Amy Welborn is the author of more than 20 books, including most recently Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope. She travel blogs at Booked. She lives in Birmingham, Ala., but will be spending the fall in Europe…somewhere.
Cheapflights: What’s your inspiration when choosing a destination?
Amy Welborn: I want to go, um, everywhere, so choosing is both difficult and easy! My interests center around culture, art, history and natural landscapes – so there are very few places on earth that don’t interest me as potential destinations! At this point, though, traveling as I do with two children, I must take their interests into account as well. I want to take their interests into account – it’s not a burden. I find that traveling with children to be quite illuminating. So I look for destinations that will satisfy all of us, that will give me interesting sites to ponder and intriguing experiences, and that will provide fun and enrichment for them as well – as well as a sense of freedom for them. I also throw affordability into the mix, naturally. I tend to start from that perspective: Where can I go that’s most affordable right now (instead of spending a huge amount of time trying to make a desired trip affordable, waiting for specials and so on)?
CF: Is there anywhere that you love to visit regularly?
AW: In general, any beach area. I love the sea, and could live there if I could afford it. More specifically, I love Italy. Although my four visits to various parts of Italy don’t match those of other more frequent travelers, I consider that “regularly” and hope to return soon.
CF: How do you choose which museums or attractions to visit at a given location?
AW: Well, the answer to that tracks closely to the answer to No.1. It has to hold enough interest for all of us: two boys, ages 7 and 11, and a 51-year-old mom with an interest in history and art. Thankfully, my boys are very open-minded and I find it easy to brainwash – er, direct – their attention. They don’t chafe at visiting art museums at all, for example, because we can always find intriguing pieces, ancient or new, to interest them.
CF: Do you usually stick to a planned itinerary exclusively or prefer to discover more spontaneously?
AW: I balance it out. It’s unwise to be too hard-nosed in either direction. If I didn’t plan at all, didn’t research, I’d miss something interesting and would regret that. But being too anal about a schedule will have exactly the same impact – and will make everyone miserable. I generally like to schedule – wow, I even hate the word! – one major destination a day, and then leave the rest of the time unstructured and free for wandering. The most memorable sites tend to be the unexpected, don’t you think? It’s very much like life. A plan is good, but who doesn’t look back at their life and acknowledge that the most wonderful things about your life were those that were surprises that popped up outside of the plan?
CF: What is an absolute must on your packing list?
AW: Extra contact lenses?
I’m fortunate in that I’m not a very picky or particular sleeper/eater or just…person. I’m blessed with great health. So I don’t have any items I need to take for my comfort or health, so my main concern in packing is packing light. I hate to be burdened down, and pack with the philosophy, “I can probably buy it there if I forget it.”
CF: What’s your routine before you fly?
AW: My routine? Clean my house – it’s a habit I picked up from my mother, who used to drive us all crazy obsessing about cleaning the house before a trip. But now I get it: After a long trip, it’s very comforting to come back to a neat, open space. And fairly distressing to return, exhausted, to a cluttered one.
And then I double check for IDs a zillion times. And get seized by the fear that I booked the tickets for the wrong day. So therefore check the reservations a zillion times.
CF: How do you discover local or off-the-beaten-path places?
AW: Through the Internet!! But also through my interests in literature and religion.
CF: Do you have a routine for staying healthy when you travel?
AW: It’s really not a challenge (knock on wood): getting plenty of sleep is the key. We’ve not (yet) traveled to more exotic locales – although we all want to – so it might be more of a challenge when that happens. We’ll see!
CF: What destinations do you believe offer the best bang for your buck?
AW: First of all, I think one of the greatest bangs for the buck is offered by traveling locally. I live in Northern Alabama, and I am just now, after three years, really getting serious about exploring this area. I am amazed by the natural treasures as well as intriguing local history that I’m discovering.
Secondly, any destination in which you can stay at a vacation rental rather than a hotel, especially if you’re traveling with children. Once you cut out a daily hotel rate and the need to eat out all the time, traveling when staying at a rental is quite affordable. Plus, having a room where you can shut a door? Priceless.
CF: Can you offer any pointers on traveling with families or kids?
AW: Children are, in general, quite open to new experiences. They’re as open as we encourage them to be. If we have an adventurous, open-minded spirit, they will absorb that. But you really do have to balance their interests with yours. I think traveling is a good way to teach children to be patient and selfless. As in: “I took you to that kids’ science ‘museum’ that drove me bonkers, now you can patiently try to appreciate something about this exhibit on 15th-century textile manufacturing for just a few minutes. Okay?”
Also: free, running wild time. Even in urban areas, whenever we run across a park, we stop and they play for a while.
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