Meet Christine Stoddard of The Pin the Map Project! Christine is a journalist, fiction writer and artist from the same town as the Pentagon and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; she grew up in a creative family with a Salvadoran mother, a native New Yorker for a father and two sisters. Christine’s work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Bustle, the New York Transit Museum, Tulane Review, MapQuest, the Poe Museum, The Brooklyn Quarterly and beyond. Here we interview our very own writer, Christine, about traveling and her best advice for writers!
What inspires you to travel?
So many things: the thrill of novelty and exploration, the chance to better understand the human condition, and gaining more life experience to inform my artistic and journalistic work.
For those who don’t yet know you, can you explain your travel style?
Generally, it’s fairly low-key. When I travel by myself, I often stay in hostels or with friends of friends. I try to seek out cultural and natural spots not swarming with other tourists. I’m more interested in art, history, food, and natural beauty than, say, high-end spas and shopping. I love learning what made a place what it is today. If I’m going to pamper myself, chances are I’ll spring for a nice meal or more expensive admission ticket to a cultural venue or event.
Right after Christmas, for example, my husband and I went to South Florida to spend time with family. Rather than visit designer stores or go clubbing in South Beach as many Miami tourists do, we hit up the Casements, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the Wynwood Walls, Barnacle Historic State Park, the Art Deco District, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and the Institute of Contemporary Art.
How do you afford your travels?
It depends on what the purpose of that specific trip is. If I’m writing a story or installing art, I generally already have funding, whether it’s pay, a grant, or a scholarship. If I’m not going somewhere for work, then I bring work with me. As a freelancer, nine times out of ten, I have the luxury of working wherever I want. Of course, my husband and I do travel for pure fun from time to time, in which case we budget in advance. At home, we don’t usually go out to bars on weekends, which saves us money for trips. Plus, as a part-time graduate student, I’m lucky that I can flash my student ID for discounts just about everywhere we go.
Where has been your favorite destination and why?
Probably Freiburg, Germany, which was among the locations my husband and I visited on our honeymoon back in September. It was the perfect medieval town and exactly what we wanted. It wasn’t overrun by tourists, the pace was relaxed but there was still energy in the air, and every meal we had was perfect. We spent a few days strolling through fairy tale streets, visiting obscure museums, and splurging on food.
If you had to settle down in one location forever, where would you choose and why?
I couldn’t choose an exact location at this point, but I know this much: I want it to be an affordable mid-sized, historic city with an art scene, awesome food, and an international airport. I say that because I would like to live in a house with a soul and a yard. I need a place calm enough that I can concentrate on my projects when I’m not traveling. If the city’s affordable and there’s an international airport nearby, there won’t be much keeping me from taking off when I have an assignment or need an escape. Cities with international airports tend also to have major train and bus stations, so that takes care of domestic travel, too. Thanks to the Internet and advances in transportation, our world is smaller and more connected than it has ever been.
What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
I’m not sure if it was when locals in northern Peru coyly lied to me about the rigors of a traditional religious pilgrimage—which involved walking more than 30 miles through the desert at night—or when Jaliscan farmers had me milk a cow and drink spiked hot chocolate with them first thing in the morning before chores (I didn’t realize I’d be having tequila at 7 a.m. until they already started pouring.)
What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations? (Whether it’s something free like ticket stubs or brochures, or something you have to buy)
Because my husband and I live in a studio apartment, I usually just take photos these days. I’ve found that I rarely get around to organizing ticket stubs and brochures into scrapbooks, anyway. If I buy a souvenir, it tends to be a small gift for a friend or family member. If I do buy something for myself, it’s usually a book unique to that destination, like a rare translation or an artist book, or a distinctive fashion accessory. In Peru, for instance, I bought a leather cowgirl hat with a silhouette of a llama on the front. The silhouette has real llama hair on it. It’s definitely quite the fashion statement.
How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
A notebook! A close second: A great camera.
Have you ever traveled solo? If yes, what was the experience like?
Yes! Plenty of times and I love it because I get the most control of my itinerary. I can move at my own pace and prioritize what I want to see. That means waking up when I want, eating when I want, going to bed when I want. When I travel alone, I can choose whether to have a fast-paced day or a calmer one and whether or not it’s worth it to stand in line some place.
Occasionally, because I am a woman, it is a little scary. Men simply don’t experience the same threats that women do. Sexual violence is a reality and it’s more prevalent—and even socially acceptable—in certain cultures. Before I was engaged, I wore a ring to discourage harassment and unwanted flirtation. It was so big and shiny that anyone who looked at me noticed it right away. I’ve still had my share of unpleasant encounters, but never any truly dangerous situations. I’m lucky that I’ve thus far been safe.
What are your go-to travel apps?
Honestly, besides Google Maps, I don’t rely on apps. I’m old-fashioned and will buy guidebooks or check them out from the library. I try to read plenty of articles online before my trip, too, and make notes in a notebook. If I’m in a situation where I don’t have Internet access or my cell phone dies, I want to have all the critical info on paper. Besides, if I’m in a dicey area, I’d rather flip through my notebook than scroll through my iPhone.
What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve picked up over the years?
Push yourself. Really. You never want to regret not seeing or trying something, especially since you may never visit that place again.
Do you have your own travel site? If yes, tell us about it!
I’m the founding editor of QuailBellMagazine.com, a website and occasional print ‘zine dedicated to real and unreal stories from around the world. While it’s not a travel site exclusively, we run tons of travel essays, travel photography, and fiction inspired by great travel. You can visit my personal portfolio of writing and visual storytelling samples at WordsmithChristine.com.
What is your best piece of advice to budding travel writers looking to start a blog or website?
Create harmony between your words and images to give your readers a sense of place. Focus on strong storytelling first. Snazzy technology comes second, so don’t fret if you haven’t mastered all the technical skills yet. Develop those skills as you go along.
What’s next for you in 2016? (Trips planned, etc.)
I’m answering these questions from Knoxville, Tennessee, my first destination of the year! I’m here as a visiting writer at Firefly Farms, the home base for Sundress Academy for the Arts. My big 2016 happenings include releasing my non-fiction history book, Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press), my documentary, Richmond’s Dead and Buried, and a couple of other long-term projects. I won’t be traveling nearly as much this year in effort to focus on these and other larger projects, but wanderlust will always be a big part of who I am.
Follow Christine on social media and her blog here!