Mary Charlebois is a freelance travel journalist and photographer. Her home base is Northern California on the wild, remote, and fragile Mendocino Coast. Her travels include domestic and international destinations, with a recent focus on the Pacific NW and California. In August 2018 she spent 30-days exploring England. Mary is a regular contributor to five travel publications, and a features writer for twenty-four print and web publications. You can follow her adventures at MaryGo.
Mary was kind enough to answer our travel questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Mary: I've been a traveler my entire life. My Nomadic mother often handed me the map and asked me to choose the destination and route for one of our many traveling adventures. My mom nicknamed me Mary Go. Additionally, for 17-years, I was an international road-warrior, evangelizing digital publishing in its early days. Travel is in my DNA. I get restless when I stay home for more than a few weeks.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Mary: I love off-the-beaten-path destinations. Places no one knows about. I'm usually a solo traveler. I'm thinking of writing about solo travel with a focus on Baby Boomer solo explorers.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Mary: England for a month in August 2018. I spent time in out-of-the-way places like Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Cornwall. I fell in love with every place and everyone I met. Their hospitality and generosity made me feel at home. I absorbed lots of history and learned how much Americans and Brits have in common today and the past. I was the trip of a lifetime, no doubt.
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Mary: Malta is up next on my list. I'm thinking of living out of the country for a year or so. Malta might just be the place. I'll let you know after I visit there.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Mary: Premade address labels for postcards to my friends, family, and to myself. I always send myself postcards from my journeys. They make excellent souvenirs.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Mary: Slow down. Spend quality time in one place, rather than a mad dash to see it all. Get to know some folks that live there. Ask them what to eat, where to sleep, and where to play.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you've ever been given?
Mary: "Don't rent a car in England, take trains and busses." Of course, I didn't follow the advice. Driving in England was more of a challenge than I expected. I managed the narrow country lanes bordered by hedgerows and stone walls, but my knuckles are permanently white from the experience. When I return to the UK, I'll take the train.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Mary: Speaking the language in a foreign country. If you don't know the language, no worries, get a pocket-sized 'picture point book.' Learn to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in the local dialect. You'll get by just fine.
TA: What's a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Mary: Watch out for hidden fees, especially at resorts. I was charged $25 per day for resort fees at an all-inclusive on St Barts. No advance notice was given, it was on my bill when I checked out. To avoid this little deception, ask when you make a reservation and when you check in. Be very clear that you want to know exactly what is included, and what the cost is for things not covered.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Mary: In England, the seafood was terrific, especially cod cooked with lemon and capers. Grassfed Hereford Beef was excellent with wild mushrooms foraged from the woods. I was crazy about mushy peas. They are so much better than they sound. I had a lemon cake with tea I'll never forget. It was made by a local volunteer and served at The Bog; a trecking center in Bishop's Castle, Shropshire. My biggest surprise was the quality of English wine, especially the bubbly.
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Mary: I think smaller towns and cities are ideal for a solo traveler. You'll stand out and are more likely to get involved with locals that can steer you towards the best of everything in the area. For example, go to Naples, rather than Miami. Go to Santa Barbra rather then Los Angeles. Another benefit - it will cost less.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Mary: Insisting on eating American style food when in another country. It makes me nuts. They are missing one of the best things about travel, trying new food.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Mary: My hometown, Fort Bragg California. Once a logging center, it got a bad rep as rough and tumble. Those days are long over. Today the Mendocino Coast is ideal for unplugging and occupying nature.
TA: What's one piece of advice you'd give to travelers your age?
Mary: Don't wait, go now, and try a trip on your own. It's amazing what you'll learn about yourself.