171. Katy Clarke

Katy Clarke is exactly the person I would be if I were smarter, braver, outgoing, enterprising and entrepreneurial.

Like me, she has a passion for Italy, and an unending urge to explore every corner, taste every morsel, meet every person, and absorb every bit of the culture she can find. Unlike me, she has managed to parley this into a mini-industry, with an Untold Italy blog and tours, a podcast with 100 million listeners that ranks in the top ten travel podcasts in the U.S., and an Italy Travel Planning Facebook group with 100,000 members. I have the most contact with the Facebook group, where people write in with questions about their upcoming travel — Where to go? What to wear? What to bring? — and rely on the wisdom of the crowd to set them straight.

Katy addresses the Travel Writing class

I knew Katy Clarke was Australian due to her nearly impenetrable Australian accent on her podcast, but when I learned she’s actually based in Melbourne, where my husband was leading a University of Delaware study abroad program on travel writing, I knew he had to invite her to be a guest speaker. Graciously, she agreed and came and spoke to his class, and then went to lunch with a smaller group of us (Yes, of course, I tagged along. Would I miss having lunch with Ringo in Liverpool?)

It’s a very impressive multifaceted operation she and her team have got going, but I was most interested in hearing her talk about the values that underlie her work. She hopes to be a promoter of responsible and sustainable travel, and encourage people to venture beyond the over-saturated handful of locations and times of year on everyone’s must-do lists. That said, she is very non-judgmental about the choices people make, because she realizes that everyone is bringing their own goals and constraints to the planning process, a lesson that could be learned by some of the Facebook group members, who pounce on people for all sorts of a perceived misjudgments and missteps. Chief among these is trying to cram too much into a short period, or the worst crime of all, going to Pisa, which is felt by the knowit-alls like me, to be nothing but a gag photo op. And don’t even get me started on the question of whether to check bags or carry-on. Things might come to blows.

A more creative gag shot than the usual propping-up. Credit: michigangirlinpearls

So Katy moderates, and closes down the conversation stream when it starts to get too ugly. But she is not all live-and-let-live. Like me, she is offended by the over-prominence of the Mafia in the public imagination about Italy. Like me, she is sensitive to patronizing attitudes towards Italians, particularly the elderly, who are much more a part of everyday community life than you find in America. She notes that Italy is a modern country, and her advice to someone looking for the “authentic” Italy would be to skip the rural village, and “Go to the train station and hang out there for two hours to see the authentic Italian experience.” What she hopes people find through their travel is not just the art, and the history, and the scenery, and the amazing food, but the human connections and insights as well.

She is one of those fortunate few who have been able to make their life’s passion their life’s work. I admire her initiative, energy, and talent to make that happen. How lucky that we all get to benefit from it.

So pleased to meet the great Katy Clarke

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