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Words to travel by

Paul Ross and Judith Fein pose with local residents in Vanuatu.
Paul Ross and Judith Fein pose with local residents in Vanuatu. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ROSS

For author Judith Fein, travel isn’t just a passion. It’s a profession.

“I’ve truly come to the point where I consider travel to be the Zen state (where) you’re being accosted or confronted or exposed to new things at all times,” the Santa Fe, N.M., travel writer said.

So far this year, Fein and her husband, photojournalist Paul Ross, have stayed with Sami reindeer herders in Finland, cruised the waterways of the czars in Russia, and tracked down distant relatives in the Ukraine.

“Somebody calls up and says ‘We have a wonderful trip for you,’ and we say ‘Yes’ before we even find out where,” Fein said with a chuckle, estimating that the pair spends at least half the year abroad.

Fein and Ross will discuss their adventures at a free talk Tuesday, “Leaving Home to Find Yourself,” presented by the Foundation for San Luis Obispo County Public Libraries. Following the presentation, Fein will sign copies of her new book “Life Is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel.”

The duo is also participating in the Central Coast Writers’ Conference Friday and Saturday at Cuesta College.

In addition to two travel writing workshops, they’ll lead the VAC Travel Writers’ Boot Camp, featuring a number of off-campus excursions — including day trips to The Abalone Farm, Cayucos Cellars and Harmony Headlands State Park—hosted by the Visitor Alliance of Cayucos. (Registration for the boot camp is Thursday at the Cayucos Veteran’s Hall.)

“(The goal is) to get people out of their comfort zone and try to help them find their own voice,” said Fein, whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, National Geographic Traveler and Bon Appetit magazine, among other publications.

Fein’s own introduction to travel journalism was accidental.

Her career as a Hollywood screenwriter “was really sucking the soul out of me,” she recalled. “It didn’t correspond to who I was on any level.”

So she recorded a “crazy” piece about her weeklong stay at a Franciscan monastery and sent it to NPR’s “The Savvy Travel.” “I didn’t know it was a career,” she said of travel writing. “I absolutely fell into it.”

Now Fein and Ross, the travel editor of Drink Me magazine, travel the world in search of adventure, visiting such exotic locales as Guatemala, Israel, New Zealand and Tunisia. Sometimes they bring would-be travel writers along for the ride.

On one Global Adventure tour, the couple and their clients spent time in the southeastern Mexico state of Quintana Roo, meeting Mayan shamans and experiencing Mexican prison life. On a trip to Turkey, they bonded with a Muslim imam.

Although Fein and Ross occasionally find themselves in sticky situations, Ross said those experiences often lead to great articles.

“It’s been said that the worst adventures make the best stories,” Ross said. “The worst thing is when you sit down with a relative and ask ‘How was the trip?’ and they say ‘Nice.’ ”

Instead of sticking to the guidebooks, this pair of travel professionals advocates a hands-on approach.

“The most important thing you can pack is an open heart and a curious mind,” Fein said.

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