The World According to Jen Leo

Popular editor and travel blogger, Jen Leo, gives a particularly Californian perspective on the world of travel

6 mins

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

I live within five minutes of the Pacific Ocean in southern California, but being in the mountains makes my heart beat faster.

First travel experience?

If we throw out annual family trips to Disneyland, a two-week trip to Mexico for Spanish class in 9th grade was my first trip across a border. We arrived shortly after the 1985 earthquake and took-off on a bus to see various destinations and schools. I remember Villa Hermosa, Veracruz and Palenque the most.

Favourite journey?

I took a cross-country road trip to promote Sand in My Bra, the first women’s travel humour book I edited with Travelers’ Tales. Nothing beats an all American road trip.

Wait, except bicycling across a country. I rode from Portland, OR to Washington D.C. on an all women’s route with the group Bike-Aid after I graduated from college.

Top five places worldwide?

I’ve had some great memorable moments in Baja California, Mexico; Queensland, Australia; Lake Como, Italy; Stoke Newington, London; Bangkok, Thailand.

Special place to stay?

THEhotel in Las Vegas – Nevada is a place I like to return to.

Three items you always pack?

Secret hidden cash in my wallet when only a taxi can get you out of an uncomfortable situation; iPad; and the much necessary sense of humor.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?


Passport stamp most like to have?


Guilty travel pleasure?

Movies. I love seeing movies in foreign countries.

Window or aisle?

Aisle. Especially with a toddler so we don’t have to climb over sleeping passengers for a diaper change.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Someone who can let themselves splurge when the moment calls for it, and push themselves past their comfort zone when adventure calls.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

BEST – Seafood Paella in Macao, before the casinos took over.

WORST – the buffet at Palms, Las Vegas.

Where do you NOT want to go?

I have little interest in going to Japan, which is one of the few places my husband would love to travel to.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

Author Tim Cahill’s articles in Outside inspired to me to get into travel writing. I’ve since stalked him at author events, include him in my anthologies, and shared many laughs together at the Book Passage Travel Writers Photographers Conference just north of San Francisco, California.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

I actually prefer to stare out the window than hunker down with an iPod.

What do you read ?

One of my bad habits is overloading myself with newsstand magazines before a flight. AFAR, Wired, Livingetc, newspapers with must-read headlines, some trashy tabloids depending on my mood.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

Yes, nothing like running out of money to test humanity. I realised I was out of cash in Veliko Tarnovo, the old capital of Bulgaria. A young woman had talked me into stopping in her town for Easter instead of staying on the train bound for Turkey. She drove me from hotel to hotel only for me to find out that none of the budget hotels would take plastic and my Western Union deposit wouldn’t arrive until business hours the next day. We finally found a hotel that would take my credit card, but the cost of the room was somewhere near $150 for the night.

I was young and on a budget more suited to the $22 it would cost for a hostel, but since it was my fault for letting my checking account run dry, I said I would just have to suck it up. This woman, who I’d only known for a few hours, refused to let me pay what she called, 'nearly a month’s wages for a Bulgarian' on one night’s stay. She took me into her father’s home in a tenement building. The next day I was invited to her grandparents’ home for the full Easter weekend out in a nearby village, where I experienced an Orthodox Easter celebration I’d never forget.

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

I try to always learn the local word for hello, please and thank you.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Same as at home – snoring. Loudly.

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

Shuffle up and deal – let's play some poker.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Driving in Baja California south of Ensenada in my college years and pitching a tent on the side of the road to sleep as we went, was wondrous when young and in love. Body surfing on the Sunshine Coast of Australia was surprisingly liberating the year I turned 30. But watching my two-year-old daughter run beneath the Eiffel Tower beaming with delight produced a kind of pure joy that will be hard to replicate.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?


Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

I’m not up on my history but Midnight in Paris might provide some inspiration for those looking to take a step back in time.

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

Vancouver, Milwaukee and north London.

Jen Leo is a travel writer and social media enthusiast that has launched travel blogs for companies large and small including the Los Angeles Times Travel blog where she was the lead blogger for three years. She also edited the award-winning five-book travel humor series for Travelers’ Tales that began with Sand in My Bra. Jen currently writes the LA Times Travel “Web Buzz” column and is a co-host for the podcast “This Week in Travel,” available on iTunes.

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