A good travel memoir will inspire you to start researching destinations and planning your dream trip. Nikki Vargas’ Call You When I Land will motivate you to actually buy the tickets.
Vargas is a long-time travel writer, the founder of Unearth Women and a senior editor at Fodor’s Travel. Her love of travel is infectious but what makes her memoir so special is its relatability. She’s down to earth and vulnerable, she makes mistakes and she gets lost – both literally and figuratively. Nevertheless, she persists. And triumphs. Reading her words is like listening to your bestie – which you’ll wish she were so you could travel with her.
I saw Vargas speak at a travel conference last year, then devoured her book, nodding my head in agreement as I read. Call You When I Land hits bookstores on November 7 and you’ll want to get a copy, especially if you’re experiencing wanderlust or a nagging feeling that you need a change in your life.
Vargas is passionate about telling women’s stories and I’m glad she chose to tell her own. Here’s what she shared with me about her book and the inspiration behind it.
I think your book will empower a lot of women to take control of their lives – and to travel more. How important was travel in shaping the course of your life?
My travel memoir covers a lot of ground. It’s a love story, a story about chasing a career dream, about investigating a family mystery, falling in love, grappling with failure and ultimately learning to be true to yourself. But underneath it all, Call You When I Land is a love letter to my relationship with travel. At the start of the book, it’s based on running away from my reality but as I grow, that relationship evolves so that I turn to travel not as a tool of avoidance but as a career and, eventually, out of gratitude for all it has given me in my life. In short, travel was—and remains—instrumental in shaping me into the person I am and the career I have.
Why was it necessary to take a trip to a remote jungle to acknowledge that you couldn’t go through with your wedding?
My decision to run away to Argentina two weeks before my wedding is a testament to what the act of travel was to me at that point in time: a way to get away from my problems. I had learned to use travel as a means of avoidance; choosing to sprint down a jet bridge rather than face some of the more difficult questions that were surrounding me. At that time, my trip to Argentina offered a collision of wants: it was a way for me to chase my next byline as I continued to pursue a dream of being a travel writer, it was an opportunity to reconnect with a love interest I’d met months prior on the beaches of Panama, and it was another chance to run away. Going to Iguazú National Park allowed me the space to truly be alone with my own thoughts and finally confront myself. Alone in that jungle, I realized how lost I’d been and how much of a backseat I’d taken to major life decisions out of fear that I might disappoint or let others down. I realized how, instead of being honest with myself, I had lied to not only myself but those around me as I twisted further away from the truth. That trip to Iguazú allowed me to finally face myself and find the strength needed to take back my life, which started with canceling my wedding.
It seems like sometimes travel is meant for escape – you’re leaving something – and sometimes it’s all about going to a specific destination. Can you talk a little about how that’s been true in your own life and what the differences are in the actual experience?
For me, it all comes down to what is happening in my life at the moment I choose to travel. Let’s say work feels overwhelming, my schedule has been hectic, and life has been stressful; it’s at this point that I would look to escape to somewhere relaxing for a change of pace, whether near or far.
How did your dad’s love of travel influence your own? He must be so thrilled that you’ve made it your career. Have you traveled with him as an adult?
Growing up, my dad was always fascinated by airplanes and flying. His passion for aviation inevitably inspired much of my own fascination with travel. But whereas he remained captivated by aerodynamics, I found magic in the act of transporting myself somewhere new. Today, my dad remains just as passionate about flying and traveling, especially to places he finds to be wild and remote. Together, we’ve ventured on a road trip through Iceland’s West Fjords and, more recently, we went on a trip to Norway’s Fjords. That recent trip saw us going from Oslo to Bergen and then driving up the coast to Trondheim – an experience that very much inspires the next book I’m working on.
It always shocks me that 2/3 of Americans don’t have passports. Please explain why this has to change so everyone understands!
While traveling is a privilege, I do feel it’s important that people find time to step outside their comfort zones—whether near or far—and experience how others live. Traveling provides an invaluable education that promotes understanding, compassion, and acceptance—three things that we are in dire need of during these turbulent times. It’s easy to fear what’s unknown and seemingly different, especially from afar, but when you place yourself in someone else’s world and take time to understand them and their culture on a human level, that fear is replaced with a curiosity and kindness.
What are some of the places that have had the biggest impact on you?
The place to have the biggest impact on me is the very place from where I come: Colombia. During my childhood, Colombia held such a mystique for me. It was a country that my family and I hailed from and yet—growing up in Chicago—it remained a place I knew little about and felt unsure of how to embrace as my own. My first trip to Colombia as an adult taught me how to own my heritage, showed me that I could afford to travel if I was savvy about travel hacks, and ultimately gave me my very first byline, an article for Food & Wine Magazine inspired by Cartagena’s food scene. It was this first trip that really set me on course to trying to have both a career and life defined by travel.
I laughed out loud when you wrote that you’re obsessed with doing whatever you’re “supposed” to do when you visit a specific place because I am, too! What have been some of the most memorable of those things?
I’m truly guilty of being a cliché when I travel. I love to do all the things tourists are “expected” to do, whether that’s sailing down the Venice canals in a gondola, donning a beret and a striped shirt in Paris, or tossing coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome. But, of all the places my travel clichés play out, I think they are the most cringe-worthy in France. I can’t help tapping into my inner wannabe Francophile when I go to France, especially Paris. I find such joy in allowing myself to experience the fantasy version of Paris, replete with hot chocolate from Angelique, macarons from Laduree, and reading Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette at sidewalk cafes on Boulevard Saint-Germain.
I really enjoyed reading about the creation of Unearth Women and am so sorry the print magazine wasn’t sustainable. Why did you think it was important to focus on women in the travel space? How is travel different for women than men?
When I set out to launch Unearth Women magazine, I was shocked to find what a disconnect there is between travel media and travel consumerism, which is to say how much of an influence women have on the travel industry as consumers and how male-dominated travel media can be. I remember wondering how if you have women making 82% of travel decisions, why doesn’t the travel media do a better job of speaking to women’s travel or sharing women’s travel stories? Instead, it seemed that travel media would offer a blanketed approach to women’s travel needs rather than make an effort to address the specific concerns of women travelers, whether they were new moms, going through menopause, elderly, solo, married, pregnant, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, BIPOC, etc. Ultimately, I felt—and still feel—that women’s stories need to take center stage in travel media. Women are the consumers and the ones who hold the most sway and purchasing power in this $1.9 trillion industry.
As someone who often traveled solo, what would you tell women who want to travel but don’t have anyone to go with?
I was terrified the first time I solo traveled, but what I came to find was that I discovered parts of myself that I forgot existed in my everyday life back in New York. Solo traveling showed me my resilience, resourcefulness, humor, and spontaneity as I made decisions to make new friends, book impromptu trips, laugh my way through awkward moments, learn to keep myself company when feeling down and how to navigate trickier situations when abroad. My advice to women keen on solo travel is to push past their fear and look to connect with other women in the travel community. I love the women’s community, Wanderful, which has chapters around the world and connects women together with a shared love of travel, offering an invaluable resource of information and emotional support. Plus, it is a great way to connect with local women in the destination you’re visiting.
You’ve been a real champion for women in the travel space and for telling the stories of women all around the world. How are you trying to continue that focus on women and travel in your job at Fodor’s Travel?
Since I joined Fodor’s Travel back in June 2021, I have found that the team places an emphasis on sharing diverse stories from diverse writers, which I’m very proud of. We not only pride ourselves on giving new writers a chance to take press trips and get published by a legacy publication that has been around since the 1930s, but we are conscientious of how we represent cultures, always doing our best to tap local writers and work with sensitivity readers. Because of this, I feel strongly that Fodor’s Travel does a phenomenal job of not only lifting women’s voices and those of the BIPOC community, but of sharing their stories on a platform that reaches a global audience.
Why did you decide to write a memoir rather than another travel guidebook?
My twenties—as is often the case for people—was a transformative chapter in my life that saw me making grand decisions that would define much of my future. Years later, I can now see how those at-times audacious choices played out. I feel such gratitude for my twenty-something self who had the courage to fight for what she wanted, despite opposition. During that time of my life, I clung to other women’s memoirs like Wild, which detailed tumultuous chapters in their own lives and how those years laid the foundation for who they would become. These memoirs meant the world to me as I was lost in my twenties, and I wanted to create a memoir that not only honors that chapter of my life but pays tribute to the women’s memoirs that were my guiding light when times were tough.
What message do you hope readers will take from your book?
Call You When I Land is a testament to what happens when we ignore our intuition and inner voices, and what can come if we decide to reclaim control of our lives. It’s a reminder that it’s okay to choose yourself, to change course, and to reach for the person you can still become. In candidly sharing my own journey—the mistakes, triumphs, successes, and failures—my hope is that readers will find inspiration to make changes in their own lives, no matter how daunting those decisions may seem.