1. What is your dearest/funniest/strangest childhood travel memory?
It was my parents who instilled the love of travel in me and for that I am forever grateful. So since I have many childhood trip memories I’ll share some quick snapshots:
Having the back seat of our tiny, blue Fiat made into a cozy ‘kid room’ with sleeping bags, pillows, books and toys, foot space filled in with our tent and luggage—my own cozy travelling capsule. A long lost time before seat belts & kid car seats // Sea-side vacations spent in care-free, hippie nudist camps meeting international friends, eating spaghetti Milanese and jumping into the sea nude as the news, to wake up each morning // Exploring and climbing the old monastery ruins with my cousin around our old summer home in Koracica, then coming home to pick fresh fruit from the yard and torment the local dogs, cats, goats…
2. What was your most comfortable home away from home?
The place that will always feel like a second home is my aunt Jela’s in Belgrade. A large, cool, pre-war apartment on a shaded, hilly street in the town centre. We always stay with her and her son Sloba and husband Silja when we go back to Serbia, so each time I enter their place I am enveloped in familiar smells, sights and sounds: cold hallways, home cooking, wall tapestries, the chiming grandfather clock…
3. Who makes the best travel companion?
You know it, it’s Ken. We’ve got a great travelling symbiosis by now, I take charge of planning before hand: research, booking, dreaming… he takes charge on the road: driving, navigation, etc. I ‘ve written about what I love about travelling with Ken here.
4. What do you always pack?
I am obsessed with not overpacking, so I usually start with a bigger pile that I edit down to the very basics. To me, there is a such a freedom in leaving as much as you can behind, I suppose that’s a state of mind too. Of the practical things I’ve learned never to leave without: rain gear, a knife, bottle opener, foldable cooler, safety pins, reading material & notebook, camera. With clothes I try to pick a mood or colour scheme, that way everything works together.
5. Is there anything particular that you collect/photograph/save on your trips?
I’ve been collecting figurines (I call little gods) that in some way represent the spirit of the place I visit. An iron viking from Iceland, an Easter processioner with a pointy hood from Barcelona, a minotaur from Crete…
6. What would you change about the way we travel today?
I would love to sloooooooow it down: take more time and embrace environmentally responsible modes of transport (on foot, horseback, train…) I’d also eliminate the idea of a destination: if you have time to absorb and enjoy the moments along the way, all of them become destinations.
7. What lesson can you share that arose from a mistake or misconception?
Here is one I wrote about in Trip Notes to Sarajevo:
“I struck up a bit of a friendship with a local Roma street kid, Temo. He approached us while we ate, asking for money for school supplies. I know many of us have been in this situation and it becomes quite a moral dilemma each time. Turn him away and the guilt will stick with you; give him money and know that it will likely go to a street gang that uses this little man. So against the advice of my more pragmatic trip mates I chose to buy him some school supplies and stress the importance of school (which he claimed to attend; math and art were his favourite subjects). I even made him promise to show his grades to the store owner who sold Temo his colourful new backpack. After we parted, Ken (my boyfriend) could not let it go. He decided to follow the little guy, and only a block away, he snapped a photo of Temo handing his backpack to his thuggish street “boss”, to be sold no doubt. When Ken came back with the evidence, I was crushed. Not because I was naive enough to believe that it wouldn’t happen, but because my effort was useless and it made no impact on Temo’s life. I was left with a photo of Temo proudly wearing his backpack, grinning from ear to ear, and a sick feeling in my stomach. What was he left with?”
8. What’s your trick for blending in, avoiding looking like a tourist?
A funny, simple one is carrying a grocery bag. You’re an instant local if you shop at the neighbourhood market. I also take time to observe local customs, clothing colour palettes, loudness volume (you can quickly tell you’re in Athens not Reykjavik just by the decibel at which people talk to one another). But ultimately, there’s no shame in being a visitor, particularly if you’re contributing to the local economy.
9. If you could teleport to another location right now, where would it be?
I’ve been dreaming of Russia lately, so perhaps it would be the wilderness of the Kamchatka peninsula, or Olkhon island on Lake Baikal.
10. And realistically, where are you off to next?
I’m not sure exactly, but it’s looking like a short trip to a place I’ve visited before.
(photo: Maui, Hawaii. 2010)