Nancy Novogrod: The Exit Interview
Before we let longtime Travel + Leisure editor in chief Nancy Novogrod walk out the door to pursue new opportunities (including writing a book), we had a few questions for her. As you can imagine, after 21 years traversing the globe on behalf of the magazine, Nancy has some opinions about travel—how it has evolved, where it’s going, and what experiences and destinations rise to the top. Here, the Nancy Novogrod Exit Interview.
Q: What was your most transformative travel experience at Travel + Leisure?
A: A hard question—there have been so many. First and foremost, though, I would say that my travel in India has provided the most inspiring, and almost out-of-body experiences. Avoiding cliches is difficult here, but in terms of the intensity of the experiences, the colors, the flavors, the people, the sheer exoticness, I don’t think any other destination I’ve visited approaches India. I also love the shopping (as one might expect), and spectacular massages.
Q: Is there a destination that you have returned to for inspiration over the years?
A: It’s more an activity than a destination. Perhaps in part because I'm an urbanite by birth and inclination, my true escapes often involve the outdoors, and most often hiking. I’ve done this in countless places, from Bhutan to the Atacama Desert in Chile, to the Dolomites in Italy and the Basque Country in Spain. The opportunity to be in a spectacular natural setting, removed from my daily life, has always lent me perspective.
Q: What was your greatest travel fiasco? What did you learn from it?
A: I think I’ve traveled under a lucky star. The fiascos I can recall—heading to JFK rather than Newark for a flight to Europe, arriving overseas with an expired passport (pre-9/11), trying to check into the wrong hotel—were all ultimately averted, one way or the other. In the case of the expired passport, this was thanks to an inattentive official in Immigration, long before the days of the EU.
Q: What innovation has impacted travel most profoundly over the past two decades?
A: Without the digital revolution and the reliance on the Internet for travel research and bookings almost none of the other innovations—from Trip Advisor to Airbnb—would exist. Now mobile is making this all much more accessible, anytime and any place. And I’m not sure how I got by without Google Maps.
Q: What's the most regrettable travel development you've witnessed during your time at the magazine?
A: The most regrettable travel development, if you can put aside the unimaginable events that are affecting so many regions of the world, is what I call “global blending”—that is, the loss of the distinct flavors and unique qualities that enable you to tell one place from another. The shops are the same, people on the street look the same, the range of culinary offerings are often the same, and most everyone speaks English. This may make navigation easier, but it’s taken away the mystery, and the ability to look at a photograph or call up a memory and assign it to a place.
Q: What are your biggest hotel and airline pet peeves?
A: My biggest hotel pet peeve is bad lighting and bad placement of electrical outlets. Why should anyone have to get down on hands and knees to hunt for somewhere to plug in an iPhone charger? It should be easily accessible and within reach of the bed—so that you can turn off the alarm or check messages or listen to music or whatever you do with your device. Also, I hate how dirty airplane seats and trays are—enough said!
Q: What's the most underrated joy of flying?
A: Being unreachable—though this blackout time is under attack by the airlines' race to install in-flight wireless that works.
Q: What Travel + Leisure story are you most proud of?
A: I’m proud of all the T+L platforms created during my time, beginning with the World’s Best Awards, which are enormously powerful in so many different ways. I love the Design Awards—they underscore T+L's emphasis on design, architecture, and innovation, and they're also an opportunity to celebrate the people and work that are redefining the travel experience. With both these Awards and the Global Vision Awards, I have been extremely proud of the extraordinary judges we were able to attract. They lent authority and distinction, but the credit really belongs to T+L ’s editors who oversaw these packages for the quality of their ideas and execution.
Q: What travel trend needs to just go away?
A: There are a lot of things I wouldn’t do, such as couch-surfing and theme cruises (at least those I can imagine), but I’m not sure I’d say they should go away. Unless they’re illegal or bad for your health, I think trends that get people out into the world are for the good.
Q: What travel experience or destination has surprised you the most?
A: A tough question to answer, but when I reflect on my early experiences there, I am still amazed that London has become a major food destination. I also have to admit that I have been surprised by how much Bali has moved me—I’ve been able to relax there and let down some of my natural skepticism about things of the spirit.
Q: What was your most memorable meal as editor of Travel + Leisure?
A: There have been so many, but my top meal may still be chili crabs in Singapore. They’re incredibly delicious, but also horrendously messy—which is probably a good exercise in “going with the flow” for someone as exacting as me.
Q: Where did you have your best night's sleep?
A: The Maldives—in an over-water bungalow at the One&Only Reethi Rah.
Q: Where are you going next?
A: My husband and I are going to Southeast Asia, where we’ll visit Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Cambodia. I’m particularly looking forward to taking the new Aqua cruise on the Mekong.