How I Travel: Author Ijeoma Oluo Loves a Scandinavian Breakfast Spread

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One of the biggest books of 2020 wasn’t published this year. In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the knee of a police officer and the subsequent racial reckoning in the United States, Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race surged on The New York Times best-seller list two years after its release, and has stayed there for months. Meanwhile, the author spent 2020 finishing up another book, called Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, which is out this week and would make an illuminating (or passive-aggressive, depending on your family or friend scene) holiday gift.

In the midst of a virtual promotional tour, Oluo chatted from her home in Seattle about Scandinavian breakfast spreads, her packing routine, and road trips with her two children.

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What she misses about traveling:

I miss being excited to come home. I think that’s one of the most special things about travel—you go to a new place and it’s exciting, and then you’re like, “Oh, my bed’s at home. My family’s at home.” Now it’s the same thing every day. Most of all, I loved just exploring new cities so much. I really miss walking around and seeing what’s new around the corner, and checking out different museums.

Her genius tip when on the road:

I had a separate set of toiletries, a separate set of makeup, a separate umbrella, a separate bag of chargers. Those were always ready to go, and then usually the night before, I would lay out my clothes, and add them, and my laptop and my phone, and I’d be ready. I learned it was the things that you have to pull out of your daily routine that you end up forgetting. Also, I’ve lost entire bags of makeup. Having a [makeup] bag that’s more inexpensive items, that you won’t be upset if you lose it in the airport or lose it at the hotel, helps as well.

How she packs and plans her famous makeup looks:

I had a bag [with] palettes I knew worked, face palettes, and a lot of combination things. What I would do normally is I would look at the outfits I had laid out the night before, and I would say, “What lipsticks would go with this?” The only things that wouldn’t be in that bag would be lipsticks and a couple of shimmery eyeshadows for fun. I would toss in whatever mascara I was using, a couple colorful little eyeshadows, and I would pick three lipsticks. It was never super experimental, because the one thing I learned is that lighting in hotels is horrific. You really don’t want to do yourself the disservice of packing brightly colored things that you can’t blend, and you think you look fine in this dim yellow light, and then you get out to an event and you look like a clown.

How she spends her flight time:

I have really bad flight anxiety, even though there are times where I was traveling multiple times a week. I have really bad motion sickness, so I don’t work on planes. I almost never read on planes. I usually take Xanax and try to sleep through the whole thing. I have my whole comfort setup of neck pillow, extra-long sweater that turns into a blanket, noise-canceling headphones, and I’m done. If I do wake up, then I’m all about adding the internet plan, and just trying to chat with people to keep myself distracted.

Where she wants to go once she can travel again:

There’s so many places. I dream of taking my kids back to Hawaii. We’ve been a few times now. It’s a dream family spot. I would love to go back to Stockholm. We had planned to go back for another anniversary, because my partner and I, our first date was in Stockholm. We’d been planning on going to Ethiopia. We traveled so much and it’s such a huge part of our relationship. I don’t know if there was a month in our relationship where we weren’t traveling, until this pandemic.

The best vacation she’s ever taken:

Every couple of years I take my kids on a road trip. Part of it is, in this day and age, to know that you can take two teens, or a teen and a pre-teen, away from their technology for multiple weeks and put them on the road, and they would be pleasant and you would like them… You connect in such a different way. We got stuck once in a lightning storm in Arizona; they were just so fascinated. They were up until one in the morning just staring. We pulled over and they just watched from the rest stop. “Whoa, another one.” Those trips—we’ve done, I think, three or four—where we just spend multiple weeks driving around the country, I think will always be my favorites.

Her favorite hotel amenities:

I like hotels that think of your tech needs. Hotels that have extra cords, extra plug-ins, things like that. It drives me wild when hotels, especially the hotels you’re paying good money for, act as if no one forgets a cord. I love [when] they recognize that travelers forget stuff. The little travel kits, the sewing kits. Those things that, when I was traveling just for vacation, I didn’t care about, but when you’re traveling for work—knowing that you have Band-Aids really does make a difference.

Her favorite hotel in the world:

Oh man. We have stayed in so many lovely ones. Hotel Diplomat in Stockholm, it’s beautiful. They have the whole gorgeous breakfast smorgasbord, but the rooms—usually, in Scandinavia, the hotel rooms are so tiny. They’re like, “Oh, you’ve got a deluxe room,” and it’s a box. The Hotel Diplomat is just this beautiful luxe experience. Actually, at any decent hotel in Stockholm, in Norway, the breakfasts make it my favorite hotel every time.

Her visitors’ guide to Seattle:

I absolutely recommend that you come in the summer, because there’s really not another time; we’re forcing ourselves to walk around outside right now. It’s so cold and gross. If you like to be outside and hiking, or seeing water, this is the place to be. Outside of the city, we have places like Wallace Falls, where you can hike up these waterfalls. It’s beautiful. Then I would say the food. Everyone talks about the seafood, [but] I don’t think the seafood’s as big a deal as the different ethnic foods that we have in the area. The Ethiopian restaurants we have are some of the best you’ll find in the country. The Filipino food, we have some of the best Thai food, and Vietnamese food. Looking at what is created with the abundance of meat and vegetables and fruit that we have here in the Pacific Northwest by communities of color is a great way to eat.

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