Q&A: Elisabeth Eaves, a writer who puts the lust in 'Wanderlust'
"Wanderlust is not a passion for travel, exactly; it's something more animal and more fickle -- something more like lust."
These words appear in the prologue of Elisabeth Eaves' new memoir-travelogue Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents, setting up the chapters that follow in which the author backpacks through rarefied countries such as Yemen, bunks with a house full of Aussie slackers, hikes through the jungles of Papua New Guinea, sails (and nearly dies) during a storm in the South Pacific, and embraces new lovers and escapism at every turn.
Eaves was kind enough to answer BT's questions below. (For more on the book, check out the New York Times review.)
When travelers say they want to go somewhere, it's often because they want to see places or things -- famous buildings, lions on a safari, beautiful beaches. But your book is filled with stories about the people you meet on your travels. Which factor is more important to you when deciding where to go on a trip: Is it the things you see, or the people you anticipate meeting?
Elisabeth Eaves: They're inextricable. I love buildings, lions and beaches as much as anyone, but people shape the character of your trip. Cultures are by definition made up of people: we like foreign cultures because they're full of foreign people. I have no interest in moon tourism because there aren't any people there.
Speaking of which, in all your travels, which country has the people you like the most? Who are the most fun, most friendly, and most interesting people in the world?
E.E.: If you're looking for a combination of all three, Spain is pretty high up there. Come to think of it, I'm not sure why I don't live in Spain. They invented techno and flan and have dinner at 11.
In many of your trips, you don't plan much of anything in advance. When dropping in on a new town, what are your favorite ways to size the place up, get your bearings, and figure out where to stay, where to eat, what to do, etc.?
E.E.: I get cash as soon as possible. It's comforting to be prepared for off-balance-sheet transactions. And there's nothing more annoying than needing to pay cash and being 50 miles from the nearest ATM.
Other than that? I use guidebooks for maps and hotel listings, but otherwise I wing it. I go for walks. I dislike places where you can't go for walks, such as freeway-side exurbs.
While a lot is written about travel, there are things no one really talks or writes about. (I'm thinking specifically about the masturbators in Yemen you write about.) Can you think of other examples -- of things that travelers experience, but that nobody really talks about?
E.E.: Loneliness. Fear. Relying too heavily on the kindness of strangers, in the Blanche Dubois sense. The fact that many people, and indeed whole cultures, are, once you get beyond the fact that they dress and eat and talk differently, just plain dull. At least to an over-stimulated Westerner. People who live in the jungle spend a lot of time staring at each other. Once you've exhausted the subjects of marital status and yams, you need a book.
You don't travel like the typical tourist/traveler. Are there things that the typical traveler does that'll never make sense to you? Perhaps the stuff they buy, the way they tour cities or regions, or even the places they choose to visit?
E.E.: I almost never buy souvenirs. I don't get the point. I have a low tolerance for clutter, and most souvenirs qua souvenirs end up as clutter. And I don't like to take stuff from beaches -- I figure it belongs there. On the beach, rocks and shells are beautiful. In my home they're clutter.
So much of the book, and about travel in general, is about searching -- that yearning to see and experience something new, foreign, exciting, just plain different. But do you ever wish you didn't have wanderlust? Do you ever wish you were completely content to stay put somewhere?
E.E.: Nope, not for a second.
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U.S. Government says travel to Cuba is not "unrestricted"
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Passing through security with shoes on, imagine that!
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The Budget Travel Convert: Reporting from...Tuscany
Hobart Fowlkes, our "Budget Travel Convert," is a high–end jetsetter by trade, budget globetrotter by choice. He reports regularly on the best (and most affordable) experiences and hotels around the world. Today he updates us on a recent trip to Florence and Tuscany's Versilian Coast. See photos from my trip to Tuscany. FIRST STOP, FLORENCE… Before waxing poetic about my trip to Tuscany's Versilian Coast, I must warn readers about renting cars in Italy. I have rented cars in many countries, and I must say that I am still perplexed by what went down at the Hertz Counter at the Pisa Airport on my recent visit to the Tuscan "riviera". I booked my car through Delta so that I would receive miles, and was offered a reasonable price for a new Fiat 500 of 23EUR/day, which seemed reasonable. The total should have been 207EUR, but somehow with all of the extra taxes and fees it came out to something closer to 500EUR. Of course I am well aware of the 20% VAT which exists in all of the EU countries, but I did not expect a 20% Pisa Airport Tax, plus the compulsory base insurance package. Ultimately, my rental car ended up costing me more than almost anything else on the entire trip. (I wish I had read this article before I left: 6 Foreign Car Rental Fees to Watch for on Vacation.) Arriving in Pisa at midday, I picked up my rental car and made a beeline straight to Florence to meet my friends. We had a rendez-vous at Stazione di Santa Maria Novella, which is easy to find, but traffic patterns in cities built prior to the Middle Ages can sometimes be perplexing, so I spent an unnecessary amount of time driving in circles whilst texting in an effort to find those whom I was meeting. Where I stayed: I chose a place called "The Old Bridge." The locals call it a "bed & breakfast" but it is not exactly a B&B; at all, it is just an apartment owned in the building directly across from the Hotel La Scaletta—a place I stayed once before and found to have very reasonable rates. Via Gicciardini, 22 nero, 011-39/055-265-4262, florenceoldbridge.com How much I paid: The total cost of the room was $101 (70EUR) per night. Why I recommend it: The location is great—it is exactly equidistant between the Palazzo Pitti and the Ponte Vecchio. Also, the roof terrace at La Scaletta has awesome views of the city and backs right up against the Boboli Gardens and the Fortezza del Belvedere. When Hotel La Scaletta is fully booked, since it seems to be quite popular, they offer rooms at even better rates at The Old Bridge, which is where I stayed this time around. Each of the six rooms in Old Bridge is perfectly clean and comfortable each with its own bathroom, AC, TV and WiFi. On the down side, you will have to cross the street to go to breakfast at La Scaletta. Otherwise, I was perfectly happy. Where I ate: Tuscan cuisine is exquisite though somewhat uniform in its content. All over the region no matter where you go, you will be offered a variety of dishes featuring wild boar and porcini mushrooms, and the menu will most definitely include a giant Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is priced per kilo. I don't believe there is such a thing as a Bistecca alla Fiorentina that weighs less than a kilo, I guess theirs is a region with particularly heavy cattle. Having eaten in a wide range of restaurants, my favorite was Trattoria Quattro Leoni. It is just steps from the Hotel La Scaletta and has one of the coziest atmospheres and best food in all of Florence. Other places to check out are Osteria Santo Spirito which is located directly on Piazza di Santo Spirito. Il Latini is a place loved by both tourists as well as Florentines themselves. THEN, ON TO THE VERSILIAN COAST… At the recommendation of some Milanesi friends, we headed straight for a town called Torre del Lago Puccini on the Versilian Coast. The Puccini is tacked on to the end of the name, since it was the birthplace and home of the famous operatic composer, so the town is also known for its annual Puccini Festival. It is also known for its vibrant nightlife (but take note—although the town might wish it could compete with the more popular international destinations such as Ibiza and Mykonos, it can't). The beaches are nice and entertaining, though crammed with beds and umbrella, which you reserve and pay for as you cross the dune. Never a dull moment, one feels as if one has entered into a Fellini movie in which a range of characters stroll onto and off of the screen randomly...some fighting, some billing and cooing, some wanting to sell you jewelry, others wanting to cover you in henna tattoos, some might want to braid your hair, there is just no telling what might turn the corner next, but it kind of makes you feel like you just plopped yourself into a busy marketplace and that you have to keep a constant eye on your belongings. I guess what I am trying to say in a diplomatic way is that the beaches in Torre del Lago are not at ALL relaxing, but they are extremely entertaining. Where I stayed: There are several places to stay in Torre del Lago, though I believe we ended up in the most appealing. It is a bed and breakfast called B&B; Libano. Libano is the Italian word for Lebanon, so I kind of wondered what the connection was until I met the adorable owner and found that he just happened to be named Libano. Via Tabarro, 23, 011-39/058-435-0322, bedandbreakfast-libano.it How much I paid: My room was big and comfy and cost me $87 (60EUR) per night. Why I recommend it: I believe that Libano inherited this large house (it can accommodate up to 60 people), which he turned into a beach guest house that caters mainly (though not exclusively) to the Gay and Lesbian crowd—a lot of Torre del Lago's nightlife tends to be somewhat "homocentric." An adorable human being, Libano makes you feel instantly at home upon your arrival. There is an onsite restaurant that serves a sumptuous included brunch daily from 9AM to 1PM, a small gym and AC, TV and WiFi thoughout the house. While I really found Libano and his staff to be very kind and sweet and hospitable, their efforts to try to foster friendships between guests and have evening social hours might seem slightly awkward for some. Mr. Libano takes his evening happy hour so seriously that besides merely providing complimentary olives, nuts, and local wines, he serves massive Italian dishes like Lasagna and Spaghetti alle Vongole. Brunch, happy hour, drinks, the impromptu pasta dishes are ALL included in the price of your room which is very cheap. The only requirement of the guest is to try to remain cheerful and sociable and play along with the vibe of the place. Where I ate: On our first night in Torre dl Lago we went to the most highly recommended restaurant in town, La Buffalina. It is very nice, but knowing that that was the best that the town had to offer we began to look elsewhere and discovered that the Versilian Coast is actually awesome with tons of great places to see. For example, a 20 minute drive from Torre del Lago will take you to the gorgeous Medieval town of Pietrasanta which for centuries has been the center for marble sculpting in Italy given its proximity to Carrara. The town is beautiful, full of great restaurants and shops, and became our favorite haunt in the evenings. The very best restaurant in town, in my humble opinion, is called Ristorante Filippo. Filippo himself is probably the kindest, most accommodating restaurateur in the entire town of Pietrasanta, and he, too, runs a bed and breakfast directly adjacent to his restaurant called Le Camere di Filippo where I will most definitely stay the next time I find myself in that region. About 15 more minutes up the coast and you will come to the crown jewel in the Versilian Coast—Forte dei Marmi. This is the spot where all the fashionable Florentines go to see and be seen. There is really nothing to be had in that town for the "budget" traveler, but it is definitely worth taking a look. Built entirely in the 1930s by Mussolini, Forte dei Marmi is a spectacle in many ways should not be missed. Next stop: Barcelona and the beachtown of Sitges, possibly followed by a short trip back to Tuscany to spend an autumn weekend on the Island of Elba where Napoleon Bonaparte was once sent in exile. "Able was I ere I saw Elba" is the apocryphal palindrome supposedly uttered by the deposed emperor himself. Stay tuned.