Lina Zeldovich shimmied with belly dancers in Turkey, cooked a zebu stew in Madagascar, fished for piranhas in the Amazon, sipped a drink made from a venomous snake in Peru—and always lived to write the story. Along the way, she survived Siberian winter, Jordanian summer and Columbia J-School. Her work appeared in AARP, BBC, NPR, Smithsonian, Sierra Club, Atlas Obscura, Newsweek, AFAR, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, TravelAge West, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest and in-flight magazines. In addition to travel, she also writes about health, medicine, ecology, food and tech and was a science editor at the Nautilus magazine. She holds several journalism awards including NATJA’s gold, silver and bronze. Her popular science book, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth was published by Chicago University Press in 2021 to rave reviews by Mary Roach and Elizabeth Colbert. She is a culture shock junkie, and she lives in New York so she can fly nonstop to almost anywhere.
1. What got you into travel writing?
I am a culture shock junkie. Wherever I go, I love learning everything about people who live there, their culture, history, food, and life views. And, because I am a journalist, I want to write about everything I experience.
2. What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
Jetlag! Many of my trips had been overseas and I absolutely hate that feeling! It takes away from fully experiencing the world in all its colors, tastes and smells. If I can, I try to go a day or two early so I can start reporting on my story in a better shape.
3. What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
My “travel pharmacy” that has remedies for anything that can possibly go wrong with me or my family. That little bag of tricks had healed us all pretty much everywhere, from American outbacks to the Amazon jungle to the wilds of Madagascar.
4. What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
Holding a basket with an Indian cobra rocking to the snake-charmer’s music in Delhi. I still can’t believe I did it. I must’ve been massively jetlagged and my self-preservation instincts were asleep.
5. How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
I had been a NATJA’s member before but lapsed because I was working on a book for a few years. I missed being part of this vibrant community of kindred spirits. NATJA has a way of treating its members in a very special, family-like way.
6. What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Follow your passions, but have a backup plan, always.