creative

However, if an out of state or international vacation isn’t feasible, think about the places in your daily environment you’ve always passed over because you were “too busy,” or decided it was “too far.” What if you instead made a choice to view it as an adventure, an opportunity to discover someplace new, shake up your status quo? In San Diego, where I’ve lived for more than five years now, there are still neighborhoods I’d love to spend more time in (looking at you Mission Hills, Kensington, Leucadia), and restaurants, hiking trails and beaches I’ve yet to visit.

The Saguaro Hotel, Palm Springs, 2017 (photo: Alina Mendoza)

Who You Travel With Matters

While a solo travel experience—given the means—can be transformative, choosing with whom you create memories with can make or break a group trip. The key to a positive travel experience comes from knowing your travel style and preferences well (the catch: You have to log enough travel miles to figure this out). For example, I’m a light planner, and as long as I know where I’m sleeping and have a few must-do activities identified before a trip, I am happy to fill in the rest of my itinerary as I go, so traveling with people who need every single detail locked in won’t work for me. Same goes for people who are super picky (meaning: Close-minded) eaters. Unless you’ve got a life-threatening food allergy, we’re devouring the world, Bourdain-style.

Wellington, New Zealand, 2015

Authenticity is a Dirty Word 

When people talk about travel, I’ve noticed that we tend to throw this word around when I feel like the definition of authenticity, much like the world we live in, is a moving target. The more I learn about a destination’s often multi-cultural influences, and oftentimes necessary improvisation that happens as people adapt to changing surroundings (such as access to certain ingredients, such as has become the case in the evolution of the traditional Puerto Rican dish, gandule rice, in Hawai’i for example), the less affinity I have for the word “authentic.”

Typical local breakfast in Hawai’i; Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice.

Packing Essentials

Comfort and hydration takes top priority in my travels, no matter where I’m going. That means my carry-on or weekend bag is stuffed with a pair of thick socks (it gets cold on long-haul flights), a sleep mask, an arsenal of skin moisturizers from Peach & Lily and Weleda, and snacks. I also pack my passport, which comes with Global Entry, thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card I always travel with—think no foreign transaction fees, 3 points per dollar on travel-related purchases, TSA Pre-check. Also in easy reach? Recent podcasts, usually from NPR or the latest food-related shows of the moment, a book (historical fiction) and magazines (AFAR, California Sunday). Most times though, I end up watching in-flight movies. 

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

Second Cities Are My Thing

Don’t sleep on destinations you might be skeptical about just because you haven’t heard much about them… yet. Many post-industrial cities are catching on to tourism as a way to both preserve and stimulate its economy, meaning visitors are in for a fun mix of culture and recreation (both indoors and out). For example, consider St. Louis’ booming food scene, Nashville’s boutique hotels, Tulsa’s green space, and Charlotte’s accessible neighborhoods (and the U.S. National Whitewater Center which, to any editors reading this, I would absolutely love to write about).

St. Louis, Missouri, 2018

Travel Through Food

What’s on your plate reveals a lot about the kitchen it came from: History, place, culture, people, values. Take one of my favorite stories I wrote for Food52 in 2018 for example, about the story of Hawaii through my favorite local breakfast plate: Portuguese sausage, eggs, rice (don’t forget the shoyu).

Barcelona, 2017

Travel as Privilege

Travel as leisure is exploration, escape, renewal. It’s also a privilege, and with this privilege comes responsibility to treat the places we visit and the people we share spaces with, with care and sensitivity. Now, more than ever, I believe travel is a relationship, not a transaction. While I probably won’t boycott air travel, I am interested in learning how to be a more responsible traveler.

Cuba, 2018

A Decade of Travel Memories

From work obligations during my former career in marketing that brought me across the country—Phoenix, Chicago, Tampa, New York—and across the pond, a family cruise to Alaska, to solo wanderings through Europe (twice!), travels with friends through Central and South America and the Caribbean, and one final goodbye to Grandma on the East Coast, the more I see the less I know, and I’m grateful and ever more curious for it all.

Portugal, 2017

How I Want to Travel

Looking ahead, I want the universe to know that I hope the next decade of travel will mean more train travel anywhere (perhaps through the Canadian Rockies?), more long weekends in Mexico (Yucatan, yes please), and return trips to the destinations that at once felt like home (looking at you coastal Portugal and rural Japan). 

Japan, 2019

The Travel Stories I Want to Share in 2020

In 2020, the type of travel stories I’d love to highlight explore the increasingly louder conversation around overtourism. Namely, I am interested in how destinations and communities plan to open themselves to visitors while preserving the culture and way of life visitors flock to. How will this change people’s attitudes toward what it means to travel today? I’m also interested in the evolving definition of what it means to be well today, and how that intersects with, and will change, the travel space. And as always, my antenna is up for lesser-known and untold stories that celebrate local culture around the world. Onward, upward.

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