Abbie Kozolchyk, a New York-based writer and editor, has contributed to National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the San Francisco Chronicle, outside, World Hum, Concierge.com, Forbes Traveler, Travelers’ Tales, and a variety of women’s magazines. Visit her at www.abbiekozolchyk.com.
When did you first know you were a traveler?
I suspect that even in utero, I kind of knew. My parents were living in Costa Rica at the time-and roaming around Central America throughout my mom’s pregnancy. I think the sensation just sort ofstuck, and I never grew out of that motion-as-comfort stage.
Is there something you always do, whenever you’re on a trip?
Weirdly, I’ve managed to ritualize Pringles consumption on the road. Though I never eat-or even crave-them at home, I seem to down a can the second I clear immigration and customs in a new country. And I’m still trying to work out how a vastly unremarkable can of chips has become such a travel totem for me. Do I have some bizarre need to confirm (again, and again, and again) that yes, Pringles are indeed the great unifier of snack foods-and really do taste exactly the same wherever you go in the world, regardless of the language(s) on the packaging? or do the chips serve as some sort of carb-y, American security blanket for me-easing any subconscious homesickness I may have? Who knows? All I do know is that even when they cost as much as the hotel room itself, they’re not long for the minibar. I give them one minute post-check-in, tops.
What’s one memorable travel experience you’ve had?
Winding up on a ship in Antarctica with a guy whom I hadn’t seen in, oh, 33 years. Not that we had any idea as we were sailing around the bottom of the planet that we’d ever met before. only after the fact, when I was telling my mom about the people on the trip, did she ask, “Wait, WHAT did you just say the ship’s doctor’s name was?!” Turns out he and I had played together as babies-and I could clearly picture one of the shots my mom had taken of us as soon as she described it to me. of course, I then had to call him and say, “Are you sitting down for this?”
What’s on your list of future destinations?
Like a lot of people who left [Cuba] in the late 50s — including the majority of our extended clan — my father is ambivalent (at best) about going back.
Who is the most inspiring or interesting person you’ve met on the road?
There have been too many to choose just one. But if I had to, I’d say Taher, a baggage handler in the Mumbai airport. My friend Lon and I had arranged to meet up in the international terminal late one night-each of us arriving from a different country-then catch a flight together in the miles-away domestic terminal. Though I did love the sensory- and humanity-overload that was the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, our grand plans were no match for it-and totally failed (this was the Pre-iPhone Era). So I was standing around, evidently looking dazed and confused, when a tall, skinny kid in an airport jumpsuit came up to me and asked what was wrong.
At first I took the “oh, it’s too complicated” tack, but he insisted I try to explain. As soon as I did, he grabbed my luggage, shepherded me to the appropriate gate, checked me in, deposited me at a nearby cafe, and told me to wait there. Absent a better plan of my own, I obeyed, having no idea what he was going to do next.
An hour or so later, I heard a knock on the window and looked up. There was Lon, smiling and waving at me, a thoroughly satisfied-looking Taher by her side. I tried hard not to burst into tears of joy. No such luck.
Turns out, he’d gone back to search the international terminal, spotted a blonde, and asked, “Are you Abbie’s friend?” In fact, she was. “I know your situation,” he said. “Come with me.” So she did. And there we were.
Unable to get over what he’d just done for us, and unsure of how to thank him (our incessant gushing aside), we tried to hand him a pile of cash-but he wouldn’t accept. He seemed almost offended as he explained that his gesture had been “for friendship.” So we tried again. And again, he refused on the basis of friendship.
Though I know “the kindness of strangers” is hugely cliched in travel writing circles, I’m sorry: There really is nothing like it. Nor is there any better poster child for it than Taher. To this day, Lon and I (who did, for the record, finally shove the cash into his breast pocket) will toast to him, always adding, “I know your situation.”
What advice can you give to women who want to start traveling?
Even when you can’t find anyone to go with you-and sometimes, especially when you can’t find anyone to go with you-go. The trip is still eminently worth taking.
How do you balance your home and travel life?
What is this balance you speak of?