I travel for the Stuff

Fathom Questionnaire: Elise Loehnen

by Elise Loehnen

Hometown: Missoula, Montana, but now live in Venice Beach by way of New York City.

Occupation: Editor-in-chief, Beso.com.

Favorite destinations: Glacier National Park, South Africa, Maine, Dallas (hometown of Neiman Marcus!), pretty much any part of Mexico (Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tulum, Zihuatanejo), Moscow (though so strange), Hong Kong, Vietnam, Vancouver, Paris (though it didn't stick until the fourth or fifth trip), London, South of France in general, Kenya, Galapagos Islands (magical), Kauai.

Dying to visit: India, Joshua Tree (I know, I know: so close), Alaska (waiting for an Alaskan friend, of which I have a few, to get married to justify the trip), Tokyo (how have I never been?), Bhutan, Burma, Namibia, Mali, Jordan, Libya, Prague.

Bizarre travel rituals: My husband would call my extreme impatience in security lines a bizarre travel ritual. I have to get through the whole process as speedily as possible, which usually involves a lot of foot tapping and mumbling under my breath at the slowpokes ahead of me. When we travel together, we effectively break up pre-security and meet at Starbucks on the other side. He finds my security line mania really, really annoying and embarrassing. But honestly: Why can't people bring their A game?

In-flight relaxation regime: The first thing I do is crack open the SkyMall catalog, which is inarguably the best reading in the friendly skies. Also, I hate going to the bathroom — on airplanes or otherwise — so I do the opposite of what's suggested by my doctor and willfully dehydrate myself, even on long-haul flights. Facing the restroom creates too much agita. I try to counter the dryness this generates on my face by slathering on copious amounts of Christine Chin's hydrating moisturizer. It's not greasy and I love how it smells.

Always in carry-on: A hoodie. Always, always. I pull it as far forward as I can to shield me from my neighbors and the tray table on which I usually face-plant. Also: a laptop (I just can't swing it on my phone/iPad), a proper book made from actual paper, gum, aforementioned Christine Chin moisturizer, a phone recharger, Rosebud Lip Salve, dental floss (nothing is worse than needing dental floss), a Klein Tool Bags canvas case that holds my embroidery project of the day (best time-sucking plane activity ever and a way to feel really productive while watching in-flight entertainment), an Astier de Villatte notebook, multiple pens. Also, I always make Rob load up my phone and a Nano with new music: You can get his mixes at raeo.net. Unintentionally, he assembles the perfect travel soundtracks of songs that never take you out of where you are and make what you're experiencing feel nearly cinematic.

Concierge or DIY? I definitely under-utilize the concierge, but not because I'm stubborn. I love front-ending all my research, sourcing friends for their recommendations and opinions (also Time Out guides for their street food recommendations, which are always top-notch), so that I can hit the ground more or less knowing what's coming. I find it way more relaxing if I don't have to make too many decisions during the trip itself. Nothing is more frustrating, really, than setting out to explore and realizing after the fact that you walked right past the best lunch spot or a hidden flea market. 

See it all or take it easy? Some combination of the two. (This questionnaire is making me sound like a real freak!) If it's a vacation vacation, like on the beach in Tulum, I'm happy to do nothing at all, save reapplying my sunscreen religiously and loping down the beach to Posada Margherita. If it's a city I'll likely only visit once, I like to pack it in. There's no room in my carry-on for regret!

Drive or be driven? Driven, for sure. When I used to travel around the world writing Lucky's city guides, I almost drove off the road repeatedly trying to check out the shopping from behind the wheel. Unsafe.

Travel hero: Ryszard Kapuscinski, and not just because my former boss at Conde Nast Traveler, Klara Glowzcweska, translated him from Polish. Africa is an indescribable — and unknowable — place, but Kapuscinski made parts of it legible. His stories are amazing, and so beautifully written. Start with The Shadow of the Sun.

Weirdest thing seen on travels: I travel for the weirdness. The things that have really stayed with me are the places that make me feel truly other. Like all of Moscow. I found it to be more impenetrable than Africa or other parts of Asia. The signs are all in Cyrillic, they don't use universal symbols, and very few people speak any Englishl. So drab and industrial, and yet laced with gold and jewels, from the diamond-encrusted carriages and bridal plates at the Kremlin to the gilded domes that dot the horizon. Moscow is so strange. I grew up on Russian literature, yet felt like I could spend years there and never feel at home. 

And there's nothing eerier than the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, which they've expanded in parts so that Westerners can crawl through them. It was terrifying down there — so dark, so tight — it put a very visceral spin on the Vietnam War.

Best hotel amenity: A gigantic bath tub complete with a TV. I will never get over this trick. Also, I love a good sewing kit. And a free Maxi Bar like at The Upper House in Hong Kong: There's nothing more irritating than splashing out on a fancy hotel only to be over-charged for nuts and water. Here, nuts, water — and even beer and M&Ms — are free. And wireless internet, because no hotel should ever be allowed to charge for wi-fi.

I dream about my meal at El Califa in Mexico City. It's a popular taco spot and theoretically nothing special, but it's so indescribably fast and delicious and good and cheap. It made me want to stop shopping for a living and get into the restaurant franchise business.

Everywhere I go, I check out the flea markets, thrift stores, newsstands, bookstores, pharmacies, and pretty much any independent boutique. Plus, I like to poke my head into the fancy shops, since you'll find variations on products that you won't see anywhere else. Las Vegas Chanel is quite different than Paris Chanel. It's an interesting anthropological experience. 

When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by maxing extreme Google Maps, which I then print and pack. I plot every boutique/shopping outlet I want to see, pit stops for lunch, and then color-code by neighborhood and day. It makes it infinitely easier to tackle a city.

I always bring home things that might or might not be home to unwanted bugs, flea market-sourced artifacts that might or might not have been stolen (eek), handicrafts in bulk (I have a hard time taking home just one of anything, particularly if I've bought it from the person who made it), fabric with which I will "do something" some day.

I travel for the everything you can't find at home! 

Elise Loehnen

Elise is the editor-in-chief of Beso.com. She travels for the things she can't find at home.

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