As a seeker of the unusual, writer, photographer Neala McCarten is drawn to the quirky, the under-known. She is drawn to the art, culture, and history of places, and shares those discoveries with others on her blog Offbeat Travel.
Neala was kind enough to answer our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Neala: I started traveling in 1968 (yes I’m that old, but I was very young when I started) and have been passionate about it ever since. The world is a vast and diverse place, a buffet of experiences and having tasted it I was hooked.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Neala: Art, history, and culture — but I like to pursue those within comfortable hotels, and delicious restaurants.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Neala: A cruise along the Nile River to walk amid the ruins of the ancient temples was an emotionally powerful experience. I loved visiting China. It has a completely different culture and architecture. In the United States, I found the diversity of the southwest both in geography and culture, served with the delightful bite of green chile a powerful combination. I lived in New Mexico for over 10 years.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Neala: OTC meds
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Neala: Underpack. You can always buy more clothes but heavy suitcases literally drag you down.
TA: What would be your #1 recommendation for a place to travel in 2019?
Neala: If I had to pick a place, it would be China. The country is endlessly fascinating and diverse. In its own way, it is eternal. It alters outside influences, melding them to make it uniquely theirs. The architecture is a good example. Traditional designs coexist with spectacular sleek structures in Shanghai, for example. China, in turn, has influenced the food, philosophy, and arts of the world as well.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Neala: There’s a few things I’ve found helpful in airports and air travel. First, I travel domestically with only one bag that will fit in the overhead compartment. Then, since the airlines always fly full, I go up to the desk and ask if they are gate-checking luggage to the final destination at no cost. This is often the case. I take advantage of it. I do not gate-check in any other situation — otherwise I’d have to stand on the jetway waiting for my luggage. Also, on long haul flights I pay the extra cost for the “plus” service. The additional space enables me to avoid the sardine in a tin can effect and sometimes I can even sleep for a bit. Finally, bring an empty plastic bottle with you to fill with water from the water fountain and you’ll never be ripped off for bottled water again.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Neala: I love the Caribbean. The gorgeous sunsets, white sandy beaches, dinner on the deck overlooking the ocean, rum drinks. There’s nothing not to adore about the islands. Add an intimate hotel on the water and you’ve got perfection. All in one resorts make it easy to visit but I personally like a destination that has interesting places to see. My choice would be Puerto Rico.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you’ve ever visited?
Neala: Venice. It is the most heart-breakingly beautiful city. I say heart-breaking because it is sinking and some day all the glorious architecture may be lost. It is the one city in the world I would go back to again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’m planning on it. I would definitely include Murano as a must-see place. Its tradition of stunning glass has influenced artists around the world and helped create the renaissance of glass art.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Neala: It’s hard to blend in when traveling. But I think it’s wise to try to dress a bit better than cargo shorts and t-shirts with slogans.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Neala: New Mexico. People seem to think Arizona when they think southwest. But New Mexico has spectacular scenery from the deserts of the south to the mountains of the north. There isn’t a town in the state that doesn’t have an art gallery. Literally, no matter where you go someone is making art. The pottery and story-tellers of the pueblos, and their magnificent turquoise jewelry. The Navajo rugs, the landscape the glows in the sunlight and the artists that capture it in oils and pixels. And the people are helpful and friendly. With a live-and-let-live attitude that I have never found anywhere else.