I don’t know Kristin Winet very well, but the more blog posts I read the more I adore her infectious enthusiasm for travel!
Turns out Kristin has also been selected as a speaker at next year’s Women in Travel Summit taking place in March in Irvine, California. (Come by and see us!) So I am really looking forward to meeting her in person!
This travel journalist (like Katie), teacher and future professor has had multiple stints of short and long term travel as she continues to capture moments of the heart while teaching others how to write along the way.
Let’s meet Kristin!
When and how did you become a traveler?
This is one of my newest (and favorite) stories!
I became a traveler long before I was born—it’s in my genes! Last winter, in the process of moving my grandma to Atlanta to be closer to our family, my dad found a never-before-seen painting of my great, great, great grandfather stashed among her things. The painting was exquisite; the portrait an oil rendering of a stoic-faced man with almond-shaped blue eyes and thin lips (much like mine). In the corner, with a flourish of a brushstroke, the anonymous artist had marked it with the date 1820.
As my dad pulled the portrait out of the brown paper sleeve and handed it to me, we realized there was a thick, yellowed envelope pressed to the back. We looked at each other, looked at the envelope, and peeled it open. Inside, someone had placed a bundle of handwritten letters on blue sheets of lined paper. The writing, a luxurious, refined cursive, went both horizontally and vertically, the words literally wrapping the pages. We took the letters upstairs, carefully unfolded them, and began reading.
What we found was astonishing. My great, great, great grandfather had been a travel writer. Not by trade, of course—he had, we learned, been a sailor and then a chef, a young man who had traveled the Americas by boat and who had written about everything from life in transit to a nauseating illness that had struck the shipmates to the lush coastal landscapes and unusual animals he saw in Peru and Ecuador, his favorite places to travel. “Kristin,” my dad said, laughing, “I think this is where you get it from.”
I’d say he’s probably right.
Where do you love to travel?
If you knew me in person, you would automatically know the answer to this question: Malta! I spent a summer during college working as a group counselor at an English school there, and it has been (and continues to be) the single most formative moment in my young adult life. In fact, I’ve written about it so many times and in so many different ways that I’m not even sure, now, how to characterize it.
That summer changed the entire course of my life, from realizing what I wanted to do with my life (teach English and writing to both native and ESL speakers) to helping me break through a lifetime of struggling with anxiety and depression, to introducing me to an international group of friends with whom I still travel today.
On my last night on the island that fateful summer, while we sat drinking local Cisk lager, sharing stories from our summer, and sitting on the rocks in St. Julian’s Bay, we promised we’d meet again. And so far, even though we’ve all grown, taken different careers, gotten married (and for some, divorced), and traveled all over the world, we have done exactly what we promised: we’ve met every five years, on our favorite island in the Mediterranean. I’ve never had the privilege of knowing such a beautiful and dedicated group of people in my traveling life.
Most memorable travel moment:
Oh my. Let’s see. If we’re talking adventure, I’d probably have to say sloshing around in the 50-foot high mud volcano in northwest Colombia is probably at the top of the list. After that, some of my favorite culinary moments come to mind: slurping down boiled cow intestines, mustering up the courage to try coagulated pig’s blood out of a hot pot, being served tuna fish every single day for three months at my job in Malta….these all hold a piece of my traveling heart. I’m actually a strangely picky eater here in America, but put me on foreign soil and I’m ready to learn about and try all the world’s most interesting culinary treasures.
What trumps all of these moments, though, are simply the friendships I’ve made on my journeys. They are truly irreplaceable.
What won’t you travel without?
My Burt’s Bees chapstick. My lips get so dry in airports!
A day isn’t complete until I…
Journal about it. I take my paper journal with me everywhere—I don’t journal on a computer, and I probably never will. There is just something so intimate about finding a quiet corner and putting pen to real paper.
A quirky daily habit of mine is…
Doing a few key yoga poses before I struggle through a five-minute meditation. If I don’t at least take five minutes a day to at least try and meditate (because trust me, I’m perhaps the squirreliest and worst meditator on the planet), I can feel the difference. Even an attempt is better than nothing at all!
Travel essential – 3 things you always travel with
This is easy:
1. A journal and at least three pens (in case one runs out or accidentally explodes on the airplane)
2. An awareness of my surroundings and a knowledge of how women are treated wherever I’m going
3. And, of course, an open mind
Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:
Tissues? You never know when you’re going to need one!
Perfect travel day from start to finish.
I wouldn’t even begin to try and answer this one! A perfect travel day for me changes with every day I travel. I’m a walker, so I’d say if anything, a perfect travel day would include going to bed with very sore feet.
One thing I will say: my idea of a perfect travel day is not being schlepped around on a bus, trying to take photos from the windows. What’s the fun in that?
What are your favorite food cities? What restaurants do you go to in each?
My favorite food cities so far would have to be Vancouver, Canada, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Everywhere I’ve ever been has flipped my initial expectations on its head, whether that’s been what it’s like to be a woman walking on the street in Malaysia (didn’t bother me at all) to eating a bug in Colombia (it’s seriously not that weird).
If I had to pick just one place, though, it’d probably be either Taiwan or Russia. Taiwan was the first experience I’ve had where, despite even my best intentions, I really couldn’t communicate with anyone at all anywhere, especially outside of Taipei. In my imagination, I’d thought I could use my limited amount of Mandarin, some sweet smiles, and a lot of pointing to help me get around, but in actuality, it’s a lot more stressful than that. It was equal parts scary, exhilarating, and exhausting, and yes, of course, I’d do it all over again!
Russia, too, is made up of surprise after surprise. The county is just so unbelievably distinct from anywhere else I’ve ever been. For one thing, standing in downtown St. Petersburg or traveling up to a tiny island 400 miles from the Arctic Circle to see a 17th century wooden church made with no nails….these experiences are joyous and precious to me. I talked with so many Russians and learned so much about history from their perspectives, and I learned what a great deal of pride they have for their country’s artists, iconic religious paintings and cathedrals, and architecture. It was such a joy to get to know a place so enigmatic to many of us in the United States.
What has travel taught you?
Travel has taught me to be a more empathetic person, and to understand the privilege that comes with being a woman born in the West. Not only am I able to travel, I’m able to make choices about what to spend my little bit of disposable income on (hint: it’s usually travel), I’m able to make choices when and if I have children, and I’m able to choose my profession and plan my future to the best of my ability. The world doesn’t afford those privileges to many women.
Best and Worst place you’ve been to and why?
Best? These places hold a very special place in my traveling heart:
1. Costa Rica and Nicaragua – where I spent my honeymoon in 2013 with my husband Ryan
2. Malaysia – one of the most unique places (with some of the most delectable food) I’ve had the pleasure of visiting
3. Taiwan – the place I took my first press trip as a bonafide writer…there was just something so special about that moment in my professional life
4. Malta – the tiny island I fell in love with back in 2004 and can’t seem to shake
5. Spain – the first place I traveled, by myself, as a college student in 2002, and the place where I recognized that travel was my muse
Worst? Luckily, I’ve never been anywhere I would ever characterize as the worst. I guess it’s the eternal optimist in me—I find loveliness and interest wherever I go.
What’s one location on your bucket list?
One day, I would really, really love to visit Scandinavia. The closest I’ve ever gotten is The Netherlands and Belgium!
Hotel: Not sure I have a favorite hotel, as in a hotel that haunts my dreams, but what I can say is that I’ve enjoyed a lot of different kinds of accommodations as I’ve grown as a traveler (from $3 hostels to super-pricey 5-star resorts). A few I’ve really loved are: Hotel Poco a Poco in the cloud forests of Monteverde in Costa Rica, The Cheshire Cat Inn in Santa Barbara, California, and the Berjaya Langkawi in the jungles of Langkawi, Malaysia. They’ve all got a really unique vibe, which is an aspect that ranks high on my list when I’m thinking about my most memorable hotel stays.
Airline: Thai Airways, no contest. Their service is unparalleled and the seats are so comfortable.
Airport: For some reason, I absolutely love Geneva, Switzerland’s airport. It’s so clean and well-organized and even has a friendly aura to it. Kind of rare when it comes to airports.
Mode of Transportation: I’ll do it all.
Travel snack: Granola bar. I like to keep things simple.
Country: If you knew me, you would immediately know the answer to this question. Malta!
Travel Gear: A DLSR camera, a smartphone, and my Kindle with a good book loaded onto it for the journey.
Travel App: Google Translate and Google Maps. I seriously don’t know what I would do without Google.
Travel Book: Whew, this is a hard one. Right now, I’m reading a graphic memoir called Carnet du Voyage (Travel Journal) by author Craig Thompson. A good friend of mine gave it to me a long time ago but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. It’s lush and gorgeously illustrated.
Travel Mag: Right now, I’m really into reading Vela Magazine – though it’s not entirely devoted to literary travel writing, I would say that the majority of what they publish falls into the realm of writing about journeys (internal & external). Plus, they focus exclusively on women writers, so it’s always an inspiring place to stop by and read!
Travel Movie: I don’t have one!
Song on your smartphone: I actually don’t have any songs on my smartphone – instead, I’m always perusing either Pandora or Spotify for funky new playlists. When I’m writing, I typically like to listen to singer/songwriter folk music; for some reason, it helps me get to a place mentally where I can let go and just write. Maybe it’s those sleepy guitar riffs and sultry voices.