I recently stumbled across the word ‘vagabonding’ and it hit home. I discovered a perfect definition for it when I was reading The Hare with Amber Eyes. It describes vagabonding as appearing to be ‘recreational rather than diligent or professional’. An activity that gets ‘the pleasure of searching right, the way you lose your sense of time when you are researching, are pulled on by whims as much as intent’. This seems to encompass all that I do while travelling or determining my destination and researching for my adventures. Here are my essential elements of a journey:
Today, research comes in many shapes & forms. I am a great gatherer of information – put it down to my love of history. I read & flick through anything from in-flight, travel, fashion and interiors magazines to weekend newspapers & inserts, not hesitating to tear pages from any one of them. These ‘hard’ pages are filed away in a travel folder, but for my internet research I use Pinterest and a filing system on my desktop (that probably only makes sense to me) and keep check of what I’ve found. I follow like-minded blogs & Instagrammers and find a constant source of information from the '36 Hours’ column the Home & Garden section and T magazine in the New York Times. I savour & treasure the generous lists given to me by friends: their favourite haunts, cafes & restaurants, secret gardens, shopping spots, must-not-miss museums, ultimate views and towns & countries they love. These are all saved for future reference & to be shared amongst friends in Dropbox folders.
A certain kind of travel & accommodation is all-important when planning. For me, it can make or break an experience. I like great communal areas & places to converse, relax & not be put into a box; a great multi-functional lobby, bar, cafe restaurant, library etc. Stand-outs are the Ace Hotel lobby in NYC, the honesty bars in Kit Kemp's creations and the libraries in the Aman resorts. I have gained so many great tips from chatting to poeple in these areas, whether they are staying or working there, or flicking through the books, local magazines & newspapers. I write a lot while travelling and choose to do this in these communal areas. It's my time to collate the observations of the day, wind down, enjoy & ease into a space. A longer presence welcomes conversation (if you invite it).
I might choose hotels based on the architecture or history, a designer who inspires me, or the simplicity of a local place. You might find me staying in a yurt overlooking the Aral Sea, a resort in the rice fields, a yacht in the Mediterranean, a humble B&B in the highlands or a fabric tent in the desert. I am not always successful, but if uncomfortable, I have no hesitation in finding somewhere more in tune with what I desire. For the perfect places to stay, I reference websites Welcome Beyond, Petite Passport, Mr & Mrs Smith and Condé Nast Traveller as a first start.
Knowing what’s on
I like to have a things to do. It’s not a rigid itinerary to be kept to; it just gives me a loose guide that so often leads to other exciting things. I do not hesitate to contact places, people, shops, museums or libraries of interest to make an arrangement to call in or check on access, opening times or special request visits. My mum taught me this; before then, I had never thought that I was allowed in such places. If you are interested and passionate (it never hurts to use research as an excuse and always remember to give plenty of notice), most people from these cultural institutions and the like will grant you access.
For my interior styling work, I keep up to date & in contact with artists, furniture designers & other interesting people by visiting furniture & art fairs. These happen at certain times of the year in different countries and are always fun, full of energy & accompanied satellite shows, pop-up restaurants, shops & other goings-on around town. You might find me in Milan for Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Eindhoven for Dutch Design Week, New York for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, Paris for Maison et Objet or Ho Chi Minh City for the local furniture fair.
Being a reader and lover of books, I’ve timed a couple of visits to India to coincide with a side trip to the Jaipur Literature Festival – depending on who’s on the programme, it can also satisfy a lot of my other interests, and lead me towards new & unexpected ones. As a great market goer, I search for local, daily food, flea, seasonal & antique markets wherever I am. I have been known to book a trip just to get to one market: one of my favourites is the Foire Nationale a la Brocante et aux Jambons held outside Paris in march and September.
Even the packing part of the journey is part of the pleasure for me. My luggage plays a large part as it makes me feel like I’m going on an adventure. I own my own Filson leather-strapped canvas bag and a classic Billingham black and leather-trimmed camera bag. Each country I visit has its own outfit. I’m all about my own colour palette, which is caramel, cream & white tones – I call it campaign. In Italy, I usually don white linen shorts with a neutral silk sweater, ballet flats and a panama (actually, the panama goes everywhere with me!), but when I travelled to Syria, it was all about respecting the culture – drawstring pants with a caramel and white embroidered tunic and linen scarf. I am a real product of my environment, and feel unsettled when the aesthetic is not right or to my liking. To ensure this doesn’t ruin a trip, I travel with things of my own that can liven up any room. I have an oversized piece of shibori, which can be used on the bed as a sheet or pillowcase, covering for the hammam, or towel or sarong at the beach or hot springs. I also have a beautiful soft fringed cashmere throw that beats any blanket supplied in a hotel or aeroplane, and can double as a cosy shawl for cool desert nights. Refine your list of must-haves to ensure that you capture comfort and style in one fell swoop.
Arriving at your destination
For me, the excitement of a new place is of all the senses being challenged: to not know the language or the lay of the land, to be bombarded with new scents, climates and flavours. Don’t rule out the casual walk around a new town as a source of inspiration, as well as museums, restaurants, shops: experience it all and do as I do, and take lots of pictures. I am always attracted to the unusual and the curious, and hunt them out in various markets (see above) – preferably the sort with goods spilling out the back of vans), natural history museums, both small and large, artists’ ateliers, historic houses, and traders’ workshops etc. The appeal of old trades & crafts that still exist from textile dyers and embroiderers, shell arts, wood turners & mills, paper makers, smiths & tinkers, foundries, leather workers & tanneries, felters, basket weavers etc are always at the forefront of any of my exploring both across the globe and in my local environment.
In all my travels, I don’t go looking for existing interiors to re-create when I return home, but I want to draw from all aspects of my trips: a street sign, a garden grate, a leaf on a wet cobblestone, washing drying against a painted wall, a glimpse into a foreign kitchen, the mundane & the fancy. Translating these elements into your interior can be as simple as creating a new art wall, which you can add to and subtract from, with postcards, invitations, photocopies of designs you like or pages torn from magazines; growing new flowers in your window box, layering different textures on your bed, hanging a new piece of fabric over your window, or changing the colour of your floor or walls. It’s not about theming, but rather adding flavour from your recent globetrotting adventures.
Follow me next week, for the first installment of my jaunt through Scotland – the experiences, the colour and the way I translated these elements into my interiors. First stop – Edinburgh (you won't need your passport).