Today we are delighted to interview the travel writer Jeanine Barone about her top travel essentials and tips for singles holidays and solo travellers. Jeanine is a travel and food writer specializing in hidden treasure travel. Her work appears in dozens of magazines, newspapers and websites, including National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveller (UK), Virtuoso Life, the Dallas Morning News, Monocle and many others. She has her own company, Land of J, Inc., where, among other things, she's designing a line of clothing and accessories for women who travel so, without further ado this is Jeanine Barone.
-Welcome to Flavours Holidays blog Jeanine, please tell us a bit about you and what inspired you to combine travel with writing.
My path to becoming a travel writer was quite unusual and circuitous. I started out as a biologist and hoped to be a cardiologist until I didn't get into medical school. Then I taught biology on all grade levels, from elementary school to college, and continued my scientific studies with a double masters in nutrition and exercise physiology. (Yes, I'm quite the life science geek.) But, unlike my peers, I was not interested in doing research or going into clinical practice. Instead, I decided to be a health writer, publishing articles in all the major men's, women's and lifestyle magazines. Yet, travel has long been a passionate interest of mine. Since I was a teen, I explored the U.S. and international destinations on my bicycle -- I pedaled from Seattle to San Diego and led teen bike trips, including one from New York City to Montreal. So I thought it would be more fun and creative to combine my love of travel with my ability to craft great stories. However, I'm always a scientist at heart. And I use my background in nutrition and exercise physiology to advise others how to stay healthy and fit while on the road.
-Share with us your tried and tested travel essentials
• A large cashmere pashmina makes a great blanket or, when folded or rolled up, a pillow or back/neck support on the plane. And, of course, I use it has a head cover when entering religious sites or I drape it around my shoulders when going out on a cool night.
• Clothing that does double or triple duty. (This is a way to cut down on what I pack since I never ever check luggage.) For example, a clothing item called the Versalette can be worn 30 different ways, including as a tunic, dress, skirt and a shawl.
• A pair of flat, Mary Jane-type shoes, such as those manufactured by Keen, which have a good sole for walking around town but also can be worn when you dress up for going out at night. (I only bring two pairs of shoes and this is always one of 'em.)
• An unobtrusive travel wallet, like one made by Victorinox, that attaches securely to a belt and has lots of Velcro and zipper compartments.
• Dental floss, safety pins, a Krazy Glue-type product, and duct tape. These four items can repair almost anything.
• My unique travel first-aid kit organizer: Doc-in-a-Bag. These five pouches with individual icons allow me to segregate my first-aid supplies – and I have a very extensive list of supplies that I travel with – by symptoms and body system, something that keeps me ultra organized.
Many times I travel alone, at other times with a friend or two, and occasionally with a group when I sign up for a tour. Each method of travel has advantages and disadvantages. But, as far as solo travel is concerned, what I like about it is that I can set my own schedule and itinerary. I don't have to constantly make compromises, whether that means being forced to start the day late or having to visit endless antique shops. It's also easier to interact more extensively with the locals when I travel alone rather than relying on my travel partners for conversation.
But I'm not in love with eating by myself at night. My ideal travel situation would probably involve traveling with one friend who is flexible enough that we can each do our own thing during the day if we want and meet up at night for drinks, dinner and after-dinner activities.
A big challenge of traveling alone is security issues, since I often enjoy hiking, as well as roaming around cities day and night. Usually there is safety in numbers.
-Tell us some personal safety tips for solo travelers
• Never get a hotel room on the ground floor.
• Always observe who is in the hallway and near the door of your accommodation before you insert your key.
• Don't display flashy jewelry or tech equipment, which includes an iPad, iPhone, video cam or digital camera and lenses.
• Don't carry a purse.
• If you do carry a purse, never hang it on your chair nor place it on the floor, even if it's between your feet.
• Speak with women business owners at your destination and find out about security issues.
• Whether you’re traveling alone or not, make sure that your hotel room door has a dead bolt, including on sliding glass doors to balconies, patios or pools.
-What are the best tips for how you plan a trip
I do a lot of research, including reading at least three different guidebooks and travel articles in newspapers such as the New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian, Times of London and Washington Post; reading blogs I respect; and posting questions on TripAdvisor and message boards. But the research continues once I arrive: asking owners of small independent shops as well as innkeepers, bartenders and restaurateurs for their suggestions.
-What is your most memorable travel experience
I find all of my travels, whether domestic or international, pedestrian or exotic, memorable in one way or another. But my river cruise down the Amazon with International Expeditions is among my most memorable. Though I've hired experienced guides all over the world, native Peruvian Johnny, one of our naturalist guides, was the best I've ever encountered. Though I'm noted for peppering guides with a litany of questions, Johnny easily and gladly answered them all and never, as some guides are known to do, became frustrated with my seemingly endless inquiries. He was exceedingly generous with his time, many days spending an extra half hour with me to go over some of my biological and cultural questions. He's one unique guide: funny, warm, supportive, empathetic and even an entertainer and performer, playing in a band each night during happy hour. His strong love of the Amazon, its people and creatures is what he shared with all of us and that will stay with me forever.
Aside from this oh-so-positive guide experience, this trip offered a discovery-a-minute with surprises galore, both cultural and biological. Who knew that you can eat piranha and that they're tasty? Or that villagers farm rice atop sand bars? Or that families anchor their dug-out canoes beside floating parking lots of sorts so that they could go shopping for much needed supplies? Or that a species of catfish actually walks on muddy shores with its flexible pectoral fins?
You can contact the author at her website J The Travel Authority
or follow her on Twitter:@jcreaturetravel and Facebook.
Thank you very much for sharing with us these interesting tips and advice about singles holidays and travel planning and speaking about your favourite off-the beaten-track memories. We would love to have you with us on an authentic Italian cooking holiday or our extraordinary themed, pilates holidays in the most beautiful regions of Italy for another authentic memory to add to your collection.