How I travel… with writer Isabel Allende

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-POLITICS-MEDAL OF FREEDOM-ALLENDEUS 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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Unidentifiable,Tourists,In,A,Safari,Vehicle,Watch,White-bearded,Wildebeest,InAn up-close encounter with white-bearded wildebeest in the Masai Mara, Kenya, during the annual Great Migration © Jane Rix / Shutterstock

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.

Has airline food got worse since the pandemic?

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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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