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Caitlin Etherton

"I like to find the closest outdoor space—a park, a harbor, a garden, or a river—and I like to stretch my legs for a long time, not rushing and taking time to drink it all in."

Born in Florida and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Caitlin Etherton is a frequent writer for National Geographic Travel. After four years in Atlanta, Georgia, and five years managing an organic farm on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, Caitlin is intimately familiar with the South—especially when it comes to food. Caitlin holds a BA from Emory University, an MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth, and recently joined the Biocultural Conservation Farm team at Oak Spring Garden Foundation in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Essentialist: Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

Caitlin Etherton: I was born outside of Gainesville, Florida and grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on the Delmarva peninsula—think lots of wetlands, watermelons, chickens, blue crabs, and soybeans.


E: What was the first trip you took where you thought…I’m hooked and want to do this more?

CE: My parents took my brothers and I traveling with them quite a lot while we were growing up. When I was a freshman in high school we spent two and a half weeks traveling up and down the east coast of Australia. We saved for the trip for years and my mom planned everything out to a t. We chartered a sailboat in the Great Barrier Reef to go snorkeling and spear fishing for three days. Stayed in treehouses over cassowary habitat in the rainforest. Wandered through Sydney and Melbourne. And rented a house on Kangaroo Island off the Southern tip of Australia where we went looking for kangaroos, seals, and wallabies with a local naturalist. How could I not leave itching to see more of the world?


E: What is the first thing you like to do when you have landed in a foreign country or a new city?

CE: After I’ve unloaded my luggage, the first thing I like to do is drink a gallon of water, take a hot shower, then go for a long walk somewhere beautiful. Ideally I like to find the closest outdoor space—a park, a harbor, a garden, or a river—and I like to stretch my legs for a long time, not rushing and taking time to drink it all in. If I’ve landed early enough in the day I also like to find a great coffee shop in the area and make friends with the barista to find out what’s worth eating/seeing/doing while I’m in town. Baristas always know the best places! I learned this trick from a friend of mine who managed coffee shops in Charleston and Richmond and now I make this important coffee-intel-stop everywhere I go.


E: What is a place (city, country) that you could go back to a million times?

CE: Honestly, probably Maine. My family has been traveling to Maine every summer since I was six, and I’m still not tired of it. The people are so down-to-earth and friendly. The views are stunning. The seafood is unmatchable. And everything is so gritty and real and luminous at the same time. Even in the hottest part of the summer you can find a corner of Maine that is cool and crisp and squeaky clean from any litter, garbage, or modern distraction. I’d take a walk in the Maine woods or along a Down East harbor over Manhattan, Paris or Shanghai any day of the week.


E: You have a background in and a passion for farming. Can you tell us about this?

CE: When I was in college I had an ethics professor ask the students in our class what profession we would do if we had absolutely no restrictions or limitations financially, physically, logistically etc. No one had quite asked me that question in that way before and I immediately knew I wanted to be a farmer. I felt ridiculous. I’m not very athletic and I’ve always been quite bookish. But a year later I stepped onto my first farm and I just opened my arms and mind and started weeding the strawberry patch. I loved every second and never looked back. I farmed for six years, went back to school to get my masters in Creative Writing, graduated, and recently accepted a full-time position farming at a bio-cultural conservation farm near the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia. After farming for a few years I understood that my impulse really wasn’t so absurd. I studied pre-medicine and English in college and realized that organic farming combined a lot of the things I already loved in a practical way. I finally had the ability to engage with science, healthy living, and creativity all at once, with a tasty outcome to boot.


E: What are two essential items you carry with you on all trips? (besides your passport and wallet!)

CE: Travel-size Caudalie grape water spray (life-changing!) and always a reusable water bottle. I like to keep a binchotan charcoal stick in my water bottle too regardless of whether I’m traveling somewhere domestic or international.


E: Any secrets for battling jetlag?

CE: Jetlag rears its ugly head for different people in different ways. You really have to find what works for you personally. For me I know I’m better off if I make sure to practice some yoga, drink lots of water, and get lots of sleep the three days before my flight. I also drink a lot of water as soon as I get off the plane. And limit post-flight naps to only 30 minutes or less (a little sleep trick I learned from Ologies—one of my favorite podcasts especially when I’m traveling!)


E: In your bag: Books or kindle?

CE: Books always. I love saving trees but absolutely hate staring at screens and not getting to write in the margins. I try to compromise by buying used books at independently owned bookstores or from Better World Books (donates a portion of profit to world literacy programs and has no carbon footprint).

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