Alison Abbott is an award-winning travel writer and photographer with a focus on sustainable shades of green living. When not searching out the best of artisans, growers, and makers who make a destination unique, you can find her working as editor of the blog she founded, Green With Renvy. As a Baby Boomer who loves adventure, she has swum with pink dolphins in the Amazon, crossed paths with grizzlies in Alaska, and ventured to Chernobyl in Ukraine. Her travels have taken her around the globe to off-the-beaten-path destinations, but India holds a special place in her heart. Her passion for responsible travel has her singing the praises of keeping it local whether at home or abroad. Alison is a regular contributor to many online publications and is a Local Expert with AFAR Media.
She was kind enough to answer some of our travel questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Alison: My first memory of travel that left an impression was at a young age visiting the Seminole Indians in Florida with my family. I was hypnotized, not unlike the crocodiles they would put into a trance. I can still see the women's brightly colored native dress that set the tone for my wanderlust.
A passion for travel took hold in my 20's, during production trips to the Far East for the fashion and design company I co-founded in 1978. Twenty-five successful years later, I segued into the world of renovating houses with an eco-friendly twist. A desire to combine that passion for travel with my growing knowledge in the world of sustainability led to the launch of Green With Renvy. You'll find the blog is an enjoyable riff on the concept of renovating your travel and lifestyle in sustainable shades of green.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Alison: I think travel makes us all better citizens and helps to open minds. In particular, I enjoy off the beaten path destinations and want to help others learn about unknown destinations. Over-tourism is becoming a real problem. I focus on eco-friendly and responsible travel. With over a billion people traveling, it's important to know where your dollars are going. A few simple steps can help to make the industry and destinations a lot more sustainable.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Alison: Sailing the Greek Isles with my family and good friends on a small yacht. It was a dreamy vacation, and everything from the food to the accommodations and the company was just perfect.
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Alison: The Brando-a unique luxury resort in French Polynesia. It's a breathtaking spot dripping with sustainable goodness!
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Alison: Well my phone is the obvious, but natural sunscreen and a pashmina are always packed too. Reef safe sunscreen -- you never know when you might take a dip.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Alison: Do your research. Find out what the locals eat. Go to markets and use local guides. Support artisans and small makers. Keep money in the local community.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Alison: I love my Facebook Boomer group. They are so supportive. Roads & Kingdoms, Fathom and I'm expecting big things from TravelAwaits!
TA: What would be your #1 recommendation for a place to travel in 2019?
Alison: Shhh...but I think Georgia (the country) is about to catch fire!
TA: What are the top 3 websites you use for research/inspiration when planning a trip?
Alison: I have the best luck with just doing a few key words in a Google search i.e.:farm to table Boston or traditional crafts Rajasthan. Then I dig deeper with the results. I just find it's more up-to-date that way. For hotel and destination inspiration I look to all the traditional travel magazines, AFAR Media, and Fathom. I also check reviews on Trip Advisor. Culture Trip has good suggestions for top things to do and see.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Alison: I have an AMEX card that gives me access to all the Priority Pass lounges in airports. I also think Premium Economy is the way to go with flying. Usually the middle seat is empty and the extra room on a long flight is great. I've tried a few of the airlines where you can bid for an upgraded seat. It's terrific when you hit the sweet spot on your bid and win!
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you've ever been given?
Alison: Keep an open mind and be flexible. Behind every hiccup there could be a golden opportunity.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Alison: Safety and getting sick. Common sense goes a long way.
TA: What's a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Alison: Be careful of your iPhone. They seem to be a hot commodity these days. Beware when someone bumps into you as a distraction while someone else lifts your phone. Also, never take food from a stranger on a train. I met two people who took a cookie and were drugged and robbed: what a nightmare!
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Alison: I can't think of a place I've been recently that didn't have good food. Research a food tour that specializes in local establishments and take their tour as soon as you arrive. They'll give you a great overview, you can ask lots of questions, and more often than not, you'll want to return to a few of the spots they've selected for a taste. You can often find one or two that specialize in dietary restrictions in any large city.
I was delighted this summer by the food I found in Ukraine. JayWay Travel, who specialize in Eastern Europe, did an amazing job of finding farm to table and restaurants putting a modern twist on traditional recipes. The vegetarian varenyky (dumplings) are not to be missed and beets in a variety of dishes were divine! I was surprised by the fresh salads we devoured everywhere we went.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Alison: I spent my 40th anniversary in Vienna. It was incredible, so beautiful, made for walking with plenty of great restaurants, wine, music, and historical museums. All are things my husband and I love experiencing together. Gardens around the palace were in bloom, and in the heat, the smell of roses and other flowers perfumed the air. The icing on the cake was a stay at the impossibly romantic Hotel Imperial.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you've ever visited?
Alison: That can be a hard combination. L'viv, Ukraine was pretty special. Cobblestone streets, elegant houses, and beautiful churches all mix to make the UNESCO-listed Old Town an undiscovered charmer. The Old European style and affordable prices would have to put it at the top of my current list. Make sure to climb to the top of the bell tower where you'll have 360 degree views of both traditional and cosmopolitan Ukrainian atmosphere.
TA: What's one way people can get the most out of their cruise experience?
Alison: Small expedition ships and river cruises are my trips of choice. I suggest researching the excursions beforehand and taking advantage of as many as you can. They add so much to the experience. Pack good walking shoes.
TA: Have you ever met someone while traveling who changed your life?
Alison: I don't think I could single out one person. Many guides and locals I've met were unforgettable and greatly enhanced my travel experience.
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Alison: I prefer large cities for traveling solo as it's easy to be anonymous and there is always plenty to keep a visitor busy on their own. That being said, if I was looking to recharge, I would choose a beautiful natural environment where hiking and being outdoors was the focus.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Alison: Using selfie sticks with no spatial awareness.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Alison: I'd like to see more people open their minds about traveling to India. I've been 7 times and each visit takes another piece of my heart. It has so much to offer and the people are so welcoming and kind. The food, the textiles, the sights, the chaos, they all make my head spin with inspiration.