Past the international baggage claim, an unused security area in Houston’s George Bush International airport looked outrageously big — its gaping confines made larger by an impossibly tall ceiling that felt as though clouds could form inside.
I’d been through this airport many times, and now I wondered: had it always been so cavernous?
Without foot traffic to create its normal humming soundtrack, each step seemed to resonate as I walked through this bizarre expanse. The voices of a single employee and a single other traveler bounced off the lofty metal beams and echoed throughout the chamber.
As I walked in their direction, I didn’t bother to get closer than 50 feet away.
“Am I going out this way for connecting flights?” I asked in a normal speaking voice, yelling being completely unnecessary, as I pointed toward automatic doors. My instincts had been dumbed by the lack of the typical stream of moving bodies.
The airport worker answered in the affirmative, and as she did, the only other passenger in this yawning space breezed past me.
“We’re going to terminal C,” she said. “Let’s go.”
We were two commuting strangers, suddenly linked together as human explorers in a dystopian future not unlike scenes from movies about the end-of-the-world.
We make the effort with other people. Why shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?
I’ve been planning it for a week. There will be a blanket, a bottle of wine, cheese and charcuterie — the makings of a romantic picnic under the almond trees of my favorite park, and none of the typical distractions to keep me from spending quiet, quality time with the person I’ve become so loyal to over the years:
If you know anything about me, you know that food (and drink!) is a big part of my life. After growing up in my parent’s kitchen — entering cooking contests from the age of 9 — then coming of age in restaurants, then working as a food writer, I’ve always been very motivated by food.
For me, travel is no exception — in fact, food is one of the major inspirations in why I travel. I’m never happier than when wandering through a local market, discovering new produce and new prepared dishes. I believe that the raw origins of a place’s food culture is always evident in its markets; there’s no better venue to get a grasp of the climate and terrain, to understand what and how people eat, to see the various crude ingredients — animal parts, produce, fresh cheese, just-made tortillas — come together skillfully in entire meals at a vendor’s stand around the corner.
While traveling, I’ve also found food to be one of the greatest connectors, which is why cooking and eating will be such a big part of my docu-series project. When we make food for others, we are caring for them in the most primal and fundamental sense. To accept that gift is an intimate exchange; to respect someone’s food is to respect them. And oh the satisfaction of savoring a meal together; do so and you’ll be closer than you were when you sat down.
There is incredible wonder and joy in newness, of experiencing something you never have before. There is incredible comfort and fulfillment in familiarity, in being reminded of our commonality and shared experiences. In food, we have an opportunity to find both: newness and familiarity. We have the chance to feed ourselves physically and mentally, in two wildly different but equally nourishing ways.
With those sentiments in mind, I thought I would focus this latest mailbag on all things edible (and drinkable!). Judging from your responses, food is something you all are passionate about and interested in, too!
By the way, if you’ve missed them, you can find past mailbags about who I am and what I do, about the logistics of my travel and about all things health-and-wellness on the road through the above links.
I’ve spent a lot of time on planes and in airports in the last 15 years or so — from working in newspaper jobs covering first sports and then travel, to my own enthusiastic journeys, to this nomad lifestyle I’ve adopted now.
It occurs to me often that the Sky World, which commences once one enters a building designed to usher people into that universe, is totally different from Land World, and that in many cases, airport culture is almost entirely estranged from the culture of the city that built it. Accents suddenly disappear. Time slows to a halt. Shoe shining is back in vogue. It’s more unusual to *not* get a beer or bloody at 9 a.m. on a weekday than it is to drink three.
Necessarily, then, the rules and customs that govern these Sky World places are unique, too, even if most of them aren’t written or even widely spoken of in the streets (concourses). These rules aren’t arbitrary; they’re here to keep life vaguely decent and vaguely efficient in an experience that has become akin to organized torture.
Welcome to my monthly mailbag!
Here, I take your questions about a particular topic of my nomadic life and give you all the secrets about how I make this crazy existence work.
The theme this month? Health and wellness. Let’s be real, even when we’re stationery it can be hard to juggle all of our physical and mental needs along with work and social activities. Let me tell you, when you’re on the move, it can be even harder.
It took me a full year just to figure out how I could scrap together a daily routine in the midst of travel, even when my apartments, my cities and my work flow are constantly changing. (You can read more about that here.)
Before moving (temporarily) to El Salvador, there was one phrase I heard over and over, from strangers and friends alike:
El Salvador, after all, has a gritty, dangerous reputation, especially in the U.S. where you can hardly Google the country without breaking out in hives. Sample headlines describe it as “murder capital of the world,” and lament “life under gang rule.” The majority of U.S. media coverage of El Salvador centers on migration and thus focuses on the country as a place of poverty, crime and desperation.
Several people, this summer, actually urged me not to come — for my safety.
Now, after living here more than three months, I still hear that phrase from people back home all the time, despite trying to show so many wonderful aspects of the country.
Usually, I just shrug.
I know they mean well. But besides not especially caring for the remark, it almost just feels silly.
And that’s because, believe it or not, I feel safer here than I have …maybe anywhere.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that my name is Amelia, that I am a solo nomad and that I have been exploring Central America for more than a year.
What you might *not* know are some of the specifics — the behind-the-scenes details that make this whole thing go. I started a mailbag series precisely to answer those questions.
In my last mailbag, I touched on the basics: my background, what I do now, why I’m doing it and how I make money.
For this mailbag, I asked you to send questions about logistics: getting from a to b and functioning in every place, almost as soon as I hit the ground.
If you have a question for a future mailbag, you can leave it in the comments or reach out to me through my website email or on my social channels.
I twisted from behind to face the camera.
Sadly, my vision for this pose was lacking. Already, I had been instructed to move a leg, stretch an elbow, lift my chin.
I shoved my hands in my back pockets for effect, pushing my hips toward the shot and twisting my face and body into a position not even a yoga instructor would suggest. There were a couple loud pops. I wondered how many massages it would take me to reset — surely more than the $50 I was earning from this 4.5-hour session could redeem.
The photographer eyed me.
“Si,” he said. “Muy natural.”
Against all odds and likelihood, I was … a model.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that my name is Amelia, that I am a solo female traveler and that I have been exploring Central America for more than a year.
What you might not know is some of the specifics — how I began my journey, what exactly I do for work and how I make a living in this crazy life.
Recently, I asked you all to send me questions, and send you did!
In fact, I received so many queries that I plan to make this mailbag a series — upcoming mailbags will be focused more specifically around the logistics of my travel, how I address health and safety, and what I love about where I am now.
But for now, let’s begin with some of the basics: who I am and what I do.
Here are some of those questions I receive most often: