I'm not sure I'm like most travelers. My impression, and this could be completely wrong, is that many travelers tend to be collectors—new places, new visa stamps, new Instagram reels, etc. I'm not built like this. I tend to form attachments to places I love and I like to go back there several times because of said attachments. It's like finding a coffee place I like or listening to the same albums on Spotify or a restaurant with a dish I know will be delicious every time—because I order it over and over and over again and it is, yes, delicious.
When I talk to people about Italy, the places that tend to be discussed are the famous ones. This is true of France or Thailand or Japan. It's probably true of every country you've been to. You want to see the highlights, the big draws, the breathtaking things. And that's great. This list will have some of that. But it'll have places you might not have considered too, for reasons that may only be important to me.
I mean, this is my site.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
I think it's easy to get lost in Bangkok. The traffic there is almost claustrophobic. And places like Phuket tend to be fun party places for the kids. But I'm 45, now. I'm only looking for peace and quiet.
My first trip to Chiang Mai was in 2016. I had just started working for Slack. I had braces on my fucked up teeth because I was too poor to address the problems when I was younger. And it was pre-Covid, so the world was just different.
Chiang Mai has obviously changed from 2016. But the great stuff is still great. All the Buddhist temples are great. I revisited ones that I remembered and found some new ones. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it's impossible to visit all the Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai. They're like churches in Springfield, Missouri—that is, on every street corner.
The food is great. Khao Soi, a dish I don't remember trying in 2016, is a traditional staple. It's simple, just a little bit of spice, and comforting. I was obsessed with it this time and went looking for it every day.
Chiang Mai is also extremely walkable. And the people are lovely and kind. You can get massages almost anywhere, which I love. While I was there, I wrote a poem about people who practice as a masseuse. I think their work is holy—for a lot of reasons. If you've signed up for my newsletter, the poem is included.
The hardest thing about Reims is how to pronounce the name. Imagine you were saying "France" like the French would pronounce France, and then just drop the "F" from the beginning.
Vida and I keep going back to Reims. It's a short, 45-minute train ride from Paris and located in the heart of Champagne. Almost any bottle of Champagne you will ever drink will probably say Reims somewhere on it.
The cathedral might be one of the best in the world. It's sure as shit better than Notre Dame in Paris. Almost every French king was coronated here. The Chagall stained glass windows in the back of the church are stunning.
The city itself is walkable and cozy, and during Christmas, Reims has the 3rd-largest Christmas market in France. Please note that the location of the market has moved to be out by the train station. It used to be in front of the cathedral, which was badass.
Try to tour some Champagne houses and the farming villages outside of the city.
I know, I know, everyone loves Paris. And I think I really get why now.
In all the times I've been to Paris, it's always been for tours and monuments and galleries and food and well, you get it. But this is the first time I've spent time writing in Paris and it's a whole different thing. When you walk through the city thinking about poetry and reading poetry and writing poetry and editing poetry—your whole life becomes a poem. If I wrote novels, I'd probably start narrating my whole life just because I was walking around in Paris.
I started thinking about the writers who had been there before me. Writers who had lived and worked in Paris. And when I did that, the whole color and shape of the city changed. It became more meaningful like a fourth glass of wine is meaningful—that is, the most important thing in the world.
And it probably isn't. But it felt like everything I wanted to be was suddenly in Paris. It would be interesting to spend a month there just writing. And maybe I will at some point. I think Paris is for dreamers and writers and artists and I think the entire city should exist for artisans. The capitalists can go.
Anyway, should the opportunity arise that you find yourself in Paris, try writing something. Even if you're not a writer, keep a journal, write a letter, do something. You'll notice the city change. It'll be intoxicating.
I went to Tokyo for the first time in March/April of 2019 as a 40th birthday present. I'm returning almost exactly five years later when we arrive in Tokyo next month.
I'm not sure I'm prepared for how different the city will be since Covid. I'm sure some things will be the same, but Tokyo is so big, so organic, that I can't help but feel like this trip will be a brand new experience.
I love Tokyo because it's easy to blend in next to all the bright lights and take some of the best photos you'll ever take on the street. The city is mesmerizing. It feels like it's seducing you constantly—it's almost too much to take in.
This time, I get to introduce Tokyo to close friends who have never been there. It's going to be fun. The noises, the public transit, millions of people going a million different directions, the food, the city lights, the nostalgia. Tokyo feels like you're in the biggest frat party of your entire life and yet, you're still utterly alone because no one wants to talk to you and honestly, you don't want to talk to anyone.
The cherry blossoms. It'll be cherry blossom season when we go and I feel like I'm a much better photographer than I was five years ago. It'll be good to feel like I'm in Tokyo Vice again.
When I think of orange, I think of Bologna. For a lot of people who visit Italy, it just doesn't register as a place to visit.
But Bologna is possibly one of my favorite cities on earth. The food, the street art, the history and the universities. Every time I visit Bologna, I learn something new.
I think the one thing in common with all of the places, and I didn't notice this until now, is that I've spent time in all these places walking long distances alone. Taking pictures, or writing in my head. These cities have all offered something invaluable to me—whether that is amazing photography, or food, or wine, or something to write about.
I've grown in some way by visiting these places. Bologna, maybe the most. Located in Emilia Romagna, (north of Florence, but below Venice), Bologna may have the best food in Italy, if not the world. I hope to spend a lot more time here during the course of my life.
Mortadella, Parma ham, parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar—all of these things come from this region of Italy. And while it may not be flush with sites to visit like Rome or Florence, there is a charm here that I don't get in some of the larger cities. People still seem to live in Bologna. It's mostly college students and working families.
It'll be some of the best food you've ever had. Just go.