Lisa Lubin is a three-time Emmy® Award winning television writer, producer/director, photographer, and video consultant. After more than a decade in broadcast television she decided to take a sabbatical of sorts which turned into nearly 3 years traveling and working her way around the world. She documents her (mis)adventures on her blog, LLworldtour.com, with photographs and articles from the road/train/rickshaw/camel. Her writing and photography has been published by the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, Smithsonian, Encyclopedia Britannica, and American Way Magazine. She recently launched LLmedia, a video consulting business. Tours4Fun was fortunate enough to be able to catch Lisa when she had some time to probe her with some questions. We got to learn about her world, her travel experiences and her life as a travel writer allowing us to get some great insight on the world of travel. See what Lisa had to say in our exclusive interview.
Tours4Fun: You have a pretty fearless attitude when it comes to traveling or even just relocating. What’s your advice to those that want to see the world and experience new places but are nervous to do so?
Lisa: Life is short. I’ve learned that some of the best, most memorable experiences came to me when I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Those times caused me to grow, to learn so much about others and about myself, and to simply have more fun.
Lisa: There is actually very little to be truly nervous or scared about except, as we all know, fear itself. Being organized and taking one step at a time, helped me tremendously. That, and also the fact that most things fall into place one way or another. People help me out nearly everywhere I go. If you are worried about traveling alone, realize that you really are hardly ever alone if you don’t want to be.
Tours4Fun: How/Where do you think are the best ways and places to meet people throughout your travels?
Lisa: Get local as possible. Try couchsurfing. Meet friends of friends. Volunteer. Work. The internet is an amazing tool nowadays to meet local people through social media.
Tours4Fun: Where was the first place you traveled to that you would say really gave you the travel bug? What kept you wanting more?
Lisa: I think as a kid, I had this ‘explorer’ bug…always wanting to ride my bike around the next bend to see what I would discover. I think my first trip down the coast of California with my grandmother when I was in my ‘teens got me started on wanting to travel more. And undoubtedly, my first visit to Europe (Paris, Italy, Switzerland), when I was in my early 20s, cemented my desire to see the world. Because of that first trip to Europe, I made a goal to travel abroad every year since then…something I did for about a decade until I left the United States to travel full time.
Tours4Fun: You’ve been to an extraordinary number of places. When you travel do you always have an idea of where you’ll end up next or do you just kind of play it by ear?
Lisa: During my round the world trip, I had a rough plan in place of where I would go, but it varied here and there. I mostly just planned geographically. This way I saved money by buying point-to-point tickets and avoided many costly, long-haul flights.
Tours4Fun: What’s your favorite part about visiting a new place?
Lisa: Nowadays, I might say trying the food! There is very little food I don’t like and I love dining with new friends and learning about new foods and flavors. Beyond that, it’s trying to meet locals and just connecting with them and getting to know their home through them.
Tours4Fun: You mention couchsurfing, what did you think of it, how was your experience?
Lisa: Couchsurfing was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve met wonderful people who’ve become friends and I got to see a real slice of life that I otherwise would not have seen on my own.
Tours4Fun: Out of all the places you’ve been, which are your top 3 destinations and why?
Lisa:The Galapagos Islands – Dreamy. This was a once in a lifetime experience – boating between all the islands, each one unique, and experiencing this amazingly natural place and interacting with diverse animals – sea lions, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises – wow. Eastern & Central Europe – Since my first visit in 1996, I’ve just fallen in love with so many places here. I don’t care that it’s not remote or so off-the-beaten path. I love it and would love to live in Germany (Berlin was one of my favorite cities). It’s progressive and arty and still efficient and clean. Plus, I love its proximity to beautiful, fairy-tale like Saxon villages. Chicago – It’s my hometown, I’ve lived and worked here now for 14 years and just love it. The friendly, down-to-earth people, the neighborhoods, the parks, the diversity of food, the lakefront. For a big city, it’s manageable, clean, and user-friendly. It’s the best city to live in the United States.
Tours4Fun: As an avid photographer and you share some beautiful photos on your blog. Would you recommend any specific introductory camera for the “non-professional” travel photographer?
Lisa: I’ve been doing photography as a hobby and now professionally on and off since high school. I also worked professionally as a broadcast television producer and taught TV Production for six years at a college in Chicago. One thing I try to avoid is recommending specific equipment or gear. Not only because technology changes so fast, but also because I believe that technique is way more important than what camera you are shooting on. And today’s camera’s are all pretty high on quality for the hobbyist. Don’t get caught up in feeling the need to have the biggest and the best because you most likely won’t need it or notice the difference in megapixels unless you are making poster-size prints. That being said, for a non-professional photographer, there are many wonderful digital HD cameras out there. I would go to the store and pick them up, play with them and feel which is most comfortable. At the same time think about what is most important to you: Cost? Being able to zoom in from far away? Having multiple flash settings? Size?
Tours4Fun: You make a good point, would you recommend perhaps taking a crash course photography class or just learn by doing?
Lisa: Nowadays you can learn a lot online. But taking a class is always a fun way to learn with other people. And then, yes, learn by doing…it’s digital…so nothing is wasted!
Tours4Fun: Your photographs are wonderful. Could you share with us one of your favorite photos and share the story behind it?
Lisa: Thank you! I have thousands of photos, so of course, picking one is a difficult task.
Lisa: That is a bowl of some of the tastiest noodles I’ve ever had in a small restaurant in Hong Kong. I just love food photography. I find it really sexy…the light, the textures, I can nearly smell it and taste it from the photo.
Tours4Fun: You’re bit of a foodie, but then again I think every traveler is a bit of a foodie, what is one of the most unique and delicious dishes you’ve tried?
Lisa: I love food! And the more I travel, the more I seem to focus on food. I don’t think I can put unique and delicious in the same sentence…as the most unique foods I’ve had were probably bull penis or chicken feet in Vietnam. While they were ‘interesting’ I don’t think I can describe them as delicious! I covered the restaurant scene in Chicago for nearly a decade as a TV producer for ABC, and I had so many amazing meals – it’s hard to keep track. My favorite foods are sushi, Greek (love some tasty spanakopita, taramosalata, and grilled octopus), Middle Eastern, and Ethiopian.
Tours4Fun: Are you much of a cook yourself? Collect any great recipes throughout your travels?
Lisa:I love to cook too, but prefer to eat!
Tours4Fun: You’ve got two mantras, “Life is better with cheese” (I couldn’t agree more) and “Traveling long term is cheaper than you think”. Two questions, what is the best cheese you’ve had and second, what are some of your best money saving tips for travelers?
Lisa: Oh my. To pick a favorite cheese is like probably choosing your favorite child! I love manchego cheese, smoked gouda, a salty three-year aged Parmigiano-reggiano, and more!
Tours4Fun: I am a huge manchego fan myself! I am going to say it’s safe to assume you’ve visited Spain, any must see spot you’d recommend to someone who was only going to be in Spain a couple days.
Lisa: I spent a month in Spain. For food, I loved San Sebastian – delicious pintxos everywhere.
I also loved Granada – just a beautiful atmospheric city.
Tours4Fun:What are some of your best money saving tips for travelers?
Lisa: After 3+ years of traveling around the world, I have numerous money-saving tips. Some of my favorites:Depending on your budget and style: try staying in hostels (you can get a single or double room in most) or small, independent hotels. Even better, for no cost at all, try couchsurfing.com – an online community of like-minded travelers and hosts willing to open up their homes to weary travelers as a way of a cultural exchange. It’s like having a local friend no matter where you travel!
Lisa: If you are traveling for any kind of extended period of time, there are many ways to cut costs back home by eliminating most or all of your bills. I got rid of my cell phone when traveling around the world and even now just use a pre-paid plan that only costs me about $100 per year (I do not like talking on the phone anyway and am not into ‘texting’ much so I simply don’t need a cell phone plan). You can also cut back on the ‘things’ you really need in life and sell a lot of belongings that you simply do not need or use.
Tours4Fun: You mention you’ve gone surfing in Costa Rica and you’ve even climbed volcanoes in Ecuador. What is one of the craziest, most extreme things you’ve ever done that you’d recommend everyone to do if they had the opportunity?
Lisa: Well, oddly I have yet to bungee jump or sky dive, but I have jumped off a few cliffs here and there. I hiked up a volcano in Ecuador and rode a mountain bike down it. Since the brakes on the bike weren’t very good, I would say the ride down was pretty harrowing and my hands were clenched in a claw-like death grip for a few hours after.
Tours4Fun: That sounds crazy, but like a lot of fun!
Lisa: I also rode a bicycle in Vietnam for two weeks from Hanoi to Saigon – an amazing yet difficult experience. Looking back, I am not quite sure how I even did it, but I was with a group and enjoyed seeing the country in this very low-to-the-ground way.
Tours4Fun: While you currently live in and love Chicago, if you could be anywhere in the world this very moment where would it be? Why?
Lisa: There is still so much of the world to see! Although I’ve been to 45+ countries…my list keeps getting longer! But I’d love to be hanging out in a café in Alpine France, Italy, or Switzerland. The look and feel of that region appeals to my senses in every way.
Tours4Fun:Ever going skiing in the Alps? I know that’s on my bucket list.
Lisa: I have not! I would love to, but when I am traveling, I'm always on a tight budget so it just never happens.
Tours4Fun: What’s next for LL? What destination will you be conquering next?
Lisa: I’m heading to Costa Rica at the end of April.
Tours4Fun: What’s making you return to Costa Rica?
Lisa: I am going on a great tour led by a Chicago woman who started doing customized tours. I will be doing another Spanish Immersion program and staying with a local family. Then we will hike in a national park for a few days.Then possibly Belgium and then Russia for a travel conference in May.
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