In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with Twyla Monti, the Director of Media and Partnership for a popular private tour operator called Travelous. We chat with her about what makes Travelous a great option for those looking for private tours while traveling, her top 5 things to do in one of her favorite destinations, her best travel advice, and much more! Find out what makes her home bases of San Miguel de Allende and Los Angeles great travel destinations and what kick-started her love of travel below!
How did your passion for travel get started?
I began traveling with my parents when I was young; I think my first trip was around age 4. They loved to travel with a group of close friends from college, so we went to places like Venezuela, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Belize, and in the US. I got to sail quite a bit with my grandpa as well, growing up on our family’s marina. One year, we sailed from California to the Sea of Cortez, and I got to swim with hundreds – literarily – of sea lions when we came across a colony of them offshore. (In retrospect we decided this was probably one of the more dangerous activities we had done as the sea lions typically attract great white sharks..but hey! It was unbelievably memorable). My dad and I also biked through Holland, France & Germany when I was in high school, a trip I’m dying to re-do with him soon. Dad was also my dive partner, so we had some amazing underwater adventures, and mom’s artist’s background (and engineering) sparked my love of construction and sculpture in Paris.
How many days/weeks are you traveling in any given year? What are the types of places you like to visit?
I’m likely traveling around 80-100 days per year. Recently, my favorite travel spots are in Mexico, because I can go most places in the country on short flights from my part-time home in San Miguel de Allende. I’m currently exploring more of Mexico City. Oaxaca, the new wine region of Mexico, Valle de Guadalupe, Tulum, Merida, and the Yucatan Peninsula.
You are the Director of Media and Partnership for a private tour operator called Travelous. Can you tell us a bit about Travelous and what makes it different from other tour operators?
Our founder set out to bring the private tour experience to everyone, so we create totally private tours (driver, bilingual tour guide, entirely bespoke from arrival to departure) that are at an affordable price point. I love that our team knows the areas deeply, the hotels, and the tour guides, so it takes the work off the traveler’s plate and they can focus on just having the most fun possible on their journey. We also pair the travelers with the ideal guide, so for me, for instance, I’m a deep history nerd, so they choose a guide that can address all my questions. If I was traveling with kids, they’d pick someone who had a strong background in keeping kids engaged and entertained. It’s great to hear afterward how much our guides keep in touch with the clients and the enthusiasm they have for what they do..the guides usually grew up in the communities they tour, and they love to share the history and hidden gems of their community. It’s not hard to become really good friends by the end.
You currently spend most of your time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Los Angeles. What makes both of these locations great travel destinations?
San Miguel is something really special in Mexico. The travel, design & food publications seem to agree as well, which is driving a lot more tourism in the area over the last two years, although it’s been a draw for American and Canadian expats since the 1940s. It’s a 500+-year-old colonial town, so it has the feel of Europe in many ways, with cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and gorgeous churches. The zocalo, or town square, includes a pink-limestone church, reminiscent of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Because of all the expats, communicating in English is fairly easy. To cater to this audience, there are also regular events throughout the city in English, from films to art events, to writing, painting, sketching, photography and cooking workshops, as well as horseback riding, ATV treks, and hot air balloon rides, so you can get your adventure fix or cultural fix, if you prefer. The city became a draw for Americans as far back as 1938, with GI-bill recipients heading here to take art courses sponsored by the US government. Today it’s become home to hundreds of artists and hosts worldwide festivals such as the Guanajuato Film Festival, the International Jazz & Blues Festival, the International Chamber Music Festival, and an international writers conference. Besides those, there are hundreds of festivals throughout the year, celebrating everything from Day of the Dead to ‘Day of the Crazies’, or Dia de Los Locos, and every patron saint and holiday in between. And the weather is nearly perfect and mild throughout the year, so many US and Canadian expats choose to retire here to enjoy the affordable living and cultural scene. Finally, interior design buffs and those who love great food head here for the pure eye candy and culinary delights. San Miguel has become a destination for world-renowned chefs such as Enrique Olvera of Pujol in Mexico City to open second or third restaurants, so if you love food it’s a great spot to visit. A local chef told me the other day we now have over 1000 restaurants! And if you love luxe hotels, we have Rosewood and the new Live Aqua, and the Dream Hotel Group just announced plans to launch its 5-star Chatwal brand hotel.. but you can still get a fabulous massage in town for around $25 😉
Los Angeles fulfills my big-city cravings and has a great mix of everything, from beaches to nightlife, theater and music, and of course, dancing. I’m a ballroom and Latin dancer in my free time and Los Angeles has endless tango, salsa, bachata, and ballroom hotspots with incredibly good dancers and bands. For music venues, I’m constantly amazed at the access we have there to up-close and personal experiences with outrageously talented (and usually pretty famous) musicians, from little hole-in-the-wall bars to the Dolby Theatre. Of course, every major artist comes through there as well, so if music is your thing, it’s a wonderful place to be. For art, the city is full of non-stop emerging talent, and whatever your style is, contemporary, classic, performance or even tattoo artistry, you’ll find it there. Of course for the tech and startup scene, I love LA because it’s so easy to meet people. I work as a “digital nomad”, as many do in LA, so it’s always wonderful to settle into a coffee shop or coworking space and meet some new friends that are on the same path. For wellness, and I have to admit it’s a bit of a joke about how much of this there is in LA, but if you want to meet a guru, meditation teacher, yoga instructor or vegan/pescatarian/vegetarian chef, you’ll find in in LA.
In addition to writing travel-related content, you also write about festivals, events, and personal growth. Of all the stories you’ve written, which was the most special or most fulfilling for you to work on?
I suppose anything in wellness while traveling. I’m am a big meditator & yogi, and I love to take classes in every city I visit to experience different styles of teaching and hear what brought teachers to where they are today. I find those teachers are a special breed; they usually have some beautiful stories about why they came to practice, and what they hope to give to their communities. They typically have their own journey throughout the world that led them to who they are now; I find those stories so fun to explore & learn from, and I’m usually left with some great appreciation for the world we live in.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
We work with a great network of private tour guides, most of which have grown up in the towns they give tours in. With their help, I love to guide readers to see the underground, hidden, tucked-away places that are scattered throughout a town, along with the must-do list. I love seeing the villages or cities they grew up in from their perspectives: what’s evolving, what local artists or creatives are doing to support their hometown, which chefs and musicians are changing the cultural landscape. I hope to inspire readers to discover the scene behind the tourist scene.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Bali, Positano, and Costa Rica
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, best place to have lunch, best sightseeing, etc.
Damn. If I had to choose just one, I’d do Costa Rica. Quick flight and I’m an outdoorsy gal, which Costa Rica is wonderful for. I’d zipline across the treetops in Monteverde, kayak (or white-water raft) in Manuel Antonio National Park, surf in Tamarindo, hit the spa at Nayara Springs near Arenal, and visit Bhodi Tree Yoga Resort for my yoga fix.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I don’t actually keep track!
What are your top 3 favourite cuisines?
Mediterranean, Italian, Japanese
What is your favourite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
Ristorante Miky, Monterosso, Italy. The truffle gnochetti, or Parmesan flan, if they have it, or the fagioli with gamberoni (beans with prawns soup), pesto pasta or salt-crusted seabass, and pineapple brûlée or millefoglie with lemon crème. And of course Limoncello.
What is your favourite travel movie?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
What is your favourite international airport?
Amsterdam… however, I haven’t been to Singapore’s Changi Airport yet.. so that may change soon..
Which city had the friendliest people?
Who is your favourite travel companion?
Can I say my parents? 🙂
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
I’m a bit addicted to downloading movies and series from Amazon
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
Bali..hmm.. or Jordan
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Have genuine openness and compassion, for others, and yourself. You’ll encounter things that are unfamiliar, sometimes frustrating, sometimes really confusing… Having a completely open mind, and lots of patience will allow you to truly immerse in a new culture and all the learning and growth that can come from that. Be willing to look deeply at how the locals live as they do, and the things in life that bring them joy. It’ll allow you to open up to a new way of being, appreciation for loving what is, and being very, very present to the experience and joy of where you are.
Twyla Monti’s love of travel developed at age four with her first trip, and her family’s perpetual wanderings kept her exploring the world from there on out. She currently splits her time between San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Los Angeles, California. She does her best writing on a train, in a cafe, or anywhere she can snap a shot of a foreign food, and when she’s not writing or traveling, you can find her practicing yoga, teaching Latin or ballroom dance classes, or studying meditation. She’s a sucker for a good tequila and anything with wasabi. She is currently planning her next tattoo, a two-month stay in Bali, a tango intensive in Buenos Aires, and her first trip to Cuba.
She writes about immersive cultural and historical experiences, wellness, working and living abroad, and finding personal growth in travel & life as an expat.