The World According to Mary-Ann Gallagher

The author, guidebook writer and journalist explains why she always carries tea bags and what makes her feel rather inadequate on the road

8 mins

Mountain/ocean/jungle/desert – which are you?

It’s hard to choose, as I love them all, but I think, if pushed, I would say mountain. I love being dwarfed by the landscape and feeling utterly disconnected from my usual city life.

What was your first great travel experience?

When I was about 12 or so, my family moved to Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. We had some amazing family holidays in the spectacular national parks there – particularly around Kejimkujik Lake, camping, canoeing, swimming, trekking, and building camp fires.

What was your favourite journey?

Trekking along ancient pilgrimage routes in the mountains of Nara in Japan.

What are your top five places worldwide?

The Cap de Creus and Cadaqués in the Costa Brava (Catalonia, Spain); Sicily; New York City; Gili Meno island, Indonesia; the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales.

Name a special place to stay.

Hotel Porto Loutro, Loutro, Crete. This lovely little hotel is in the middle of miniature village on the southern coast of Crete which can only be reached by boat. The owner, Alison, is incredibly warm and kind, and the hotel overlooks a magical little cove.

What three items do you always pack? Why?

I always pack my Kindle, candles and teabags. The Kindle so that I’ve got as many books as I want at my fingertips; candles to turn even the dreariest flea-pit into somewhere cosy and romantic; and teabags because I am pathetically addicted to strong British tea!

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?

I don’t know what to answer for this one – I haven’t got any amazing stamps. I feel rather inadequate!

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

Just some of the many, many, many places that I would like to visit, including Easter Island, St Petersburg, Botswana, Brazil and Istanbul.

What is your guilty travel pleasure?

Buying dodgy paperbacks with raised gold writing at the airport.

Window or aisle?

Window. Who doesn’t love looking out of the window? And you’ve got a built-in headrest.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

I almost always travel alone – it’s easily the best way to meet people. But otherwise I love to travel with my husband – who is mellow, laid-back, always cheerful and will eat absolutely anything, however bizarre.

Best meal on the road? And your worst?

The best was eating freshly grilled sardines on a tiny beach on the Costa de la Luz in Andalucía. The worst was a traditional Japanese vegetarian dinner in a temple: fermented beans and roots. It was revolting!

Most surprising place? And your most disappointing?

The first time I visited Madrid, I was smitten. I’d spent a lot of time in far-flung places by then, and rather turned my nose up at Spain. But then I went to Madrid and got hooked!

Where do you NOT want to go?

There aren’t many places I wouldn’t like to visit. I’d be too terrified to visit a war zone, although I admire those that do.

Who/what inspired you to travel?

When I was still a student, I met someone who played me the sound of geta (traditional Japanese wooden shoes) clopping across a bridge. I yearned to hear them for myself, and ended up spending two years in a remote Japanese mountain town.

What do you listen to on the road?

It depends. Sometimes I like to play local music – flamenco in Andalucia, kritika in Crete etc – but usually I just prefer to soak up the sounds around me.

Does any song take you back to a particular place?

Erica Badu’s album Baduizm was the soundtrack for a crazy summer in New York’s east village many years ago, when I was scraping a living working as a writer by day and cocktail waitress by night.

What do you read when you travel?

I love reading novels set in the places where I am travelling. When I was writing my Sicily guide for Footprint Handbooks, for example, I read all Andrea Camilleri’s fantastic, off-beat detective series featuring Inspector Montalbano.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity?

All the time. I’ve met some incredible people while travelling.

What's the most impressive/useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

I used to know how to say 'I’m a vegetarian' (I don’t eat any fish, fish stock, tuna flakes, octopus tentacles, or even little tiny fish) in Japanese. But sadly I’ve forgotten! I always try and learn some polite basics – hello, thank you very much – in the language of whichever country I am in.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

I love tourist tat. Fluorescent snow globes, loo-roll holders that sing hymns (the latter was from Lourdes)... I can’t get enough!

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Telling travel stories, singing songs from old musicals…

When are where in your travels have you been happiest?

Like most travel writers – if I’m on the road, I’m happy!

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Salty air!

Given a choice, what era would you travel in?

I’d like to have travelled in the 1920s, aboard a great ocean liner, or taking ‘le train bleu’ from Paris to the French Riviera.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, which would they be?

I would mix Paris, New York and Barcelona – then you’d have Parisian beauty and gastronomy, New York fizz and energy, and laid-back Mediterranean style!

Dream JourneysMary-Ann Gallagher is a journalist and travel writer who has written and contributed to more than 20 guidebooks on destinations around the globe. Her latest book Dream Journeys: Inspirational Routes from Across The Globe is available on Amazon now.

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