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 Sheila Yasmin Marikar is currently on a book tour promoting her debut novel, The Goddess Effect. We caught up with her in Arizona, where she was pre-charging before the onslaught of events around the country. She was kind enough to give us an hour of her time to talk about how she travels, her favorite places and the trip she’ll never forget.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Sedona for the very first time, at Enchantment Resort. (As its name suggests, it’s incredibly…enchanting.) I live in Los Angeles. So while not exactly in my backyard, it’s about an hour flight and a two-hour drive from Phoenix.
And where did you travel most recently?
I was in Rome and Greece at the beginning of September. In Greece, we did the Peloponnese Peninsula, off the coast of the Ionian Sea, which I had never been to. It was just absolutely delightful. You’ve got a beach. You’ve got olive groves. You’ve got the tomatoes. And they really are that good. It just makes me cry when I think about what tomatoes in other parts of the world taste like in parts of the US in February. I’m the American cliché. I want to drop everything and move to Italy or Greece, and just have a beautiful villa somewhere. I’m not quite sure how I’ll make money. We’ll figure that part out later!
Explore the world in comfort with the latest travel insight from our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. Greece has been on my list for a long time. I finally made it there with my husband this July. Action item No.1: a guided tour of the Parthenon and the Acropolis. It’s hard to square how long these hulking columns have been standing with the amount of the destruction the place has seen. It’s a true feat of engineering. courtesy Sheila Yasmin Marikar
What was the best part of your trip?
A cool, kind of unexpected thing we did was go to this incredible concert – I’m going to call it a rave – at Cinecittà Studios in Rome. This DJ collective called Circle brings DJs to incredible sites around the world. They’ve done the Pyramids of Giza, concerts below the Northern Lights in Finland. It was such a fun experience; I’ve never had a night like that. That was the top moment, dancing among recreations of the Roman forum and the Parthenon and watching DJ Carlita drop the beat in this awesome setting. Also, for my first meal in Rome, I took a bite of tuna tartare and had an icy glass of Italian white wine. It was perfect.
Where are you traveling next?
After my book tour and events, I’ve got a trip to Northern California’s wine country on the calendar for November. Hopefully. We have three nights booked at the Montage Healdsburg, but no flights yet.
I went to Bologna in 2019 to write about amaro being the spirit of the moment and tacked on a day trip to Venice. How I wish I’d stayed the night! The art, the architecture, the canals, the aperitivo (I stan aperitivo)…there was so much that I didn’t get to do. I’d love to go back. courtesy Sheila Yasmin Marikar
How much planning do you do in advance?
I like to be quite aggressive and forward-looking about getting the next trip on the calendar – or at least having flights and/or lodging booked. After that, I’m pretty chill about figuring out what to do when we actually get to a place. I’ve gone through periods when I looked at all the reviews, gone through Instagram and figured out who’s been to this place and what have they done, looked at Lonely Planet, Google and all of the sources. Like, I’d come up with a plan: on Friday night we’re going to eat here, on Saturday morning we’re going to do this thing, and then this is going to happen Saturday night. But I just felt way too locked into an itinerary. Then it feels like work, and there’s no room for serendipity.
What’s your preferred way to get around?
Generally, it does end up being flying, because I’m a terrible driver. A drive that’s greater than two hours is not one that I should be doing. If walking is an option, I want to walk. I have to say, though, I stan a train. Amtrak in the US is pretty spectacular, especially the Pacific Surfliner. I’d rather take that between LA and San Diego or Santa Barbara than drive. You can bring a book, it’s fantastic scenery, they have a little snack box, and I love the bar car.
Did I mention I love Cabo? Here I am at the Four Seasons Costa Palmas, engaging in one of my favorite pastimes: reading in the pool. I always travel with my Kindle and make sure to have one book that I’m obsessed with downloaded before takeoff. It’s best if I figure out what book that is before leaving home because it can be maddening to connect a Kindle to airport wi-fi. courtesy Sheila Yasmin Marikar
What do you download for your trip?
Novels on my Kindle. I need to start a trip with a novel that I’m into. I need to have read enough of it to know I want to continue going on this journey. I’ve been that person who, when the plane is starting to board, is still in an airline lounge because the book has to download onto my device. If I don’t have a book, I feel a certain level of anxiety that I don’t like.
Do you have a travel hack or habit you swear by?
I have a couple of Miles Davis albums on my phone, and I like to invent my own little hotel bar on the plane. I’ve got my noise-canceling headphones, my book, a glass of wine and some nuts or olives. In my mind, I’m at the bar in the Aman in Tokyo – my favorite hotel bar ever.
I’ve been to Cabo San Lucas and the Baja Peninsula about a dozen times since moving to California a decade ago; you can’t keep me away. One of my favorite places to stay is the Four Seasons Costa Palmas, which I first visited in 2019. The beach is wide, the waves are calm and the food is bar-none great: Nancy Silverton recently opened a Mozza there. If you want to switch up a diet of nonstop tacos, chips and salsa, you could do a lot worse than Mozza’s pizza. courtesy Sheila Yasmin Marikar
What’s your favorite place on earth?
It’s a two way tie between Punta Mita in Mexico and Maldives. I used to be a city person, not a beach person – give me Rome, Paris, London, Tokyo. But for some reason, I’ve become a fan of fly-and-flops. These are places where the water is bathwater-warm, and where the resorts all have excellent pools.
I’m such a fan of Mexican food, and Maldivian cuisine shares a lot in common with Indian cuisine. I’m an Indian American and the food in Maldives feels like home – only with all this incredible blue water everywhere. Food is 100% a big part of how I travel. In fact, I think it’s part of how I live. I’m always looking forward to my next meal or thinking about it, whether that’s tahini on toast or something more elaborate. There was a while where I was looking at the 50-best lists, looking at the Michelin guide, and thinking, Do I want to plan a whole international trip around going to this one restaurant? And, in fact, I did: I went to Gaggan Onen’s restaurant when I visited Bangkok.