The web (and the world) is full of fun, fabulous & inspirational women (Yes, boys, there are men too). This year, SpunkyGirl Monologues will be featuring a fun, fabulous & inspirational woman each month. We’ll be talking to them about travel, what inspires them and asking for their opinions on what’s happening in the world around us.

This month we’re thrilled to interview Marilyn Terrell. Marilyn is a Mother of five children, an avid traveller, and works as a researcher for National Geographic Traveler magazine (she’s also a good sport for answering all of our questions).

Be sure to follow Marilyn on Twitter, as well as read her blog!

How do you travel?

Well, I take family vacations in the summer where we try to get as many of our kids together as possible- last August in Lavallette on the Jersey Shore; and earlier in the summer my husband took three of our kids, one of our kids’ friends, and our dog to Mount Desert Island while I went to help out our daughter and son-in-law in Bermuda with their brand-new baby. We have another daughter in Los Angeles so I’ve been out to visit her a bunch. And I’ve gone on some nice trips for work: to Taiwan, Croatia, down the Yukon River, up California’s Central Coast, and most recently to Puerto Vallarta.


What is your most embarrassing travel moment?

Probably when I was in staying with a host family in Brussels one summer and I asked my host mom in French what I thought was “How do you do the household chores?” She looked astonished for a moment and then explained that what I had asked was “How do you make love?” I think my face was red the rest of the afternoon.

Name 1 item that is always in your luggage when you hit the road.

A bathing suit. You never know when the opportunity will arise.

Working for National Geographic is a writer’s wet dream. What’s your story?

Many moons ago I answered Letters to the Editor for Time magazine in New York City where I grew up, and then moved to Alexandria, Virginia with the Time-Life Books division as an editorial researcher, where I dug up facts and photos for books about gardening, World War II, the history of aviation, the Byzantine empire, home repair, American Indians, the Italian Renaissance, and the Apollo space program. After the Books division closed down, some former colleagues told me about a photo editor job at National Geographic School Publishing, and from there I hopped to National Geographic Traveler magazine, where I’ve been a researcher for almost ten years. I also took time off to raise our five kids.

What is an average day like for you?

I usually get up about 5:30 and read blogs and Twitter and schedule some tweets for later. For the past month, our contributing editor Andrew Evans has been off travelling and tweeting in Australia for our @WheresAndrew project. Because of the 12-hour time difference, he’s been having adventures and tweeting from the road while I’ve been sleeping, so catch up on his tweets and usually retweet some of them. I make lunch for our son, feed the dog, put a load of laundry in the washer and another in the dryer, and my husband drops me off at the bus stop. I take a bus and then subway into DC. I could drive but I believe in taking public transit whenever possible. Sometimes get off at different subway stops to vary my route and notice new things the way I do when I’m travelling in an unfamiliar city. Occasionally I’ll stop at a coffee shop and read some copy for the magazine that hasn’t been final-edited yet and make comments on it; I often find it easier to read printed material somewhere else besides my desk. I get to my office around 8 am, check and answer time-sensitive emails, copyedit the first post of the day for our Intelligent Travel blog, make any calls to Europe that I need to make to confirm information for a story I’m fact-checking. Most of my day is spent fact-checking articles for the magazine or for our website or for the iPad. Our research staff checks every fact that goes into the magazine: place names, dates, statistics, geographical descriptions, quotes, flora and fauna, captions, photos, headlines, room rates, menus, grammar, spelling, directions, mileage, everything. If the photo caption says a certain rock at sunset, we make sure the name of the rock is correct and that the photo shows sunset and not sunrise. Sometimes while I’m checking facts I’ll come across something interesting for our blog and I’ll write a post about it. At lunchtime I’ll check Twitter again, go for a long walk or to the gym or have lunch with coworkers in our cafeteria. Afternoons I’ll do more fact-checking, give my checking changes to whichever editor is responsible for the story I’m checking, talk over some of the changes I’m recommending, read over another post for the blog and make sure it conforms to the National Geographic Style Manual.

If you could give one piece of advice to an inspiring travel writer, what would it be?

Travel as much as possible, and read as much as you can about a destination before you go. Ask questions when you get there, take notes and photos. Meet people. If you have a friend who knows someone in the country you’re visiting, try to arrange to meet that person. Read great travel writing. Our books editor Amy Alipio has compiled a marvellous guide to great travel writing called the Ultimate Travel Library, and it’s organised geographically.

Technology is slowly starting to take over print. How do you see technology affecting travel in the future?

I’m the wrong person to ask about tech affecting travel. I refuse to own a cellphone! I like to read about travel technology though, and I like to read travel tweets from people on the road. But when I’m travelling I like to keep my eyes and ears open for what’s going on around me, not what’s on a screen. And as far as technology taking over print, I’m encouraged by this recent neurological study that found paper beats digital for emotional impact.

What materials do you use when you’re planning your next trip?

Guidebooks (I always look at more than one, including Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, TimeOut, Fodor’s, and our own National Geographic Traveler guidebooks). Newspaper and magazine travel articles on the place I’m going. And I love finding a novel about the place I’m going to. Traveller’s online Ultimate Travel Library is a great place to start.

I also ask people I know who’ve been to the place I’m going if they have friends or family there whom I could meet while I’m there.

What inspires your travels?

Working on a travel magazine, it’s pretty hard not to get inspired to travel. I learn about a place, especially someplace not particularly popular, I see some amazing photos talk to people who’ve been there, and I want to go. Recently I checked an article about eco-lodges in Ecuador and now I long to go there. After checking an article on whale sharks off Isla Holbox north of Cancun, that’s on my list too. P.J. O’Rourke wrote a hilarious article about horseback riding in Kyrgystan for Forbes Life, and I want to go there. A friend of my sister-in-law who works in international development took her family to Kurdistan in northern Iraq and told me about her experiences so I want to go there, and I’m happy to see Kurdistan is on Traveler’s list of Top Trips for 2011
Why do you think women should travel?

For the same reason everybody should travel, young or old: to expand your brain, see the marvellous Earth we live on, meet people and make friends. Travelling makes me feel more alive. And according to this recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, money spent on experiences are more likely to bring happiness than money spent on possessions.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

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5 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention Spunky Spotlight: Marilyn Terrell | Spunkygirl Monologues --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gillian Duffy, Pamela MacNaughtan. Pamela MacNaughtan said: NEW INTERVIEW| Spunky Spotlight: Marilyn Terrell #ff #marilynterrell #travel #ff […]

  2. Michelle Schusterman

    Awesome interview! I love the very last sentence – it’s definitely held true in my own life. And thanks for the link to the Ultimate Travel Library! So cool.

  3. leslie (downtown traveler)

    Fascinating interview. I can’t believe Marilyn wakes up at 5 am to read blogs and start working. That is real commitment! I do find it a bit funny that she doesn’t own a cell phone… she is probably so sick of digital devices after a full day of blog reading, researching and writing online that she craves an offline escape. I can relate 🙂

  4. Jamie Pearson

    Hmmmm….which ecolodge (exactly) in Ecuador? I might have a couple days to kill there next year in December. =)

  5. Anonymous

    Excellent interview! This is great advice: “Travel as much as possible, and read as much as you can about a destination before you go. Ask questions when you get there, take notes and photos.” It makes travel writing much more efficient and fun when you have everything you need to create great material! 


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