Travel Lessons From Britt Karlsson


Born in Sweden and now living in Paris, Britt Karlsson spends half the year visiting about 200 wineries in Europe and South America in her roles as wine journalist, wine judge, wine consultant, and tour guide (on wine-themed trips, of course).

Britt Karlsson

How has your job changed the way you travel?
I started out just writing about wine, but now with the tours, it's a totally different activity. I spend all my time planning itineraries and making close contacts with the wine growers.

How much do you plan your trips in advance?
I book the hotels about seven or eight months in advance. That's the most critical thing. Sometimes you go to a town and there's only one hotel.

What are some packing tips you've picked up?
Don't pack too much. For a wine tour, you need to have comfortable shoes because you always walk in vineyards. You also stand a lot in cellars, which are cool, so you'll need a jacket. And you shouldn't wear white clothes. It's hopeless. Either wear nice-looking jeans and a blazer, or pants and a blazer. The French are very relaxed about their clothes, even in nicer restaurants. Ties are more rare than people think.

How do you deal with jet lag?
I usually sleep for a few hours on the plane. I am careful about when I schedule my flights. To go to South America, there's a flight from Paris at 11 p.m. If you can sleep for seven hours, you're fine when you get to your destination.

How do you get your bearings when you arrive at a destination?
Try to get hold of good maps. People love to look at maps, but they don't buy them. I always buy maps. Sometimes people are traveling by car and they don't even have maps. Never trust GPS. If the GPS breaks down, you're lost. I love a French brand called IGN, or Institut Geographique Nationale. Michelin maps are OK, too. And get a guidebook. You miss a lot of historical facts if you don't have one.

How do you find non-touristy spots?
If we meet local people—who are often involved in wine—we ask them.

How do you approach local cuisine?
I don't eat street food that often. I don't eat between meals, so when I eat, I sit.

How much of your travel is for yourself?
The only pleasure travel I have time for is to go to Sweden and see my family. If you have your own company, you're never really on vacation.

How do you record and take notes on your trip?
I have a favorite notebook in which I write everything about wine and food. It's a small, black Moleskine. I have it in front of me right now.

How do you keep in touch with others while traveling?
I use e-mail and telephone. My French cell phone works. It's a cell phone plan that allows you to go through Europe on a fixed rate.

What sorts of tourist etiquette tips have you picked up?
Be polite. Don't be too loud. Respect people. It's common sense. If you're on a wine tour, you should always learn how to spit. Spitting is polite.

Read on to see Dan Philips's top tips >

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