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Roberta Westwood, Travel Author



What one word or phrase describes the type of traveller you are? Why?

S-L-O-W. I love to savour a place, to settle in, to get the taste of it, like a local, as much as I can. For me, it's as important to sit in a sidewalk cafe for a few hours - reading or drawing or just people-watching - as it is to see the famous sites. I prefer to stay somewhere for a week or two, even a month, as it gives me time to relax, explore, follow my whims, and BE.


What was your most memorable trip?

In 2009 I departed on a 7 month trip of Europe: Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Greece. As I'd never travelled for longer than 3 weeks previously, it is little surprise that this was my most memorable trip.


What's the worst thing that has gone wrong on your travels? How did you recover from it, and what did you learn?

My arrival in lovely Aix-en-Provence was a disaster. After a day that included surviving the pigeon-poop scam, 2 trains, getting lost on foot, a bus, and my backpack strap breaking, all I had to do was phone the guy who was going to let me into the flat I'd rented, then walk 10 minutes from the bus stop to meet him. But my stupid Spanish phone did not work, the pay phones didn't take coins and would not accept my credit cards. Despite smiling as I bought water, with my bumbling French I could not convince anyone (shop owners, people on the streets) to let me make a single short local phone call. So, I walked. 30 minutes later I arrived at the building, but no one was going to let me in until I telephoned the guy to come. I sat on the barely-there stoop in the teensy busy street, spent time trying to get my phone to work (it didn't), tried to get wifi to try emailing (couldn't), and tried not to start crying. I could see the window to my flat, but here I was, stuck outside, hot, tired and desperate to pee! I eventually found a kind woman in a children's clothing shop who let me use the phone .... and the number was wrong! Fighting panic, I managed to convey my need for a phone book, called several strangers, and eventually left a voice mail. I retreated to my stoop, and crossed my fingers. Just a few minutes later, the shop lady came out a few minutes later to say Monseiur had called and he would be there in 10 minutes - triumph!!! I confess I hugged him, hardly the French way, but I was so happy to see him! I definitely learned to be careful with details, but mostly I learned that no matter what happened, I'd work it out.


How do you prefer to get to/from the airport?

I love a good metro system that will whisk me right from the airport into downtown.


But I don't always take it: if I am tired, or can tell I'll have nothing very soon, I'm willing to change plans. When arrived in Barcelona in 2009, after a flight from Vancouver, via Amsterdam, and exhausted after months of preparations to rid myself of my belongings and apartment, I threw my metro plan out the window and grabbed a taxi. I'm glad I did.


What was your worst airport ground transportation experience?

I remember being absolutely certain my life was going to end during an airport shuttle trip from hell. Aside of much shouting and arguing between the driver and a passenger about whether he would take her to her out of the way destination - and I mean waaaaay out of the way - we were careening down highways and roads with one close call after another. The driver kept turning around to shout, taking his eyes off the road, making sudden turns. I finally shut my eyes, tried to relax my breathing, reflected on my life ending at that point... I distinctly remember praying (not something I am not known to do). And waiting for the end to come. I was rather surprised when I survived. I think it was in Denver.


What gear do you travel with?

It's changing. When I went to Europe in 2009/2010, I took a good HP laptop, an iPod Touch and a point and shoot camera. Loved having the iPod Touch. The camera was great, but died in Greece, and I replaced it in a little camera shop in Rhodes, Greece. I didn't take a phone, but instead planned to get a quad phone when I got there, and buy local SIM cards. I went through 3 phones in 7 months: I threw the 1st one out in frustration when it turned out not to work outside of Spain, and had the 2nd one stolen on the Athens metro on my way to the airport... and was generally so confounded I made very little use of them. If I was making a trip today, I'd take my iPad.


What's the biggest thing that bugs you about travel?

The "single supplement", the practice by which cruise ships, packaged travel and many tours charge solo travellers 150-200% of the per person costs of couples. I already pay twice as much as two people when I stay in a hotel room alone, and I get that (no jumping for joy when I see a hot travel deal in the paper, they're always based on double occupancy). But paying double on a cruise ship? I might occupy a whole cabin just for me, but I only eat and consume other services for one!


How do you capture your travel memories?

Sometimes I consciously don't take pictures, I just soak it in. On my first trip to Paris in 2001, I took that too far, and didn't take a camera, oops! (when I returned in 2009, I probably took 1000 photos, or more.) Occasionally, I draw the scene when I'm sitting in a sidewalk cafe: try it sometime; you don't have to be good - you might be surprised what memories and sensations flood back.


What's your travel style? (E.g. All arranged in advance? unplanned and figure it out as you go?)

I tend to travel best with the essentials arranged in advance: airfare and hotel reservations. But I secretly desire to walk into an airport and just book a flight wherever the next plane is going.



Questions for Roberta? Contact her via or Google Plus.



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