How I Travel: Robin Benway

Robin Benway: Won’t Be Slowed Down!

Several years ago, Robin Benway was working in an office while harboring dreams of quitting her day job to write a novel. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she took the leap anyway. Within a year she had signed with an agent, sold her first book and vanquished any thoughts of time-clocks and water-coolers. Her debut was the very funny Audrey, Wait (Razorbill 2008). On August 5th 2010, Razorbill released Benway’s second novel, The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June. Like Audrey, April, May & June are insightful and clever protagonists who are completely human in their fallibility while still being incredibly likable. Benway’s great talent lies in writing quickly paced books that mix even parts humor and pathos. Writers like that are hard to come-by—which gives us reason to believe that she won’t have to worry about going back to the nine-to-five anytime soon.

This week, Robin talked with How I Travel about vacationing with her family, why she loves Italy and how she stays healthy abroad.

My first travel memory was when I was five years old, flying with my family to visit my grandparents.

I remember that I got to put the seatbelt around my stuffed Smurf toy, and I loved how we got to eat food on a tray in our seats! So much better than eating at the table at home! I also remember that my ears were so plugged up when we landed that I couldn’t hear my grandmother saying hello to me. I thought something was wrong.

I would love to consider myself a vagabond traveler…but I’m not.

I’m an elite traveler, I hate to say. I like nice hotels, a roof over my head, and no bears in the vicinity. I wish I could be a camper, but I’ve tried it, and it’s not for me. I love hiking and exploring outside in the daytime, but at night, I want to be somewhere where the wild animals can’t get to me.

Beach umbrellas at the Amalfi Coast
Beach umbrellas at the Amalfi Coast

Staying healthy on the road is a really big deal to me.

I’m allergic to gluten (a protein found in grains), and I’m also a type-1 diabetic, so I always have to travel with insulin, syringes, back-up supplies for my insulin pump, a doctor’s note saying that I’m allowed to get on planes while carrying medical supplies, the list goes on. I once had to change my insulin pump while standing in a bathroom stall at JFK and balancing a cup of espresso, a winter coat, my suitcase, and the line of women waiting outside (not fun at all), so I’ve learned that anything can happen.

It’s made spontaneous travel more difficult because I have to always plan ahead to make sure I have everything I need. I also have to be careful that my blood sugar doesn’t drop, so I carry glucose tablets and LaraBars with me everywhere I go. (I can’t count on the airline to have food I can eat, so I bring my own.) Sexy, I know.

My dietary concerns make eating in a foreign country different and difficult sometimes.

I recently lost weight in Paris because all of the amazing-looking croissants and pastries were off-limits. Once I was at a beautiful lunch outside of Barcelona when my insulin pump inexplicably stopped working. I had to return to our hotel so I could replace it, which was disappointing and a little embarrassing. Still, I made it back in time to go cava tasting, so all was not lost!

I’ve tried really hard to not let any medical issue dissuade me from travel.

I’ve learned that not only is my body tougher than I give it credit for, but that people are far more accommodating than I think they’re going to be. Several years ago, I traveled to Italy, and I was nervous about the trip because I had heard so much about their breads and pastas, none of which I can eat. Then, at my first meal in Venice, I explained to the waiter that I was “senza glutine,” and he responded in perfect English, “Oh, we have some gluten-free pasta in the back, can we make you something with that?” I think that’s when I fell in love with Italy. They have the best gluten-free products I’ve ever eaten in my life! I brought a lot of stuff home with me in my suitcase. (Along with a bottle of wine, of course. I mean, when in Rome…)

An amazing dinner at Quattro Leoni in Florence
An amazing dinner at Quattro Leoni in Florence

Italy was definitely my favorite country (see: most amazing food in the world).

For cities, I have to say New York. I lived there for a while many years ago, so now when I go back, I’m familiar enough with its streets to get around, but everything has changed so much that it’s brand-new to me. I love being able to navigate around a city on its subways because I think it makes me more of an independent traveler. The next time I go to Paris, I’m going to master the Metro.

My next stop is Decatur, Georgia!

I’m going to the Decatur Book Festival in September and I can’t wait to see Georgia. I’ve never been and I’ve heard that Decatur is a great town. I’ll soon find out.

As soon as I arrive someplace new I brush my teeth, wash my hands, and drink water.

After being on a plane, in a cab, etc., all I want to do is wash my hands and hydrate. Then I like to find out where to eat my next meal because that’s easy to do and it’s a nice way to settle into a city. Everyone eats dinner, after all.

Venice sidestreet
Venice sidestreet

I don’t have any secrets for avoiding jet-lag. Not a one.

If anyone has some, send them my way because I’m desperate. It took me a week to readjust to California time after my last trip.

I don’t know if it’s a packing trick so much as a motto: shoes are at the bottom, clothes rolled up and all the liquids far, far away from everything else.

I’ve had so many “Oh, no, my moisturizer exploded!” moments that I’ve lost count of them.

Paella at La Cangrejo Loco
Paella at La Cangrejo Loco

My favorite meals have been paella at La Cangrejo Loco in Barcelona and prosciutto e melone anywhere in Italy in June.

I still think about those foods and salivate.

I’m almost embarrassed at how much I love my little red wheelie suitcase.

I bought it on eBay because I was so tired of trying to guess which black suitcase was mine as it tumbled into the baggage claim area. It’s hard-shell, it’s impermeable, it holds a ton of stuff, and if I have to check it, I can always find it afterwards.

If you give me a ticket to anywhere, I’m heading to Iceland, Nashville, or Prague.

I’m not a crazy adventurous person, but if someone says, “Hey, we’re gonna go here, wanna come?” I’ll almost always tag along. I really love seeing new places.

When I get home I go straight to La Sirena in Laguna Beach (CA).

Two salmon tacos with guacamole. I’m good after that.

When I’m gone I always miss my bed, my friends, and my little routines throughout the day.

I get up, make coffee, listen to the news, that sort of thing. I’m a big routine person, so after a while, I miss the mundane things. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love the spontaneity of travel, though. I just wish I could have both at the same time!

Some people think this is gross, but if I’m flying in the morning, I take a salad with me on the plane and eat it for breakfast.

That way, no matter what the day brings (and chances are it’ll bring french fries), I can say I ate some veggies.

Juices at La Boqueria in Barcelona
Juices at La Boqueria in Barcelona

Train, plane, automobile—I love them all.

I could drive for hours and not get sick of it, I get a ton of reading done on planes (I hate having internet access on planes, it makes me feel like I should be working or emailing rather than catching up on People magazine), and I love to watch the world go by on a train. I was always the kid that needed a window seat, so trains are perfect for me.

I don’t know if it was the nicest in terms of accommodations, but the Hotel Savoy in Rome is hands-down my favorite.

My mom and I were there on my birthday, July 1, and spent the entire day running around and touring the city. By evening, we were hot, exhausted, and couldn’t even muster up the energy to do anything besides collapse on our beds. When we got to our room, though, we discovered a bottle of champagne chilling on the desk with a note that said, “Happy birthday!” from the hotel management. We were so surprised! It turned out that they saw my birth date on my passport and sent up champagne. It was my birthday, it was our last day of our two-week Italy trip, we were in Rome! It just felt so special. (We drank it immediately, of course.)

I love to come home with music memories, so I try to only listen to a few albums or playlists when I travel.

For my recent trip to France & Spain, it was the “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” soundtrack and “Infinite Arms” by Band of Horses. Back in 2008, my mother and I ate an amazing three-course lunch in Italy that lasted for over three hours, and the restaurant owner kept playing Kings of Convenience’s “Riot on an Empty Street” over and over again. I can’t hear that album now without tearing up because I remember how happy and lucky I was to be there.

I get annoyed with any traveler who’s rude, pushy, or glares at moms when their babies cry on airplanes.

That makes me crazy! It’s a baby! It’s not fun for anyone else when they cry, especially the baby’s parents, so other passengers could be a little more sensitive. I was once on a plane with a woman who yelled clear across the aisle, “Oh no! Do not let that baby cry!” Everyone was so shocked! And as anyone knows, yelling at a baby doesn’t make it stop crying. It was a long flight.

Robin and her mom in San Sebastian, Spain
Robin and her mom in San Sebastian, Spain

For my biggest trips to Europe, I’ve traveled with my family and honestly, it blows my mind that we travel so well together.

I would go anywhere with them. I did France and Spain with my mother and brother and we never once had a major fight or disagreement. In fact, after spending 15 hours flying home, we landed at LAX, looked at each other, and said, “We should go get dinner.” We laughed pretty much the whole time, which made me realize that the secret to finding a good travel partner is finding someone who shares your sense of humor. If you can laugh about a bad experience, you’ll probably end up having a much better time than if things had gone right in the first place.

I love traveling because, to put it simply, it lets me see a world that’s both bigger and smaller than I always think it is.

I love talking to locals, eating the food, discussing Obama in Italy, discovering new wines, all of it. In the States, I love how beautiful it is here and how kind people are. It’s that sort of feeling you get when you’re talking to someone on a plane who’s going to visit their grandmother, and suddenly you’re telling them—a total stranger–about your grandmother, and you realize that you would never have had this conversation if you hadn’t left your house. Traveling makes my world better.


Be sure to check Robin out online by visiting her website, blog or Twitter feed.

“How I Travel” is a new BootsnAll series publishing every Tuesday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. Got ideas for who we should talk to? Drop us a note.

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all photographs provided by Robin Benway and may not be used without permission

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