Rachel Tavel is a published travel writer and full-time wanderluster. A half Argentinean native New Yorker, she recently left the Upper West Side of Manhattan to pursue travel writing full-time. Tavel currently resides in Quito, Ecuador, where she works for V!VA Travel Guides.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I am a born and raised New York City girl. I actually have lived within the same 20 blocks in Manhattan my entire life, except for when I went to college in Maine. I guess I’m a small town girl at heart. My small town just happens to be NYC.
And what did you do there, then?
Before moving to Quito I was working as the editor of an independent school’s annual magazine. Working at a school gave me great vacation time, so I took advantage of this with trips every chance I got, and the occasional freelance travel writing gig. But most of my time was spent daydreaming about where I might travel next…
I had done a little freelance writing about Buenos Aires (where my mom was born and raised) for this travel guidebook company called VIVA Travel Guides. They liked what I wrote and contacted me months later to see if I’d be interested in a full-time position at their headquarters in Quito. I was! So here I am.
Have you lived abroad before?
I lived in Barcelona for a semester during college. I also spent a month in Costa Rica as an international volunteer, if that counts, and a month traveling around Mexico on assignment for a Frommer’s guidebook I co-authored. But living in Maine for four years during college felt like living abroad after spending my whole life in NYC!
So what’s so good about Quito?
Good question. I guess I have to say that its natural setting in the Andes, almost 10,000 ft above sea level, surrounded by stunning mountains is what makes it so unique. Stunning, really. Also, the Old Town, with its steep hills and colorful old buildings and plazas makes it really feel like you’re somewhere very special in the world. That said, I’d say the best things about Quito are what is surrounding it, not what is on the ground day-to-day.
And what don’t you like?
I’ve never lived somewhere with so much crime; it’s a constant reality and you can never be totally free here because you have to be constantly aware, careful, and street-smart. Unfortunately, most of the time that isn’t even enough. If you are here for more than a couple weeks, you WILL have a horror story to share. It is, sadly, part of the Quito experience. But for the most part, there usually isn’t too much damage. You really just have to be careful, and accept the reality of it.
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
It’s hard to be an insider when you are a 5’9” tall, skinny gringa, but that said, I don’t feel too freaky here. Most Quiteños seem to keep to themselves more than I am used to when traveling in a foreign city. There are so many Dutch and German expats here, though, that we foreigners are not considered outsiders, especially in this major city. However, while we don’t “blend in” (we are taller, whiter, and usually more self-aware), most places are a peaceful blend of Quiteños and non-Quiteños. It really just depends how well you salsa.
How do you support yourself?
Ha. Another good question! I am working here full-time as a staff writer for VIVA Travel Guides, so I do have a job… although I am not really making money. But it’s enough to get by (barely!).
Any advice for wannabe Quiteños?
My advice is come to Quito, but use it as a base for visiting all the surrounding parts of the country. I am not in love with Quito, but Ecuador is an incredible country with SO much to offer. And no matter where you go, you get to travel in and out of the most beautiful mountainous setting. The views from the bus alone are worth a trip anywhere. Oh yeah, and – I’ve gotta say it one more time – be careful. I could elaborate on that, but I’d rather not scare anyone.
Is the move permanent?
No. I don’t have an exact return date, but after a three-month long battle with a parasite, I think I get the hint… Plans for the future include returning to NYC, looking for editorial positions, starting with travel magazines, and then seeing where it all takes me.
Finally, tell us about something typically Quito
Something typically Quito: sipping some canelazo (a hot cocktail made from sugar cane alcohol, cinnamon and a citrus fruit called naranjilla) before a night of salsa dancing. Then buying a fresh squeezed fruit juice in the morning while little women in indigenous garb sell mandarin oranges on the side of the road, and the Pichincha volcano hovers over the city.
Rachel Tavel writes about travel and living in Quito on her blog Travels with Tavel
Rachel can be found also on Twitter: @travelswtavel
Photos provided courtesy of, and copyrighted to, Rachel Tavel
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