Broadcast journalist Katie Couric’s top travel tip is—fittingly—to do a ton of talking.
“I ask cab drivers, waiters, and even tour guides a lot of questions,” says the Yahoo News global anchor and former Today Show host. “I'm sure everything about me screams, ‘I am American!’”
Here, Katie Couric chats about the benefits of being a journalist while traveling, how she tackles her FOMO, and the secret to finding the best local eats.
When someone comes to visit you in New York City, where is the first place you take them?
My favorite place in New York City—and the first place I bring my guests—is always Central Park. I try to go for a walk through the park on any morning I can. It’s such a beautiful and calming way to start the day, and I love how different the park is in every season.
How do you think being a journalist affects the way you travel?
Sometimes it's sensory overload, but I really try to soak everything in when I travel: the sights, the sounds, the smells, and, of course, the food!
I also love looking at the way the indigenous people travel—their cars, trucks, or even donkeys. It's fun to peek inside those modes of transportation to see what they are wearing, who they're traveling with, et cetera. I think you can learn a lot about different cultures by simply looking at people! I have serious FOMO, so I strike up a conversation with just about anyone by asking them for directions, what they're eating, or their favorite nightclub.
How do you connect with local cultures during your travels?
I like to find out what is produced by artisans in the country and then try to find the nicest example of that product. When I was in Krakow recently, I went to a store selling beautiful amber. Learning about it helped me understand some interesting things about Poland’s topography and environment.
And I always absorb the local culture though food. If you don't believe me, just ask my waistline! That means streusel and goulash in Budapest, poutine in Quebec, trdelník in Prague (yum!), Khmer noodles in Cambodia, wontons in Hong Kong, and prosciutto and Montepulciano wine in Tuscany. I try to make sure I find restaurants that locals like instead of relying on recommendations in travel brochures or guidebooks. My husband and I often ask hotel employees, "Where do you like to eat?" We favor more casual haunts, where I think you get a much better flavor of the city you're visiting.
What's the most memorable dining experience you've had while traveling?
I had a beautiful lunch with my children on the Great Wall of China. And my husband and I took a cooking class during our honeymoon in Italy. It was so much fun, and I must admit we did a pretty good job making gnocchi!
What destination surprised you the most?
Shanghai. I was surprised how much I loved it. It was bustling and colorful, and the juxtaposition of the modest urban dwellings and towering skyscrapers was fascinating. Despite the throngs of tourists, I felt a lot of tranquility there.
Is there a place that draws you back again and again?
I love the Turks and Caicos! I’ve been there a number of times. The beaches are beautiful. The water is a gorgeous shade of turquoise and the islanders are warm and friendly. I’d love to establish a network bureau there!
Why is travel important?
Traveling makes you smarter, more tolerant, and more interesting. In order to be a citizen of the world, it’s important to see the world!
What's the most memorable travel souvenir you have?
I used to buy dolls from every country I visited and bring them home to my daughters. I’ve given them dolls from Dublin, Zimbabwe, Chile, and Moscow—they’ve got quite a collection!
One of my favorite souvenirs was a bottle opener I bought outside the Vatican. I ended up giving it to Steven Colbert on his show because he’s Catholic, he loves the pope, and he drinks a lot more bottled beer than I do!
What do you never leave home without when you're on the road?
I always travel with my portable voice recorder in case I need to track vocals on the road. And all of the New Yorker magazines I didn’t have time to read!
Are there certain restrictions to traveling as a woman that men don't experience?
There are so many ways to answer this, but one experience that comes to mind is when I went to Saudi Arabia and had to buy an abaya to cover myself. I tried to be modest in my dress and not draw attention to myself in any insensitive way. When I covered the Gulf War I did the same thing. I think a lot of people try to be respectful of the culture they’re visiting, but I do think there’s an added layer of specificity and sensitivity for women.
And I always leave my jewelry at home!
What do you hope the future of travel will be like for your daughters?
My daughters have wanderlust just like their mother. I hope that I’ve imbued them with the same curiosity about people and places that has allowed me to lead such a rich and rewarding life.
Tune in to Katie Couric’s new documentary on gender identity, featuring conversations with activists, doctors, and individuals in the transgender community. Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric , premieres on February 6 on the National Geographic Channel .