Goals for a Whirlwind Year: Stay Healthy, Maybe Find Love

Posted January 16, 2018 4:39 p.m. EST

Jada Yuan beat out 13,000 other applicants to become The New York Times’ first 52 Places Traveler. She will visit each of the places the Travel section deemed must-see during 2018, starting with the No. 1 pick, New Orleans.

Yuan recently talked about the job, her background and what she is looking forward to (and fearing) about the coming year.

Q: How are you feeling heading into the trip?

Elated and terrified — but I keep coming back to elated, which is a good thing. I’ve only been to five of the places on the list, and those are mostly in the United States. I’m so grateful to The Times for picking me to go on this crazy adventure.

I’m sure I’m like a lot of people from middle- and working-class backgrounds in that I’d certainly dreamed of traveling around the world — I just never thought it would happen. I grew up in a part of New Mexico where herds of cattle would just wander into our backyard. I went straight from college to working as an editorial assistant at New York magazine, and at the time I was just throwing ideas at the wall, ready to take whatever job came my way.

I never thought I’d spend 17 years falling in love with journalism and learning from some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. (Or that I’d get to hang out with Stevie Nicks.) But I also knew when I saw the 52 Places listing, that I’d found the one thing that I wouldn’t be able to turn down if I were lucky enough to get it.

Q: Tell us a little about how your professional background will be an asset.

The initial job posting that said The Times was looking for someone with “the ability to parachute into a place and distill its essence,” and I remember thinking, I’ve done that for years!(Had I known that 13,000 people were going to have the same reaction, I’m not sure I would have felt so confident, but it helped in the moment.)

My first writing job at New York magazine was running our party coverage. That meant going to up to four events a night, walking into a strange room and trying to get interviews with whatever celebrities happened to be there.

You have to think fast and you can’t have any kind of fear factor, which I hope will come in handy on the road.

Q: What tools, literal and online, are you using to prepare?

As a great gift to my sanity, Kayak, the online travel aggregator, is working with The Times to handle the first draft of the itinerary, so at least I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to get everywhere or if I’m going to have a place to sleep once I do.

That leaves me more time to obsess over packing and gearing up. I’ve been scouring the travel recommendations on Wirecutter and The Strategist.

I’ve found a lot of great blogs with recommendations, like TripSavvy, SmarterTravel and Travel Fashion Girl, and have pulled ideas from articles by Ashlea Halpern and Paula Froelich, old work friends who both left media jobs like mine to travel the world.

I’ve also had the brains of two foreign correspondent friends to pick: Heidi Vogt of The Wall Street Journal, who’s lived all over Africa and Afghanistan, and Jean Lee, who started The Associated Press’ North Korea bureau. I was just on a snowboarding trip with Jean and downloaded her brain for two hours (look out for that in a future article).

Q: What is your greatest hope for the trip?

Is it too cheesy to say I hope to fall in love? It’s been a hard road as a single lady in New York, and I’m basically going on the most romantic journey I could imagine.

It’s not likely, given how little time I’ll be spending in most places, but I’m trying to head into this trip as open to whatever comes my way as possible, and I promise to write about it if it happens.

I also think love could come in many unexpected forms: love of a place that I’ll want to return to once this is over; a renewed love for journalism in the expansive forms I’ll be trying; love for one’s self that comes when you’re stretched to your limits and can see your capabilities.

Q: What about your greatest fear?

Other than incurring the wrath of Times commenters? Definitely getting sick and being miserable and waylaid for long enough that I mess up the whole project.

Q: Do you think you will make it to the final destination?

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I will be there, even if I’m on crutches and harboring a tapeworm. Bring it on.