Since experiencing different cultures is the lifeblood of why I travel, it was the thing I was most afraid of losing as I settled down again stateside. What would my days look like if they weren’t filled with the constant discoveries that traveling in an unfamiliar place yield? To hold onto this sense of wonder, I created a quest for myself, vowing that, even as I established new everyday routines in San Francisco, I would make time to explore the city’s many cultural districts—from Chinatown to Little Italy—with my sketchbook in tow.
I’m immediately taken with La Bisbal d’Empordà, a small town in the Costa Brava region of northeastern Spain. I soak up the colorful houses with wisteria-traced walls, lemon trees heavy with fruit, and centuries-old stone bridge. But then my eyes settle on what this Catalan town is famous for—sidewalks piled high with brightly painted terra cotta pottery.
This year, I was invited to be a sketch-artist-in-residence in Costa Brava—the rugged coastline that spans from Blanes, just north of Barcelona, up to Spain’s border with France. All told, I spent six weeks in the region, including a two-week stint in Girona. Nowhere else in my travels have I discovered so many layers of the past in a single place.
I love how my sketchbook slows me down, throws all of my senses wide open, and paves the way to spontaneous encounters with locals and fellow visitors alike. So, in the hopes of convincing more travelers to embrace the paintbrush and sketch pad as a way to be wholly present while they explore the world—and to record their unique experience of a new place—I’m offering my take on how to get started.
When I decided to visit Machu Picchu, I was so focused on getting to Peru that I kept delaying another important decision: Which route would I take to access the sacred site?
You’ve probably seen this before. It’s what everyone pictures when they think of Machu Picchu—the verdant network of stone terraces, temples, and open-walled houses; the soaring peaks of Huayna Picchu framing the dramatic scene. When I arrived at Peru’s “lost” Inca citadel in the clouds, I was expecting to round the path beneath the guardhouse, walk through…
In the course of researching where I wanted to go in Colombia, the place I looked forward to visiting most was the Guajira Peninsula, a vast, arid desert that juts out into the Caribbean Sea like a fisted forearm.
For travelers looking to immerse themselves in a destination’s traditions and ways of life, homestays are a perfect entry point. They are the very definition of local travel, getting visitors on the ground as soon as possible and plunging them into the deep end of a new place.
It is my first day in the tropical rain forests of northeast Colombia and, along with about a dozen other hikers, I am on the trail to La Ciudad Perdida, or the Lost City. The pre-Colombian city was built around 800 A.D., making it some 650 years older than its Inca Empire counterpart, Machu Picchu, in Peru.
Here on Salt Spring Island in western Canada, inside a 20-foot-wide canvas yurt—modeled after the round, portable dwellings of nomads in Mongolia and Central Asia—I feel closer to nature than ever. And yet the first thing I do upon waking is reach above me, retrieve my iPod Touch from the headboard, and refresh my Gmail inbox. In a matter of seconds, I find myself present everywhere but here.
The idea of documenting a trip through art isn’t a particularly new one. Aboard Captain Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific was oil painter William Hodges; artist Edward Wilson accompanied Robert Scott as he explored the Antarctic; even a 22-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier and her sister Lee completed sketches of their European tour in 1951. Three years ago, I decided to give this tradition a try. My first sketch was hastily drawn, with rows of capital Ls for windows and messy scribbles for trees, but I immediately noticed two effects the process had on me…