Travels with Susan Spano


Photo by Susan Schiffer

Dreaming of a white Christmas in Ashtarak, Armenia

From my Armenian Host Family's Garden

Smithsonian, April, 2014

Due in April

Jalama Beach, Central Coast, CA

David Hockney's Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980, LACMA

A market in western Sicily

Carpinteria Bluffs Preserve

Arnoldi's of Santa Barbara

La Serenissima

The French coast near Mont St. Michel

Delta of the Danube River, Romania

Powell Plateau on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon


The Libyan Sahara

Carrizo Plain, California

Potala Palace, Lhasa

Climbing into Surb Astvatsatsin at Noravank Monastery in southern Armenia. This church was built and decorated by the 14th century architect and sculptor Momik. And it's a masterpiece, standing tall and solitary above the canyon of the Amaghu River.
Over the New Year's holiday I visited a Peace Corps chum who lives in a town near there and finally got to see some of the true glories of the country. Here's looking at you, Armenia...

At Khor Virap Monastery in Armenia, climbing into St. Gregory the Illuminator's prison. Photo by Carol Toepfer
Notes from Ashtarak, Armenia, where I'm serving with the U.S. Peace Corps:
Someday I'll start a "My Armenia" blog. But not yet; I don't know enough.
I can say that teaching English here has its rewards: eager students and extremely intelligent teachers. But the school is unheated and dilapidated and the town is full of empty houses, marking families moved to Russia or the Ukraine, where there are a few jobs for the men, at least. The economy is in the basement, as is the mood. Moreover, the currency has witnessed a 25% devaluation since last week, in response to the Russian economic crisis. Russian-Armenian links are still very tight, which is part of the problem, I guess.
My town has four historic churches and a medieval bridge, but few facilities for visitors. Only this cafe: Pascal and Diadato which will be a great place to hang out when it reopens in the spring.
I'm organizing groups of students to compete in the Armenian National Poetry Recitation Contest and informal English classes for teachers. Also trying to set up a blog between my 7th graders and a class in Monterey, CA. And introducing my colleagues and host family to banana bread.
Little steps, all. As they say in Armenian, keech, keech.
Meanwhile winter's closing in and the high Caucasus Mountains look like a great white fortress, but no snow yet in Ashtarak.
Onward and upward in Armenia.

Author, columnist, traveler Susan Spano has journeyed the world reporting on culture, nature and the curious human race. She launched the still-running “Frugal Traveler“ column for the New York Times, then joined the staff of The Los Angeles Times which sent her to the City of Light from 2003 to 2006 to start the popular travel section blog “Postcards from Paris.”

After that she spent six months in Beijing studying Mandarin and researching stories in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics and then moved to Rome--her favorite foreign posting--where she wrote on everything Italian, from Caravaggio to mozzarella.

Her articles have been anthologized in collections like Making Connections: Mother-Daughter Travel Adventures and A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe and have also appeared in the Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, Smithsonian, National Geographic Traveler and Redbook. She is the co-author of two books: Women on Divorce: A Bedside Companion and Men on Divorce: The Other Side of the Story.

Susan's new travel collection, French Ghosts, Russian Nights & American Outlaws: Souvenirs of a Professional Vagabond, came out in early May from Roaring Forties Press. It's a collection of some of Susan's best articles, described by Library Journal as "an inspiring, vibrant look at the myriad ways travel can impact and enrich our lives. This book is recommended for those with the travel bug, even if it's the armchair variety.”

People are talking about this book.
Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, says,
"Susan Spano manages that most important travel writing feat: making you want to pack your bag, grab your passport and go!"
Mary Taylor Simeti, author of On Persephone's Island, adds,
"Urged on by a lively curiosity and a large dose of courage, Susan Spano introduces us to unusual destinations, often tempting and invariably interesting."

Check out her most recent article for AARP magazine on solo travel for women.

Here are other recent stories from the L.A. Times on Big Sur; find out about Fort Ord or spend a lost weekend with Spano on the Sonoma Coast.

Susan's 2014 edition of the Best Small Towns in the U.S. is in the May issue of Smithsonian magazine.

Susan Spano’s name might ring a bell. It appeared in the pages of the Los Angeles Times 941 times from 1998 through 2009, when Spano served as a staff travel writer and columnist. Before that, she wrote the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times.

That's how Los Angeles Times travel writer Chris Reynolds begins his recent story about Susan Spano's new book French Ghosts, Russian Nights & American Outlaws.

For more on Susan's new book, listen to Arthur and Pauline Frommer interviewing her on everything from touring China off-the-beaten track to Susan's upcoming Peace Corps posting in Armenia. You can hear it at

Quick Links

Selected Works

Nonfiction, Travel, Human Interest
A new collection of travel essays by Susan Spano
Tracking Colette in Paris and Burgundy
A draught sinks Lake Powell, revealing lost wonders of Glen Canyon
Rome's Most Roman Neighborhood
Studying Mandarin in Beijing
Around the world and back to New York
Nonfiction Book
Divorce. Why do we do it? And what does it do to us? fourteen prominent writers have pondered these questions and have set down heir thoughts and personal stories, in this gathering of sometimes irreverent and always intelligent essays. "A disarmingly candid, invaluable collection." --Publishers Weekly
"Anyone who doubts that men, too, suffer in divorce should be required to read this." --Glamour Magazine "A rare, unusually focused anthology of original essays that both entertains and instructs." --Publishers Weekly