101 Places Not To See: An Interview With Author Catherine Price

I’m mildly agoraphobic and it’s not easy for me to plan long trips.  And while I like looking at travel guides for places like Ecuador or Tanzania and imagining what it would be like to go there, I know that I’m not brave enough to go through with the trip.  So what inevitably happens when I read these sort of  guides is that I end up with a feeling of slight longing for adventure, and a strong feeling of regret.  But now – finally- Catherine Price has written the perfect travel book for me- 101 Places Not To See Before You Die.  It’s a book where i can read all about traveling adventures I don’t want to have – a travel guide that is highly enjoyable, but doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out.
Catherine came up with the idea for 101 Places in response to all the other list-based books currently on the market. As someone unable to turn down an assignment, she felt inundated by the thousand albums she was supposed to listen to, the thousand gardens she was supposed to visit and the thousand beers she was supposed to try. So she created 101 Places Not To See Before You Die as a reprieve — a “get-off-the hook” guide to places you don’t need to feel bad about missing.  Though Catherine is highlighting some of the worst places on earth, she is at the same time emphasizing that sometimes the best experiences when you’re traveling are not the ones on the beaten path.  And she believes people shouldn’t be afraid to go out and have their own adventures – whether they’re good or bad, they’ll likely be more memorable.  An avid traveler, Catherine, who is a type 1 diabetic,  is currently on the road with her husband Peter, about to head off for a biking trip through Eastern Europe.  I caught up with her while she was in a place that’s tough to visit if you have diabetes: Paris.

You’re  traveling now.  Will you be heading to any of the places in your book?

Yes, there are definitely places in the book that friends suggested but that I haven’t gotten a chance to check out firsthand. I’m a sucker for unusual and weird attractions — I just dragged my husband on the Paris sewer tour. So I’m looking forward to checking out the Beijing Museum of Tap Water.

How did you compile the book?  What was the process like?

I compiled the book by combing through my own travel memories, picking out stories that were unpleasant in the moment but funny afterwards (like getting my period for the first time on a 23-hour train ride in China, where the bathrooms were so gross my mother told me to pee in a zip-loc bag). I also got lots of suggestions from friends and family members, and reached out to authors I admired, like Michael Pollan and Nick Kristof, to see if they might add their own contributions to the list.
Were there any challenges?  How did you chose the places that you featured?  Are there any of the 101 places you really wouldn’t visit under any circumstances?
The main challenge was finding places that struck the line between so-awful-I-don’t-even-want-to-write-about-them and awful-but-also-kind-of-funny. As for places I wouldn’t visit under any circumstances? Well, there are a lot of places in the book that you actually couldn’t go to, even if you wanted to — like Io, Jupiter’s Worst Moon, or the bottom of the Kola Superdeep Borehole. But personally, I’d probably skip most superfund sites, and things that involve any sort of violence or cruelty, like Pamplona from the perspective of a bull. I’d rather go to the tap water muesum.
In 101 Places you write about your travels, but you don’t mention that you have type 1 diabetes, a disease which requires constant care and monitoring.  How do you manage to stay on top of diabetes on the road?
Staying on top of diabetes while traveling is a constant challenge. As everyone with type 1 knows, it’s very helpful to have a relatively consistent diet and schedule — both of which go out the window when you’re traveling. Also, I find that living with diabetes requires a lot of logistics in my head — and when I’m having to deal with other logistics, like finding a place to stay for the night, it’s difficult to do everything well.
Right now I’m in an apartment for a few weeks, so I’m trying to cope by boiling a lot of eggs. But frankly, my blood sugars have not been as good as they are at home, and it’s been very frustrating to experience a food-loving place like Paris as someone who has to watch carbs. (I was diagnosed with type 1 when I was 22, so I have plenty of travel memories from before I was diabetic.) There are just so many croissants and baguettes. I also haven’t had a regular exercise schedule, which means that some days I’ve coped with extreme highs, and some days, I’ve had scary lows.
But I’m making this sound too depressing. Despite the challenges of traveling with type 1, this experience is completely worth it. And maybe the fact that I have to watch my croissant consumption means that I’ll avoid another pitfall of traveling in Paris: gaining weight.
How do you carry all of your supplies?
I have two bags with me: an Osprey Meridian pack, which is a fantastic roller-backpack with a detachable daypack (which has a lot of pockets, making it great for daily supplies).  And I also have a regular backpack with me that’s stuffed with six months’ worth of supplies — pump infusion sets, backup syringes, insulin, alcohol swabs, test strips, CGM supplies, batteries — viewed from the side, it’s a little absurd.
It takes a lot of courage to travel with diabetes – you have to be ready for unknowns all of the time.  Do you worry about being in places where you don’t know what to expect at your next meal, or  if you needed urgent care  it might not be available?
I think that the key to traveling with diabetes is to think ahead. You have to know where you’re going, and have a sense of what supplies and services will be available. But at the same time, you need to be self-sufficient enough to survive if those supplies and services are *not* available. I have several backup glucometers, a ton of extra batteries, a travel loaner insulin pump, syringes and long-acting insulin in case both pumps fail . . . I mean, I tried to cover my ass and then some. I thought that it might be overkill (and I suppose it still might be!) but the other day I went into a Parisian pharmacy looking for some extra glucose tablets (you know, like basic four-grams-a-tablet orange coins that are available in any drugstore in the US) and the pharmacist had no idea what I was talking about — even when I showed her the empty package and explained what it was. You just never know what you will or won’t find — so be sure to be prepared. (And also, I find that being prepared makes the idea of traveling less scary — you can still be in control. It just takes extra work.)
Does traveling have an influence on your blood sugar levels?
Definitely. Both good and bad. I’m still working on figuring out a good strategy for eating while on the road (part of the difficulty is that eating is pretty much my favorite part of traveling — and I’m not willing to give up that part of the experience.) But on the good side, spending much of the day walking — as opposed to sitting at my desk — really helps with insulin absorption.
Do you expect your Hemoglobin A1c to be better or worse after your trip?
I’m going to say worse. But hey, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised — I am, after all, about to spend three or four weeks biking, which tends to do great things for my blood sugar. But I’m trying to keep in mind the advice of a fellow traveling diabetic, Bridget McNulty. She wrote a comment to one of my recent blog posts that said “Be careful enough to not do yourself any damage, but not so careful that you miss out on the adventure.” I think that’s really sage advice.

101 Places Not To See Before You Die is available on Amazon.

Twitter handle: 101worstplaces
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/101-Places-Not-To-See-Before-You-Die/102647109497
Book website: 101worstplaces.com

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12 years ago

What a fun book!  I love your attitude.

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