Travel News

How I travel: Jennifer Egan

The Pulitzer Prize winner on her gap year, medieval play-acting and discovering the importance of solitude.
Jennifer EganPieter M. Van Hattem

Just back from…

A short ski trip to Alta, about an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, Utah. I find that skiing clears my head and helps me to think and, perhaps more important, to stop thinking.

Next up…

We’re taking a long-planned family trip to the Arctic Circle: ice fishing, cross-country skiing, hunting for crabs, and hopefully seeing the northern lights.

I was born in Chicago and moved to San Francisco with my mother and stepfather when I was seven. My father stayed in Chicago, though, and I visited him every summer, so I feel as if I’m really from both places.

I took a gap year before university, worked in a café and finally bought a backpack, a ticket on Freddie Laker Airways and a Eurail pass, and flew to London. It was extraordinary to land there on my own at 18. I was isolated in ways that are hard to envision now, and while that isolation was painful at times, I’ll never forget the sheer raw newness of everything I heard and felt and saw.

I always like to connect to the history of a place. My husband and I had so many maps and guidebooks on our honeymoon in Turkey years ago that someone on our boat asked if we were archaeologists.

There’s almost nothing I won’t eat. And I adore walking, miles and miles if possible. I’m looking to lose myself, to forget my bearings and my real life and have adventures. It’s not all that different from what I hope for when I read and write.

My husband and I are fantastic travelling companions. We like to do all the same things – it’s almost uncanny. We’re big walkers, we love to ride bikes, we crave history and culture; neither of us has much tolerance for just lying on a beach. Being a theatre director, he likes to watch plays in other languages, which doesn’t work so well for me, but it’s a great opportunity to take a nap in the theatre! We’ve also had tremendous trips with our two sons. One summer we went to a medieval festival in Visby, Sweden, and by the end of a week the boys were sparring with wooden swords and I was wearing a small silver tiara.

I like to overpack so I have choices and clean clothes, but I also like to do carry-on. The result is a lot of sitting on small suitcases, which are then so heavy that I can’t get them into the overhead without help.

I would not be the person I am – possibly not a writer at all – if it weren’t for my travels. As a young person, I wandered all over the place on my own, including the former USSR: Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara. I feel grateful to have travelled at a time when the world was less connected. Solitude, even alienation, have catalysed most of my big discoveries.

Jennifer Egan’s latest book is Manhattan Beach (Hachette Australia, pbk, $32.99). She appears at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on 3, 5 and 6 May,

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