I recently hit the halfway point of my year-long trip to visit all 52 Places on the Travel desk’s list for 2019. (You can browse the full list here: 59 Places to Go in 2019.)

I’ve witnessed a solar eclipse in Chile, gone solo hiking in Slovakia and watched 200 horseback riders compete to pick up a stuffed goat carcass in Uzbekistan — among countless other things.

So far I’ve been to …

  • Puerto Rico
  • Panama
  • Houston
  • Ontario Ice Caves
  • Las Vegas
  • Wyoming
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Huntsville, Ala.
  • Williamsburg, Va.
  • New York City
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Uzbekistan
  • Batumi, Georgia
  • Eilat, Israel
  • Plovdiv, Bulgaria
  • Tatra Mountains, Slovakia
  • Denmark
  • Vestlandet, Norway
  • Frisian Islands, Netherlands
  • Aberdeen, Scotland
  • Salvador, Brazil
  • Costalegre, Mexico
  • The Elqui Valley, Chile
  • Falkland Islands
  • Vevey, Switzerland
  • Zadar (and nearby islands), Croatia
  • Golfo Paradiso, Italy
  • Puglia, Italy
  • Cádiz, Spain

Hit me up with your best questions, and follow along for the rest of my trip:

Instagram: @sebmodak

Twitter: @sebmodak

Proof: https://i.redd.it/4fnjyb6qwgh31.jpg

EDIT, 1:28 pm: Thanks for all your great questions. I wish I could stick around to answer them all, but I’m in the Azores and there are barnacles that need to be eaten. Logging off, but I’ll try to check back in later and respond to more if I can. — Sebastian

Comments: 94 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

Bread_taste_good18 karma

What has been your favorite experience so far?

thenewyorktimes17 karma

I’m glad you asked for a favorite experience and not a favorite place (which is also a question I get a lot). I mostly refuse to answer the latter, because in my opinion a week in a place really isn’t enough to have an opinion that’s well-formed enough to start ranking. BUT ... experiences? That I can answer.

There have been so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences on the first half of this trip. Like, at least once every couple of weeks I’ve had to pinch myself and ask, “Did that really happen?”

So there are many answers to your question. But one that pops into the front of my mind, right off the bat, was in Uzbekistan. I put my trust in a stranger (and now a very good friend), and ended up in a village about an hour outside of Samarkand — the only foreigner in a crowd of thousands. They were there to watch a game of kopkari, where about 200 dudes on horseback fight over the stuffed carcass of a goat. Not only did I feel insanely privileged to witness this tradition, but the kindness I saw in the people there who wanted to share it with me really blew me away. I can still taste the dust.

cracksilog13 karma

How do you deal with the “stress” of traveling? As in packing, boarding, going through security, making a schedule, waiting in line, etc.?

thenewyorktimes11 karma

It’s amazing how quickly things become normal. And perpetual travel is my new normal. I barely think about the logistics of travel anymore. It’s like my brain is on autopilot (lol) the second I enter an airport.

Of course, I have to take the controls when things go wrong and, despite travel being my life now, it is still stressful. Even in those circumstances though, I’ve learned that instead of feeling resigned by the powerlessness, it’s better to do what you can and then ride out the rest.

That is, for example, how I ended up in Mexico instead of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas. Long story ...

musicheaven9010 karma

Your column is fantastic - thanks for letting us all vicariously travel the world too! I was wondering, what have you done for insurance while traveling? And have you used an international simcard for your phone/is there one you'd recommend?

thenewyorktimes7 karma

Thank you so much! It’s so nice to hear from people who are following along.

Thankfully, I have pretty comprehensive international health insurance from The Times. (They know a thing or two about it, considering they’ve got staff all over the world.) In terms of other kinds of insurance, it depends. For rental cars for example, I use my credit card that covers any damage. I don’t always get travel insurance when booking flights, but honestly I probably should. (It would have come in handy a couple of times.)

I’m traveling with two phones, each with their own international plan (AT&T and Verizon). It’s a fixed sum for international roaming, and I’ve found that when one doesn’t work, the other usually does. Obviously that would be tough to afford if I wasn’t traveling for work. In that case, I’d recommend making sure you have an unlocked phone (or a dual-SIM phone) and buying a local SIM card when you arrive somewhere. You’ll find it’s super easy in most countries — i.e., you don’t have to sign over your firstborn child like you do in the United States.

Fisk759 karma

Any plans on going to Cawker City, Kansas? They have the worlds largest ball of twine there. 4.5 stars on google.

thenewyorktimes9 karma

Count me in! Maybe if they get the world’s largest cat to play with it, it’ll push it to 5 stars.

(In all seriousness, I’m basically down to go anywhere and see everything. It’s an asset for this job.)

imaducksothere7 karma

First of all, I love following your Instagram stories and then reading your articles. I hope the Azores is great! It looks magical! Second, can you talk about how you and The NY Times have sought to reduce your carbon footprint while traveling? And any tips you have for the average traveler trying to reduce her carbon footprint?

Thanks so much!

thenewyorktimes5 karma

Thank you! And yes — the Azores have been wonderful.

I was excited when The Times announced that we would be buying carbon offsets for all my flights (there are a lot of them). Carbon offsets aren’t a panacea for climate change, but it’s something, at least. I am fully aware that my year of travel has a Sasquatch-level carbon footprint.

I will always defend travel writing as a vocation, though. I hope that, through my travel, I’m sharing some of the beauty of this planet that is at risk because of our actions. I hope that occasionally, like when I went to the ice caves of Ontario, I can highlight specific places that could one day be no more.

All that being said, I do what I can to minimize the impact of all this travel. That means no bottled water when I’m somewhere where I can drink the water. I travel with reusable cutlery and a couple of reusable grocery bags. I take public transportation as much as possible.

None of it is enough — I’m not sure there ever will be enough, considering the footprint of travel in the first place.

But I don’t think the answer is staying at home. Seeing the world up close is how you appreciate what we could lose.

eightiesguy7 karma

Love the column! How do you think this experience will shape your future travel plans and how you think about trips once the 52 Places assignment is over?

thenewyorktimes7 karma

I think it’s changed me in a lot of ways. Somewhat paradoxically, traveling at this frenetic pace has actually made me a more chilled-out traveler. I’m less concerned with ticking off the sights than I am letting a place really soak in. So if that means posting up at a bar or going for a walk instead of waiting in line for two hours, so be it.

It’s also confirmed for me that there’s something beautiful about every place in the world. (Obviously, I haven’t been everywhere, but 26 in 26 weeks is a pretty good sample size). And it means I’ve completely scrapped the idea of having a “bucket list.”

In terms of future travel, there are definitely some places I’ll go back to, and new friends I’ll reconnect with. But really, I’m game for anywhere.

tilly1111117 karma

2 questions: Which of the locations you’ve been to would you recommend for novice travelers? Separately, I know in Croatia you spoke a lot about overtourism, would love to hear your thoughts on overtourism in general and any tips for travelers to avoid overtouristed (?) places.

thenewyorktimes8 karma

I’d say start with where you’re from. That way you don’t have to deal with language barriers or cultural mores you might not be as familiar with. I’m American and I loved my stops in Hunstville, Houston, Williamsburg and Columbus — all places I had never been to.

Branching out from there, I’d say start with places that have good tourism infrastructure. (Western Europe is a pretty safe bet.) But — and this is important — don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Travel is all about trying something new, and if you ONLY stick to what’s somewhat familiar, in my opinion you’re missing the point of getting off your couch in the first place.

Regarding overtourism: It is a real problem. I found myself in Europe smack in the middle of summer, and some of the crowds have been insane. But there are ways to get around it. Visit some of the most popular spots in the off-season; you’ll be surprised how much fun you’ll have and how much easier it will be to meet locals and get the feeling of a place. Also, maybe go to the popular spot (like I did in Zadar) but then ask around for tips on less trodden ground.

Chances are, just a quick jaunt away is somewhere that most of the tourists miss and that is just as spectacular as where the fleets of tour buses are heading.

Tybalt427 karma

You wrote on an article earlier this year that a highly anticipated stop in Iran was in jeopardy due to the increasing rifts in American-Iranian relations. Has that changed at all? What would it take to make that trip possible?

Also, what are one or two items in your bag that you couldn't live without on the road?

thenewyorktimes8 karma

Unfortunately it hasn’t changed — and, as of now, I won’t be making it there. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that tensions between the U.S. and Iran haven’t thawed since we decided to skip it when I was in the region back in March. While American tourists can still go to Iran (and I’d say they should still seriously consider it) on group tours, my position as a journalist makes it super complicated. The likelihood of Iran giving me a journalist visa is next to nil. And then there are safety concerns for once I’m on the ground as a journalist. It really does break my heart — it was one of the places I was most excited about seeing and I still get regular communication from Iranians inviting me to their country and offering to show me around. It really reinforces that people are people, despite what our leaders say and do.

Regarding your second question, I’m a broken record here, but merino wool is a miracle fiber when it comes to travel. It keeps you warm in the cold, and cool in the heat and you can wear it for like 3 days in a row without clearing a room when you walk into it. I don’t get it, either — it might be magic. So I’d say that and my two portable chargers. I wish I could be more disconnected while traveling, but it’s part of the job, and having two chargers on me means the likelihood that I’ve charged at least one of them at any point is high.

TimS10436 karma

I traveled solo once for two months and while I loved the experience and would do it again... I did get painfully lonely at times. Especially in places where I couldn't speak the language well.

Do you experience that, and if so how do you deal with it?

thenewyorktimes15 karma

Yes, I get lonely. And more than once it’s been an intense loneliness — the kind that just feels like a spiral that’s hard to get out of. You sort of see yourself walking aimlessly around an unfamiliar place, unable to understand the voices around you. It’s hard.

But I’ve come out the other side of each one of those moments a better person for it. Feeling emotions like that is just as important to me as being elated, surprised and in awe (those other travel emotions). It makes the moments when you’re not lonely — surrounded by new friends you would never have known if you didn’t travel — that much more amazing.

zafeian3 karma

What new tourist\travel trends have you noticed during your travel? For example, any new hotel/accommodation trends in cities?

thenewyorktimes6 karma

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but I think people are more and more interested in experiences and less interested in holing up in a fancy hotel and ticking off a few “must-sees.” You see that with the rise of free walking tours in cities around the world and experiences that take you into a culture (vs. just signing up for the hop-on, hop-off buses — which, no shade, are pretty great too). I’ll always go for the one-room, family-run Bed and Breakfast over the chain hotel or all-inclusive resort. And I think more and more people are moving in that direction, too. I’m into it.

borncatholic2 karma

Jet lag. How do you even maintain focus? Aren’t you crazy exhausted? What methods have you found help with jet lag?

thenewyorktimes4 karma

Apart from a few crazy (but necessary) global criss-crossings, my route has me traveling the world region by region, so I get to stay in the same time zone (or thereabouts) for a couple weeks at a time. But it is exhausting — and yes, I am very, very tired. I don’t fully understand how I’m still going; I think adrenaline kicks in each time I arrive in a new place. I’m going to sleep for a month straight in 2020.

In general though, the advice you get from the pros is correct: Try and get into your destination’s time zone when you’re on the flight over. Force yourself to stay awake until at least 9 p.m. on your first couple of days in a place. Be as active as possible when you arrive. Drink plenty of water.

But here’s where I don’t follow the rules: wine to knock me out on the flight over, and coffee to keep me awake once I arrive.

MayaJuno2 karma

You mentioned hurting your back on the trip, taking some rest, and starting a stretching and yoga program to keep your travels comfortable. Can you share that routine sometime for other frequent travelers?

thenewyorktimes3 karma

I’m still figuring out the “rest” part of it. But I do try (and sometimes fail) to give myself at least one “day off” in each place. That doesn’t (always) mean sitting around and watching TV in my hotel room all day. Oftentimes what it means is just going about a day in a fun place without thinking about reporting or taking photos or social media. It gives my brain the chance to refresh.

My stretching routine is nothing crazy. I do a couple of cycles of the sun salutation yoga poses when I remember to do it — not every day, but at least a couple of times a week. I rev it up when I start feeling my body turning on me.

I also eat Vitamin C like it’s candy.

Debal122 karma

What has been your greatest learning from this so far? Has your experience changed your perception of people or places in any shape or form?

thenewyorktimes4 karma

The most important thing I’ve learned is that people are, by and large, good. That more often than not, if you’re lost, confused, in trouble, or lonely there’s someone somewhere who wants to help. I owe so much to the kindness of strangers.

That, and that sometimes you really just have to go with the flow. When traveling, things are going to go wrong occasionally. Instead of drowning in a pit of stress and anger (something I have done in the past a fair number of times), sometimes it’s okay to just throw your hands up and accept that there are forces beyond your control. Wait it out. Ask for help. Find the silver lining, which often is that you’ve been lucky enough to be able to get on a plane and see something new in the first place. Travel is about serendipity, and that applies to the good or the bad. Roll with it.

amarubud2 karma

Best tap water you've had so far? And tap water or bottled?

thenewyorktimes8 karma

Bottled water ONLY when I don’t have a choice because of sanitation issues. If you’re in a place where the tap water’s drinkable, bottled water is the biggest scam since hotel laundry.

I travel with a reusable water bottle — and I hope others do, too. The amount of beautiful beaches I’ve seen just completely covered with unnecessary plastic is heartbreaking.

Best tap water? New York City, duh!

Whowhatwhenwherecow1 karma

When does your trip end?

thenewyorktimes1 karma

If all goes according to plan, which — spoiler alert — it probably won’t, I’ll be wrapping up in Calgary, Alberta, on December 22. First stop: the winter jacket store ...

Gummy_Joe1 karma

Heya Seb, it's been a long time since JIS...Shattered Reflection forever

You grew up living all over the world. As a TCK, how do you think that upbringing prepared you, for better or for worse, for this sort of breakneck cultural intake you've been engaging in?

thenewyorktimes3 karma

Ha! Never forget!

I think it’s helped in a lot of ways. Growing up between worlds has made it a lot easier for me to adapt to new cultures (even if it’s made it very difficult, as you know, to put down roots). This is that, but at rocket speed.

When you’ve grown up around languages that aren’t your own and with an emphasis on cultural respect, it can really help when you’re in a new place, even if it’s only for a couple of days. The ultimate icebreaker is: “Hey, I don’t know anything about this place — can you tell me about it?” And for people like me, who grew up moving constantly and not ever really being “at home” or “familiar” with anywhere, that’s a question we’re really used to asking.

eightiesguy1 karma

Where are you right now?

thenewyorktimes3 karma

I’m on the island of São Miguel, in the Azores. It’s cloudy, there’s a nice breeze and I’m sipping on some green tea, grown just a few miles away.

annie4747471 karma

Any places that didn’t make the list that you wish you were going to visit this year?

thenewyorktimes3 karma

Personally, I wish that there were more places in sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve spent a cumulative year and a half living in Botswana, and traveling around that continent really blew my mind wide open. I’ve been itching to see more of it ever since. Still, very excited to get to Senegal and The Gambia in a couple of months!

mechteach1 karma

When the NYT publishes its 52 places list, it naturally brings more tourists to many previously less 'discovered' places. Similarly, when you visit those locations and write your weekly pieces, even more folks ultimately roll into town. (I guess an exception to this might be something like the Fête des Vignerons, which only happens every 20 years.) How do you incorporate that knowledge into a review of a location, restaurant, etc.? (I saw that a bit in your Croatia piece, but it is true everywhere.)

thenewyorktimes3 karma

It’s tough — and something I really do grapple with. I love the idea of someone reading my article on being in the Falklands/Malvinas in winter and deciding to book a trip there for then, despite it not being the “peak season.” I don’t like the idea of everyone descending on a small place, like Santa Catalina, Panama, at once and overwhelming it to the point that it changes it for the worst.

There are a couple of ways that I make sure I don’t lose sleep over this, though. One is — like I did in the Zadar piece — emphasizing the things you can do in the area that are away from the crowds, in the hope that it “spreads the wealth,” so to speak.

It’s also about really being detailed about what’s attractive about a place. Santa Catalina is a little surfer’s paradise where there are no luxury hotels, no fancy restaurants and nothing to do but surf, scuba dive and sit around talking to strangers while drinking rapidly warming beer. That’s not for everyone; it attracts a certain kind of traveler.

Lastly, it’s about being a responsible traveler. If you are going to a place that’s crowded, how can you make sure you’re being a positive addition? Maybe don’t sequester yourself in a jam-packed resort and eat every meal there during your stay. Maybe take a risk, pick a spot on Google Maps that’s close by and make a day trip to see what happens. Make an effort to meet a local. I hope through my columns that I’m encouraging people to travel like that, and thus minimize the potential damage we’re doing as tourists when thousands of us are in the same place at once.

Sammie2011 karma

What kind of camera have you been using on your travels?

thenewyorktimes2 karma

I’m traveling with a Sony a9, with two lenses (a 24-70 and a fixed 55). Along with that, I’ve got a GoPro Hero 7 and two phones (one iPhone, one Android).

k4si41 karma

What are some of the least cool aspects of the job -- Like, do you have to keep spreadsheets? Buy outlet converters repeatedly to replace lost ones?

thenewyorktimes4 karma

To be honest, sometimes I look forward to the less cool parts of the job. Like, submitting expenses is the worst — but it does give me the opportunity to catch up on podcasts. Going shopping to replace lost or depleted items isn’t exactly fun — but it does give some structure to my generally amorphous days. So, sometimes, mundane is good!

But yeah, spending hours combing through receipts is objectively the least cool part of the job.

That, and dealing with wet sneakers.

Whowhatwhenwherecow1 karma

How many new vaccines did you have to get to go on this adventure?

thenewyorktimes1 karma

Not that many! Maybe like … 2? I’ve been traveling a lot for years, so I was mostly covered already.

BenderRodriguezz1 karma

Hi seb! I’ve been following your journey on Instagram and always love watching your stories when you are exploring a new location.

What was your career path like that led you to this point? Have you always been a writer? And would you say being the 52 places traveller was a goal of yours that you sought after, or did it sort of fall into your lap?

thenewyorktimes2 karma

Thank you for following along!

I’ve always been a writer, but not always professionally. I’ve also always been a traveler.

Career-wise, I bounced around a bit, but there was always a focus on storytelling and the world around me. I spent a couple of years doing academic writing at MIT, moved to Botswana to do a multimedia project about hip-hop music, then on to MTV as a producer for a series on music and protest around the world. I freelanced for a bit, and then wound up at Condé Nast Traveler, where I was an editor and then a staff writer. After that, came this!

When I saw the job posting for the first year — last year, 2018 — I applied basically immediately. I was a finalist last year and decided to give it another shot this year.

If at first you don’t succeed ...

GeeZeR_FroG1 karma

Hi Sebastian, I'd like to ask you what I ask every AMA.

What is your favorite flavor of milk shake?

thenewyorktimes3 karma

Used to be chocolate. But I’ve found myself gravitating towards strawberry recently.