Interview with Travel Writer Janna Graber

Chance Encounters

*RE-BLOGGED FROM You Read It Here First

So many of us dream of travelling, writing, and sharing our amazing experiences, but Colorado-based journalist, editor, and producer Janna Graber has done more than just dream. In addition to writing for publications such as Redbook, Reader’s Digest, The Chicago Tribune, etc., in the interests of travel and gaining invaluable life experiences, she’s gone dog-sledding, saddled up for excitement and riding at some of Colorado’s dude ranches, and even toured my ownOntario Wine Country to sample our finest wines in the Niagara Valley! But for Janna, it’s more than just the travel that drives her; it’s the personal connections she makes with people all over the globe that resonate most deeply with her. Now, she’s written a book, Chance Encounters: Travel Tales From Around the World (World Traveler Press, 2014) that focuses on experiences and personal connections she and other globe trotters have enjoyed. To learn a little more about this fascinating woman, her newest book, and what inspires her, read on.


Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q: Tell us, Janna, how did you get the idea for the book?

A: In my travels, I often crossed paths with extraordinary people — people who lived in situations different from my own, but who touched me in some way. Some of those encounters enriched my journey, inspired me or even changed my way of thinking. I knew other travelers experienced this as well, so I decided to create a book that would celebrate these unique and incredible travel encounters.

Q: How many authors were featured in the book?

ANineteen top international travel writers were featured in the book.

Q: How were pieces selected?

A: We received hundreds of submissions from writers around the globe and selected 23 final stories. I looked for well-written pieces that followed the writer’s internal journey, as well as his/her external experience. Each story in the book provides a you-are-there feeling, allowing the armchair traveler to experience a unique part of the world from the writer’s perspective. The stories are all very different from each other, which makes reading the book so enjoyable. 

Q: What are some of your own stories that were included?

A: “My Friend, the Enemy” was actually the story that inspired the idea for the book. In 1987 while on a short student trip to East Germany, I met a young East German student who reached out in friendship, even though it was dangerous for him to do so. After I left, we had to write in secret through this grandma. It’s been 25 years now since the Berlin Wall fell, and we have been close friends ever since — simply because we crossed paths long ago.

Another story of mine, “The Parisian Angel” tells how a young French woman helped me after I had been robbed in Paris. She reached out to me when I needed it most, and helped to restore my faith in Paris.

Q: Tell us about some of the other tales in the book.

A: Christina Hamlett writes of a treasured encounter in Hawaii that she has never forgotten. Kimberley Lovato’s tale of an elevator ride with a courageous woman in Paris packs deep emotions into a matter of minutes, from recollections of childhood memories to profound realizations of life.

Nithin Coca’s conversation with a taxi driver in Dubai leaves an impression that he won’t forget, and during a hike with a young monk in BhutanShilpa Gupta learns a lesson not about Buddhism, but about herself.

Cece Romanyshyn is moved by the strength of three young Kenyan sisters who are faced with a heart-wrenching local custom, and Rob Woodburn marvels at the resourcefulness of two young men from Malawi in their quest for a decent pair of shoes.

These are just a few examples. The book is packed with incredible tales of chance travel encounters that touched or changed someone’s life.

Q: Travel writing isn’t something most people just jump into. What is your background?

A: I began my journalism career covering women’s news for Chicago Tribune, Redbook, McCall’s and other publications. When the Columbine tragedy happened in my own backyard, it was very difficult for me to write about. These were my neighbors, and I couldn’t help but feel their sorrow. After that, I decided to turn my energies to covering positive stories of travel and the strength of the human spirit.

After 9/11, travel writing changed. I was told that Americans weren’t interested in international travel. But I knew that wasn’t true. In 2003, I started, an online magazine devoted entirely to world travel. We work with travel writers around the world covering stories in more than 90 countries. I’ve been covering travel ever since.

Q: When you travel, you do much more than visit resorts and tourist attractions; you learn about the native cultures and people of the places you visit. What is the most interesting fact you discovered about a place, people, or thing on your travels?

A: What I’ve learned is that people are more alike than they are different. Yes, I may have a different home or lifestyle than a mom living in Shanghai, but deep down we are still mothers who hope for the best in our children. I always find so much in common with those I meet on my travels – and that provides a genuine connection that cultural differences can’t erase.

Q: Most of us choose to travel the paved roads, but you go off-road all the time. Can you share with us your most funny, or difficult, travel situation?

A: I love small towns and rural and rugged landscape. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been snorkeling with belugas near the Arctic Circle in the 800-person town of ChurchillMinnesota, and going on safari in the Outback on an Aboriginal Reserve at the northern tip of Australia. The people who live in these kinds of rugged environments fascinate me, and I enjoy being around them.

Q: What inspires you to write and travel, Janna?

A: I’m always curious and eager to learn about new places, people, and cultures. Travel allows me to step out of my comfort zone, broaden my view, and experience new things.

Q: Although travel writing looks exciting and glamorous, I’m sure many, many times it isn’t. What advice would you give to writers who would like to learn more about or get involved in travel writing?

A: Ten years ago, it was possible to make a passable living with travel writing, but the media world has changed. Fewer print publications cover travel, and online writing just doesn’t pay as much. Nowadays, travel writing is a good second career. You have to pursue it for the passion, not the money. It helps to have another source of income while you do that.

Q: How do you choose the places to visit and write about?

A: Since I went to university in Vienna, I feel at home in Europe. European destinations continuously draw me. I’m also in love with Australia, so travel there whenever I can. Generally though, I simply look for opportunities to travel and experience new things. I’m open to almost any place where travel is safe.

Q: Is there someplace you haven’t been to yet that you are determined to go to? If so, why?

A: I’d like to go on safari in Tanzania and BotswanaMongolia is also on my wish list. I’ve never been to any of these places, but have read other writers who have inspired me to put them on my Bucket List. 

Q: What book projects are you working on next?

A: My next book in the series, called “Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the World”, is also now available. Like the name says, the book includes 24 incredible travel stories from some 20 top travel writers.

My own story in the book is called “Filling in the Holes”. It’s about searching for family roots in Latvia that were tragically lost during war. It was an incredible adventure. Latvia is an undiscovered treasure.

In mid-2015 I’ll start work on an anthology devoted solely to women’s travel stories. I’m really looking forward to that one.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Janna. I, and I’m sure many of our readers, are looking forward to reading Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World, and your future works as well.


Amazon link to Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World

Amazon link to Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the World

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Kentucky-More Than Bluegrass and Bourbon


Kentucky Horse Farm

Kentucky Horse Farm

Rolling green hills, endless miles of black fencing, picturesque horse farms, and small towns with a unique Americana feel. Kentucky has long been synonymous with bluegrass and horse racing, and while these are certainly the standbys, this elegant state presents as a charming southern bell dressed in her finest at all times.


The small towns that dot her highways and backcountry roads are evocative of a timeless tranquility that’s hard to find in today’s fast-paced world. From Shelbyville, Ky, the saddlebred horse capital of the world, to Churchill Downs, the word here is all about horses. If you’ve never heard of the saddlebred, learning first hand is an experience not to be missed. A quick call to the Shelbyville Visitor Information Centre will put you on the road, literally, to checking out some of the area’s finest horse farms specializing in this unique equine breed.

American Saddlebred Horse

American Saddlebred Horse

After touring the palatial homes that greet visitors with grandeur, old-world charm, and historic stories of the families who lived there over a hundred years ago, you’ll be encouraged to go on out to the riding arena to see some spectacular American Saddlebred horse flesh show off their reason for holding onto the title of “gentleman’s trotting horse”. Bred as show horses, rather than racing or field work, these graceful creatures are the epitome of style and perfection. You’ll come away with an appreciation for what local breeders and trainers are trying to accomplish with these favoured horses, and get a glimpse into a lifestyle that few have the privilege enjoy.


Daniel Boone's Gravesite

Daniel Boone’s Gravesite

Daniel Boone; even the name stirs up visions of an exciting historical past, and television show, that is intricately tied to Kentucky. For avid historians, a trip to Daniel Boone’s grave at the Frankfort Cemetery, Ky is not to be missed. Standing proudly among grave stones that reach back in time to the 1700’s, Boone’s marker is impressive indeed. However, the controversy over whether or not his bones actually reside there has long been in contention between Frankford, and Marthasville, Missouri. It’s an interesting and beautiful spot which stands on a hill-top amid towering trees draped in Spanish Moss, weathered markers, and more rolling hills, to contemplate this unique man’s life, and death.


Of course Louisville, (pronounced by locals as Lou-ah-ville), and Lexington also offer more contemporary shopping and eateries, as well as historical destinations that are well worth visiting. From the Louisville Slugger Museum, to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, visitors will be entranced and enchanted. A visit to Churchill Downs gets the blood flowing and the excitement rising though, as the steeds stand ready at the gates, then with a burst of speed, take off for the finish line to the shouts and cheers of spectators. Whether you’re a gambler or not, just the feel of this establishment makes you one with the history of horse racing. When wandering around the grounds, partake of a Mint Julep, or shot of good Kentucky bourbon while you await the next race. Churchill Downs will be a take-away memory you’ll be glad you indulged, and if you take your chances and come up with a winner, all the better.


At the end of a full day of sightseeing, you’ll want to relax a little, sit a spell, have a bite to eat, and enjoy the truly good home cooking that Kentucky establishments can offer. With virtually every chain restaurant you can imagine, the larger centers of Louisville and Lexington can happily satisfy every appetite. Looking for something a little more unique? Then head over to Claudia Saunders Dinner House in Shelbyville for some southern hospitality. Started by the wife of infamous Colonel Saunders, Claudia Saunders had her own vision for what good home cooking was all about. Just drive up to the big white house and see what I mean. Whether dinner for two is what you’re looking for, or a wonderful, upscale venue to host a wedding or special occasion, Claudia Saunders knew how to treat you right.


Now, Kentucky is famous for it’s bourbon, that’s a given. So go ahead and tour the many distilleries and taste your way through some of the world’s best, such as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, and more. It’s all here, and just as in wine tasting, each distillery has a history, and a story, that’ll remind you that the past wasn’t always so accommodating to the making of liquor.


Old Bardstown Village

Old Bardstown Village

And speaking of bourbon, when in the Bluegrass area, take a trip to the historic town of Bardstown, Kentucky. Settled in 1780, Bardstown is replete with some 300 buildings designated as historic and are included on the National Register of Historic Places. The many quaint shops lining the main shopping district are sure to lure you in. Feel like stepping back in time? Then a visit to the Civil War Museum of the Western Theatre is definitely a must-see. Then stroll in the bright Kentucky sunshine and explore the past with a visit to the Old Bardstown Village right next to the Museum, hosting a collection of settler’s cabins, smithy, and schoolroom. Settled on the banks of a small meandering creek, the village is a reminder of days gone by, and the hardships these hardy people endured to make Kentucky what it is today.


Bernheim Forest

Bernheim Forest

Much as I love walking in the past, I also love walking in nature, and on discovering Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, I knew this was a place I’d want to come back to many times. Boasting over 35 trails for biking and walking, Bernheim Forest offers something for every fitness level; from beautiful pathways around ponds, through forests, and open fields filled with numerous varieties of holly bushes, to the much more arduous treks for serious hikers. The day we visited Bernheim was fabulous, sunny, and warm, and as we sat under the shade of the arboretum with cool drinks purchased at Isaac’s Café, I couldn’t help but reflect on the beauty of nature surrounding us.


Whether staying for a day, a week, or longer, Kentucky is more than bluegrass and bourbon, and you’ll want to explore every piece of it on your own, discovering places that will have unique memories for you, long after the return home.

Ontario’s West Coast

Grand Bend Beach

Grand Bend Beach


While many visitors to Ontario head north to the Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes for relaxation and recreation, Ontario’s West Coast areas are an absolute must-see for those looking for sandy shores, quaint village shopping, and an eclectic mix of eateries for every taste and budget. After all, the beaches along Lake Huron’s shores are second to none, and Grand Bend’s bustling summer tourist attractions make it one of the best spots to visit for families and individuals of all ages.


Long the summer draw of the younger, twenty plus set, Grand Bend is starting to grow up, but maintains it’s fun, exciting outlook. Three years ago the township undertook a major revamping of Main Street, along what is familiarly known as ‘The Strip” down to the beach. New sidewalks and roadway were installed, along with welcome park benches to entice visitors to sit a while and people-watch. A beach front child-friendly splash pad and playground down at the water’s edge is ideal for very young children, and beach volley ball nets beckon the young and young-at-heart to indulge in exercise and competition. Along Main Street, beautiful overhead floral baskets drape from light poles, while the Welcome sign stretching across Main Street’s entrance reminds guests and residents alike that they are indeed, welcome to Grand Bend.


The bars and eateries lining Grand Bend’s Main Street are a must to sample, from fully licensed eat-in restaurants, to fries, hot dogs, and ice cream shops lining the road down to the beach. A quick skip across the bridge to River Road provides some of the best fish and chips around at Purdy’s. Nothing beats a basket of the fresh catch of the day while sitting outdoors alongside the river and watching the pleasure boats cruise by. For those looking for something offering a little more, next door to Purdy’s you’ll find Smackwater Jack’s. This is one of Grand Bend’s newest eateries, and features excellent food, a full bar, and outside patio that graces the river’s edge, for a truly memorable eating experience. Of course no trip to Grand Bend is complete until you’ve walked with an ice cream cone along the beach’s boardwalk to the pier that juts into the lake. An ideal spot for fishing, it’s also one of the best places to watch incredible sunsets at the end of a perfect summer day.


Just five minutes south of the village of Grand Bend is The Pinery Park, one of Ontario’s finest provincial parks. Famous for its beach sunsets, incredible fall foliage of the encompassing Carolinian Forest, and extensive campgrounds, The Pinery comprises several acres of walking trails, boardwalks, and is truly a nature-lovers paradise.

Main Street, Bayfield

Main Street, Bayfield

A little further north up the coastline from busy Grand Bend, and you’ll encounter the enchanting village of Bayfield, with it’s many lovely boutiques and shops, eateries and outside patio restaurants reminiscent of old Europe. Sit outside and eat a meal al fresco at the Black Dog Inn and watch the pedestrians wander by, or step inside the quiet interior of The Little Inn on Bayfield’s Main Street, for a delightful retreat from the outside world. With its old world charm, antiquity, and incredible menu, this is one of the best places to stay and dine in the area. A short drive along Bayfield’s Main Street past rows of gingerbread houses leads down toward the water, beach, and river front, where ships of all shapes and sizes come and go. For those who enjoy the arts, each year, Bayfield hosts a variety of summer art and literary festivals, drawing visitors from far and wide, and has well earned the self-proclaimed title “One of Ontario’s Prettiest Towns”. If you’re looking for a good book to read, you really must stop and browse at Bayfield’s The Village Bookshop!


Goderich Boardwalk

Goderich Boardwalk


Just thirty minutes north of Bayfield is the thriving town of Goderich, Ontario, whose town centre roundabout was all but destroyed approximately three years ago during a devastating tornado that touched down and practically wiped the town off the map. Driving around Goderich now, you’ll see everything has been lovingly restored, while the town “square” that was completely levelled, is now bigger and better than ever. Again, nestled along the shores of Lake Huron, Goderich plays host to ships of every make and size, from pleasure craft to large fishing barges, and an extensive boardwalk that stretches for miles along the lakeshore.


Bluewater Bridge

Bluewater Bridge

Whether for a day trip or longer stay, Ontario’s West Coast has so much to offer and is well worth the drive. Grand Bend, Ontario is located just forty-five minutes from either London or Sarnia, Ontario, and the Bluewater Customs Bridge that spans the river between Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan. It’s also an easy approximately two hour drive from Toronto, Ontario, so is a must-visit for anyone who loves sun, sand, cottaging, camping, shopping, great food, and good family fun!

August, 2010 – St. Pete’s/Clearwater

Welcome to St. Pete's Beach!

Welcome to St. Pete’s Beach!

A few years ago, when I worked at Business Development Manager, I went on a company site inspection with SIS (Strategic Incentive Solutions) to St. Pete’s/Clearwater. The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) hosted a top-notch site inspection for the entire SIS staff for a two night, three day inspection that featured 4 fabulous, luxury hotels and several exciting points of interest.


Personally, I had a preconceived notion that the area was host to geriatrics and snow-birders. As a child, my family and I used to frequent the area just to the south of St. Pete’s/Clearwater in our motor home quite a bit. But times were different then. Back then, the beaches were pristine stretches of sand with little to no real hotel chains to boast of.


As I saw, times have definitely changed. St. Pete’s/Clearwater is now a bustling, extremely upscale destination boasting some of the industry’s top luxury hotels. Facing those same pristine wide beaches are some of the most beautiful hotels I’ve had the pleasure to visit. With soft white sands, gulls and pelicans wheeling overhead, and the warm Gulf Coast surf lapping at my cold Canadian toes, I was blown away.


On arrival we were met by Suzanne and Tina, our two escorts from the CVB, who drove us to our host hotel, The Sandpearl. From the moment we exited the rental cars, we were warmly welcomed by Sales Manager, Wendy. After a quick change and freshen up, we were escorted to meet Winter, the dolphin, at the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Just a 10 minute ride from the hotel, we were thrilled to meet the darling of the aquarium, Winter, and her friends. The personal tour presented by guide, John, filled us in on all the small details we might have missed otherwise, with heart-breaking stories of marine wildlife in desperate need of the aquarium’s unique services. This is no tourist “show”, but rather a real, working rescue, rehab, and release facility. After the success of the movie, A Dolphin Tale, Clearwater Marine Aquarium saw a tremendous influx of visitors, and much needed revenue. Although I haven’t been back since the new Aquarium opened in 2011, I definitely want to return to see how they’re doing and the changes they’ve been able to make!

Winter, the dolphin

Winter, the dolphin


On our return to The Sandpearl, Wendy guided us proudly around the property and grounds of this incredible hotel. Situated right on the Clearwater Beach, The Sandpearl really showcases everything the St. Pete’s/Clearwater area has become over the years. Her incredible ocean front views, stately elegance and excellent service were balms to the soul during the very humid August days we spent there. Dinner that evening was a special affair in the private wine room, with waiter, Chris, regaling us with information and stories throughout the spectacular meal.

The Sandpearl Hotel

The Sandpearl Hotel

On the agenda the following morning was breakfast at the Don CeSar, otherwise known as “The Pink Palace”. After a fabulous breakfast hosted by an array of “The Don’s” top sales staff, we were treated to a tour of this incredible hotel by Sales Manager, Terry.  Located directly on St. Pete Beach’s, The Don comes with a long history of providing luxury accommodation for her guests – and even hints of ghostly residents who still walk her halls. Her signature pink exterior and Spanish architecture are mirrored inside by luxurious rooms with all the amenities. The grand ballroom was especially awe-inspiring with it’s signature sunken dance area with gleaming parquet hardwood flooring. Almost relegated to the past, Loews Hotel & Resorts invested millions of dollars in bringing this grand dame back to it’s current glory. As we toured her many fabulous meeting rooms and accommodations, again, we were reminded that this was no “old people’s” resort area-this was state-of-the-art luxury at it’s finest!

"The Don"

“The Don”

Next came lunch at The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg. Not just any lunch, this feast for the eyes and palate was a true treat by all, with the head chef introducing each course personally, making the meal a memorable experience.  Nestled on the downtown waterfront, The Vinoy offers the best of both worlds. Although not beach front, this ultra luxurious hotel faces both the intercoastal waterway and bay-side marinas, with stunning day and night time views. It was also the only hotel we toured that boasted it’s own private golf and country club just a short 5 minute ride away. The superior greens and amenities of the club were evident at every turn and it was a pleasure to learn more about this exciting resort. After a return to The Vinoy to continue our tour to showcase her beauty and desirability as a vacation resort and meeting venue, we were thrilled to take a two hour luxury catamaran trip out into the bay, where dolphins frolicked and chased the boat’s wake. Sales Manager, Ally, outdid herself in providing us with a perfect tour, providing many of the small details to make this a truly memorable day.

The Vinoy

The Vinoy

Dinner that evening was a real treat at The Parkshore Grill, where we experienced a fabulous meal of the highest quality. Treated to samples of some of the best cuisine they had to offer, we were again reminded of just how far this often overlooked area has come in the past few years. Upscale and trendy, the Parkshore Grill’s interior is a reflection of good taste and great food.

 The Parkshore Grill

Our final morning in the area was spent touring Clearwater’s Hyatt Regency hotel. Following a fabulous buffet breakfast, we were pleased to visit the many rooms, meeting facilities and unparalleled spa of this very upscale, luxurious hotel. One of my personal favourites of this property was the 20 state-of-the-art, climate controlled cabanas bordering the pool. Much as we would have loved to have stayed to enjoy the amenities the cabanas offered, time and travel plans dictated our day.

The Hyatt Regency

The Hyatt Regency


During a quick SIS meeting, we all agreed the inspections had proven to be especially eye-opening and well worth the visit to Florida in the middle of August. Every one of us felt we had come away with a much clearer understanding of the benefits of promoting this upscale, trendy area on the Gulf Coast. Not only does it offer every possible amenity, but it’s geographical advantage of being within the U.S. is a definite plus for those who would rather not have to deal with extensive travel to more distant shores. The shorter travel times, and the familiarity of an American based destination, with all the features and benefits of the most luxurious Carribean venues, are appealing to anyone seeking relaxation, outstanding eateries, beaches, and unrivaled meeting venues offered by this little known secret of the travel industry.


If you’ve experienced a destination you’d like to share, please do in the comments section!

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