Artist Spotlight: Valerie Chen
Introduce yourself: where you grew up, went to school, what your job is now.
My name is Valerie Chen. I grew up in the suburbs of Orange County and later attended California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where I studied journalism. Today, I live in Los Angeles (my home for the past six years or so) and work as a full-time senior editor for TravelAge West, a print and online B2B magazine for travel advisors. (Yes, they do still exist, and, yes, it could totally be your dream job!)
When did you first decide you wanted to become a writer?
I spent most of my childhood in the local public library, finding comfort and companionship in the pages and characters of books. And as an awkward middle schooler, trying to write my own “novels” felt like a natural progression from being a bookworm — I remember typing away on a clunky desktop computer and writing ridiculously over-the-top faux-novels about what I imagined young love to feel like. I truly hope none of those stories ever see the light of day.
What are your top 3 places you’ve traveled and can explain why? Was it the food, the people, the culture, the landscape?
Though it’s rapidly growing in popularity, Iceland still felt like a delicious secret when I visited during an off-season period in November 2016. By that, I’m referring to the minimal crowds at even the most touristy (and still incredible) spots, such as stops on the Golden Circle — the number of fellow travelers at each site was nothing compared to what would have been the case at any U.S. national parks.
The people of Peru are filled with warmth and hospitality and don’t even get me started on the local ceviche. Last but not least, Big Sur is hands down, my favorite spot across the U.S. I’ve camped there a handful of times with my fiancé, friends, and family in tow. There’s nothing quite like waking up to the gently lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean to your left, while majestic redwood trees stand tall on sloping hillsides to your right.
Do you ever find yourself with a different viewpoint after visiting these destinations around the world?
Absolutely. For example, in Peru, Machu Picchu was exceptionally humbling. While there, I even witnessed workers slowly and meticulously cleaning its walls with nothing but water and a toothbrush, as to not damage the enormous site’s original condition and structural integrity.
Additionally, so much of the world has less than what I have and what many people, particularly in the U.S., have. I’m constantly reminded to be grateful for all of my opportunities and that it’s vital to habitually practice compassion, generosity, and kindness no matter where I am.
How has your career in travel writing shaped you? Or has it?
The world is a colossal and multidimensional classroom. I’ve learned so much from the diverse people and multitude of cultures I’ve encountered on my travels, and I also learn a lot while at my job’s office in L.A., where I spend about 90 percent of my workdays. (It’s not glamorous all the time!)
Additionally, I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and being confronted with unfamiliar places or potentially uncomfortable situations has forced me to work on myself. For example, though I’ve always been an incredibly curious person, I previously was also painfully self-conscious and insecure, which would prevent me from speaking up. Now, I interview strangers for a living — go figure! Over time, especially due to the nature of my job, I’ve learned to feel comfortable in my own skin.
What are your favorite styles of denim pieces when you travel?
I love a good denim jacket; a wide array of pockets can be a godsend. A pair of relaxed, boyfriend-style jeans is also a mainstay in my luggage. Comfort is key when traveling.
Where’s one place you want to go that you’ve never been to?
Venturing deep into northern Canada and seeing all of its lakes, rivers, forests, and wildlife is high on my bucket list.