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Q+A: The Globetrotter Diaries' Michael Clinton

Globetrotter Diaries

Most 12-year-olds save their money to buy video games or remote-control helicopters. But Michael Clinton wasn't most 12-year-olds. His piggy bank funded a month-long visit to see family in Ireland—and so began his love affair with travel. Today, the president, marketing, and publishing director of Hearst Magazines has visited more than 120 countries. He's climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, camped in the mountains of Bhutan, and has plans to run a marathon on every continent (he has Africa, Asia, and Antarctica to go).

Clinton shares these experiences—and many others—in his new collection of essays, The Globetrotter Diaries (Gliteratti Inc.; $30). We asked the fanatical adventurer about what drives his desire to travel, where he's going next, and more.

Q: Travel + Leisure's editor Nancy Novogrod considers you one of the world's greatest travelers. What makes you so passionate about crisscrossing the globe?

A: Why is someone passionate about food? Or about art? Or about collecting art? When we are lucky enough to find something that fulfills us, brings us joy, or keeps us wanting more, then we need to pursue it. It is core to our individuality. Travel does that for me. What better way to discover more of yourself, by experiencing the world, its wonders and its people?

Q: What city has changed the most since you first visited?

A: Shanghai. I first went in the late 1980's, when there was nothing along the Bund and Pudong didn't exist. Today it's one of the most dazzling areas in the world. It's spectacular what has happened in terms of the river walk, the architecture, the food, the buildings.

Q: I like your approach to "if you like it, buy it"? What are a few of your most prized souvenirs?

A: We bought restored Thanka boxes from a Tibet refugee camp in Nepal. Buddhists use them to roll up prayer scrolls, but oftentimes in the West they're used as cabinets. And in Paris about 20 years ago, I picked up a colorful abstract painting at the Agnes B. Galerie, and it still hangs in my bedroom. Every time I look at it, I remember that moment. I have no idea who the artist is, but I love it.

Q: What destinations should be on our radar?

A: One of those places is somewhere I'm going to this year: Mongolia. I think it's really opening up, and there are new experiences to have there. Nicaragua is the emerging Latin American country. It's safe, and affordable—and like Costa Rica 20 years ago. There's a lot being written about Myanmar; I went a few years ago, and it's opening up big time. I would probably put Montenegro on the list. I think it's one of those great jewels that more and more people are discovering.

Q: Where are you going next?

A: We're running a marathon in Tanzania in March, and another in Mongolia in August. In Mongolia, we'll be in the north of Ulan Bator, so it's going to be more rugged. We're going to be hiking and horseback riding up in the northern plains, and staying in yurts.

Q: You always say "we" when you talk about your experiences. Tell me about your travel group.

A: It grew out of organic friendships, and then it became a thing. We've done this for 20 years, and at any given point there may be seven or eight people from a pool of 18. We try to plan a year in advance, between work, family, and kids. You have to be a seasoned traveler, and you have to go with the flow. Life happens when you're traveling. We're a no fuss, no muss group.

Q: Now for the rapid-fire question round. Favorite hotels?

A: I love the Oberoi hotels. The first time I stayed at one in India, I couldn't believe what I was experiencing. It's spectacularly designed and comfortable, and has such great service. It's really an oasis in a country that has lots going on that can bombard your senses.

Q: Top restaurants?

A: In Mendoza, Argentina, my favorite is Francis Mallmann's restaurant 1884. He's one of the great chefs in Argentina. It's got indoor-outdoor seating, and very cavernous rooms. I also love a little restaurant in Florence called Coco Lezzone, which has very authentic and local Italian food.

Q: Craziest thing you've ever eaten (or not eaten)?

A: When I was in Japan and got a plate of chicken beaks and feet, I sort of paused for a moment. I took a pass and ate other parts of the chicken instead. Once, a local family in the mountains of Morocco wanted us to drink milk that literally just came from the goat. You have to know when to be polite and say, "No, thank you." And I once ate some street vendor food in La Paz, and I was in another state of delirium for 24 hours, so I learned my lesson.

Q: Five favorite countries, and why?

A: Italy: I've been there over 60 times for business and pleasure. To me, it's perfection all in one place. Fantastic food, culture, history, great people, topography. So many parts of the country are so different, which makes for a rich experience. I always tell people going to Europe for the first time to go to Italy.

Argentina: It's the wide-open spaces, and it is, in many ways, like the American West was once upon a time. It's great for hiking, horseback riding, wine tasting. Mendoza is like Napa 20 years ago. Patagonia is like the Rockies, only more spectacular. Buenos Aires is a lovely cosmopolitan city.

South Africa: I love the attitude of the people, the optimism and the sense of future. Cape Town is one of most beautiful cities in the world, plus the game parks and a fantastic wine region. It's a country that's moving into a dynamic future.

Antarctica: When I first visited, people were like, "You're just going to go see ice. What are you going to do with yourself?" It's a symphony of ice formations. Every day you're seeing something different. We went kayaking, we slept out in the open air on the ice, we went through penguin rookeries, we went ice sledding down glaciers. There are a lot of fun things to do. And you get great lectures on the boat.

Thailand: Bangkok is a big, bustling, noisy chaotic city. Great food, great people, great sites. And it's a perfect jumping off point to many other places in Asia; you're a couple of hours from Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

Brooke Porter
Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.

 

Photo from The Globetrotter Diaries by Michael Clinton, copyright © 2013, published by Glitterati Incorporated.

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