Native New Yorker, Talek Nantes is an author, freelance writer, travel consultant and founder of the travel blog, Travels with Talek. She is a passionate travel enthusiast and enjoys sharing her travel experiences with others. Talek's personal and professional background have led her to travel to over 100 countries. She has lived and worked throughout the world and speaks several languages. Talek has an MBA and a Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in New York City and Miami. In her blog, Talek shares information on unique destinations, and provides actionable travel tips and advice to help travelers make the most of their time away from home. Her focus is on experiential travel, cultural immersion and interaction with local people to help travelers create their own unique travel experiences. Talek believes that when it comes to travel, it's all about the experience. Her work has appeared in several travel publications including Matador Network and Readers Digest.com.
Talek was kind enough to provide her travel insights by answering our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Talek: I have been traveling all my life and have never known anything different.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Talek: I specialize in cultural immersion and travel experiences.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Talek: One of my favorite travel experiences was my first visit to England. I had studied history in college and loved that I was seeing many of the places I learned about.
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Talek: Baku, Azerbaijan. As a high school student I read a book called Ali and Nino. It took place in Baku and that made me fall in love with the city.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Talek: An all purpose jacket.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Talek: Just go! Don't overthink it.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Talek: My Itchy Travel Feet, The Planet D, Jessie on a Journey
TA: Where was the most unusual place you've ever stayed?
Talek: I crossed central China on the way to Tibet. While in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, the group we were with installed us in a room they said was once occupied by the former Dalai Lama. I don't know if the Dalai Lama really stayed there but it was fun to think so. All the time I was there, about 3 days, I felt wonderful and attributed it to the former illustrious guest. Other odd or unusual places I've stayed include a desert tent in Wadi Rum in southern Jordan, a camp in the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal and a tent in the African bush in South Africa.
TA: What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten overseas?
Talek: I have such a long list of odd edibles overseas. They include chocolate covered ants in Bucaramanga, Colombia. Mexico is one of the epicenters of weird food; ant eggs (escamole), lizard (really does taste like chicken), tacos stuffed with fried crickets which are really delicious and other oddities I don't even remember. China is another place with an astounding variety of unusual foods; fish scale soup, scorpions, centipedes, sheep penis and star fish to mention just a few. The United States is not too far behind China when it comes to strange food; snake, alligator, bull testicles (rocky mountain oysters) and turtle soup.
There is so much that is edible, it's just a matter of culture.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Talek: People worry about all sorts of things. Much of that worrying is looking for a reason to not travel because they really don't want to. Travel is not for everybody and it's cool if you don't really enjoy it.
However, here are some things people worry about and how to address it.
"It's too expensive." A little bit of research and you can slash your travel costs. Instead of hotels, stay at Airbnb, guest houses or homestays. Instead of taxis, take public transportation. Don't eat near tourist spots, eat several blocks away from the main drag. The food will probably be better and certainly cheaper. You can also buy groceries and have picnics or cook some meals, like breakfast at the Airbnb.
"It's not safe." It can be just as dangerous in your own home. Just keep your wits about you and you should be OK. Traveling does require a but more awareness of your surroundings which, fortunately is not hard to do.
"I don't speak the language." There are several translation apps on the market now which will help you communicate wherever you are. Also, communicating with people who don't speak your language can be fun. I once arranged for a driver to meet me at the Acropolis in Greece using nothing but hand signals.
"I don't have the time." OK, then take a shorter trip.
"I don't want to go alone and I can't get someone to go with me." Traveling alone can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience. It can be a little challenging if you've never done it before but the rewards are large. Once you travel solo the first time you will not even think about it the second. Another option to address traveling alone is to book with a small group. There are many tour agencies that cater to all sorts of travelers; vegetarians, older folks, millennials, women only, aspiring photographers, cooking enthusiasts and many more. Try one.
Here is an excuse I've heard a surprisingly large amount of times; "I can't leave the dog alone." This translates into "I really don't want to travel but I can't admit that even to myself because I sound dorky so I'm using the dog as an excuse."
I remember a conversation I had once with a woman who heard me talk about how much I liked London. "Oh!, I always wanted to go to London but Charlie doesn't like to travel." Charlie was her husband. She deprived herself of a travel dream because someone else didn't want to go with her. How sad, I thought.
TA: What's a travel scam travelers should be wary of? And if you've ever had someone try to pull a scam on you while traveling, please share the story!
Talek: Getting wrong change is a classic. Make sure you understand the local currency and check your change before you walk away.
Purchasing something overseas and then receiving something completely different. To guard against this check out reviews of the establishment on line and see what experiences others have had.
Pickpocketing. To guard against this keep your wits about you. Beware of sudden disturbances around you that may be distractions to pick your pocket. Crowded locations are perfect for thieves; train stations, subways, busy "times-square-like" locations. Try to keep your money in separate locations; a money belt, your wallet, a separate bag. Spread it around so, if you get robbed, the thief doesn't get everything.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food? (And what are some good things to eat there?)
Talek: I've had bad meals in many places but I have never been to a country where I thought the food was consistently bad. Good cooking with fresh ingredients will create tasty dishes in any country. Having said that, there are some countries where food and eating are a more important in the culture. Some of my favorite countries for food include: Spain, Italy, China, Vietnam, Mexico and Japan. Of these, Spain comes out on top. The tapas in northern Spain are legendary, particularly the Basque region of San Sebastian.
Did you know that Tokyo has more Michelin rated restaurants than anywhere else in the world?
Here is a tip for eating well overseas. Don't order one country's special dish in a different country. Stick to the local food. Don't order tacos in Japan or pizza in Thailand. Don't risk disappointment when local Japanese or Thai fare are so spectacular.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Talek: Venice can suffer from over-tourism but you'd be hard pressed to find a more romantic city. An evening stroll across Piazza San Marco or over the charming little bridges with your significant other is memorable.
New York City has so many romantic spots; a sunset cruise around the island of Manhattan, standing on Bow Bridge and gazing at the city and Central Park, listening to the music at the Delacorte clock across from the Central Park Zoo as the decorative animals twirl around the clock. It is a wonderful city for romance.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you've ever visited? (Any specific locations people need to see there?)
Talek: Barcelona, Spain's wonderful city is beautiful with its eclectic architecture, sprawling parks and wide avenues. It can be expensive but with a little effort and research, you can enjoy this iconic city at a reasonable price. Stick to homestays or Airbnb, eat where the locals eat, picnic many of your meals at parks and plazas, eat your breakfasts at home. Get a city pass which offers 20+ attractions at reduced prices and lets you skip the lines. Take public transportation.
Have you ever taken a class while visiting a foreign city? If so, can you tell us a bit about the experience? And would you recommend people take that class?
Talek: I recently took a cooking class in Petra, Jordan. I signed up and showed up at the location. They had a very modern kitchen and two cooks explained the process while a translator helped us understand. We cut, chopped and peeled vegetables. The cook added the ingredients and we stirred the pot. We, the students, really were given the most menial tasks but that's because there were too many of us and it would have taken too long if everyone had a bigger participation. Finally the food was ready and we all sat down to eat. The food was amazing. All seven courses were excellent. We all learned at lot about the rich variety and flavors of Middle Eastern food. Other than eating, the best part of the experience was the sharing and interacting with other students as well as the cooks. At the end they gave us detailed recipes of all the dishes. Yum!