Meet the Traveler: Sarah Khan
Sarah finding her way around a market in Hyderabad, India. Photo by Boban James.
Hometown: Cape Town these days, via New York, Boston, Hyderabad, Jeddah, and Toronto (I'm on my fifth country now — I get around).
Occupation: Travel writer.
Favorite destinations: South Africa (is that allowed?), India, Spain, Patagonia, Brazil.
Dying to visit: Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Iceland, New Zealand.
Bizarre travel rituals: My grandmother collects owls (don't ask), so wherever I go, I am constantly on a hunt for an owl for her. Thanks to me, her collection includes Argentinean, South African, Latvian, Brazilian, Moroccan, Italian, and Spanish owls, to name a few.
In-flight relaxation regime: Kick off my shoes, turn my neck pillow sideways and snuggle into it against the window, and choose a mindless movie I won't mind if I fall asleep to (I always do).
Always in carry-on: Kindle, Kit-Kat, notebook, toothbrush, lip balm, iPhone (I left mine behind on the charger in my kitchen once before a seven-week trip and now I quadruple-check for it before I leave).
Concierge or DIY? DIY to the extreme — I do insane research, compiling must-sees and -dos I've gleaned from local news sites, blogs, and social media recommendations into a massive Google Doc that serves as my own personal guidebook. I usually only use concierges for the reservation, not the recommendation.
See it all or take it easy? See it all. There's so much of the world to see! I'll take it easy when I'm dead (or at least on the flight home).
Drive or be driven? Walk where possible, otherwise be driven. To say I hate driving would be an understatement — I have almost an anxiety, borderline drivo-phobia.
Travel heroes: My parents, who instilled the travel bug in me early; Gary Shteyngart, whose travel writing is just hilarious and brilliant; Karl Pilkington from the British TV series An Idiot Abroad — I don't abide by his negative approach to travel but, man, he is hilarious.
Weirdest thing seen on travels: How about the weirdest thing that's been done to me? I was spit on by a random kid in Jodhpur, India, for no discernible reason. You can read about the whole sordid affair in this essay I wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
My favorite hotel is Faena in Buenos Aires because it's just so damn sexy (I was there with two friends though). I also love Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, India. I've visited a few times but never actually stayed there overnight. It's just the most glorious palace hotel in the world. The horse and carriage ride to the front steps, where you're showered with rose petals as you ascend — sheer magic.
I dream about my meal at Havana Harry's, a Cuban restaurant in Miami. Their vaca frita (literally, fried cow) is my favorite dish in the world, and when I was living in New York, I'd always cart some back home on the plane with me to eat later. Since food is one of the main reasons I travel, I have to mention a few other memorable restaurants: La Cabrera in Buenos Aires (I'm a steak fiend), Three Knives in Riga (the monkfish-lobster broth-shrimp-barley grits-ginger combo was bizarre but divine), Kabab King in Jackson Heights, Queens (I used to live off their Bihari kabab), Pali Bhavan in Mumbai, At.mosphere in Dubai (again, steak, yummm), La Mouette and Bombay Brasserie in Cape Town.
Best hotel amenity: The hotel-logo-emblazoned pens. I collect them. I find this recent trend toward hotels carrying pencils instead of pens deeply disturbing.
Favorite childhood travel memory: I think I was seven when I was in Vienna, and all I remember is there was some sort of ad campaign that involved a woman with her, um, bosom fully exposed. I may have exaggerated its omnipresence in my memory, but back then it seemed like the poster was EVERYWHERE, so unfortunately I don't remember a single other thing about Austria. The main reason I want to go back to Vienna is to convince myself that there's more to the city than that boob.
Everywhere I go, I check out the supermarkets, because experiencing the local junk food is critical, and the major area mosque, because I love seeing how Islam is practiced in places as far-flung as Buenos Aires, Rome, and Mozambique.
When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by going for a walk — I've usually studied the map enough on the flight over that I instinctively have a good basic idea of where things are. (My friends have been known to call me Geep, short for GPS.)
I always bring home a cute, kitschy local souvenir, preferably personalized, for the wall of my study (a wood-carved "By Sarah Khan" from Mozambique, my name in Spanish tiles from Granada, a mini Turkish rug from Istanbul, a Havaianas keychain from Brazil, a painted-wood bookmark from Lithuania...). Oh, and local junk food — whichever brand of chips or chocolate the locals prefer. And, incidentally, a few extra pounds.
I travel for the food, the memories, and the hotel pens.