The best travel advice comes from the people who have done it all before. In this series, we ask well-traveled experts for their tips and advice.
Writer Isabel Allende (often referred to as “the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author”) is currently on a book tour promoting her newest novel, Violeta. We caught up with her recently to talk about her travels to Chile as a distinguished guest of honor, her preferred way to travel and her favorite place in the world.
US President Barack Obama congratulates author Isabel Allende after presenting her with the Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the White House on November 24, 2014 © AFP / Getty Images
Where did you most recently travel?
I last traveled in February this year to the presidential inauguration in Chile. I got a phone call from the State Department inviting me to join the American delegation. I traveled from San Francisco to Washington, met the rest of the delegation and we took an Air Force plane to Santiago. Quite an experience!
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What was the best part of your trip?
The best part of the trip was getting to meet the new young president, Gabriel Boric and most of his cabinet. I was invited to attend all the official events of the inauguration and be a special guest at the US Embassy, where they treated me like royalty. I had not been in Chile since the beginning of the pandemic. It was a strange experience to be in my country as a privileged visitor.
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What did you pack?
I travel with a small carry-on, my clothes are all black and my toiletries are in small containers always ready to go. My travel agent organizes the trip, so my planning is minimal.
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What’s your preferred way to travel?
I like to travel by first class by train because there’s no waiting in airports, I am not trapped in a seat, I can move around to stretch my legs and there’s ample time to read or work. Cars are out of the question, I am a lousy driver. Ships are too slow and airplanes too fast (my soul can hardly catch up with my body). And I have a fantasy about trains: the Orient Express in some XIX-century novel, where passengers dress up for dinner.
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How do you prepare to travel?
In advance of trips, I download books on my Kindle and audiobooks on my phone. While traveling I want fun novels, although I should read travel information about the places where I am going. I don’t download movies or TV shows mostly because I am technologically remedial, but I will learn to do that in the future.
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What’s your one favorite place that you love to return to?
A safari in Africa. My heart still beats faster when I think of those big, gorgeous wild animals and the wonderful people I met over there. I went to Kenya with my grandchildren fifteen years ago and I have never forgotten the thrill of hearing the animals stomping and breathing on the other side of our canvas tents at night.
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When was the first time you went on an airplane?
I was two years old when I traveled from Lima to Santiago in an old plane. It was during WW2 and commercial flights were rare. My parents had separated and my mother and I went back to Chile, to my grandparents’ home, where I grew up.
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If you could be anywhere right now, where would that be?
At home in my small town in Northern California, a beautiful place where I am the happiest. My house is by a lagoon, so close to the water that it seems to be floating. Ducks and pelicans share the lagoon with children on paddle boards and occasional small sailboats. When I am on a grueling book tour, the memory of that house waiting for me keeps me sane.
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