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Seven months into the pandemic, we wanted to take a look at what life—and travel, for that matter—looks like for those living abroad. In our latest episode, we catch up with four women based in very different cities to find out. Lale chats with travel writer Julia Buckley about her decision to ride out the pandemic in Venice, and Meredith compares notes with illustrator Lindsay Arakawa about cycling in New York versus Tokyo. Meanwhile, associate editor Megan Spurrell talks to content creator Lee Litumbe about life returning to normal in Dakar, and director of strategic projects Lauren DeCarlo speaks with travel writer Imani Bashir about juggling work and parenting in her temporary home of Cancun.
Thanks to Julia, Lindsay, Lee, and Imani for sharing their stories and thanks, as always, to Brett Fuchs for engineering and mixing this episode. As a reminder, you can listen to new episodes of Women Who Travel on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, every Wednesday morning.
Find a full transcription of the episode below.
Meredith Carey: Hi, everyone. You’re listening to Women Who Travel, a podcast from Condé Nast Traveler. I’m Meredith Carey and with me as always is my co-host, Lale Arikoglu.
Lale Arikoglu: Hello.
MC: This week we’re doing something a little different. As travel editors, we move around a lot, but this year has been different and we’ve relied on the women we admire around the world to give us a glimpse of what’s going on where they live.
LA: In this episode, we called up a few of those women, based everywhere from Cancun to Tokyo, to get a glimpse of what their life and travels look like right now. We talk about missing being on the road, finally having the time to explore where we live, and much, much more.
MC: First, Lale caught up with travel writer, Julia Buckley, who we spoke to in an episode at the very onset of the pandemic, who recently relocated to one of the most visited cities in the world, Venice. I’ll let Lale take it away.
LA: Hi Julia. Thanks for joining us.
Julia Buckley: Hi, thank you for having me.
LA: So the last time that you came on the podcast was pretty early on in the pandemic and you had gone through somewhat of a travel odyssey to get back to the U.K. from Uruguay. Talk me through how you were feeling when we last spoke, now that you’ve had a little bit of time to look back on it.
JB: Oh, well, I don’t even know where to start with that. I think I was in a very weird state of mind without really realizing it. I hadn’t quite realized what the next few months were going to be like, even at that stage. I was still kind of looking back at my trip and thinking how amazing it was and looking at the headlines of what was going on in Italy and how terrible it was there. We’d just gone into lockdown in the U.K., I think, and it hadn’t quite exploded here and I still hadn’t realized what was about to happen.
So now I feel exhausted by the last few months, but I also feel like I’m coming out the other side now. I feel like it’s easier for me to see or to start guessing what travel is going to be like. I’ve just this week gone on my first trip since March and it’s been really weird adjusting to it. So I’ve started to kind of look to the future now, instead of… I spent the last few months being absolutely terrified, but I’m coming out the other side.
LA: So when you talk about taking this first trip, you’re not actually in the U.K. right now, right? You went to Italy once the borders opened up and you’ve been there ever since, correct?
JB: Yeah. So one of my realizations during lockdown, and I think it was one of the things that made me realize—it was bursting into tears on your podcast last time that I was on here—is just how much Italy has meant to me. It’s my life and my beloved, basically, since I was a student, since I did Italian at university. Until now, [I was] going over there and traveling there all the time, like every month I would be there, has been enough and I would always be really sad going home, but then being separated from it for five months, I felt so heartbroken.
It was like I was in a long-distance relationship and we’d been separated and it was awful. So yeah, as soon as the borders opened, I realized I needed to be there back in June. So as soon as we were allowed to fly in July, I just flew straight to Venice, rented an apartment, and last week had an offer accepted on another little mini apartment, like the cheapest apartment in Venice. And I’ve spent all this week trying to sort out a mortgage, which is less exciting, but very exciting for the future.
LA: Wait, so are you saying that you, in this time, have made the decision to move to Italy?
JB: Yes. I haven’t really talked about it yet or told people. I felt the minute that I got there, it felt like coming home. I felt so happy to be there. It’s just, I walk out just to do the grocery shopping and I do the grocery shopping in an old theater from the 19th century with all these frescoes on the walls. Just everywhere in Venice is just a dream and I’ve never, ever lived anywhere where it’s actually pleasurable to step outside your front door and go and do a really boring errand. It’s amazing. I didn’t realize that you could be so happy living in a place. So yeah, I’m staying.
LA: Obviously, Venice is usually filled with tourists and it’s probably the only way that you’ve actually known Venice. How are you getting to know the city now without those hoards of people? What does it feel like to walk around?
JB: Well, it’s definitely more empty than it normally is right now, but this is the thing about Venice is that it’s always been like that. If you just go one block off the main street, there’s always been empty streets, empty canals, places where you could be suddenly 500 years ago because there’s no cars, no people, nothing. It’s just you and the buildings. So I don’t want to make myself sound like “I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler,” but I think people who come for a couple of days haven’t experienced that before, because obviously, you’re going to see the main sites and tick off the main sites.
But I think people who know better, it feels more normal for them. It’s been interesting watching it change. When I arrived in the middle of July, it was completely empty and the main street going down to St. Mark’s Square past the Rialto, it was just me and five other people on it. But now it’s, I think, because everyone’s been talking about how empty Venice is all summer, everyone who can come has come. And so now it’s kind of rammed and now I’m getting totally Venetian and like, “Oh, these people are so annoying,” as I’m walking down the street.
LA: It’s interesting because I feel like the impression I’ve got is that everyone in Venice, or the assumption that’s being made is that everyone in Venice is like, “We’re so traumatized by the levels of overtourism, we don’t want those volumes of people coming back.” Do you think that’s the case or do you think that people do just want the money again?
JB: No. I think it’s definitely the case because the problem with overtourism, she says getting on her Venetian high horse as a local now, the problem with overtourism in Venice is that it’s not the people who were coming and staying overnight and eating in the restaurants that’s the problem. It’s not the tourists like us who go and stay there and go and have a break in Venice. The problem is the people that come on day trips and there are, I’ve forgotten the figures, but I think of the around 26 to 30 million visitors a year, I think about 16 to 20 million are day trippers. So those are the people that they don’t want back. They don’t spend any money. They leave their rubbish, so they’re actually costing the city money. So they’d be really happy if they don’t come back. But as for normal tourists, it’s been really interesting talking to people because they all say, “We don’t hate tourists. We really love visitors.”
And Venice has been based for centuries on international trade and welcoming people who don’t speak our language and showing them our culture, and we want to do that again. So this image of Venetians hating tourists, I think, just I’m not sure if it was ever true, but I really don’t think it’s true now. I think they don’t like a certain type of visitor as you wouldn’t like someone that came to, I don’t know, Fifth Avenue and just sat down on the sidewalk and started eating a sandwich. Nobody in New York would tolerate that. And that’s what people do to them in their city. So they don’t like that behavior, but that’s what’s been amazing for me, finding how easy it is to fit in and how welcoming everyone is. I feel like an honorary Venetian already because everyone’s just so friendly and welcoming and easy and sharing their, I don’t know, their city with me and it’s like that for everyone if you just speak to them.
LA: I love that. And so you mentioned that you’ve just taken your first trip and you started to dip your toes into traveling around Italy a little bit now. Beyond the obligatory social distancing, have you noticed any changes in your behavior as a traveler? Are you moving around differently? Are you paying attention to different things or prioritizing different things?
JB: I would say I’m a lot more cautious. I’m a lot more wary. I’ve had to get two trains and one coach so far, so I’m not doing what I would normally do, which is, I don’t know, drink something and get my laptop out. So I guess it’s made me more thoughtful like that. I think if I went to a big city, which I’m not planning to do for a while, but if I did, I think I’d be a lot more cautious about where I went into. It’s definitely made me appreciate it more, even tiny things like the tea bags I’m sitting next to in the hotel right now in their little pots and hotel toiletries. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed them. And just the idea that someone else has made the bed for me and I don’t have to wash my towels and stuff. I’m clinging to that a lot more than I ever thought I would.
LA: Looking ahead, which obviously is a very difficult thing to do right now, so tentatively looking ahead to 2021, what do you think your travel priorities are going to be and what do you hope to get out of that year?
JB: I think it all depends on whether there’s a vaccine and I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer about everything, and I also say this with a caveat that I am high risk. I had pneumonia and bronchitis and recurring nastiness last year, so I know that if I get this, I’ll get it badly. I think I’m going to dial down my traveling a lot next year because I don’t want to get it and I don’t think things will have gone back to normal next year. Also, I’m in a place where I’m traveling every day now, so I can travel around Italy. It’s fine. I really, really wanted to get back to Uruguay where I was right before the lockdown, and to Brazil, where I was supposed to be going afterwards, and Argentina. I’m not sure that I can see myself going to any of those places next year now because Uruguay and Argentina are being really good about not letting people in and Brazil, I just wouldn’t want to go to right now.
So I think I’m going to stay closer to home, enjoy here while there aren’t so many people enjoying it with me. And I think, maybe I’ll wind back to a point where travel is a massive, massive treat rather than an everyday thing of, “Oh God, I’ve got to get on this plane to go to this different continent today. Oh, it’s okay, I’ll only be there five days and then I can get home and see some friends and then I’ve got to go off to another place.” I think that will be… It’s kind of scary. Someone said to me, “Oh, your life’s changing massively. You’re settling down and you’re not going to be the same person anymore,” and that’s terrifying to think of it that way. But I think also, I do want to be really responsible and until this is under control everywhere, I don’t, even if I feel safe, I don’t want to be part of a movement of people hopping on a plane and traveling halfway across the world and potentially taking something to people whose healthcare system isn’t as good.
So I think, I mean, personally, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to think like that, but I don’t want to be part of a wave of the first people going to Bali or whatever. I’d love to go back to Bali, but it’s not going to be next year I don’t think.
LA: Bali will be there way beyond 2021.
JB: It will and when I finally make it, it’s going to be so much better because I’ll have been waiting for it for so long. I’m going to put my purity ring for Bali on and we’ll see when it gets taken off.
LA: Well, that feels like a very nice note to wrap things up on. If people want to follow your travels around Italy and get a peek at life in Venice, where can they find you on the internet?
JB: They can find me on Twitter at @juliathelast, but you can also follow Instagram for my Italian food business supporting farmers who were devastated by the pandemic. You can follow that on Instagram at Mangiare Bene, as I say my best English accent. So M-A-N-G-I-A-P-E-R-B-E-N-E and it means… It has lots of meanings, but it means eat for good, eat up, eat well, everything.
LA: Love it. And we will make sure to pop that in the show notes so you can find it there as well. And you can follow me along at @lalehannah.
MC: Next up, Lauren DeCarlo, Traveler‘s director of strategic projects and a previous guest host on the podcast, chatted with travel writer Imani Bashir, who was on vacation in Malaysia in December when the coronavirus hit Wuhan, where she was living at the time. Since then, she’s been trying to find a place to call home with her husband and three-year-old son, traveling from the Czech Republic to London to the U.S. and finally settling in Cancun, Mexico, at least for the time being. She’s had a whirlwind couple of months, but like the rest of us she’s figured out a way to make it work.
Lauren DeCarlo: So Imani, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. I know as a mom, time is not something we have a lot of, so I really appreciate it. So tell me, you recently moved to Mexico. What is it like settling into a place, a new place during a pandemic?
Imani Bashir: You know what, it’s interesting because I feel like this is the first time we’ve actually settled because we’d lived in Wuhan and we had to make that transition from like, not being able to get back into China, not being able to get our things. So in the process from like January until now, we’ve been in like five countries, like making our way back home, trying to figure out where we were going to go, because we’ve been expats for years—my husband since 2013 and myself since 2015. So coming here, actually it’s finally like a breath of fresh air. Like I was explaining to my husband, I’m like, it’s so interesting that we can finally take clothes out of our bags. We’ve been living in Airbnbs for months… Airbnbs, hotels. And so to actually… I’m like, wow, this is really like a form of self-care to actually put my underwear in the drawer.
LDC: It must be difficult though, to get like a true sense of like the vibrations of a place when everyone is not fully 100 percent living out in the open. Right?
LDC: Unless, or they are, maybe they are there. I don’t know what it’s like there now.
IB: Well, here it’s so interesting because it’s like, coming from Asia and seeing how it is that we had to be there, and how things were so locked down and how from that side of the world, we’re watching Americans and everybody’s just going about their day and then jettison to now, we’re like, “Wow, now America is completely like still in lockdown and stuff.” So Mexico, well, where we are specifically in Cancun, it’s been pretty open. We still have to, like, they don’t allow like little children into stores like Walmart or big supermarkets. Only over a certain age. They still have mass policies. They’re still taking temperatures. Still have to hand sanitize. So there’s still that luring of COVID-19 in the air. In some parking lots, they literally block out spaces so you can park every other parking space.
And so there’s still the fact that some things aren’t open and obviously I wasn’t here, like in the midst of when it was like really heightened here. And so we kind of came when it was a little bit more open. I mean, obviously, you can’t get on the beaches. You can only go like, possibly if you’re staying at a resort. So there’s still like stipulations. A lot of the archeological sites aren’t open, the tourist sites aren’t open. And so it still has that linger of this pandemic, but it does still give us a sense of normalcy. Our community is enclosed, it’s gated, but it’s so many expats and also Mexican families that live in here. So my son’s made a ton of friends and they all speak different languages. And so it’s just interesting to watch how the community has really come together and it’s just a good feeling.
LDC: That’s interesting because it seems like maybe the opposite of what I was saying before, like it may be difficult to get a sense of what the city is like, but maybe it’s somehow easier or you get like a more authentic feel because there’s not many tourists mulling about. It truly is the locals on the streets and—
IB: Oh yeah, and it’s fantastic. Like, I mean, literally we do go to the Walmarts. We do go to the bigger stores, but for the most part, we love getting our tostadas like right on the street corner. My husband literally just got some fajitas from a local guy who’s like… my husband goes there very often. So it’s like, it’s very communal and like you said, you get that very localized feel of a place because you’re not jumping into just all of the tourist attractions and all of that stuff, which we’ve always been that way in all of the countries that we’ve lived.
We’re street food eaters. We love going to get the authentic food, not necessarily the sit down restaurants, but those hole-in-the-wall-type mom and pop spots or just open grill outside. And so we do have our key spots that we get fresh juice and fresh fruit and it’s good and it feels enclosed a little bit. It feels like just our little corner of the world even though obviously this is a big tourist destination, we haven’t felt the brunt of what it would probably look like normally around this time of year. So it feels really good to feel like we’ve like been ingratiated into the neighborhood.
LDC: That’s amazing. What is it like? I mean, I’m sure we could talk for hours about this, but what’s it like being a mom right now having just moved to a place, surviving a pandemic. Being a working mom, how are you managing? How are you holding up?
IB: I’m doing much better. Now, time management is something that’s very nonexistent to me. I don’t know what that means. So we’re still trying to work on that. But thankfully, I mean, my husband’s been amazing. We’ve kind of had to flip flop; whereas before he was like the full-time worker, I was like freelance writing, and then pandemic hit. It’s like, boom, he’s unemployed, I’m working full time. And so he stepped up a lot as far as like being 24/7 dad and just keeping our son occupied and things of that nature. And we were able to find a daycare that’s open from 9 a.m. So now we have that time, where he can go there and it’s absolutely secure. They’ve done health checks every morning. He has to get sprayed down with his little self and his little book bag, but it’s completely sanitized and they’re only allowed a certain amount of kids per classroom.
And so it’s good now, but before it was so hard to explain to him that certain things are closed because he’s used to just going out to play or going to the pool. Like, my son loves to swim and he’s only three and a half, but he can swim the length of an adult pool. And so when we first got here, the pool was closed and he just didn’t understand, like, “but it’s right there. I can see it. What do you mean it’s closed? It’s right there.” And so now we just kind of, we’ve explained to him people are sick and so we can’t go to certain places because people are sick.
And so that’s been the thing and so he knows now to wear his mask, he’s got his Mickey mask and he’s got all different other characters. And so thankfully, like I said, it’s not as locked down here as it was when we first got here. And so now he can go swimming and he can do other activities to where he’s not locked in the house. Because having a toddler and trying to like get work done and trying to eat and just do basic stuff like take a shower. Yeah. It can be very tough.
LDC: Are you thinking about traveling? Is that something that you’re talking about doing, you’ve already started doing? Like, what does the fall winter look like?
IB: So for us, it’s more, just anything like in this Quintana Roo area. So we’ve been to Playa del Carmen, I’ve been to Tulum. My husband and I, we went to Playa del Carmen—went to an amazing resort there for his birthday, just a couple of days because my mom actually flew in. So she was able to watch our son and so we’re kind of keeping it as local as possible. I mean, although, like Playa is like maybe an hour from here and Tulum is like about two hours. So, we try to keep it like that. As far as like possibly getting on another plane before December or January, probably not. I would say the only reason that we would possibly do that is to have to go and apply for our residency visas. But other than that, I don’t really foresee us making any like drastic trips anytime soon, anytime before 2021.
LDC: Imani, this feels like a good place to wrap up. But before we go, can you let everyone know where they can find you on social?
IB: Absolutely. I’m @sheisimani be everywhere, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. That’s @she S-H-E Imani, I-M-A-N-I-B, sheisimanib. And you can find me on all social media platforms. Say hello, don’t be afraid.
LDC: That’s so great. And I’m Lauren DeCarlo. I’m @ldecarlo on Instagram. That’s L-D-E-C-A-R-L-O and thank you, Imani. Thanks for joining us.
IB: Thank you so much for having me.
LA: Then we traveled to Dakar, over Zoom of course, with associate editor Megan Spurrell who chatted with Lee Litumbe, a Dakar based content creator, who is usually jet-setting all over the world and sharing her travels on Instagram. But over the last few months, she’s been taking the time to explore and appreciate Senegal and take care of her new kitten, Miso, who she recently rescued.
Megan Spurrell: Hi Lee, thanks for joining us from Dakar.
Lee Litumbe: Thank you. Happy to be here.
MS: So to start, can you tell us a little bit about what the city looks and feels like these days? What is the sentiment in Senegal right now?
LL: Ooh, Senegal. I would say, so like I said, I’m in Dakar and it’s a coastal city, very cosmopolitan, and the whole time throughout COVID, there was this strange element because it’s such a busy city and there’s so many people who live day to day. There’s like markets, it’s a very lively place and to kind of see it kind of get quiet and like buses no longer running, that was a little bit eerie. Nowadays, things are almost back to normal. I think that the government here has done quite a good job of managing things and so I mean, we’re required to wear masks when we leave home. At one point during the height of the quarantine, there was a curfew here. But now there’s a semblance of back to normalcy, but of course, hand sanitizer when walking into any establishment, masks are required, and everyone seems to be perfectly fine with wearing them here.
MS: And are you able to like go out to restaurants now and kind of really do all the normal things you usually do?
LL: Yes and no. So I want to say that only just this past weekend were the beaches officially opened up again. [But] restaurants, yes. Again, even though there isn’t a huge element of that still happening here, I still like to kind of pay attention to [social] distance and all of that. But for the most part, there really is a semblance of normalcy, which sometimes feels okay but then other times it kind of feels like, hold on, you’re actually too close to me. Could you take a step back? So yeah, so it’s on the day-to-day, especially going back to grocery stores, it feels like normal because at the beginning it was so strange to see the long lines and like people, I mean, no one was hoarding toilet paper like it sounded like what’s happening in a lot of places worldwide, but there definitely were people who were like stocking up and all of that, but now it’s like you go to the grocery store, it’s back to normal. Yeah.
MS: I mean, I’ve loved following you on Instagram for a while because it feels like, before all this, you’re always on the go. You share photos of beautiful boutique hotels that you find in Tanzania or your trips to Morocco but I feel like, I mean, from everything you just said, it sounds like the past few months have been a lot more, I mean, quite different. Have you been managing to do any kind of exploring beyond or within your neighborhood or within the city?
LL: I have. So I have to say it’s been, and I know there’s a lot of problems around the world that are much bigger than this, but it has been quite a challenge because I genuinely love to travel. I feel like my best self when I’m traveling, and so it’s been an adjustment, to say the least, to go from constantly being on the go to really having stillness. One of the main questions I got at the beginning of everything was, “So how are you? What is your routine? How are you getting back into routine?” I’m like, “Well, my routine is travel, so I have to create a whole new one.” I don’t know, I have to literally cultivate a new routine, but I think that also having this stillness has also been great. There’s the other side of the coin of traveling all the time is you never really have a break and you never really cultivate relationships with where you’re based, and so that’s been also a really positive outcome of not being able to travel, is focusing on building a life in one place, which is not as easy to do as one would think.
LL: Locally, I’ve been doing a lot more exploring in surrounding areas. So lucky for me, again, we’re on a coast, and so we’re also bordering on Mauritania, and so there are some places that have desert. So there are places that I have been able to go to safely, but at the beginning, there were limitations for how you could move from place to place. Now it’s fine, so I’ll do like a long weekend here, I took a girls trip, things like that.
But mostly, even though I’m taking trips locally, it’s still not to the same extent. So if I go somewhere, I’m not exploring areas, I’m more so booking a villa and staying by the beach in a private space, so that is something that I normally wouldn’t do say pre-COVID where I’m someone who really loves to get into like the culture of the place and mingle with people, and that’s not really what I’m doing these days.
MS: It’s an adjustment for all of us, and I just can only imagine, given the extensive travel you did before. But with these smaller trips, renting a villa and exploring the coast, have you had any experiences that have really stood out or at least been a nice glimpse of travel again during this time? Are there any trips in particular that you really enjoyed?
LL: Yes. I recently did two different trips. I did one with some girlfriends and then one with just a group of friends. And it was really nice to discover, because they were both in parts of Senegal that I hadn’t been before. I went to Popenguine as well as Nianing, and both of them are still coastal, but very, very quiet. So it’s not as busy as the city where I live, and it’s also a lot more green. So something about Dakar that doesn’t really stand out until you live here is how much there is an absence of green spaces, and particularly with COVID, you really… Of course, we have the ocean and it’s always nice to go to the beach, but there’s something about just being able to go to a park and read a book and just see gardens and all of that. So there isn’t really a green space in Dakar, and so to go to both of Popenguine and Nianing and see how lush and green they were along the coast, it was just so nice. Also, seeing a lot of fishermen take their boats out to, just back to their day to day as well, because the thing about… I can talk a lot about how my life has shifted, but living in an area where there are so many communities that depend on day-to-day interaction with sales, again in markets, it’s quite beautiful also for their benefit to see how they are able to go back to that normal. And so watching the fishermen take their pirogues, which are these massive canoes, colorful boats, out was just also very nice and cool. And yeah, again, I’m a lover of travel, so even if I’m just traveling to the grocery store after being forced to stay at home all day, it’s just nice to get out of bit.
MS: How are you thinking about carving out moments like that in the months to come, where we are in this limbo where it’s returning to normal, but people are unsure of when it’ll be 100 percent back? How are you thinking about spending the fall?
LL: Ooh, it’s an interesting question for a few different reasons for me. So on the one hand, because my platform is so influenced by travel, and my audience is primarily American, I feel a huge ethical obligation to be cautious the way I document travel, because I don’t want to incite people to forget that this is a very real and serious thing. And yes, I am an American, but I’m living in a completely different country, and so the people consuming my content are mostly American, and I’m just always trying to straddle the fence of sharing hopeful and exciting content for them to be able to look forward to travel, but then also, I don’t want to influence anyone to travel, particularly in the U.S. where things are particularly in limbo.
So I’m very aware of that responsibility and I’m trying to navigate that responsibly. However, from a personal standpoint, I would like to explore traveling. I don’t know if internationally, or maybe even further away than where I’ve been traveling, and maybe around maybe October, November, and just seeing how that goes. I’m not sure again how my responsibility to be a positive reinforcement online, how is going to play into it, but it’s something that I’m always thinking about and I’m always aware of.
MS: Yeah. And I’m sure it’s hard when your travels are the content you create and produce and share with everyone. It must feel hard to separate that from your personal life, but is there space for you to maybe take a trip and not post about it, find a trip that feels responsible in the context of where Senegal is at right now and maybe just do it for you? Is that something you could see yourself doing?
LL: Oh, that’s something I’m dying to do. My happy place is Tanzania. Like I always love to, there’s just something about being in Zanzibar that makes me feel at ease, makes me feel inspired, and I would go there with no camera, with no anything, just to be able to feel like I’m being refreshed and rejuvenated because this year has been a lot. And again, trying to do that in a way that also doesn’t put myself in harm’s way as well as other people in harm’s way. So it’s a strange thing, but I definitely am eager to get back into the skies and into exploring and documenting the beauty of the world.
MS: Well, Lee, I think that’s a pretty good note to end on. Where can people find you online?
LL: Thank you. You can find me @spiritedpursuit across all platforms.
MS: And I’m @spurrelly on Instagram. Thanks so much.
LL: Thank you so much.
LA: And finally, Meredith caught up with Honolulu-born, Tokyo-based creative Lindsey Arakawa whose psychedelic Instagram illustrations have brought us plenty of joy these last few months. She’s been using the travel pause to explore the capital city and perfect her Japanese, and like many of us, she’s now grappling with holiday travel and what family visits will look like this year. I’ll pass it over to Meredith to kick things off.
MC: I would love for you to just give us a snapshot of what your life looks like on a day-to-day basis right now. What are you doing in your free time?
Lindsay Arakawa: Yeah. So I feel like my day-to-day recently has been a little bit different than what it looked like in the beginning half of the year, just because I had so much free time in the beginning half of the year that I wanted to do something with it because I’m a freelancer. So I signed up for these intensive language courses, which are in Japanese obviously, because I’m in Tokyo, but it’s every weekday from 9 to 12, so it’s three hours a day, five days a week, I’m in this intensive language course. And then afterwards, if I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just lay around, watch TikTok for the rest of the day. Or if I want to be productive, I’ll get on my bike and ride to somewhere nearby to run an errand or something, but pretty simple looking life right now I think.
MC: What pushed you to enroll in the Japanese courses?
Lindsay Arakawa: Yeah, so there’s a couple different reasons I think. When I initially moved to Japan, that was my big goal that I wanted to achieve. I had taken Japanese language courses throughout my life, but it’s a lot different when you’re living in it, and you’re now in a classroom setting, and you have to learn how to gossip in a different language and talk about, I don’t know, there being a bug in your food, not that there are bugs in my food or anything like that, but just things like that that you wouldn’t ever think of before.
And so, I wanted that too, it was a major goal of mine when I first moved here, but then this is like, I’m coming up on my second year of being in Tokyo and the longer I’m here, I thought… In the beginning, I thought I could get away with speaking more English, but that really isn’t the case here, I’m finding, at least through my experience, especially because if I’m wanting to work with like local clients or go on interviews, Japanese is a necessary must, or it’s a required skill. So that’s what pushed me.
MC: Makes sense.
Lindsay Arakawa: Yeah.
MC: The other thing, you mentioned your bike. Having a bike has given me, and I’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but having a bike has given me so much freedom this year because I have not had one before, and being able to move about the city on my own has been a real blessing, especially when I’m not taking public transportation and everything else. What has that been like for you?
Lindsay Arakawa: Did you buy a bike because of the pandemic?
MC: I had my bike from high school shipped from my parents’ house.
Lindsay Arakawa: Nice.
MC: Simply because I can only get so far on my own two feet.
Lindsay Arakawa: Yeah, for sure. Having a bike in Tokyo has been a major game changer for me just because I relied so heavily on the trains in Tokyo to get me from point A to point B because they’re so convenient, in the previous year that I lived here, but Tokyo is a really easy city to bike through, especially with the type of bike that I bought secondhand. It is called a mamachari, which is the type of bike that all the moms ride around with their kid in the front and the kid on the back.
I don’t have any kids, but I mainly got it because it has an electronic battery that you attach to it, so it makes going up hills very effortless. And so it’s been really great. I just installed a basket on the front and the basket on the back so I can carry a bunch of things if I decide to go grocery shopping or something like that. But yeah, it’s been great. I love it.
MC: I think I need to get baskets. That’s my downfall right now, is that my backpack is not quite big enough to fit the things that I need it to. So I’ve been following you on Instagram for a while now, and it’s been really nice while I’ve been staying in my home through everything that’s been going on in the U.S., for me to be watching your stories while you’re exploring Japan. How have you been traveling around and what has it been like for you to explore when there aren’t the international tourists that would usually be there as well?
Lindsay Arakawa: So I only started to venture out recently. In the beginning half of the year, I don’t think I left my house at all, and I’m sure everyone can relate to how stir-crazy you go, but that’s just what we have to deal with at the moment. But Japan, as a country itself, has kind of started to loosen up on a lot of the restrictions, and they even put into place something called a go-to travel campaign, which encouraged locals to go to different parts of Japan to help revitalize the economy in different cities. So they would pay, I think, for a percentage of all of your travel fees, which was really nice. In the beginning, it didn’t really apply to Tokyo because we have the highest case numbers. But I think in October, so now, maybe the last time I checked, it applies to people who are currently based in Tokyo. But it’s been interesting because it is nice that there aren’t a lot of tourists everywhere.
Where I live in Tokyo is very close to Shibuya, it’s maybe a 15 minute walk for me, or 10 minutes, and so not having the crowds around has been really nice. Just because Shibuya Crossing or Shibuya Scramble can get so dense, I guess, or it’s normally very dense. And so seeing the city a little bit more cleared up has been really nice to kind of just see from my bike and ride around and stuff. Recently my partner and I went down to Kyoto just as we want to see it when it’s not super-duper packed with tourists because it’s a major travel spot, I think whenever anybody comes to visit. And we also rented bikes when we were down there, so we kind of avoided all public transportation and that was really nice to kind of just see the city when there weren’t tourists every which way you look.
MC: What did you guys prioritize seeing when you were in Kyoto? What was on your must see list? Must eat list, probably.
Lindsay Arakawa: It’s a little strange, or it felt very weird and it was something that we talked about like a couple of days into our trip there, where we were like, “Oh, vacations are meant to feel very like relaxed, but I kind of feel on edge the entire time.” Because we weren’t going to restaurants that we would have normally have gone to, if there wasn’t a global pandemic, because we always tried to eat somewhere that we could sit right by the door that was open or a window that was open or somewhere that was outside. So we couldn’t go to a lot of the bars or the restaurants that we had on our list, which is fine. I think it’s kind of just nice in itself that we get to kind of like go outside of Tokyo still.
But initially we had planned to go see all the major tourist spots, like Kinkaku-ji, which is the golden temple, or Fushimi Inari temple, which it has all of these red gates that lined up. Just the super hot tourist spots. But we went on a four or five day weekend and I think everybody else in Japan had the same plan as us. And so it ended up being a little bit more crowded than we expected. So we ended up avoiding the super touristy areas. And luckily enough, there was a photo festival that got pushed back from the springtime called Kyotographie to the weekend that we were there. And so we just rode our bikes from the different locations to kind of see the different art installations, which is really nice, and we got lucky.
MC: Speaking of photography, we talked to a photographer who’s currently in Bali about this a couple months ago now at this point, but we talked to her a lot about how she’s been able to stay creative during this time, because I think that it’s a brain drain on all of us just to exist in the world right now. How have you been able to stay creative and keep photographing, illustrating, working in the way that you do on your artwork?
Lindsay Arakawa: I can only speak for my own experience, but I didn’t want to create anything at the beginning half of the year. And a lot of the stuff that I put on my Instagram are very kind of personal feelings that I’m feeling at the moment. And a lot of the time it ends up being kind of things that I would say to myself to kind of motivate myself in that moment or make myself feel better about something terrible that had happened, like a shitty day or something.
And I just wasn’t sort of feeling that same sort of positivity in the beginning half of the year, which is fine. But that kind of put a pause on what I was creating and how I was creating. And so this year has been interesting, because I think a lot of the time where I get my inspiration from is when I’m able to kind of go out and travel and see different parts of Japan. But going down to Kyoto was really nice and getting to kind of like get out of the house, I think for a little bit. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s been kind of just like a weird slow year for my creative brain, I think.
MC: I think that’s fair.
Lindsay Arakawa: Yeah.
MC: Under the circumstances.
Lindsay Arakawa: Yeah.
MC: You know, I think in many ways, just going back to travel being part of the inspiration. I think you can move around Asia in a very similar way that you can to Europe: you can visit a different country in a two-hour flight, which is not really an option for those of us who are in the States. Looking forward to the next year, or just dreams that you’ve been having over the last six, seven months, what does travel look like for you outside of Japan? Are there any places that you are really wanting to go to, to maybe kickstart that inspiration and creativity?
Lindsay Arakawa: What a luxury to think about traveling, but I think what I’m most upset about at the moment is… So I’m originally from Hawaii and my entire family is back there except for my younger brother who currently lives in Colorado. So every year around the holidays, I’ve gone home because I left home around 18 to go to college on the mainland in San Francisco. And then from there I moved to New York and then now I’m in Tokyo. So I haven’t lived in Hawaii for maybe 12 years now. But every year, except for one year, I’ve gone home for the holidays. And so this year I don’t think, or I’m not planning on going home, which makes me really sad, because my grandparents are in their nineties. I want to be able to spend time with my family when I can, because that’s the one time a year I do go home and kind of check in on my Hawaii friends and family. But because of like the travel restrictions and quarantining… and my partner will usually come back with me to Hawaii but his job… I don’t think like the two weeks in quarantine there and two weeks in quarantine here makes a lot of sense. And especially because my grandparents are so old, I would feel very weird about seeing them. And so, I don’t know. That’s something that I’m kind of upset about at the moment, because I won’t be able to go home to Hawaii for the holidays.