Clark Norton has been chronicling the baby boom generation since he was backpacking in Europe in the early 1970s. In the 1980s and ’90s, as his children were growing up, he wrote about family travel. And once his children fled the nest, he began writing about adventurous travel for people in their 50s, 60s, and now, early 70s as well. His work has appeared in dozens of leading national and regional publications as well as top websites, and he is the author of 17 guidebooks, to such disparate places as California, Alaska, the Dominican Republic, and, most recently, Tucson, Arizona, where he now lives with his wife, Catharine, and two cats. Though he has traveled to some 120 countries to date, his life list keeps growing every year.
Clark was kind enough to answer some of our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Clark: I’ve been traveling just about all my life. My parents were both teachers with time off in summers so we’d all pile into the family car and drive to distant locations around the U.S. — I was in 48 states by the time I was 12. So that got me hooked, along with collecting stamps, which fascinated me with depictions of exotic locales.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Clark: I’ll write about any type of travel, but lately I’ve been writing a lot about cruising, especially small ship and river cruising. And I do aim my blog primarily at baby boomers, though there are a wide variety of topics within that.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Clark: The best pure vacation I ever took was my recent trip to the Greek Islands, which I spent with my family and some friends. All we did was eat, swim, sunbathe, hike, and repeat the next day. As a travel writer, I don’t often get to take a normal “vacation” since I’m always running around taking notes, getting interviews, etc. (much to my wife’s chagrin at times). This time I barely picked up my pen or opened my laptop, and it was wonderful.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Clark: While I’ve been to Africa several times, I’ve never been to the Serengeti to see the great wildebeest migration, and while I’ve traveled to Southeast Asia a fair amount, I’ve never made it to Borneo, which, as a kid, I always considered the height of exoticism.
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Clark: Besides my laptop and notebooks, I always pack a hat, which is essential when you have no remaining hair.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Clark: Never let fear stand in the way of going somewhere you want to. For all the horror stories one may read in the paper, the world is really a pretty safe place.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
TA: What would be your #1 recommendation for a place to travel in 2019?
Clark: Croatia, before it gets even more crowded than it is. It’s a small country but has it all — history, culture, great food, beaches, islands, natural wonders…you can walk the old city walls in Dubrovnik, explore impossibly beautiful medieval islands and towns like Korcula and Trogir, roam through a city (Split) whose walls are the ruins of a Roman emperor’s palace, and visit wonders like Plitvice National Park, where waterfalls link 16 terraced lakes that shimmer like emeralds and sapphires. And did I mention the seafood pulled fresh from the Adriatic? Small ship cruises out of Venice are a great way to see the coast, but be sure to take some extra time to head inland as well.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Clark: I think many travelers worry too much about terrorism. Not that it isn’t a problem for some people at certain times, but the chances of actually being a victim of a terrorist attack are minuscule. While it’s certainly prudent to avoid actual war zones, I would never pass up a trip to, say, the Middle East due to a general fear that terrorists may be lurking behind every bush. The same goes for whatever it is that keeps some travelers from going to Mexico or other countries that have acquired a bad reputation. There are a few crime-ridden places in Mexico you may want to avoid, but most of the country is just fine, in my experience. Observe common-sense precautions and then relax and enjoy yourself.
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!
Clark: Once years ago in Kenya I was stopped by a very believable young man who told me a long, sad story about needing money to finish high school, since the government didn’t offer free education. He said he was from a minority tribe that was discriminated against by the majority Kikuyu. He was very detailed in his description and I must have listened for at least a half hour, sure that it would make a great story for the news service where I was an editor at the time. When I asked him how to spell his name, he showed me his ID card — which listed Kikuyu as his tribe! At that point I knew he had made the whole thing up. Later, back in the States, I received a long, detailed story submission from one of our writers traveling in Kenya lamenting the plight of what was obviously the very same con artist — fortunately, I knew not to run it. Ever since, I’ve been very wary about anyone approaching me on the street asking for money, no matter how convincing they sound.
TA: What’s one way people can get the most out of their cruise experience?
Clark: Sometimes it can be taking a bit of a chance, but I would encourage passengers to get to know their fellow passengers while dining. If you’re with one other person and there are tables for four or ideally six, and there are empty seats, ask if you can join those present. My wife and I have made a number of great friends that way, in some cases lasting well beyond the cruise. If you stick to tables for two, you might miss out on meeting some fascinating people. And the worst that can happen is nobody wants to talk, in which case you can still chat with your traveling companion and enjoy the food.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Clark: When an American says “What is that in real money?” referring to whatever foreign currency they’re dealing with at the moment, or similar remarks that betray a total lack of (or disinterest in) cultural understanding. And, almost ubiquitous today, taking selfie after selfie while blocking everyone else’s view of a monument or holding up a line.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous? Please explain why.
Clark: Compared to say, other South American countries like Peru or Brazil, Ecuador is certainly underrated, and yet it’s an incredibly diverse destination packed into a relatively small size. It actually has five distinct and compelling elements: the Andes mountains (the perfectly formed snow-capped volcano Cotopaxi is near Quito), the Amazon basin (complete with jungle lodges), the coastline, the Galapagos islands (one of the best places for wildlife viewing on earth, and the very best for up-close viewing), and its magnificent colonial cities like Quito and Cuenca. It also has indigenous marketplaces, other interesting cities such as Guayaquil, good food, and is very inexpensive.