Marco Polo Didn't Have a Guidebook: Judith Fein Goes Deep in Exploring New Mexico

Marco Polo Didn't Have a Guidebook: Judith Fein Goes Deep in Exploring New Mexico
Slow Travel New Mexico: Unforgettable Personal Experiences in the Land of Enchantment by Judith Fein and Paul Ross

by Norma Libman

Judith Fein has been traveling since she was a child. Guided and encouraged by her parents, she learned to travel differently than most people do. She learned to look for what is unusual, for the other. And that approach has shaped her life and her career as a writer. 

“Their emphasis was on culture,” she says of her parents. “We may have sat in the balcony, but we would go to shows all the time. I was surrounded by culture, by travel, by books. And always, as far back as I can remember, I was attracted by the other, even in choosing my school friends when I was young. So when I travel I want to meet people who are not like me. Who do not eat the same food, don’t worship the same way, don’t have the same ceremonies, do not necessarily have the same values. And every year this interest has deepened.”

Fein has turned that early exposure into a writing career that allows her to travel and meet people all over the world. She got into travel writing after a thirteen-year stint as a Hollywood writer. “I loved writing,” she says, “but it was a very difficult environment for me. I decided I had to do something else. So what did I do first? I checked into a Franciscan monastery in Scottsdale to do a week of silence, during which time I managed to get into a food fight with a nun and get arrested on a dark road. When I came home, my sister told me about an NPR radio show called The Savvy Traveler. She suggested I make a tape and send it in. I recorded the story of what happened to me during the week of silence. I sent it in and four days later they called me and made me a regular on the show.” 

It was when she was doing pieces for the radio that she realized she could also write about travel. As soon as she had her first article published in a newspaper, she reflects, she knew this was what she should be doing. “I felt good about myself,” she says.

People tend to think travel is glamorous but Fein has her own take on that concept. “Yes, we often stay in the best hotels in the world and we’ve eaten in the best restaurants,” she says, “and I feel very lucky that we get to do this. But what excites me is that emersion into the deeper waters of people and places. It’s glamorous but it’s a lot of work. I’m working all the time. I’m always taking notes. And I don’t record, I write compulsively. I carry these little notebooks. And I’m always looking for stories. So you have to decide what glamorous means. To me it doesn’t mean sitting on sequins and going to the Academy Awards. Glamorous to me is exciting. It’s diving deep. That’s my definition. It’s not external. What’s glamorous to me is to be in the flow of life.” 

She says that if she’s staying at a fine hotel she writes about something that is “more marginal” about that hotel. Or in a restaurant, it’s having a fascinating conversation with the chef about something. That, she realized, is slow travel. It’s not slowing down, it’s going in deep. And that, she says, is what people are interested in these days. The adventure. “That’s what makes it really exciting for me. The glamour is getting to meet all sorts of people. I met a woman in Myanmar and I knew one word in her language and we managed to make a connection. Everyone else was just photographing her,” she says.

How does Fein make things happen? Her answer is simple: “Always say yes. You don’t have to go to out of the way places. You can do it in Albuquerque. I do no research. Marco Polo didn’t have a guide book or the internet. Plan where to stay but leave some things unplanned. You’ll always have an adventure.”

About working with her husband, photojournalist Paul Ross, she says, “Our interests are the same. We exchange a look and we know what we are going to do. I talk to the person and he gets a more relaxed photo. We have complementary skills.”

Her new book is Slow Travel New Mexico, with photos by Ross. The couple spent two years during the Covid pandemic traveling together and “fell hopelessly in love with our state.” They went to every corner of New Mexico and reported on how people are living and what they care about. Ross made a photographic record of it all. Along the way they give tips on how the reader can meet and talk to people, and on how to get wonderful pictures. It is a blueprint for what they call “slow travel,” which means, to Fein, going deep, experiencing more than just what is on the surface.

In addition to having written three award-winning books, Fein blogs for Psychology Today, has been published in newspapers world-wide, is an acclaimed keynote speaker and workshop leader, and has a TED talk. Her previous books are Life is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel, How to Communicate with the Dead, and The Spoon from Minkowitz, in which she traces the roots of her family back to Russia and visits the village in which her grandmother grew up. This book, especially, demonstrates the rich rewards of going deep into the far corners of the world. 

The book, Slow Travel New Mexico, is trending on Amazon in the top five New Mexico Travel books in the first weeks of its release.


Jewish Community Foundation of New Mexico
Congregation Albert
Temple Beth Shalom
Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque
The Institute for Tolerance Studies
Community Event! Sephardi Trio Federation of El Paso and Las Cruces

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