Last updated on November 30th, 2023
Featured image: Fuel your curiosity with Karen Gershowitz’s ‘Wanderlust’ | Photo by lucigerma on Envato
A collection of quirky, unique experiences
By Carolyn Ray, Editor, JourneyWoman
For those who yearn for quirky and unique travel experiences, you’ll want to put Karen Gershowitz’s latest book, Wanderlust: Extraordinary People, Quirky Places and Curious Cuisine, on your reading list. With more than 90 countries under her belt, Gershowitz shows us that life is better — and more fun — when we’re curious. Curiosity helps us be open to the unknown, embrace unfamiliar circumstances, and uncover the quirky and unusual, even in our own backyards. It also grants us the privileged opportunity to expand our understanding of the world we share.
“Curiosity and an open mind are key to meaningful travel,” Gershowitz says. ”When I’m out of my known environment, even in the most mundane of places, there is always something or some conversation that grabs my attention, makes me think and stays with me. It also helps me question my assumptions and look at things with a fresh perspective.”
Cultivating curiosity when we travel
When she started writing Wanderlust: Extraordinary People, Quirky Places and Curious Cuisine, she began by listing the unusual destinations, exotic food, and interesting individuals she had encountered during her travels. Whether she’s picking through the worst meal ever in the wilds of Tanzania, eating a transcendent strudel in Vienna, meeting the locals in an isolated opal mining hamlet in Australia’s outback, or learning to make noodles in a Chinese village, these stories will take you back to your favorite places and make you laugh out loud.
For Gershowitz, writing the book expanded her appreciation for both the similarities and differences between cultures. And it made for fantastic stories, with the simple realization that unique experiences are all around us. She has a gift for storytelling and capturing the “feel” of a place, presented with humor and wisdom, a quality she practiced in her first book, Travel Mania.
Karen’s love of travel is tempered with an acknowledgment that travel isn’t just about the number of places you visit, it’s about developing a deep understanding of the culture and people, driven by the virtue of curiosity. For her, meeting the local people delivers the real goods – bringing connection and learning, regardless of where she lands. She gives full credit for her curiosity to both her mother and her grandmother, who encouraged her to keep journals on family trips and write down her observations – not just the places she saw, or where she stayed, but how they made her feel.
I’m thrilled that she has become a regular contributor at JourneyWoman sharing her many experiences finding quirky places close to her home in New York, which you can read here.
How to be curious: Karen’s advice to first-time solo travellers
Q. Sometimes fear holds us back from our curiosity. How do you start conversations and learn about history and culture, even when the language is different?
Karen: First, I always read about a place before I travel there. Not just guidebooks, but memoirs, fiction or travel books from authors familiar with the area. That gives me grounding and a valuable starting place for conversations.
Invariably someone will speak English. Sometimes I’ll sit in a public place and read a book. When they see it is in English, I’ve had people come over to chat (not in Europe, but in other parts of the world).
If you go to a university area, students will approach you hoping to practice their English. They are generally friendly and it’s a win-win. I’ve also hired local guides and gotten into deep conversations about the culture and their own lives.
Fortunately, I’m from New York City, a place which most everyone on the globe has heard of. That has been a great starting point for conversations.
Q. Can you still be curious when you’ve already been to a place? Which place(s) would you return to over and over again and why?
Karen: I go to London frequently because I lived there for several years and have friends there. I love the city for its museums, parks, theater, concerts and more. And, like NYC, it changes constantly so there is always something new to explore. When you return to somewhere you know well there is no reason to visit the “tourist” sites. It frees me up to explore hidden corners.
Apart from London, there are a number of other cities I return to often, largely because of the people I know there. Seattle, Colorado and Washington DC are three US cities I go to often. Internationally I’ve traveled to Australia, Italy, and Mexico many times. Otherwise, I like to go to new places, though often they are areas of a country I’ve been to numerous times.
Q. I’m curious about your most memorable mistake you’ve made while travelling. How did things end up?
Karen: This happened recently. I was convinced I was flying home from Zurich on Wednesday. My flight was actually for Tuesday and I missed it. It took multiple phone calls, lots of time on hold, getting cut-off and taxed my patience. An agent finally got me rerouted. The flight was less money than my original flight, so I got a credit for $56.
However, instead of flying directly into NYC, I landed in Philadelphia. I could have waited for connecting flights to Washington DC and then to LaGuardia. Instead, I retrieved my luggage and took Amtrak to NYC. The taxi and train ticket cost slightly less than $56 so I came out ahead both on time and money.
Q. What food have you eaten (or drank) that was most definitely a serious error in judgement? On the contrary, what surprised you the most?
Karen: For years, I’d been avoiding durian, Asia’s “stinky fruit.” When I finally tasted it (and got it past my nose) it was creamy, sweet and luscious. A serious error in judgment came when I tried durian ice cream. That was not a combination that was ever meant to be. I belched durian for a full day.
I’ve tasted a few local “fire waters” across the globe, more to be polite than out of a desire to do so. Invariably I have been sorry I drank what was offered. Either it made me gag or gave me a crippling headache.
Q. Is there a moment when you felt fear about the unknown and had to ‘reframe’ the experience to a mindset of curiosity and exploration?
When I first began to travel alone (I was 18) I was afraid of speaking with strangers. Getting lost and not being able to make my way back to where I was staying, was often in the back of my mind. I’d heard so many stories of travelers getting robbed, that became a concern. After six months, all those fears vaporized and have not returned. Each time you successfully do something by yourself and learn from it you chip away at fear.
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