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Featured Traveler: Art and Design Writer Carren Jao

Some of us discover our love for travel later in life, while others come by it naturally, inheriting it like a penchant for dessert or a killer vertical jump. Freelance art, architecture and design writer Carren Jao (her work has appeared in Dwell, Fast Company and Wallpaper*, among others) belongs to the second category, attributing her wandering ways to her parents and her artistic appreciations to her sisters, who whisked her off to museums given the slightest opportunity. Born in Manila, Jao got her first passport at age six and fondly recalls her father’s love for road trips in minivans. Always instructed to admire the view, Jao admits she’s finally following Dad’s advice. After all, she’s made it her full time job.

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See all of Carren’s Highlights.

Right now I’m in Los Angeles, California.

Though I would much prefer to be in India during Holi.

Occupation: Writer.

My next trip is to Mexico.

Favorite hotel: Marina Beach Motel right by the Santa Barbara harbor. I love its proximity to the shore, but also its discrete distance from the city proper. It also recently refurbished some its rooms, which now have a wonderful overhead shower that makes you feel like you’re soaking in the rain.

Favorite restaurant: Little Sheep Mongolian Hotpot in San Gabriel, California. A hotpot sits in the middle of a large round table. While waiting for your soup to cook, friends have the luxury of time to chat and catch up.

Favorite shopping destination: The pop-up markets in Greenhills, Metro Manila.

Favorite local style/most stylish place:  San Francisco, laid back but chic.

If you’re in Manila sixteen days or less before Christmas, don’t miss sneaking into a dawn mass and sampling some bibingka or puto bumbong from street vendors while enjoying the cool breeze and the twinkle of a multitude of twinkling Christmas lights. You would have to wake up at an ungodly hour of 4 a.m. to get the full effect though, so it’s an experience you will definitely have to earn.

Walking down intriguing streets is the best way/place to connect with locals.

Favorite airport and why? The Taiwan Taoyuan aiport offers endless hours of entertainment. You can find art exhibitions, free internet, and, best of all, a Hello Kitty-themed terminal. I spent a 12-hour layover there without too much boredom.

Favorite travel book:  Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel.

Best memory of a trip with kids—either from your own childhood or with your own kids: On a road trip, my family and I were all crammed into a small mini-van. As we stopped for dinner somewhere around Oregon, my sister found the most wonderful statue of sleeping dragon artfully done in ceramic. It was designed to teeter at the edge of a shelf, much like what I imagined a real dragon would actually do on a cliff overhang. We purchased the statue and it still hangs today in my childhood room. 

Most out-of-character travel experience? On a whirlwind trip to New York City, we stayed out all night until 4 a.m. so my husband and I could spend time with friends who were only in town for the weekend. We walked everywhere around the city, taking full advantage of happy hours and late night comfort food. We flew home the next day, having only been in the city for pretty much 24 hours.

Biggest travel mistake? Not traveling more.

Favorite foreign word or phrase: Hygge, a Danish word for the comfort and love you feel in the company of friends while enjoying good food.

Favorite foreign tradition: Setting off fireworks to ward off evil spirits.

Travel has taught me that life can be lived in so many ways and a smile is enough to bridge so much of our differences.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Pineda