Boarding Pass – Monna McDiarmid

Every edition of Boarding Pass leaves me feeling inspired and wanting to look at travel in new ways. Today I’m so pleased to have Monna McDiarmid who is very much making me wish I lived in an apartment that was larger than 10m2 so I could host my very own “travel trip photo party” with friends. Such a great – and easy – way share your latest travels, and be inspired by others as to where to go next. Plenty more inspiration below, so read on (and click here for more images). Thanks, Monna!

{Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand}

last trip taken:
Chiang Mai, Thailand. Although we’ve been in Bangkok for five months, my work is pretty intense so the Christmas vacation offered the perfect opportunity to see more of Thailand and to reconnect with three dear friends from university. Highlights included a visit to Elephant Nature Park and shopping for Celadon pottery and silver jewelry made by the Hill Tribes.

{Ellie in the mist}

next (big) trip on deck:
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hoi An, Vietnam in April, 2010. We are totally excited about Vietnam. As we have just a week for Easter we’ll fly into HCMC and then travel north as far as Hoi An, a city renowned for its tailors.

{Boarding the Ferry}

one place you would go back to again and again:
Over the seven years I lived in Mexico, I visited San Miguel de Allende at least once a year. This small colonial town is the perfect destination if you love sun, lazy afternoons and Mexican folk art. The food is incredible… we would always say, “Never a bad meal in SM de A.” Other cities that fall into the “again and again” category are Barcelona, New York City, Paris and Budapest.

{Paris Us}

place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
My first instinct, when answering this question was to say, “It would depend on the friend,” but my partner saved me by saying, “Monna, I think you are taking the idea of ‘friend’ too literally. What’s a great place to travel?” I can’t imagine a better recommendation than a trip to Florence with a day trip to Sienna and a couple of days on the Cinque Terre. (I would suggest that you sleep in the town of Vernazza.) My blogging friend Mara from “The Mother of All Trips” says that, “the light in Italy has substance and flavor. You could eat it with a spoon.”

{on the beach in Cadaques}

preferred method of transportation:
Train. Absolutely. I love the ease, efficiency and affordability of European train travel. My partner and I traveled through Central Europe for two weeks last Christmas, moving by train from Budapest to Vienna to Krakow to Warsaw. While I wrote in my journal, he took brilliant photographs out the window. It was such a great way to travel.

{On the train from Vienna to Krakow}

place you’ve never been but are dying to go:
Scotland. My father’s people are from Scotland and although I am a seventh generation Canadian, I’m still curious about our homeland. We would also love to visit Japan, Scandinavia and New Zealand.

{two chairs (perfect)}

place you’d never go back:
Prague or Warsaw. It’s a toss-up. When I lived in Colombia (which is beautiful), I found that the local bus stations were almost invariably located beside slaughterhouses. I don’t miss that.
most memorable trip in 2 sentences or less:
Can your hear Doris Day singing, “I love Paris in the springtime… I love Paris in the fall”? When we first traveled to Paris five years ago, I fell immediately and deeply in love with the City of Light; I always feel like my best possible self in Paris.

{frisbee on the champ de mars}

how do you prepare for a trip?
I am a researcher by nature; I search the web, read fiction and non-fiction (including guide books – I recommend the Rick Steves’ book for Europe) and watch films set in the city we’re visiting. Generating a list of things to see and do is the easy part; I want to know about local customs and the food. It’s absolutely okay to look like a tourist (really – who do people think they are kidding?) but a basic understanding of cultural norms helps me behave in a way that is not offensive to the people for whom that place is home. I also try to learn a few basic phrases and numbers in that language. This has been more challenging in Asia.

{Koh Samed Boat Girl}

how do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
Sadly, I have a terrible memory so I compensate by writing obsessively in my journal while traveling. Several times a day, I’ll record the mundane details of where we stayed and what we ate and how much it cost. Whenever I have a moment, I jot down the funny things that we hear and see and the poignant moments that made my eyes well up with tears. I take a ridiculous number of photographs, especially of our meals.

{Singapore}{Barca Game, Jan 2008}

what is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?

People going about their daily lives are my favourite subjects. The stuff that we consider boring in our own lives – walking in a park, sitting in a plaza or shopping for our groceries – these rituals tell me a great deal about the new culture. I am an observer and these moments are often exquisite for me.

{Breakfast at the Hotel Relais Bosquet, near Rue Cler, is served by a delightful man named Leo. I had a croissant with raspberry jam and a cup of cafe au lait. I declare it to be the most perfect breakfast of my life. }

on an average, how many pictures to you take on a trip?
Ooooooh… hundreds. We were just in Chiang Mai for six days and five nights; I took 800 shots. (Is that a lot?) When I moved to digital, I began taking multiples of the same shot. When we return home, I view my photographs on our iMac, choose the best shots and delete the rest. I am becoming ruthless in my ability to trash the mediocre shots. Traveling with my partner, who is a talented photographer, has improved my photography.

{Canola Field, Saskatchewan}

{Tuscan panoramic}

what’s in your “designer travel kit” ?
Even if I’m just going to school, I always carry my moleskin journal, a few of my favourite (cheap but wonderful) Bic pens, and a tiny Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5 in my purse, a spacious army-green satchel from Muji. When traveling, I always use my Canon PowerShot S5 IS; sometimes I take my Polaroid One600 camera as well. In terms of a bag, I believe that “less is more” so I normally use a small MEC backpack or my Muji bag.

{Ice cream girl, Calella}

what do you do after a trip? how long after a trip does this happen?
After a trip, I immediately go through my journal and make a list of lovely bloggable moments and possible posts. Next, I download my digital shots to iPhoto, delete the rejects, and edit some of the goodies. While some people oppose the use of Poladroid software, I absolutely love the effect. It’s important to be aware that many photographers cannot afford the soaring price of Polaroid film and that the film is difficult to find in some parts of the world. I don’t feel a need to choose between Polaroid and Poladroid. Then, just as I’ve done since December of 2006, I blog my stories.

Close friends introduced us to the idea of a “travel trip photo party” which we’ve hosted in Barcelona and Bangkok. Friends are invited to compile travel shots from a recent vacation on a computer, flash drive, Flickr or Facebook for an evening of photo/story-sharing at our home. Using an LCD projector to project the slideshows on a big white wall is a great way to make the experience more cinematic.

Finally, I’ve been looking at some photo books made on Blurb and that will be my next project.

{dragon fruit abundance}

favorite souvenir/thing to bring back?
Jewelry, ceramic bowls and scarves. If the city we’re visiting has better bookstores than the city we live in (as is often the case), I buy books. We’ve also begun to buy art when we travel.

{Tuscany sheets}


Click here for past editions of BOARDING PASS!


  • Lovely feature! I just found your blog and this is brilliant! (I also live abroad and travel a lot).
    I too find that when I travel I almost always come home with a scarf -or two, or three :)
    Also, I am curious why she would not go back to Prague/ Warsaw (I’ve been to Prague but not Warsaw).

  • Hi Anne! Thanks so much for inviting me to share some of my travels here at Boarding Pass.

    @Signorina Svizzera
    Thanks for asking about Prague and Warsaw. We’ve been very fortunate and not had any disastrous travel adventures but… Prague was too perfect (like a central European Disney World) and we did not feel very warmly welcomed by the locals in Warsaw. No nightmare stories, though!

  • what a wonderful feature – and great site! thanks for sending me here, monna – i LOVE it – and your interview. brava!!

    i was reading about how thoughtful your travel and coming home is – with our 7yo, it’s all a whirlwind. ugh.

  • I really enjoyed this! Thank you for the healthy (extra) dose of wanderlust. I find we take copious photos these day and they serve as my sole memory far too often. My husband and I now post travelogues on our blog–which helps considerably and lets us indulge in nostalgia–but I think I may need to start jotting down notes to be sure that the photos don’t always retell me the story.

  • Thanks a lot for mentioning our hotel in your blog. We really appreciate this. We would like to add that we have recently renovated our hotel from the top down. We started with the common parts, the reception, the lobby, the salon and the breakfast room. And now we are completing the rooms. Most of them are done and they are gorgeous. I urge you to have a look on the website:
    Marketing Manager
    Hotel Relais Bosquet Tour Eiffel
    19 rue du Champ de Mars
    75007 Paris
    Tel: (33)
    Fax: (33)

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