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Q & A with J The Travel Authority

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A church and sky in Asturias by J. The Travel Authority

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With her extensive life experience, I am not surprised by the wealth of terrific travel advice The Travel Authority Jeanine Barone brings to her $2.99 eBook. Her advice in “The Travel Authority: Essential Tips for Hassle-Free Travel” extends far beyond the usual and could not be more helpful.

I was very pleased to be able to talk with Jeanine about her life and travel experiences.
 
What motivated you to write the “The Travel Authority: Essential Trips for Hassle-Free Travel”? I have visions of your friends’ trips gone terribly wrong.
 
Great Wall of China by J. Barone

1. I've been on many trips where my friends, colleagues or acquaintances were more than inconvenienced by unpleasant surprises. In Ecuador, a companion suffered a bout of traveler's diarrhea in the wee hours of the morning and knocked on my hotel room door hoping I had something for it. (I did.) Another time when I was in China, one of my women friends came down with a vaginal infection and couldn't manage to get the appropriate medication in the pharmacy. (I, of course, had it in my first-aid kit.) So “The Travel Authority: Essential Tips for Hassle-Free Travel” started as a way to inform travelers how to avoid health woes that can ruin a trip. (The health tips section of the e-book is the largest chapter.) But I also saw what happened when my traveling companions lost luggage or their luggage arrived three days late. I never check luggage and providing savvy packing tips that allows you to bring along only a carry-on is also a substantial reason for writing this e-book. I think any trip can be a lot more fun if you can stay safe, healthy and well-informed. That's what my e-book is all about.

With a master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology, not surprisingly you love adventure travel. How does one choose the perfect trip? For example, how can we feel comfortable that we are physically and mentally up to the challenge?

Waterfall in Croatia by Janine Barone
 
2. When you're selecting an adventure trip, it's important to not only take into account the daily mileage (if you'll be bicycling, hiking, walking or cross country skiing, for example), but also the terrain (is it flat, hilly or mountainous) and the altitude. For someone who has only cycled around town, a trip that involves even 30 miles a day, day after day, can be arduous. Likewise, if you live at sea level and you'd like to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, where you'll experience altitudes ranging from 7,000-some-feet to over 13,000 feet above sea level, you need to consider how you've dealt with altitude in the past, as well as personal health issues that can compromise your ability to exercise at altitude. And you need to schedule in time to adapt to altitude in case that time is not budgeted into your itinerary. Many things go into choosing a trip that's right for you. So don't simply get seduced by a destination. You need to accurately assess your health and fitness level. And, if you've not kept in shape but you have plenty of time before an active vacation, you need to hit the gym, preferably with advice from a skilled personal trainer (or you can consult a physical therapist who specializes in sports issues).
  
What adventure experiences bring back the happiest memories?
 
3. One of my very favorite adventure experiences was lodge-to-lodge cross-country skiing by myself in Washington state's Methow Valley. This is a pristine area three-hours from either Spokane or Seattle so it feels like you're smack in the middle of wilderness. I tend to be very Type A and in this low-key locale, I could really wind down and put everything out of mind except for experiences like these: watching the snow dropping from the limbs of the Douglas firs, finding a tunnel formed by overhanging cottonwoods and red cedar, and stopping to warm up at an isolated hut set beside a frozen lake. Every day I skied 12 km to 15 km with my pack from lodge to lodge so I knew that even though during the day I'd be mostly alone, near evening I'd meet other skiers to share stories with when I arrived, for example, at the eco-oriented North Cascades Basecamp. Luckily, I was there for their Thursday Bread and Soup night when they host an environmental presentation with experts. (The room was packed with dozens of people from the community who came to hear at the elusive lynx.)
  
Which ones you would rather not remember?
 
4. I like all my trips for different reasons. And, though I very much adore hiking Italy's Dolomite Mountains for their meadows dappled with wildflowers, snow-coated peaks, and cozy mountain huts where I dined on some filling and tasty cuisine, I would just as well avoid ever encountering another “Via Ferrata.” These are iron cables and rungs bolted into the sheer rock faces along many trails. Given that I'm not a fan of precipitous trails, this wasn't the most relaxing experience I've had.
 
You love long-distance hiking. Although a Sierra Club member for many years, I still have not done a multi-day hike. Motivate me, please!

Flowers along a trail in the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

5. Well, actually my hike in the Dolomites was a one-week hut-to-hut hiking trek. Every day was full of discoveries, whether it was meeting someone on the trail who we compared notes with, finding a picnic-perfect lake, or spotting unusual rock formations. What I find enticing about multi-day treks is that you learn to appreciate very simple things, such as a warm wool blanket, or a hut with a deck where you can enjoy a full-bodied glass of wine as you're bathed in the rays of the setting sun. Often times, there's no cell phone service so it's as if the outside world no long exists. Every day has a routine: pick a route, calculate the mileage, hit the trail after a filling breakfast, stop for a picnic or lunch at a cafe if there is one in a village, make sure you have enough time to get to the hut by dark, fill up on dinner, and lights out early so that you're rejuvenated for the next day. With this routine, you become more aware of your body rhythms and your state of mind. There are no distractions. It's all about what's happening now. 

Tell us about some of your favorite hikes.

A monastery on a lake in Montenegro by J. Barone

6. My multi-day adventures are not focused just on hiking, but also bicycling, walking and cross-country skiing. These are some of my favorite active trips: cross-country skiing the Tenth Mountain Division Trail in Colorado; lodge-to-lodge hiking in Jutenheimen National Park in Norway, and in the Japanese Alps; walking the Camino de Santiago in Asturias, Spain; and bicycling Sardinia's west coast.
 
What travels remain on your list?
 
7. I'd like to bicycle in Vietnam, cross-country ski in Norway, do a two-week train journey through India, and hike in Scotland and Wales.

I love expert guided walks like those of London Walks. Have you favorite companies and guides?

A gate and walkway in Portugal by J. Barone
 
8. Though I do many of my trips on my own or with one or two friends, I've also traveled with hiking, biking and cross-country ski oriented tour operators. Among those I think do a good job in terms of a well-crafted itinerary, knowledgeable guides, preparedness, safety, and their respect for nature are:

 Have you had notable travel experiences related to your degree in Eastern Religion?
 
9. I signed up for a volunteer trip with La Sabranenque, an organization dedicated to preserving rural architecture in Provence, to rebuild a medieval castle in southern France in the 11th century village of St. Victor la Coste. My job for the week included applying mortar to freshly laid stones. It seemed like a simple task except the wall I was building looked a bit lopsided. It turned out I wasn't one with the stones. The chief mason told me to wait for the right rock to speak to me. Who knew that masonry had a Zen element. But basically it was being mindful of purpose and not being distracted by extraneous thoughts, like when's lunch or the sweltering temperatures.
 
You love to travel to Israel. During a visit in 2011, I felt completely comfortable. At this time though, how worried should people be about traveling there?

Mountains in the Negev Desert, Israel

10. I'm never worried about traveling to Israel. Trouble can occur anywhere in the world, including in my hometown, New York City. I think Israel's security people do a better job of monitoring goings-on compared to many other locales where they may naively believe there won't be any trouble. For the people of Israel, trouble or not, life goes on. I've been there when a terrorist attack occurred in Eilat in the south and I was just north of that. But that day, I hired a private guide and went mountain biking in the Negev, a vast swatch of arid land flecked with Nabatean ruins. Over the next two days I discovered oases where endangered ibex drank water from streams and spotted an abundance of wildflowers and a multitude of colors streaking the sandstone cliffs.
 
 Have you favorite places in Israel that are off the beaten path?
 
11.  In the north of the country, Mount Carmel, Israel's largest national park, is networked with walking and hiking trails through old growth Aleppo pine forests. (It's the only part of Israel where a natural population of these trees remains.) The annual Israeli Wine Tasting Festival that's held at Jerusalem's Israel Museum is a must for oenophiles. Wine lovers can sample offerings from dozens of local wineries while enjoying nibbles and live music in the Isamu Noguchi-designed sculpture garden. Birders should head to the Agamon Hula Valley Nature Reserve that attracts thousands of different bird species, including ibis and pelicans, that winter and flyover this former swamp now vast farmland. A good way to navigate the seven-mile paved loop trail at this reserve is via one of their bicycles. Caesarea, the former port city of King Herod, makes for a unique snorkeling or diving venue. Several underwater routes in the submerged port allow you to view archeological finds, including the remains of a Herodian pavement. Finally, with a city that's home to the world's largest concentration of Bauhaus architecture, it's no wonder that an annual event, Houses from Within, allows architecture fans to access both public and private buildings in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem that each take a creative approach to design.
 
I love Spain, as you do. Most people visit Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, and Granada. What gems are they missing?
 
Entrance to cathedral in Cadiz, Spain

12. All of Spain is one big gem. But, among all the treasures, these are standouts:

In the Basque Country, noted for its delectable cuisine, I took a bus to a hamlet where there wasn't much more than fields of grazing cows and a petite town square fronted by a stone church. It's here, in the Atxondo Valley, a half hour from Bilbao, that I found gourmet heaven in the form of the restaurant Etxebarri. Chef Victor Arguinzoniz, who invented all his unique cookware, transforms humble grilled food into haute cuisine, grilling the ungrillable, from baby eels to strawberry tarts.

Near Cadaques, a picturesque seaside town where Salvador Dali lived with Gala, New Years brings the locals to the rocky cliffs and headlands of Cap de Creus, a windswept nature reserve that's so far east, it's the first place on the Iberian Peninsula to see the sun rise. And that's what everyone celebrates each January 1st, with traditional music and dancing and cups of thick hot cocoa.

The entire province sees little tourist traffic from the U.S. because hardly anyone speaks English and it's deathly hot in the summer (though I like it that way). This is in the birthplace of many Spanish conquistadors and it's in this landscape of craggy mountains, historic towns and fields of olive trees and Holm oaks that I found a monastery in Guadalupe where I had lunch in the courtyard with a couple of monks, jogged along the periphery of the Roman Circus in Merida that saw many a chariot rides and, at night, sat along one of the top tiers of the ancient Roman amphitheater to watch a performance of a tragedy written by Euripides that was part of the annual summer Merida Classical Theater Festival.

It rains a lot in Asturias which is a blessing, giving birth to the lush landscape in this northern province. Between and among the myriad hamlets are ruins of pre-Romanesque churches, an abundance of orchards, and golden sand beaches. Scattered about are curious but signature structures referred to as horreos (granaries) which are rustic wood buildings atop stilts. Among my discoveries were ancient dinosaur footprints imbedded in rocks. Another day, I walked to a 9th century pre-Romanesque church where they offered a tour, in Spanish, of the interior. Here, they pointed out the wall niches near the front door where pilgrims once took shelter as well as the remains of elaborate frescoes on the ceiling, walls and archway.
 
We both love to visit gardens and parks when we travel. Which ones have you liked the most and why?

A cork tree in Portugal by J. Barone
 
13. Rio de Janeiro's more than 200-year-old Botanic Garden is home to dozens of rare and threatened plants, such as the brazilwood and rubbery barked pau mulato trees. If you stroll about the verdant paths midweek, you might very well have the place to yourself, along with the hummingbirds hovering over tempting blossoms. Some of the most memorable features include a pond covered with gigantic Amazonian water lilies as well as a path, the Caminho de Floresta Atlantica, where you'll find dense woods that once covered this area, long before the Portuguese arrived.
 
In Madrid, the expansive Parque de Retiro gets all the tourist attention, but I've got other favorites, including Quinta de los Molinos, which is noted for its almond blossoms in March. What's surprising is that this tranquil 60-acre landscape, dominated by groves of olive trees and conifers, as well as birch, eucalyptus and mimosa, is literally across the street from the metro. There's a network of trails through this park that really has a wild feeling that's far removed from the city. You can barely hear the din of traffic as you wander to the north end with the mansion, lake, sunken lawn and windmills.
 
Smack in the middle of Budapest's Danube River, Margaret Island is a leafy paradise dotted with old ruins. One of the most placid green spaces is the tiered Japanese garden where you might want to meditate on the soothing sounds of tumbling water.
 
More than half a dozen green spaces dot Valletta, Malta's capital city, and these include Argotti Botanical Garden with its medicinal specimen, Msida Bastion Historic Garden, which was originally a cemetery, and Hastings Garden that's set along the city walls making it a perfect spot for studying the fortifications.
 
What would you like us to know about your new clothing line for women who travel? What needs were not being met by other designers?
 
14. There will be six items in the collection and the first item has already been produced. (I'm now seeking a fabricator who is focused on small production in the U.S.) The idea behind my clothing line is that women should be able to wear clothing that's simple, practical, yet elegant. Each item should go from day to night. The entire collection will be in black and will be sold online, and at trade shows.
 
Would you like to leave us with your most essential travel tip?

A village in Corsica by J. Barone

15. Never check luggage because it's a way to potentially ruin any trip.

Jeanine, such wonderfully liberating advice. We face a difficult sell though trying to convince others. I try to pack no more than an easily carried on 20 - 25 pounds, which would be even less if I could ditch some electronics essential for my business. Traveling this way avoids so many hassles.

Even when I'm on the road for a couple of months, I only pack a carry-on. And one of the ways I'm able to do this is by taking along items of clothing and accessories that each do double, triple and quadruple duty.
 
Thank you very much, Jeanine

Jeanine Barone writes about travel, food, art, design and architecture for magazines such as National Geographic Traveler. In addition, she loves to help others plan trips that emphasize she says “soft adventure and off-the-beaten-track travel, fine dining and boutique accommodations.“
 
Learn more about Jeanine at J THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY and on Twitter at @jcreaturetravel.

Order Jeanine's outstanding $2.99 eBook: “The Travel Authority: Essential Tips for Hassle-Free Travel."

Images 1,2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10 by Jeanine Barone. Images 4 and 8 by Don Nadeau, BidOnTravel.

 

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