Five Questions with Travel Writer Lilit Marcus

Travel writer is one of those dream jobs that anyone with a well-used passport has probably fantasized about at some point. This week I tap my talented friend Lilit Marcus to find out what it’s really like. Check out her recent adventures in Cuba and Iceland at the links and for real-time updates, follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

What is your favorite place you’ve visited and why?

It's always hard for me to choose a favorite. Paris is a cliché, but it's a much-deserved cliché. Every time I go, I find something I've never seen or done before, yet the city always feels comforting and familiar. It's an old friend and a new lover at the same time. The high school me who diagrammed sentences in French class still can't believe that I've been to Paris not just once but several times.

What are the biggest differences between travelling somewhere as a journalist and going there just as a tourist?

The biggest mistake is thinking that a reporting trip is the same thing as a vacation. Some people have this idea of a travel writer as somebody who's lying around on some fabulous beach at some fabulous resort somewhere, filing stories from a chaise longue. (First of all, there are not power outlets at the beach. I've looked.) My assignments have taken me to some really incredible places, but I often spend as much time cooped up in a room with my computer or running from meeting to meeting as I do sightseeing. The solitude factor is also big. If you're not comfortable spending a lot of time alone, the job will be tough for you. I really wish I could always bring a friend or partner with me when I'm on the road, but if the majority of travel I do on my own. My job involves a lot of meeting new people and trying to chat up the locals--it's always easier to do that solo, because it feels organic. The other day I was in a restaurant in Nashville by myself and was seated at the bar, in front of an open kitchen. By the end of the night, I'd met all the people sitting around me, one of the chefs, and one of the restaurant owners. I got a ton of great local intel from them. That is a lot harder to do when you're dining with a friend and don't want to abandon them or be rude. 

Where have you travelled that was completely different from your expectations?

 Before I went to Mexico City, several people--some of whom were from Mexico City--told me that I was going to hate it, that it was a terrible place for women to go alone, and that I wouldn't feel safe. As soon as I arrived, there were signs around my hotel warning about street crime and advising people not to walk alone at night or wear nice jewelry. But I loved the city almost immediately and had an incredible experience. The people are lovely, the food is great, and there's so much to see, do, and absorb that I could have stayed another week. I'm already plotting my next trip.

What destinations are still on your bucket list and why?

I have about a dozen places on my list at any given time--travel writing is basically a constant state of FOMO. But I'm trying to get to Malta next spring, and Romania is high on my list because my great-grandparents emigrated from there and I'd love to go see where our roots are. As soon as I cross one thing off the list, I add three more, and I still want to revisit most of the places I've already been to. It's a mess.

What is the craziest thing that’s happened to you while travelling? 

 My first language is American Sign Language, and whenever I run into Deaf people somewhere else in the world we always manage to find a way to communicate even if we don't have a common language. I've met Deaf people in the airport in Santiago, Chile, the national museum in Seoul, a bar in East London, a coffee shop in Jaffa. In Chile, I was able to talk to the group's interpreter in broken Spanish, and she translated into Chilean Sign Language. As soon as she explained to the group she was traveling with that I was a CODA--Child of Deaf Adults--people just started hugging me. We were all smiling and crying and taking photos together, even before we knew each other’s names. It must have looked so crazy to the other people in the terminal. Just a few decades ago, many Deaf people were institutionalized and didn't have the opportunity to leave their hometowns, let alone their countries. Their lives were contained, their movements restricted. The fact that so many of us have been able to meet and find each other is a gift. 


Lilit Marcus is a writer, reporter, and tea nerd who lives in Brooklyn, New York and tries to travel away from it as much as possible. Her first book, Save the Assistants: A Guide for Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace, was published by Hyperion. Her work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and more