My Perfect Adventure
Before she was a number-one New York Times bestselling author—her 1,000 Places to See Before You Die set record sales for a travel guide—Patricia Schultz was already a veteran travel writer with bylines in Harper’s Bazaar, the Wall Street Journal, and Conde Nast Traveler. She’d also done much work for the Frommer’s and Berlitz series of books. After 1,000 Places became a smash hit, Schultz executive-produced a Travel Channel television show based on the book.
Though she’s based in New York City, she’s always on the move. We wanted to know more about what keeps Schultz going, so we asked her questions that led her to divulge her best tip for seeing great art in Italy, to reveal her reverence for Pico Iyer and Helen Keller, and to answer whether she’s really been to all those thousand places in her book.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
Though so many new places call, I would return to Florence, where I lived for three years after graduating from college. I love hotels of all sorts, but would forego today's Ferragamo designer hotels to stay in my former 16th-century-tower studio on Via Bounarotti, named after Michelangelo's family who lived nearby. It was a tiny five-story walk-up with a postage-stamp-sized bathroom whose luxury was its 360-degree views and proximity to Piazza Santa Croce. I would spend the early hours wandering the back alleyways of the centro storico not yet discovered by tourists, brushing against the spirits of the great Renaissance artists who found their inspiration here—Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio. If you slip into the Uffizi Galleries an hour before closing time, you can have much of the museum to yourself and gaze transfixed upon their master works, running the risk of Stendhal's syndrome, a faintness or dizziness brought on from viewing so much great art under one roof. As a university student back home, I memorized these iconic paintings from textbooks, never expecting to one day stand before them.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
Mongolia. I am regularly asked if I have been to all the thousand places in my book, and my answer is no. But from all that I have ever heard from those who have returned, and from all I have ever researched or seen in films or documentaries, I know that Mongolia, the world’s most sparsely populated independent country and home to famously hospitable people, deserves to be experienced. And sooner rather than later. It’s not a particularly easy (nor inexpensive) trip and, like all else, I hear much has been changing. In July, I am hosting a trip there with Nomadic Expeditions, making this dream come true.
What’s the best place you've ever visited?
Many experiences were truly once-in-a-lifetime for me, from Bhutan to Ladahk to Papua New Guinea to Patagonia. Ethiopia was especially magical because of its unexpectedly beautiful landscape, gentle and gracious people, and its stunning underground churches of Lalibela that are close to 1,000 years old. They were created with an engineering prowess so sophisticated that no one can explain it, thus the legend that a legion of angels was responsible. Just a few weeks ago I returned to Luxor, ancient Thebes, in Upper Egypt and had a "moment" at the Temple of Luxor. The sun was setting on the Nile as the lights came on to illuminate the temple ruins, and from the mosque built within the temple, there sounded the call to prayer. I knew that I would always hold that moment with me. I love Egypt and it breaks my heart that so few people are experiencing it these days.
If you could have lunch with any explorer, who would it be and why?
Pico Iyer's travel writing is some of the most authentic and inspirational that I have enjoyed, though I don't imagine he will be calling me for lunch anytime soon. Of those who have gone beyond, I'd love to have a conversation with Helen Keller, though I'm not sure how that would work. She once said, "Life should be a great adventure or nothing at all." She fearlessly explored unchartered landscapes and embraced life in a way that people far more privileged ever could or will. I have adopted her timeless mantra: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” That's how I felt at Luxor.
What’s something you can’t travel without?
If you're looking for something more original or romantic, you probably won’t want to include this answer, but it is my Blackberry. It facilitates my trips enormously, helping me to maximize what is always a too-limited amount of time I have in any one place, and enabling me to be away from home and professional obligations for long periods. And just when I start forgetting how remarkable it is to be receiving emails deep in the rainforests and high in the Himalayas, I lose the signal and am reminded again of just how exciting it can feel to be untethered and unconnected.
When you arrive at a new destination, what’s usually first on your agenda?
First, putting my head in the time zone of the destination, and trying to convince myself that's going to help with jetlag. I will have set up a walking tour for first thing the next morning, to get my bearings and to understand something of the lay of the land. All guides are not created equal and I do my best to find a great one; I have way too many questions to spend time with someone uninformed or uninterested. Though I will have done my homework, I pick their brains for tips about how to spend the remaining hours and days once we part ways and I am on my own.