“Honestly, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing here.” t’was my response to almost every person I met at the New York Times Travel Show. With some humor but moreover blunt honesty, my weekend at the end of January was a whirlwind of networking, travel advice, and an abundance of knowledge that took me across the globe in more ways than one.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the New York Times Travel Show, the NYTTS is North America’s largest travel show with over 500 exhibitors, 170+ countries represented, and thousands in attendance from all around the world. This year’s trade professionals and consumers converged at the Javits Center to cover the topics most pressing and pertinent to the ways in which we travel today. Still relishing in the Memphis memories made with SAVEUR, that trip and award made me aware of not only how deeply passionate I am about travel and food, but also the strength of their interconnectedness. I don’t know about you, but whenever I travel, food is a huge priority. Deeper than my admiration for food, moreover food tells the story of the people and place I am in. Jumping into the waters of being a travel/food blogger, I applied to be press for the weekend and a few weeks later off to New York I went.
This year’s show was hosted by Incredible India, which emphasized India’s booming tourism and showed all attendees, including myself, a variety of India-focused programs and conversations on the brilliant, colorful, and vibrant country that should be everyone’s next destination. Tapping into a newfound desire to visit India, it was the rainbow of countries and cultures coming together in one space that really magnified the magnificence of being in the middle of a melting pot.
Apart from doing more R&D on my long-awaited trips to Greece, Japan, Brazil and Australia, I was also introduced to new destinations like the Guadeloupe Islands, Cappadocia, Faroe Islands, Bhutan, and Ischia that were not on my radar before. I got to hear from travel powerhouses and top industry leaders in a wide variety of travel seminars, tasted multiple flavors and food at the Taste of World culinary stage with renown chefs, and watched spectacular performances at various cultural stages.
As the weekend kicked off, I was educated in the state of the travel industry for 2019 and while I hate to bore with statistics, I wanted to share a few numbers that stuck with me.
- There was a 3% drop in the number of trips from 2017 to 2019, but the same amount of money spent on trips, meaning people are spending more money per trip- From a financial standpoint, this statistic was fascinating to me as this is how I prefer to travel, less frequently but more intentionally so that on the few trips I do go on, I like to travel well and splurge on a worthwhile experience.
- 19% of travelers pick a destination based on social media content- The influence of social media! I grew up watching Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain and reading Lonely Planet (all of which I still do) but it’s interesting to see how much social media affects where we travel now and what we imagine a place to be through a photo
Besides learning where to travel, I gained the most insight in how to travel from some of the most influential travel professionals (which just so happen to be all women- go ladies!) that I believe any travel writer, travel reader, or just plain traveler can learn from to take on their next journey.
The woman, the legend, one of Forbes’ top 10 travel influencers, Kate, otherwise known as Adventurous Kate, has been my travel blog idol since before I can remember. In fact, I knew about her before I even really knew what blogging was, so to say I was excited to hear from her was a great understatement. Drawing from points in her cognizant article on how to be less of a traveling asshole, the emphasis on the plight of overtourism is something that negatively affects all of the travel industry and has become apparent to me as something I want to focus on when planning any and all travels. Overtourism is when too many tourists visit a destination, which then overwhelms the location such that the place itself degrades in quality and in unsustainable ways. I encourage anyone traveling near or far to be aware of where you are going and why you are going. Think about if you want to go there because you saw a cool photo taken there or because you are truly interested in experiencing a new culture. For best practices to reduce overtourism, travel in the off season, go to lesser known places and off the beaten track, support the local community with your time and money, reduce your carbon footprint, and travel as ethically and sustainably as possible.
In a later seminar titled “Is Travel Writing Dead?”, I got to hear from Danielle Pergamot, editor at goop and travel writer for the New York Times, whose elegant responses and cultivated wisdom were some of my favorite from the weekend.
“People will always travel. I see it as my job to encourage people to travel with more compassion and curiosity, so we can absorb another culture without forcing our own onto it”.
Hearing Danielle’s perspective as a travel writer, I so strongly resonated with her yearn for authenticity as she spoke to the fact we have over-curated realities. She said to inspire is to transform, to expose the reader to a world they haven’t considered before. As a travel writer, I was reminded that quality writing floats to the top. It’s the writing that strives to cover it all that truly immerses you in the story and produces worthy travel writing. As a reader, you want to be presented with the facts, but also eager to get to the next sentence. Travel writers are not travel agents; travel writers present the truths and dig deeper, that is their value add.
Her panel also included practical actions to take to truly immerse oneself in the culture of the place they are visiting. On the plane ride to a destination, she writes her impressions of the place before she gets to the destination. She wonders out loud when writing “What will 2019 look like to my kids and my in-laws? I want them to now ‘this is what Uruguay looked like now, what Australia looked like now’ this is the story I need to tell and with authenticity.”
Every year, The New York Times releases a list of the 52 Places to Go. For the first time in 2018, The New York Times decided to make those 52 places actual destinations for one lucky person. Out of thousands of applicants, they selected traveler Jada Yuan as the first 52 Places traveler, and I got to hear all about Jada’s amazing experiences as she blogged her way around the world.
For such a grand trip to occur where the majority of details were planned out in advance, ironically her biggest tip for travel is to plan less. As a writer herself, she shared that the best travel writing immerses you in the story and despite her years of writing for the New York Times, her 52 places year pushed her to places mentally, physically, and emotionally further than the list she had to complete. Similar to the ways in which I travel, I would say do more planning to get yourself to the destination, plan less or none at all to experience the destination.
Among the geopolitics of the world today, she spoke the most lighthearted, yet honest and humble truth: when traveling you HAVE to rely on strangers. Few words that hold so much weight, I was reminded that no matter where you go, at the end of the day you remember the strangers that become friends, the people that make a long journey away feel like a short trip home. People are people no matter and to understand that the ultimate independent traveler is actually extremely dependent on others is such a strange yet beautiful irony that made me think about the relationships I have and will continue to encounter in my travels.
Model/author/cooking guru Top Chef celebrity Padma Lakshami graced the stage with her beauty and culinary memoirs on behalf of Incredible India. Recounting her book Love, Loss and What We Ate: A Memoir, she shared both sharp and soft notes from her life including the role food has played in her life. The first thing she learns in a foreign language? The food items. Whenever she travels, she asks the cab drivers what they are eating and where to go. Her traditional and modern food persona is juxtaposed in her two favorite things to eat: the vegetarian tasting menu in l’Arpège or dosas in Queens at Ganesh Temple.
“Tell me what a culture eats, and I’ll tell you who they are.”
This year has already started with a bang and to have connected with some of my favorite travel bloggers and like-minded travel community continues to stimulate my mind and creativity. I am inspired by these people to go out and become a part of more of the world. While the NYTTS is more tailored for those in the travel industry, there are things that all parts of me — the traveler, the blogger, and myself— learned that can be applicable to anyone.
Takeaways as a traveler
- Leave 3 important things (phone charger, book, computer, etc.) at home if you really want to learn something about the place you are visiting
- Start going to places NOT recommended by TripAdvisor or Yelp, ask the locals
- Nourish your body and get sleep
- Be cognizant of overtourism and understand what you can do to avoid it
Takeaways as a travel blogger
- Quality content rises to the top
- Dig deeper, open the door to the facts
- Not every post has to be a “moneymaker”
- There will always be great stories about great places, it’s the way we present the stories in an authentic way that keeps it alive
Takeaways as a human
- Put your best foot forward, but make sure where know where you are putting your foot
- Be the support to others you want for yourself
- Give yourself permission to dream big (thanks Chubby Diaries)
- Make the most out of every opportunity
- I despise red-eyes
Amidst the fun networking and energetic environment, my time at the NYTTS also revealed feelings of bittersweetness and a bit of disappointment. But Soleil, how can you be disappointed after such an awesome weekend meeting all the people you’ve always dreamed of being around? Well here’s the thing, travel blogging is NOT easy, it’s hard work. It’s a lot of time off, time getting from one place to another, time away from home and learning something new. I’ve always been inspired by those that live the traveling life, but I have to ask myself, why do I travel? Why do I want to travel blog? Do I want to make it a career? Do I even want to blog at all?
For me traveling is easy, not necessarily the act itself, but it’s easy to share a part of my life I am comfortable doing and am passionate about, which is gathering together with people in community and getting to know their stories, which includes going to the places, eating the food, and being where they call home. But traveling also burns me out completely. Constantly go-go-going, while I love traveling, I love being home more. Even though home is wherever you make it, I have to be honest that as delighted and enthusiastic I am to dive deep into the world of travel blogging, I’m also being pulled back with somewhat equal force, hesitation and verve in a race. Like my travels and life ahead, I have a feeling this year will be running both of those races without any plan except for one: to keep doing what I love, and hoping the travels will follow.