Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight


July 2, 2003:
Have time, will travel
In a new collection of stories, editor Don George '75 examines life abroad

Don George's next book, The Kindness of Strangers, will be published next fall.

Don George '75 graduated from Princeton thinking he was destined to become a professor of comparative literature, wearing a tweed suit and thinking deep thoughts within ivy-covered walls. A trip to his weekly columns, "Traveler at Large," on the Lonely Planet website (www.lonelyplanet.com/columns/cult_of_don.htm), however, shows George tanned from the sun, his head covered by a red bandanna, standing casually on an airport runway.

Now the global-travel editor for Lonely Planet publications and editor of a book of travel stories entitled A House Somewhere, published in late 2002 by Lonely Planet Publications, George saw his direction change one day as he walked out of his newly rented apartment on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. He had just graduated, and was spending a few months in Paris working for a program administered by Princeton's French department before embarking on a yearlong English teaching job in Greece.

"It hit me like a thunderbolt," he says. "People were speaking French, wearing French clothes, eating in the café right there, standing up at the bar having their cup of coffee." The living textbook of French culture surrounding him inspired him to seek his learning not within another ivy-covered institution, but out in the world. "My life changed," he says, "It changed that day."

George believes the experience of living in a culture — as he himself learned from his summers in Paris, the year he spent in Greece, or his two years in Japan with Princeton-in-Asia — is one that allows a traveler to set his roots down much deeper. And it is the subject of the essays in his book, which range from pieces selected from Peter Mayles's A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun to essays by other travel writers, such as Jan Morris and Pico Iyer. There's also an essay on being a foreigner living in America, by the Chilean writer Isabel Allende.

"I think there's a real thematic movement in the book that traces the transition of living abroad from initial infatuation with the place," says George, "to then confronting the consequences," like buying a home.

George knows of what he speaks. His time in Greece and Japan have forever linked him to those countries. He met his wife, Kuniko, who is Japanese, while living there. " I identify with the frustrations and the disappointments of living abroad, as well as the epiphanies and miracles," says George, who lives outside San Francisco.

In addition to writing his weekly column, freelance articles for numerous travel publications, and popping up on TV and radio shows as a "travel expert," George is working on another anthology for Lonely Planet Publications called The Kindness of Strangers. "When you travel enough, you get into some dire predicament or you arrive in a city and you can't find an open inn or hotel, or you run out of money, or you lose your passport — inevitably, someone appears out of nowhere to take care of you," says George." He expects the book to be published sometime in the fall of 2003.

It is the kindness and the humanity one experiences while traveling, George believes, that makes it an increasingly important subject matter. "If people shut themselves off from the world entirely that would be a disaster," he says. And even for those a bit weary of traveling abroad, he says, there are all sorts of rich travel experiences out there from a state to the north or south of one's own to someplace half way around the globe. "People ask me all the time for advice. What I say is that people should pay attention to their own comfort threshold and not cross it, and that will be different for each person. For me, for example, I would get on a plane tomorrow, with no second thoughts, to Vietnam or Italy or most of the countries in the world. But if you do feel fear on a trip or to the extent where you're not enjoying it, then you are wasting time and money and you shouldn't go. People should tailor their travel plans to what makes them feel comfortable." But, he says, the important thing is to keep traveling, meeting people, and opening up oneself to new experiences.

By Kathryn Beaumont '96

Kathryn Beaumont is PAW's staff writer.