Chandi Wyant – Travel Writer Interview
I’ve always had a love affair with Italy, and when I stumbled upon Chandi Wyant on Instagram I knew I had to learn more about her! This California girl has turned world traveller, and has lived in some amazing places across the globe. Then a life changing event rocked her world which lead to a choice to take the pilgrimage along the Via Francigena to Rome.
If you love a book that transports you to another place, takes you alongside as someone goes on a quest, while learning the history and stories along this ancient route, than I suggest you pick up Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy by Chandi Wyant. But first, lets learn more about the fascinating woman behind the memoir.
Meet Chandi Wyant
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a California beach town and the progressive, forward thinking mentality of the California coast had a strong influence on my outlook, but what has influenced my world view even more are my trips through Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and my expat living experiences in each of those regions.
What interests me most about travel is that it provides our best chance for a world that’s more peaceful and tolerant. Travel offers this when it’s done in a in-depth way, when open-minded conversations are undertaken with people who have different beliefs, when comfort zones are abandoned, when judgement is suspended, and cross cultural knowledge is sought. These ideas crystalized for me on my first budget backpacking trip around Europe when I was 19, and continued to be my waymarkers for my travels and expat experiences through the following decades.
You’ve lived in quite a few places across the globe. Which surprised you the most?
Recently I lived in Qatar for three years teaching history at a college there. Living there as a single, independent woman from California, was certainly the most unusual of my international experiences.
What I leaned there is that you cannot paint the whole Middle East with one brush. When I returned home from my 3 years in Qatar, so many people said to me, “Thank goodness you are home where it’s safe. It is so dangerous over there.” On the news they’re seeing only the problematic parts of the Middle East. I replied that Qatar is safer than the U.S. Qatar doesn’t have a single gun store. Getting a license to own a gun in Qatar is extremely difficult and the vast majority of citizens do not own them. Sure once in a while a dramatic crime occurs but over all there is very little crime. However there are things a westerner can get into trouble for there, that he or she would not, in the U.S. The rules there are different and it’s important to understand them before you go. It would be nice if more Americans could travel to the peaceful areas of the Middle East and get a better sense of the diversity of the region and get some of their stereotypes broken down.
Have you ever travelled solo?
I have traveled solo a lot. I enjoy it. My memoir that was recently published is about my solo 40-day walk on Italy’s pilgrimage route, which I did in my early 40s but I traveled solo in Europe at age 19, and in India and Nepal at age 21, and when I lived in Qatar I was on my own and I have just moved to Italy on my own.
What is your favourite place and why?
Italy. But I also have to say, now that I have spent so much time abroad, I have a huge appreciation for California. I see it now as one of the most beautiful and healthy places in the world to live. Not only does it have every kind of stunning landscape you could want, it has an abundance of organic food, and an abundance of educated people who know how to think critically. I’m not too impressed with the US right now— but if I look at California just on its own, it’s a darn close second to Italy.
If you could describe your method of travel in one word, what would it be?
What is your must have travel accessory?
Camera. Before smart phones, I always traveled with a camera. I love to take photos, and I love to record experiences. Now that I have an iPhone, I sometimes take only that, but I have a DSLR too which I like to take if there’s space.
What is your most memorable travel moment?
There are so many! I’m looking back at over 30 years of travel! I am going to choose one, which is in my book, and just provide a teaser of it here. When I joined a Volunteers for Peace program in Poland in the 80’s, I had an interaction with someone that caused me to see that my hopes of promoting better international relations through my travels had, in fact, come to fruition.
What is your dream destination?
The Maldives or Fiji to say in an over-water bungalow.
Do you have any upcoming trips?
I have just moved (4 days ago) to Italy! I look forward to lots of excursions around this beguiling country.
How has travel changed you?
It has given me confidence and courage, it has fine-tuned my intuition, it has driven me to be deeply tolerant. It helps keep me constantly curious and always learning.
How long did it take for your book, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy, to come to fruition?
This will be a long answer because I want to be very conscious about not being flippant and saying, “Oh, it took a few years.” As if all that is needed is just to sit down and write in a linear fashion for two years.
And I think when it is answered that way, it sets the writer at a distance from those who are starting out and are looking for guidance. It makes it seem like the writer downloads it from some special part of her brain and never struggles.
It is not linear and it is not easy. It takes dogged determination, it takes a willingness to fail many times and a willingness to be humble and to strive to keep learning and trying.
I started writing this book in 2010 and getting a first draft down took me about 6 months. This draft was essentially getting my journals and memories onto the pages, but there was no narrative arc at that point. I then left Boulder and moved to Santa Fe and was occupied with other things and didn’t work on the manuscript again until 2012, during my last 6 months in Santa Fe.
Then I got a job in Qatar. In Qatar I worked on it for about 6 months out of my 3 years there— and at that point I got some beta readers and that’s when I realized I didn’t really know how to craft memoir. Back in California, I put a year of work into the manuscript, got a few more beta readers and some editing help, and it finally came together.
When I realized, half way through those efforts, that I did not know much about crafting memoir, I sought resources online to help me learn— I put in a heck of a lot of time asking questions and listening and learning. For me, having been on the outside, as a reader of non-fiction, I was seeing the polished end products and it’s impossible to understand how much work went into those end products unless you’ve tried it yourself. It was much harder than I thought it would be.
I had always received a lot of kudos for my academic writing so I thought I could write. However, memoir is a totally different craft than academic writing. Can you believe, even after many drafts I still had all kinds of footnotes in the memoir, until a beta reader shook my shoulders and said very clearly, “Footnotes have no place in a memoir. They take the reader out of the story!”
I had to very consciously change my style, approach, and voice from the academic one, to one that would work for memoir.
One of the most interesting and most difficult things about the process was learning how to cut. I didn’t know how to decide what stays in the book and what gets cut. I tried to learn to ask myself, does this advance the story? And I often felt paralyzed by the question. I felt I couldn’t distance myself enough to know what advanced the story and what did not. This is where it’s very nice to have a publishing house behind you and pass to the editor all those questions and all that editing work. I hired an editor and got some advice but oh my, the indecisions and revisions! So many of them, so late at night, with my eyes falling out of my head!
What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
I hope that the sharing of my experience will help empower others who may be going through similar things in life, and for those who are wondering about solo travel but haven’t done it, I hope it inspires them. I also hope that it encourages the idea of in-depth travel— of reaching out across borders and getting to know people who are from other cultures and breaking bread with them instead of fearing them and putting up walls to keep them out.
Your book is about your pilgrimage along the Via Francigena route to Rome, what made you choose this walk?
When my divorce and a traumatic illness happened at the same time I felt shattered: emotionally and physically weak and very alone. The concept of a long distance walk in Italy came as I was trying to figure out a way to put myself back together.
What was your most challenging experience along your pilgrimage?
Learning only a week into it that I had developed Plantar Fasciitis and having to do the bulk of the trek with this painful foot condition
Do you have any tips for others wanting to walk the Via Francigena?
Be in shape, have sturdy shoes with thick soles, take trekking poles. If you want to do it just for a few days to get a taste of it, consider having me guide you. I’ll soon be offering weekends on the prettiest parts of the route in Tuscany for small groups/individuals.
As someone who has lived in and travelled a lot through Italy, what are your picks for hidden gems in Italy?
It’s hard to choose— there are gems everywhere in Italy. A great way to find hidden gems is to go hiking. This will get you out of the touristic centers and into a wilder natural world that, with all the hype about the historic cities, you may not have realized is there. I suggest the Monti Sibillini National Park that borders Umbria and Le Marche, or the Gran Paradiso National Park between the regions of Valle d’Aosta and Piemonte.
Do you have any new books on the horizon?
Yes, a memoir from my time in Qatar.
What is your favourite travel book?
That probably changes yearly but I’ll name one I read last year which is technically more of an expat book than a travel book: Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. Her descriptions of Africa are searing and passionate. She describes a life in Africa that is both violent and lush, and that seems to break her heart open frequently. What I felt reading it, is that she has lived a larger life than many of us who remain in the US— a tame country in comparison.
I could see how Africa has taken and given so much, how it has cracked her heart open, how its fierce beauty has seared itself on her soul. And that makes for some awesome reading!
What is your favourite travel quote?
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain
I just want to say thank you so much to Chandi and wish her the best on her move to Italy! If you’d like to read more from Chandi Wyant you can check out her website at Paradise of Exiles, and to purchase her book click here.
Pin this image for later!