Best Places of the World, 2013

Text & Instagram Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo

As you can probably tell by the neglect of this blog over the past few weeks, it has been a very busy month at CollazoProjects headquarters… though, truth be told, we haven’t been at headquarters much at all. With back-to-back travels that have taken us to and through three countries and as many states, and a number of deadlines, including a massive project for Zagat that we’ll be excited to tell you more about soon, we haven’t had any spare time in November to speak of.

Not that we’re complaining.

One of the things that always excites me about coming back home is checking the mailbox to see what’s arrived while we’ve been away. In addition to a small stack of books that I’m reviewing for an assignment and the ubiquitous bills, there was this:

National Geographic Traveler's Best of the World 2013 Issue
National Geographic Traveler’s Best of the World 2013 Issue

We’ve been waiting for a looong time to see my article in National Geographic Traveler’s “Best Places of the World 2013” issue to arrive our mailbox– six months, in fact–so it was exciting and gratifying to finally have it in hand.

Given our focus on Latin America and the number of international trips I’ve taken in the past year, you may be surprised to see that of the 20 near and far-flung places listed as the “best” places to visit in 2013, my pick is Memphis, Tennessee. (And no, Belize, Catalonia, and Mexico, I don’t love you one bit less!). You can read more of the backstory of how and why Memphis was selected on my writing and editing blog, Cuaderno Inedito.

Susan O’Keefe, one of my editors at National Geographic Traveler, said at last week’s excellent Travel Classics West Conference that writing a short article is often perceived as easier than writing a feature, but that is often not the case. I can definitely second that; my contribution to the list of 20 was commissioned for 400 words and I agonized over every one of them. As always, some incredible people and places got left out. Plenty of stories remain to be told (and hey, that’s what this blog is for). I hope you’ll pick up the December-January issue, which should be on newsstands soon, to learn more about why I love Memphis and why I think you might, too. And stick around here for some Memphis outtakes.

December Publications & Updates

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo

Street art in Mexico City
Street art in Mexico City

There’s still so much more to be written about what we’ve done and seen and heard in 2011; we’ll likely be working on stories well into 2012.

For now, here’s a quick sampling of some recently published work and other professional updates:

Francisco was one of 50 semi-finalists in Smithsonian’s Aerial America Contest. The photo was taken this summer at Migis Lodge, a resort that’s well-loved by its many repeat visitors, whose families have “summered” at Migis for several generations.

My feature article about Mexico City and writer Daniel Hernandez appears in the December-January issue of the magazine Centro y Sur. Several of my photos also appeared in the article.

My part of the Fodor’s Puerto Rico 2012 guide has been submitted; I’m looking forward to seeing the printed book next year. Though doing the research for the guide always takes a few months off my lifespan, working with my editor there is always a positive experience.

Matador released its first book, an anthology of travel quotes and exceptional travel photographs. It’s called No Foreign Lands and I’m the associate editor. (Hint: It makes a lovely holiday gift. No, I don’t make any money off it, but the photographers do, so show them some love.)

Lots of projects and publications on the horizon- a feature on the First Lady of Belize for MS. Magazine, a couple of book projects, and some collaborations I’m excited about.

How to take care of your family at home while you’re traveling abroad

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
I was having coffee with a friend in Mexico City when I checked my mobile and saw the subject line: “ER,” followed by the brief message: “Going to the hospital.”

Though I was headed to the airport, on my way home, in less than an hour, it would be 12 more hours before I’d be back in New York with my family. They were having an emergency, I wasn’t sure what it was, and I couldn’t get home any faster even if I did. I sent a quick email full of spelling errors to a New York friend, asking her to check in on Francisco and Mariel; then, I hopped in a taxi, bound for the airport.

I’ve been traveling on back-to-back trips since mid-September and only one of those four trips has involved my family coming along with me. So much time away from them has helped me become more attentive to how important it is to take care of your family at home while you’re traveling abroad. There are steps to take before, during, and after the trip to make sure that they’re as safe as happy as they can be while you’re off in the world; here are a few that I implement consistently:

1. Make sure your partner has your travel information.
Making sure your partner has your flight or transportation details, the name and contact information for the places you’re staying, and at least a rough outline of your overall itinerary can go a long way toward lessening his/her anxiety, loneliness, or sense of worry. I email Francisco a copy of all of my travel plans and update him during the trip if something important changes.

Francisco and Mariel
Francisco and Mariel

2. Make sure your partner has your child’s medical information at hand.
It’s hard enough to play the single parent role without having to scramble around looking for important information–pediatrician’s phone number and address; insurance information; identification cards–if there’s an emergency. We keep a list of Mariel’s pediatrician’s contact information on our refrigerator door, and maintain a folder of her health records in a quick-grab folder on our desk.

3. Set expectations about frequency and method of communication.
It’s much easier for your child and partner to cope with not hearing from you if they know there’s a chance you’ll be in an area without Internet and/or phone access. Try to tell them this in advance, though.

4. Have a trusted friend to help in an emergency.
Here’s hoping you’ll never need it, but should your family have an emergency, you and your partner should both have a designated contact person through whom you can communicate.

1. Keep in contact.
If you’ve set expectations about when you’ll be communicating, keep your word and follow through. When I’m traveling without my family, we try to connect briefly each morning and for a longer period each night for a video chat on Skype. If our schedules don’t line up because of time zone differences or a change in my itinerary, I at least try to send a quick message saying what the change is and when they can expect to hear from me again.

2. Be honest about changes, but try to keep worry at a minimum.
During my Mexico trip, I had to take an eight hour trip on a night bus, through the mountains… twice. This was definitely not part of my plan, and it didn’t exactly thrill Francisco, who worried for my safety. I would have preferred not to have told him until afterward, but I knew that (1) someone needed to know where I was and (2) he’d be more worried not to hear from me at all. Whatever your partner needs to know you’re ok, try to give it to him/her.

3. Do little things to let your family know you’re thinking of them.
I was in Spain, Belize, and then Mexico, having incredible experiences, while my husband and our daughter stayed home in a rainy New York. Whenever possible, I tried to do little things to let them know I was thinking of them. For Francisco, this meant writing an email when I got to Guadalajara to say that my return to that city made me think of time we spent there several years earlier. It also meant sending him pictures of Cuban athletes from the Pan American Games.

4. Buy souvenirs.
We don’t really need any more dust collectors in our home, but when I can find a useful or thoughtful gift–coffee from Chiapas, a hat from Madrid, a pin from the Pan American Games–I pick it up so that Francisco and Mariel know that they were on my mind.

5. Rest on the way home.
If you have a long trip home, try to sleep or at least recover some of your energy so you return home fresh. Your family’s probably going to be thrilled to see you and excited about spending time with you; if you’re exhausted, that’s a total downer for them.


1. Set aside special time for your family.
Having come back from almost three weeks of travel, it was critical that I return home and spend some quality catch-up time with my family. I stayed off the computer for the weekend and we made plans to go to a retreat center with some friends. As much as my inbox needed my attention, my family needed it a lot more.

2. Share the experiences with them when they’re ready.
Your family is probably interested in knowing what you experienced without them, but they may not exactly be ready for a slideshow of hundreds of photos as soon as you walk in the door. Let them tell you when they’re ready to hear all about your adventures.

3. Ask about their experiences, too.
Though their adventures at home might not have been as epic as yours, demonstrate interest in what they were up to while you were away.

Have your own tips for taking care of your family while you’re traveling? Share them in the comments.

What’s it like being a travel writer?

In a new series on Matador Network’s blog, The Travelers Notebook, we take a look at the lives of travel writers. In this first video, travel writer and TV host Robin Esrock tells viewers a bit about his life and career:

Want to learn the craft of travel writing?

Sign up for Matador’s new Travel Writing School and get the skills you need.

Travel Writers’ Resolutions for 2009

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Brayan Collazo Alonso

As a travel writer who has written openly about traveling to Cuba, I receive frequent e-mails from people who would like my advice about doing the same.

Just last week, I was chatting with a friend–another travel writer–an American citizen who is planning on traveling to Cuba. “I was trying to decide… whether to write about it [the trip],” she said. She maintains a popular travel blog with a loyal readership, and the comments of her readers indicate that she clearly exerts a positive influence over their travel decisions.

“Here’s what I think,” I said to her:

“From a philosophical/activism perspective, the more people who write about traveling to Cuba, the better. It proves, for one thing, the importance of going there, seeing things for themselves, and rendering their own judgments and opinions. It also proves that the travel ‘ban’ is ridiculous and that travel is not threatening to anyone.”

Writing about travel, like traveling itself, is a form of diplomacy, of politics, and even, I argue, of patriotism. Travel writing is not an act of objectivity or passivity. It requires the writer’s full engagement, both while traveling and while sitting down and writing.


A few months back, I attended a reading of prose pieces written by travel writers. A writer and editor was asked by a member of the audience if he had traveled to Cuba. The writer shuffled uncomfortably from one foot to the other, his head down, as if trying to decide whether to answer the question. Finally, he looked up and said, “Yes.”

That was it.

“And have you written about it?” the audience member continued. The writer responded something along the lines of he’d never written about the experience–or at least not published anything about it–because he didn’t really want to leave a paper trail of his travels to the forbidden island. He was worried about the consequences.

While I respect his decision, I think there’s something to be said for travel writing that takes people places where they can’t go or where they’re afraid to go. There’s something to be said for writing that’s courageous, that says, “This is what I believe, and this is why,” and that gives places and people without voices a medium for expression.
My friend and colleague, Eva Holland, recently blogged about her 2009 travel and writing resolutions.

“I will give everything I write the same time, care and attention that I would have when I first started out, and every submission felt like life and death.”

It’s a resolution all writers should adopt for 2009.

And I’ll add one more, for all of us:

Write like you believe in your subject. Write through your fear, through your ego, through your anxieties. Write about places like they matter… because they do.