Travel dreams

Big Sur coastline, California

By Caitlin Kelly

My California trip, solo, for the month of June, was a dream come true, something I had longed to do for many years.

Like you, perhaps, I still have some specific travel dreams, so it’s always a question of budget and time. I’m also not wild about any flight longer than six or seven hours — and now the places I haven’t yet seen are almost all long-haul flights, which means I’d likely stop halfway and stay for a day or two then take another four to six hour flight onward.

I’m really fortunate to have already visited most of Canada (except PEI, New Brunswick, Yukon, NT and Nunavut.) I’ve been to 33 of the 50 U.S. states — and not desperate to see the rest (OK, Colorado and Alaska, probably.) Have been to 41 countries, from Fiji to Peru to Turkey to Kenya, but (help!) there’s still so much more to see.

I occasionally read travel magazines, but am also a big fan of a weekly travel Twitterchat, #TRLT, which stands for The Road Less Traveled, and is run by a tour guide in Nairobi, Shane Dallas. It draws people from Dundee, Vancouver, India, and even Uzbekistan and Malawi. I learn a lot from it, and love sharing stories with people whose idea of a vacation is usually pretty adventurous and not just expensive luxury.

He lets us ask the questions, every week on a theme, which makes it more fun and democratic.

As readers here know, I’m pretty independent and not one for group trips or official tours. I would be highly unlikely to take a cruise unless it was a very small ship (and probably then our of my budget!) I hate being around large crowds (especially now with COVID and every emerging disease.)

My happiest vacations, and I tend to plan them carefully, usually combine spending some time in gorgeous landscapes/scenery with a chance to be active there, a hike or out on/in the water with, when possible, some sophisticated city time with shopping and a few great meals and some culture, whether a museum or gallery or concert.

I tend to be a high-low traveler — I’ve camped in a small tent at the Grand Canyon (not in it), have stayed in super elegant hotels like the Gritti Palace in Venice, had tea at the Ritz in London and cocktails at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris, but was equally thrilled in Big Sur with a tiny room and shared bathroom and a burger and fries while staring at the San Gabriel Mountains at sunset.

It’s all about the experience!

My best trips, so far, include 21 days in Thailand, five separate visits to Ireland, many visits to various parts of France, (loved Corsica!!) and a great three-week, five-city Mexican adventure way back in 2005.

I speak good French and decent Spanish, so I love being able to use them.

Here are some of my dream trips:

Wadi Rum, Jordan

If you’ve seen the films Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian, you’ve seen the rust red landscape of Wadi Rum. Even the name! I’ve been following a WR tour guide on Twitter and now have a better idea what it could cost and how one even gets there. It’s easier to start planning (or not) once you do some research.

Morocco

My parents went, a cousin lived there and a friend who works nomadically lived there for a while. Not sure I would do it alone, but it has long intrigued me, especially the deserts, mountains and design esthetic.

Japan

I’ve been fascinated by Japan since I was small and my father went there to make a film about it. Many of my friends have visited and loved it. I’ve read a few books about it. I admit I’m intimidated by a 13 hour flight from NY to Tokyo and the reputed high costs of lodging. My only visit to Asia so far was to Thailand in 1994.

Namibia

Again, inspired by friends and their photos. So dramatic! (Have been to Kenya, Tanzania and Tunisia.)

Greece

Have never been — still! Especially interested in Crete and Corfu, but also the smaller islands.

Patagonia

Have you seen images of Torres del Paine? Whew!

Mongolia

I once did film research about it. Such an unusual place.

The Amazon

Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

Amazing aurora borealis and canoeing the Nahanni River.

Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Fjords!

Cornwall, Yorkshire and Northumberland, England

So gorgeous and rugged. I confess that watching the BBC series Poldark did it for Cornwall and All Creatures Great and Small for Yorkshire.

The Inner and Outer Hebrides

A young friend grew up there and returns frequently.

Iceland

I feel like I’m the only person left who hasn’t visited!

What are some of your dream trips and why?

No more yelling!

If you ever watch the HBO series Succession, here’s one very toxic boss, Logan Roy

By Caitlin Kelly

My favorite place in the suburban New York county where I’ve lived for decades is an indie art film house; some weeks I’m up there multiple times to see a film. I love movies!

Its programming director was recently fired for yelling at his staff, leaving one in tears.

There have always been bad-tempered toxic bosses, but in some places there’s now (happily!) a diminished appetite for them — as several high profile male NPR radio hosts have also learned in recent years, also fired for abusing their staff.

I welcome this, as someone who grew up in an emotionally abusive family and then worked in journalism, one of the most dysfunctional of industries; with a constant oversupply of eager job-seekers, nasty bosses can thrive and rise, thrive and rise, usually without any form of accountability. If they keep losing talented staff, well, hey, whose fault is that?

Having also survived years at boarding school, also being yelled at by old women who were our housemothers, I have little appetite for people unable to hold their damn tongues and be civil. I don’t care how frustrated you are.

I’ve survived quite a few terrifying bosses, one a woman at a trade magazine publisher in Manhattan, who thought nothing of shouting abuse across the room at all of us and, when I dared confront her, stood very very close to me and leaned in further….her pupils oddly dilated. I quit within a month, and with no job waiting and newly divorced.

At the New York Daily News, I dared to ask the photo editor a question in an open newsroom so large it ran from 34th to 33rd street. His idea to humiliate and intimidate me, he yelled at me that I was asking a really difficult question; how to fill out a photo request. What a dick. This was a wholly normal question for a new employee offered zero training. I was then 50 — and quietly told him that being abusive wasn’t going to alter my request. He then ran to my boss to complain about me. Such a FUN workplace!

And, of course, there was another trade magazine boss, a weird little troll who shouted at me for disappointing him when I was editing a 48 page trade magazine with no staff at all, able to offer only extremely low freelance rates that guaranteed careless work from the only writers we could afford.

He came into my very small office and, as I pleaded with him that I was doing my best, snarled: “Define best!”

I was, no surprise, fired a few days later.

I ran into him decades later while riding our shared commuter rail line. As he went to sit beside me, he asked: “Do you remember me?”

“Yes,” was all I said.

Journalism attracts people who are smart and tough and highly impatient, expected to produce flawless results very, very quickly…not a great combo. Then the most demanding rise into management where, sure, they have high standards — but also can get away with shouting and raging with impunity.

I’ve even encountered this toxic arrogance as a freelancer, like a young woman then an editor at the Columbia Journalism Review (ooooh, the delicious irony) who I finally had to hang up the phone on since she was unable to let me finish a sentence.

And, funny thing, she too has since risen in the industry.

I shook for an hour after that phone call — because if you’ve been the subject of a lot of yelling, especially as a child, it really evokes a sort of PTSD.

So every time another abusive manager loses their job, income and authority, I’m thrilled!

Have you been the victim of such bad behavior?

How did you handle it?

My writing life, recently

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been a long time since I’ve offered an update here on my writing life.

Most recently, I coached two writers in two days, very different personalities working on very different projects. I really enjoy coaching, but sometimes — rarely — I have to conclude I’m not the right person to coach a particular writer, whether our differing personalities, goals or the type of work they want to pursue. As an old-school hard news reporter, having worked for three major daily newspapers, I believe in original reporting, thoughtful interviews and smart, incisive work. Lighter stuff just isn’t really my jam.

When people hire me to coach them — at $250/hour — I’m very aware they’re entrusting me with their hopes for bigger and better sales or new markets. If I really feel I’m not a fit, as I recently did with one writer, I’ll say so and not take on the work. I’ve now helped more than 50 people worldwide; most find me organically through my social media profiles. It’s hardly a full-time income, but a very welcome piece of my annual revenue.

This past week I also began a four-part series with another writer, a first for me. I’m really excited by this new opportunity.

In my own writing, I’ve been doing profiles of grant recipients for a non-profit, of highly accomplished academic researchers working on complex and thorny issues. It’s challenging! I don’t get a byline (i.e. my name on it as the author), but I’m happy to have the work, as it’s well-paid and interesting.

I also recently applied for another job, writing about a local non-profit organization, and we spent a lively hour on Zoom getting to know one another. These initial meetings are uncompensated, as we both need to discover if there’s a good fit between our styles, deadlines and budget. Budget is often a sticking point, as inflation is making me ask for higher rates now. The meeting was terrific and we’re going to re-group in about a month.

I had another hour-long meeting, also by Zoom, also with two principals, about my ongoing work as a design blogger for ZZDriggs, which recently hired two specific experts — aka my new bosses! We had a great conversation and discussed a few ideas; re-grouping in a few weeks as well.

The truth of these meetings with strangers — they’re tiring, really an hour of selling myself to them, truthfully, as someone smart and fun and collegial and skilled and…whew! It’s also a two-way street as, even though I need to earn income, I’m now more cautious about who I work with, having had a few disappointing experiences where I had to walk away and lose the money I had budgeted for.

Jose and I have been working on an idea for a book about how to freelance successfully, as something we’ve done. I hope we can find an agent and publisher.

I’ll also be writing for a trade publication, also about design; I studied at the New York School of Interior Design in the mid-90s while still married to my first husband; a physician, he made a good income, which would have allowed me to start a new career at the bottom. But he bailed after two years of marriage, so I never went into the industry. I loved my training and it’s helping me now, years later, with expertise and authority — two things I can offer as someone deep into my career.

And someone referred me for a science-writing opportunity; I need to find out more to see if there’s a fit.

As a generalist, I really enjoy this odd mix of topics. It keeps me intellectually nimble, which is welcome in a time when so much journalism is tedious clickbait.

I’m doing less and less journalism, which is in some ways sad — but pay rates are abysmal, and contracts hideously restrictive — so there’s little pleasure to be found!

My last published story was February 10 in the Financial Times, which I’m super proud of. But a later pitch to another editor there, of course, was completely ignored. This is quite normal at larger outlets, where one editor has no say over another, so a referral onward internally can mean almost nothing. It’s extremely frustrating!

I found out, after long months of waiting, that I did not win a fellowship I applied for — nine others did. These things are horribly competitive, always. Having said that, I might try for another fellowship, one that offers more money and is less initially demanding (like insisting only people with guaranteed publication can compete.) That’s massively unfair to most freelancers.

I loved my month off, and came home completely refreshed and grateful to just not have to hustle, negotiate, produce or revise for those blessed weeks while Jose’s June freelance photo editing schedule was truly heinous — 15-hour days every day, plus the endless noise of renovations in our apartment hallway and in the apartment below.

There are days I think: “NO more work!” But I have an appetite for luxury, mostly travel, and the income still has to come from somewhere! I’m grateful so many people still want my skills and my point of view; I’m finding a new and much happier way to work when it’s not journalism, which remains a greedy and hierarchical model. My non-journalism clients really appreciate the skills I bring and even some of my ideas, a breath of fresh air when they’re internally stymied or new to the organization. Cooperation! Teamwork!

As I contemplate retirement I also have no hobbies! A friend suggested birding, which doesn’t feel like a fit.

For now, a slower schedule bringing in a decent-enough income is fine with me. It allows time off for travel and brings in the means to do it.

Oooooh, that smells good!

The best smell!

By Caitlin Kelly

I was at the Santa Monica Airport flea market — so much fun! — at the start of the day, inside an elegantly arrayed tent full of lovely things.

“Something smells good. Is that your fragrance?” asked the vendor.

It was — one of my favorites, L’eau de l’artisan by L’Artisan Parfumeur. But (!) I couldn’t find it on their website and am now panicked.

Here’s a fun recent story from Elle magazine about four perfume collectors.

Fragrance is a huge part of my life, and one of the things I always notice and appreciate; on our first date, in March 2000, my husband Jose wore a delicious classic men’s fragrance, 1881 by Cerutti. Swoon! I love a classic perfume or fragrance, and much prefer some of the older ones — from the 50s, 60s or 70s — to what’s on offer today.

I’m careful about when and where I wear fragrance — never to medical or dental appointments or on long airplane rides; you never know who’s allergic or just sick of smelling other people all day long!

A terrific summer fragrance, super-green and citrus-y is O de Lancome –– launched in 1969.

Another is Blenheim Bouquet, launched in 1903 by the British firm Penhaligon, a man’s cologne.

And this one, Herbae, from L’Occitane.

One of the many pleasures of my California trip was the delicious scent of jasmine, which I saw and smelled everywhere, including right outside two of my rooms, growing wild.

An astonishing sense memory, from the summer of 1996, was my solo mo-ped trip around La Balagne, the northern bit of Corsica, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The low-lying brush, le maquis, is a mixture of vegetation that, when sun-warmed, threw off the most delicious scent — in my nostrils as I slowly made my way through the landscape. Heaven!

I know many people associate a specific perfume or cologne with a loved one; the very distinctive men’s cologne of the mid-80s, Kouros, is a very powerful one for me, worn by a mad beau 10 years my senior, and our passionate affair.

Funny, but Jose and I both share a childhood love of Maja, an ancient scent (1926) from a Spanish house. We often use their soap.

Do you have favorite smells, natural ones and manufactured fragrances?

A few post-vacation epiphanies

By Caitlin Kelly

The very best vacations — yes, always a luxury! — return us to normal life with some fresh ideas and insights, some new ways of thinking or behaving.

Maybe we tried a new form of exercise (hiking, biking, surfing, snorkel or scuba, kayaking).

Maybe some new foods.

Maybe we altered our daily rhythms, getting up much earlier to savor sunrise and cooler temperatures or staying up really late to enjoy local nightlife.

My month away, solo, driving coastal California, gave me much-needed solitude but also some fantastic opportunities to get to know my friends better, through long conversations, un-rushed, over a good meal or just sitting in the shade.

The best decision I made — and one I am keeping up now that I’m home: much less exposure to the news, especially the useless national nightly news on. American television which (apart from the PBS Newshour) is a tedious and predictable gorefest of violence and sticky sentimentality.

I didn’t watch TV news or listen to radio news once and my mood and outlook are much improved!

Yes, the world is going to hell. I do know that.

But marinating in it every day isn’t doing me any good either.

If it’s that crucial I will see it (and do) on Twitter.

I didn’t expect to, but I fell hard for California, and was checking real estate prices everywhere, both for purchase (hopeless!) and rentals, and am now looking for a way to rent for a month or more in L.A. and maybe also in Monterey, my two favorites.

I dropped my normal routines of spin class two to three times a week, and that felt good.

I’ve always hoped to retire to France, probably only part-time, so this new love of California is interesting — but French real estate, depending on the area, is so much more affordable, (and the euro is now on par with the U.S. dollar.) So we’ve got pleasant decisions at some point.

My best takeaway was just being out there all alone for a month. I’ve been traveling the world alone since I spent four months, at 22, visiting Portugal, Italy, France and Spain (most of it in Spain and Portugal.) It’s never scared me and I’ve never had a bad experience despite people insisting I’m “brave” to travel alone at length as a woman.

Refreshing my much-valued sense of independence was a great joy — but so was the lovely home and husband awaiting my return!

I hope you’ll all be able to take a restorative break.

California, concluded. Lots of photos!

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved stumbling into a farmer’s market in a suburban mall parking lot.

OK, I cried. It’s hard to drive an L.A. freeway while crying!

But it was painful to leave California and its stunning beauty and weather — I didn’t have even one rainy or cloudy day in 29 days in June, and I faithfully wore sunscreen but came home quite tanned!

Chinatown, San Francisco

I loved seeing 11 friends, in North California and in Southern California, some of whom I had never even met in person (Twitter, online writers’ groups, Facebook) and others I’ve known for decades. I “wasted” two sightseeing days (one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles) with friends — just sitting for hours catching up and, of course, with lots of discussion about our work and goals in journalism. No “sight” could possibly have pleased me more.

I had 12 days — June 10 to 22 — completely alone, which never for an instant was lonely or boring; I’ve been traveling the world alone since I was 22, so I am not only used to it but really enjoy it.

I found these period Russian icons at Fort Ross so beautiful

Jose and I, like many people (and those with small children and pets) have been working in a one bedroom apartment since March 2020 and COVID — making the normal free options of our local large library impossible.

I needed out! I craved solitude! I wanted adventure and independence!

My late mother’s beloved Mousie, a perfect travel companion — at Julia Pfeiffer State Beach,

Big Sur

I stayed in six different kinds of lodging, none of which was disappointing — two renovated/attractive motels, one with a gorgeous, lush interior garden, free breakfast, laundry and a pool — and savored the luxury of a five-star hotel for my final five nights, The Langham in Pasadena. Its nightly price was less (!!) than my motel in Santa Barbara and worth 100 times the value: valet parking, multiple restaurants, pool, spa, concierge…you name it. My room had a fantastic view over their enormous gardens and the city below.

Looking down from impossibly twisty Route 1, Big Sur

Isn’t he great? The most treasured object in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

I loved the foliage!

I was also a terrible tourist — in Los Angeles, arriving with ambitious plans — I didn’t visit a single museum or sight. I did see glorious Union Station, had dinner at Musso & Frank, (open since 1919), and visit multiple neighborhoods: Little Tokyo, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica, Pasadena, the Arts district. I loved seeing how people just live, driving around different neighborhoods; most middle class houses are small and one-level, but many have spectacular gardens and often are painted in delicious colors: deep blue, mustard, pale pink, olive, soft gray.

Couldn’t find(?!) a cake at the grocery store, so I had a birthday pie! Dinner at Canadian friends’

home in Oakland.

I was also a terrible non-hiker. With daily temperatures at 90 degrees or more, it felt like an unhealthy choice and, warned about ticks and rattlesnakes, thought better to return with proper hiking boots! I did a few flat hikes (2 miles) and that was good.

My tiny perfect bedroom at Deetjen’s

Big Sur, looking south

At the astonishing Monterey Aquarium

I can’t wait to go back.

Surprises

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the challenges of travel is choosing to enter and navigate unfamiliar territory — whether cultural, linguistic, meteorological, historical, political or geographic. It can make for some lovely, serendipitous discoveries along the way or that sinking feeling of whyyyyyyy?!

You always arrive with limited time and energy and a budget you hope won’t destroy you financially for months to come — unexpected costs and some splurges.

Some of this trip’s surprises, almost all pleasant:

The incredibly low price of taking Caltrain, the commuter rail of the Bay area — $1.75 one way, versus $15 one way for the same sort of system, Metro-North, in New York.

The relative ease of finding street parking in San Francisco.

Having pals notice my Facebook and Twitter posts saying “I’m in California” and reaching out to meet up for a meal — like my cousin who I hadn’t seen in decades!

That a small hotel room isn’t the issue if it’s quiet, safe and charming. It’s why I’ve avoided all chain hotels on this trip but also because even the usual reliables got such very very mixed reviews as I was making my decisions.

That today’s monstrous-sized vehicles, especially in any parking lot more than a decade old, let alone one from the 1960s or earlier, make parking and maneuvring safely a nightmare, sometimes with mere inches of clearance.

Gas prices in California (taxes) are about $6.69 a gallon, $2 more per gallon than New York.

No rest stops?! This has been the worst shock of all, when faced with 3-5 hour drives between locations. You really have to stay well hydrated with heat and glare….but there is nowhere to use a toilet except stopping, turning off the highway and hoping to find something clean nearby. (A local friend says they do exist, but not on the roads I took.)

That so many people from very very far away swooped into California to make their fortunes…like Russians?! Also, Sir Francis Drake?!!!

The reason the landscape here so resembles that of Mexico’s…it was Mexico before 1846.

There is much less history here in some places — beyond indigenous of course — than on the East Coast, where my town contains New York’s oldest church (1685.) The Santa Barbara Mission dates from 1786. It is making me re-think history.

I do poorly with a lot of heat or hours of direct sunlight, so my good friend Merrill very thoughtfully took us hiking at two coastal sites — very very windy but cool.

I was actually disappointed by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, having seen, everywhere, much more beautiful and unusual plants in private or commercial gardens. I didn’t explore the whole 78 acres so I may have missed some true treasures.

I had no idea what astonishing plants and flowers grow here. I stop, stunned. almost every day by a cactus or tree or flower.

I had to backtrack two hours’ driving to Morro Bay for whale-watching but found the village (10,000 people) more intriguing than shiny, prosperous Santa Barbara. I enjoyed SB (and got a haircut and pedicure and did laundry there) but Morro Bay is marked by a huge mysterious 23 million year old volcanic rock that dominates the skyline.

I loved humpbacked whale-watching. How amazing to be surrounded by them, smelling their exhaled breath (fishy!) and watching them surface then dive. Their dives leave a telltale flat pool — a flukeprint!

I didn’t expect to like Morro Bay as much as more chi-chi Santa Barbara but I liked it a lot…a working fishing village. I especially loved waking to the barking of harbor seals and the low constant tone of the foghorn.

During my true alone time — June 10 to 22 — I’ve enjoyed some good conversations along the way with strangers: a gay couple from my area of NY; a woman whose job it is to find and chase people distributing illegal hazardous material; a young college graduate in search of life advice and a pastor of a tiny congregation who planted his church 30 years ago. I love hearing people’s stories!

Churches that are enormous windowless industrial looking boxes.

I certainly knew California is known for produce and agriculture — but not for cattle ranches, many of which I’ve seen along this trip, some more than 100 years old. It feels very Old West in so many places.

I’m enjoying this break but I miss my bed and my routines and my husband.

Now down to my final five days, and headed to Pasadena and Los Angeles, where I’ll be meeting up with several friends I know through social media.

Onward!

California, cont.: heading south on Route 1

In the 19th century, Fort Ross was run by Russians…some material remnants of their church

By Caitlin Kelly

My next stop south after Santa Rosa was the small town of Monterey, which I liked a lot…very easy to get around and I soon found the gorgeous main post office with its tiled WPA murals and a very good French patisserie next door! I mailed home some stuff I’m not using or wearing. I loved my pretty, large hotel room and the hotel restaurant (Casa Munras) served excellent tapas.

I really liked Monterey’s legendary Aquarium! Simply stunning, although not cheap — $50 admission and wayyyyyy too many children, infants and strollers. I immediately threw on a mask as the crowds were noisy and intense.

But what wonderful sights! The place is very large, with two floors, and everything from a HUGE octopus to jellyfish to sea turtles to sea otters, puffins and penguins. I loved that we could watch their three sea otters then stand on the balcony and use their powerful telescopes to watch them in the wild, floating nearby in kelp beds.

I also heard some distinctive bellowing — sea lions! It’s such a thrill to see these creatures in the wild…at the harbor.

I spent a few hours in Carmel, an extremely elegant small town with amazing shopping and the prettiest residential streets, many shaded by old-growth trees; a 10 minute drive from Monterey.

I loved this tiny room! So pretty, even though very very small, at Deetjen’s.

The Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur, late afternoon.

I then drove south on Route 1 — extremely twisty hairpin roads on very steep hills! — to Big Sur and Deetjen’s, a small hotel/inn created decades ago by a Norwegian man who made everything there out of wood. I absolutely loved it and my minuscule room, maybe 40 square feet?, called Petite Cuisine…as in, yes, it was a former kitchen so half the room was an old sink. But the room had plenty of charm, with three floral paintings, soft curtains, a quiet and efficient fan and the prettiest duvet. I shared 2 tiny bathrooms in that second-floor section with four other rooms.

It was all worth it and was (at midweek prices) the least expensive room ($100/night) of this entire trip. I loved everything about Big Sur and have only seen such astonishing beauty in 3 other places: Corsica, Ireland and Thailand.

The Santa Lucia Mountains slope very steeply there to the turquoise Pacific, crashing against jagged rocks beneath wind-twisted cypress trees. There are dozens of roadside mailboxes…residents living very high above the road or very low below it. Lucky them!

Here are some of the many hikes and beaches locally…I visited two of them and hope to do others on a return visit.

I treated myself to an elegant and delicious lunch just north up the road at the Post Road Inn, where rooms are –yes — $1,000 a night. And another night I had nachos and beer at the Taphouse, and tried to avoid the predations of the Stellers’s jays, who are both very distinctive and quite confident!

It’s hard to explain how deeply seductive and alluring Big Sur is…like the other landscapes that have moved me to tears, it feels utterly timeless and wild. You simply cannot go fast! Road signs warn that if you have five vehicles behind you you must pull off into one of the many “turnouts” and let them pass — like a school bus and the garbage truck! Two local elementary schools are named (!) the Apple Pie School and Captain Cooper’s; older students have a long (gorgeous!) bus ride south to Cambria or north to Carmel.

On the road south I pulled over to see a beach covered with sea elephants. Amazing!

I’m now in Santa Barbara for three days, then back to Morro Bay hoping to see whales, then the final leg — Laguna Beach and Pasadena. Can’t wait for the Santa Monica Airport flea market the morning of June 26! The one I’d hoped to visit near San Francisco was rained out. The two sights here I plan to see are the Botanic Garden and the Santa Barbara Mission — then a visit to nearby Montecito, home to wealthy celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan.

I was last in Santa Barbara as a university student, visiting my late great-aunt whose lovely house faced the ocean on one side and a lemon grove on the other.

I’ve also been tending to basic maintenance after 17 days on the road: doing all that sweaty laundry at a laundromat, and getting a haircut and a pedicure. Feels so good!

On the road in coastal California

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to my late mother’s generosity, to celebrate a landmark birthday, I’m able to afford a trip I’ve dreamed of for decades.

My husband is at home in New York, working, so I’m on my own — my first solo road trip in five years; my last big trip, in 2017, was six weeks alone in Europe, visiting six countries.

Not a great shot — but a typical SF home — ornate and gorgeous colors

The Asian Art Museum is terrific

San Francisco’s Chinatown is legendary and historic

I flew into San Francisco, where I was fortunate to have a friend to stay with for six nights and a fellow Canadian there hosted us for my birthday, June 6. It was lovely — four of us in a tree-shaded backyard eating Indian food and a birthday pie (the grocery store had no cake...?!)

I started north out of San Francisco across the Golden Gate bridge, shrouded in fog, with three pelicans hovering nearby in formation.

I stayed two nights at a gorgeous inn, with only seven rooms, an imitation of an English inn, called The Pelican. From there, it’s an easy 15 minute walk to Muir Beach or an hour’s drive to Pt. Reyes National Seashore. The drive there was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen — but scary! Extremely twisty, with very steep potential plunges into the ocean.

Driving these very narrow roads without shoulders is challenging enough — but you’re also sharing them with slow cyclists and fast motorcyclists and very impatient locals.

The landscape of Marin County is legendary: golden rolling hills, ocean waves breaking across ragged gray rocks. I watched a group of very young kids, all in wetsuits, pile into the water for their surfing lesson.

In Novato, I caught up with another old friend whose home I had never visited, and admired her enormous, beautiful hillside garden.

The beauty here is simply stunning — lush vegetation with Spanish moss hanging from trees, tall eucalyptus, bright wildflowers. I saw two deer, two herons and a coyote.

The views at Inverness were beyond…truly a dream. So I Googled “homes for sale” and all were $1m plus. Of course!

I drove through Dogtown — population 30 — and had a powerful memory of seeing it on my last visit, really just a roadside sign. It’s so isolated that residents are taken to the hospital by helicopter.

Me and Charlie Brown! In Santa Rosa there is a Charles Schulz Museum. So fun!

An astonishing cliffside/oceanside road, Route 1, brings you to Fort Ross, from the early

19th century — a site built by early Russians who made their fortunes here.

My itinerary moved north to Santa Rosa to visit a friend there, then I’m really on my own, heading south to Monterey, Big Sur, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach and Pasadena where I’ll start meeting up again with pals in L.A..

I’ve been to San Francisco five times (last visit 2012), Los Angeles maybe twice (last visit 2000.)

Unlikely but true — my last visits to each city were on assignment and fully paid (SF, a story about Google for The New York Times) and in L.A., a profile for the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines, Southwest Spirit, of New York designer David Rockwell, who designed the highly theatrical interior of the Dolby Theatre (where the Oscars are awarded); the story never ran.

I visited Santa Barbara when I was still in university in Toronto — and was so impressed by its beauty. I went to stay with and get to know my late great-aunt, whose house faced both the ocean and a lemon grove. I have always wanted to return…It’s home to many celebrities, like Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan.

My goals this time?

No work!


I already have a dinner date at an L.A. classic, Musso & Frank — also featured in my favorite cop show, Bosch. I’m hoping to make a Bosch dive bar tour, but we’ll see. I admit, having binged all seven seasons of Bosch, and the first season of Bosch Legacy, a visit to L.A. started to feel more compelling — the show is filmed there, much of it on location.

Some birthday thoughts

By Caitlin Kelly

My birthday is June 6.

This year (gulp) is a landmark/milestone birthday, one many never reach.

Some thoughts from a few decades’ experience:

The house that got away! I chased it really hard (rural Nova Scotia, November 2021).

It was a bit of a debacle and cost several thousand dollars to determine it wasn’t a

wise choice. Oh well!

Take more chances

I know some of us are limited, for a while or a long time, by fear of losing a job, relationship, the comfort of the familiar, some bound tightly by bonds of duty to children and/or parents.

I’ve been lucky to enjoy a lot of independence, even within my 22-year marriage, so have been able to take on work that scared me at first with its new challenges (and met.)

At 25, weeping so hard I could barely stand up, I threw a bunch of stuff into a duffel bag, boarded a flight to Paris and began an 8-month journalism fellowship that required each of us (28 people from 19 nations, aged 25 to 35) to make four 10-day solo reporting trips across Europe. I was scared!

I knew it would forever change me, and it did, in every possible good way. I came back to Toronto brimming with new and hard-earned self-confidence, better reporting skills, a better sense of teamwork cross-culturally, fluent French, lifelong friendships and the respect of some people I admired greatly.

At 30, I left Canada for the U.S. , permanently.

SO SCARED!

I felt like a raindrop falling into an ocean. I left behind a solid career, deep friendships, my identity. Would I ever regain these?

Yes I did.

Taking chances means risk. Risk can mean disappointment and failure — but also amazing new possibilities.

Cherish your deep friendships

Oh my! My bestie Marion, maid of honor at my first wedding, 1992, met in freshman English
class at university. Still besties!

As an only child of not-very-loving parents and relatives, my friends have always really been my family — celebrating my triumphs, mourning my losses and tough times. They have stood by me through a marriage, divorce and remarriage, through unemployment, through relocation and breast cancer.

Their love and strength and constancy have been essential to my survival, literally.

I have not found this sort of devotion to friendship, certainly in adulthood, in New York and have found it lonely. If you have friends, anywhere, cherish them! Stay in touch!

Venice, July 2017

Travel as far and often as health and your means allow

I know — a very privileged point of view! I was fortunate to grow up in a family of means who really valued travel and exploration. My father and I drove from Toronto across Canada the summer I was 15, and he and I visited Mexico, Ireland and some southern U.S. states together. My mother inherited enough money she lived many places and flew me to Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia and Fiji. On my own, I’ve been to more than another 30 places, from Istanbul to Copenhagen, rural Texas to coastal Maine, Victoria, B.C. to Newfoundland. Not having children allowed me more freedom and income to do this, I realize.

Even the worst moments, (blessedly very few!), have been worth the going and seeing. I regret none of it: new friends, a deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures, the chance to use my French and Spanish skills.

Read/listen/watch widely and deeply

These days, more important than ever, especially in the U.S. where there are such deep divisions some fear a new Civil War soon.

Guard your time jealously — it’s precious and fleeting

Not a huge Steely Dan fan but this 1972 lyric of theirs is hitting me much harder these days:

Are you reeling in the years?

Stowing away the time?

There are so many moments in life when we’re impatient, waiting for something great we really want(ed), wishing that time would move faster.

The older I get (cliche alert!) the slower I want to move, the fewer people I want to have access to my time, attention and energy and the frightening fact that I have fewer years ahead of me than behind me.

As a full-time freelancer, I’m super selective now about who I work with and what amount of energy and time they will need from me, and at what pay rate.

Every time you feel guilty about taking time just for yourself — to sit still and think or write or pray or nap or hug someone you love — this is the time best spent.

Set and keep boundaries

Huge! Especially challenging for girls and women, socialized to be “nice” and “go along to get along”, often deeply suppressing our rage and grief behind yet another quick fake reassuring smile.

It’s taken me a long time to say “Nope!” to people and situations that are really not healthy for me, whether in work or relationships.

Therapy can help. Breaking old habits is difficult, but worth it.

Apologize sincerely and quickly

I’m not sure how anyone can manage to retain any long-term relationship without this.

It’s hard!

It demands self-awareness and humility.

What if the person is too angry at you to accept it?

Do it anyway.

Flee toxic people and places

Not easy…although The Great Resignation is making clear how badly so many people really wanted out of a job or workplace or team or corporate culture they loathed.

I’ve put up with some seriously toxic people and workplaces and it’s never good for your mental or physical health.

Keeping solid work skills and a network of peers to refer you to opportunities is crucial.

Having access to deep, nurturing friendships will also steel your spine in moments of doubt about fleeing.

Saving as much money as possible also allows us the chance to get out of a terrible situation, whether personal or professional.

I’ve fled both.

Before my first (short, miserable) marriage to a physician, I made sure I had a pre-nuptial agreement; it saved my home and the family money I inherited that gave us the down payment.

Having an attorney (luckily pro bono) allowed me some dignity when I was bullied and shunned at the New York Daily News for months.

Leave a legacy

It might be a garden or a child or a scholarship fund.

It might be a piece of work you’re known and admired for.

Think about what you leave behind.