By Maralyn D. Hill and Sherrie Wilkolaski
Debi Lander is a freelance travel journalist, photographer and seasoned international traveler who hails from St. Augustine, Florida. She has a keen interest in soft and active adventure, food and wine, history and culture. Her work has been published in Visa Black Card and Islands magazines, AOL Travel, FoxNews, Automotive Traveler, Business Jet Traveler, Taste of the South and many online publications.
Debi is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. She maintains a website with a travel and food blog at www.bylandersea.com.
Ms. Lander, a former personal fitness trainer, completed 11 marathons including: Athens, Greece; Bordeaux, France; Big Sur, California; Marine Corps in Washington, DC; Cincinnati; New York City; Disney World; and Jacksonville, Florida.
She has four grown children and is Grandmother Mimi to seven (soon to be eight) grandchildren.
How did you discover your love for travel writing?
I’ve always had a dream to travel but didn’t get my very far until adulthood. To celebrate my 50th birthday, I decided to challenge myself to running a marathon. I choose to make it a real adventure and picked the original course in Athens, Greece. At the time I was writing a fitness newsletter and everyone told me they loved reading about my trip to Greece. That sparked the idea of becoming a travel writer.
Which are you more passionate about writing or photography?
I am more passionate about photography because when I stand behind the lens, I can go places I wouldn’t otherwise. The camera removes any shyness.
People have a way of responding to a camera, which became very evident in India- my latest trip. The kids were so excited for me to shoot them and then wanted to peek at their photo on the digital playback. I was delighted. Photography also helps remind me of details and the camera often sees things I don’t notice at first glance. I adore sunrise and late afternoon sunlight.
What is the writing process like for you?
My writing process is painful; it doesn’t come easy. Getting the first draft from my head to the computer is a chore, but once I get that accomplished I am happier. Editing becomes almost fun, trying to find the right words to convey the meaning. I edit my articles numerous times and never feel I am really done.
When you get the chance to pick your travel destination, where do you go?
If I am given the chance to pick a destination, I make it an adventure. I always look to connect with a place, be that going on a hike, taking a dip in the pool, a cooking class or tasting street food.
I have a great desire to visit Easter Island, the Galapagos, and the pyramids of Egypt. I’ve never been to China or Thailand and would jump at the chance. In the United States I am especially fond of National Parks. I’d also love to live out a Medieval or Renaissance theme and spend the night at a castle in Europe with all of my grandchildren.
If you could be anyone else, who would it be?
I’d love to tag along with “Where in the World is Matt Lauer,” but I’d most like to be a great photographer, one of the professionals hired by National Geographic. When I am out on a photo shoot I lose track of time and am simply dissolve into the moment. To be able to produce a photo that moves people would be rewarding.
What motivates you to be a luxury journalist?
While I love adventure, who doesn’t love luxury? I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to experience hotels and meals fit for a king. I constantly pinch myself with wonder. A night in a five star hotel is a gift, a pleasure that everyone should enjoy at least once. Going behind the scenes as a journalist is a real bonus.
Tell us about a memorable time from one of your trips.
I once had a falconry lesson in Ireland which gave me my best ever connection of man, bird and nature. Afterward I wrote: When I extend my arm, quick as a flash, Liffey (the hawk) plummets for the food I am holding and my heart rate accelerates to hummingbird-speed. Whoa–what a thrill. I forget to be frightened, watching the hawk greedily snatch the lure with his sharp talons, feeling the pressure through my glove. I am Mother Nature with a haughty grin; I feel powerful. Yet Liffey is in control, trained to follow his instinct for food; he merely permits me to enter his world.
Is there a meal that stands out in your mind above others?
I once had a meal at the Four Seasons in Prague that is such a fun memory. I asked my host to let me sample local foods and wine and each course became an amazing surprise. But, at the end of the night they came out and covered the table with a non-stick tablecloth. A chef then drizzled a sweet red liquid in an abstract design and scattered candied orange and lemon rind around the delicacy, followed by candied kumquats. Rolled pieces of whiskey truffle bonbons were strategically placed as we witnessed a masterpiece sculptured before our eyes. A small rectangular slice of frozen chocolate mousse was added near the center along with a triangular Earl Gray gelato, further garnished by seductive frozen jasmine foam dollops. Delectable spoonfuls of a chocolate hazelnut blend known as a croccantino adorned the whole along with sprinkled pistachio nuts. Lastly, the lively artistic creation was topped off with warm and heavenly chocolate sauce. Edible art!
What do you do in your free time?
I almost always begin my day with a morning walk through the historic district of my hometown, St. Augustine, Florida. The tiny alleys, cobbled streets and bay-front remind me of Europe. I walk around the Castillo (fort) and think of the thousands of people who have visited and the history that has happened in this place.
I also enjoy yoga, movies, and visiting my grandchildren, who sadly all live far away.
What are your thoughts on luxury travel?
The luxury traveler is able to indulge in the extras that make a place so special. Be that hiring a private guide, nabbing tickets to a performance, taking an after hours tour, a lesson of some type or meeting artists or chefs. To me, these are important ways of connecting with a place. A luxury hotel must offer top of the line rooms, bedding, etc. but having a concierge service that has great contacts is vitally important.
If you were stranded on an island, name one person and three items you would bring.
If I were stranded on an island I would hope for a guy like MacGyver from that old TV show. I would also want a WiFi connection for my laptop, lots of good wine and bug spray. I seem to be a magnet for mosquitoes.
In your hometown of St. Augustine, what do you recommend for a new traveler to experience?
If you came to St. Augustine, I would first take you to the Castillo de San Marcos, our original fort dating back to xxx, and a National Park site. We would then go the Pirate Museum (as St. Augustine really was sacked by pirates.) For lunch we would go to the Columbia Restaurant because they feature traditional Spanish food. St. Augustine maintains a rich history from Spanish settlement. In the afternoon we would visit Flagler College and see the former grandeur of Hotel Ponce de Leon built by Henry Flagler who was so instrumental in making Florida a tourist destination. We might take in the Lightner Museum, the Lighthouse or the Alligator Farm depending on the interest of my visitor. Cocktails would be outdoors, perhaps across the Inter-coastal Waterway at Caps on the Water and dinner at Collage, my favorite high end restaurant. My choice for lodging would be the five star Casa Monica Hotel or one of our fine B& B’s like the Saint Francis Inn or the more modern Casa de Suenos.
What are three necessities you won’t travel without?
I must have my iPhone, my cameras and a jacket that folds up in a zippered pouch. I use the pouch as a lumbar cushion unless I get cold and need to put it on. Being a Floridian, I tend to get cold!
What does Luxe Beat Magazine mean to you?
I love being able to write and share my stories and photos with readers. I’d like to think that I encourage people to leave their comfort zone and go somewhere new.
To read the Luxe Beat Magazine version of this article click on the title Debi Lander – Featured Luxe Beat Magazine Contributor.