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Mark Johanson

“To really experience a place and check its pulse you need to allow yourself some time to get a little lost. I love to walk for a few hours with no real objective to see a new city beyond its top 10 attractions.”

Mark Johanson is an American travel writer based in Santiago, Chile. Passionate about food, drink and the great outdoors, his writing has appeared in The Guardian, BBC, GQ, Men’s Journal, Bloomberg Pursuits, Christie’s and Newsweek, among others. He has also penned numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks and hardcovers. 

Essentialist: What sparked your interested in Chile? How did you come to live there?

Mark Johanson: It’s so cliché: Love. Chile honestly wasn’t even on my radar until I met a Chilean while traveling in New Zealand nearly 9 years ago and got hooked. In my head, I think I’d lumped all of South America into the category of tropical countries and Chile is anything but. I soon became fascinated by its extremes, including the world’s driest non-polar desert, the tallest mountains beyond Asia, and the globe’s most remote commercial airport on Easter Island. And that doesn’t even cover Patagonia, one of the most virgin wildernesses left on our planet. Having all of these places at my fingertips made the move to Santiago an easy decision.


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

MJ: I’d like to say that it was my first visit to Yellowstone as a kid when I wrote my own guide to the park’s geysers, which fascinated my young and confused mind. However, I think that I really got hooked when I decided to throw away my career in film and television and move into a treehouse in the Virgin Islands ten years ago. That freeing experience set me down a path that eventually led to a new career as a travel writer.


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

MJ: I take a long walk. To really experience a place and check its pulse you need to allow yourself some time to get a little lost. I love to walk for a few hours with no real objective to see a new city beyond its top 10 attractions. This allows me the freedom to immerse myself in the place in ways that taking cabs never will.


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

MJ: Northern Virginia. I cannot see myself living in the Washington DC suburbs as an adult, but it’s where I spent the first 17 years of my life and I think that I take so much of my upbringing in Northern Virginia with me when I travel around the world. Having lived outside of the US for the better part of the last decade, there is nothing quite like that sensation of going ‘home.’


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

MJ: My iPhone loaded with podcasts, trip-appropriate music, offline maps and inspiration for the journey ahead. I also try to buy a book, either fiction or nonfiction, that will give me new insight into my upcoming destination.


E: Any secrets for battling jetlag?

MJ: If it’s a relatively short time difference, I always try to power through that first day to the point where I’m exhausted and will sleep solid through the night. If I take a long nap on the plane, it will usually ruin that first night for me! On longer flights with substantial time changes, I try to cut the difference and time my sleep halfway between my normal sleeping hours at home and my upcoming sleeping hours in the destination. This helps me transition to the new time zone before I even get off the plane.


E: What’s on your travel radar for 2019?

MJ: The Elqui Valley has always been one of my favorite spots in northern Chile, and it will witness a rare total solar eclipse in 2019. It’s the perfect moment to come and see how this valley lined in pisco grapes is transforming into a world-class hub of astro-tourism.

Beyond Chile, other destinations I’ve got on my radar (and am hoping to/plan to visit) include Copenhagen, Slovenia, Uruguay, Panama, Tasmania, Bhutan and Cairo.


E: Backpack or roller suitcase?

MJ: I began my travelling life as a backpacker and never grew out of it. I do a lot of solo travel in the developing world and a roller suitcase just doesn’t cut it on bumpy overland journeys or weight-restrictive Cessnas. With a backpack, I can hike for a few days in the mountains, and then rock up in a city for something a bit more cultured. No other luggage is quite so versatile.


E: In your bag: Books or kindle?

MJ: Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer to read paper books. If I loose a book in an airport, hotel or train it’s not really a big deal. If I loose a kindle, I’ll probably be upset for the rest of the day. For me, travel is all about minimizing the potential for things to go wrong.

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