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Featured Traveler: AFAR Ambassador Jenna Francisco

AFAR Ambassador Jenna Francisco is a traveling one-woman powerhouse. The professor, freelance writer and mom of two covers art, culture, and food as they relate to travel in her blog, This Is My Happiness. Her pieces go beyond surface-level stuff; Jenna has a knack for finding places truly off-the-radar, whether she’s in Sacramento or Italy (and her wine country Highlights are to-die-for). It’s fitting that her 2013 focus is on quality travel, which she defines as “travel that looks beyond the regular to-do list and instead seeks out unusual, out-of-the-way sights and experiences.” If her recent Highlights are any indication, she’s off to a great start.

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See all of Jenna’s Wanderlists.

Right now I’m in Sacramento, California, my hometown.

Though I would much prefer to be in Italy visiting the country’s lesser-known historic sights.

Occupation: Professor and freelance writer.

My next trip is to Alexander Valley, California.

My last trip took me to Napa, California.

My collection of ceramics from different countries is my most treasured travel souvenir.

Favorite hotel: I don’t really have one, but the Sheraton in Yogyakarta, Indonesia is the most impressive one I’ve stayed in, especially because of our view of the volcano and surrounding jungle.

Favorite restaurant: La Cucina del Garga in Florence and Grace’s Table in Napa.

Favorite shopping destination: Florence because of its tradition of artisan work.

If you’re in Northern California in January-March, don’t miss seeing the mustard plants that cover the vineyards in yellow in the wine country.

Asking questions is the best way to connect with locals.

Three travel apps you can’t live without: AFAR for finding insider tips, Camera+ for editing iPhone photos, and an app with basic phrases of the local language.

Where do you always take out-of-town friends? The out-of-the-way wine country just outside Sacramento.

Favorite travel book: The Lost City of Z, a gripping chronicle of an adventure into the heart of the Brazilian Amazon in search of the ancient City of Z.

Fly solo or travel with family/friends/tour group? I have two small kids, so my favorite way to travel now is as a family, but I still enjoy taking solo trips now and then.

Best memory of a trip with kids—either from your own childhood or with your own kids: I have great memories of both, but our annual trips to Brazil create great memories of slow days with family. My kids get really into the details of daily life in Brazil.

Most out-of-character travel experience? Something that you would never have done at home: Scuba diving just off Bali. I had almost no training and therefore didn’t feel comfortable. Although the diving was amazing, I wouldn’t do it again.

Biggest travel mistake? Worrying about money and therefore missing out on travel experiences.

Favorite foreign word or phrase: Saudade, a Portuguese word that loosely translates to a yearning for something or someone. Brazilians use this word a lot, reflecting their love of people and country and their flair for drama.

Favorite foreign tradition: I used to live in the Czech Republic, and I love the wine culture in Moravia, especially the tradition of spending long evenings in a wine cellar with local musicians playing regional music.

Travel has taught me that every place is special in its own way and that people are the best part of traveling.