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A career as a freelance food and travel writer must sound improbable, if the disbelief on the faces of mothers in the preschool car park is anything to go by. Then again it might just be envy at my perfectly legitimate excuse for leaving two young children and a husband at home while I head off to a luxury destination. Is there a mother out there who hasn’t fantasized about such blissful solitude?

I ended up with what my parents politely referred to as a ‘disappointing matric’ but got my usual A for English. The ability to write has always stood me in good stead, and I love nothing more than to craft a story within the limitations of a strict word count. Like all good things in life, how I got to specialize in food and travel writing has got a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time and, of course, having an enduring love for both subjects. In the end, I even went so far as to marry a chef.

It all started with a job as a junior editor at a major publisher – division, natural history. Need I say more? Unless you are hopelessly addicted to birding or the breeding habits of large mammals, it’s not the sort of subject matter to get your pulse racing. When the company launched an international travel division, I literally threw myself at the boss’s feet begging her to save me from yet another 400-page bird book. This was my first real taste of travel, albeit armchair style, and there was no turning back. We churned out books on Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia for our sister company in Australia and, later, more specialized titles including Top Dive Sites of the World. Some of our books won prestigious awards, but what I really enjoyed about those hectic years was being part of a tightly knit team that worked on multiple projects with insane deadlines. Each time we sent a book off to the printers, it felt like we’d given birth. I miss that adrenalin rush to this day.

When Condé Nast invested in South Africa in 1997, I was ready to swop books for magazines. Being part of the start-up team that launched Condé Nast House & Garden was a highlight of my career, and I spent four years there absorbing everything that I could. As food and travel editor, I spent more time out of the office than at my desk which also meant lots of overtime to keep up with deadlines. Neither that nor the lousy salary could dent my enthusiasm.

It seems that burning the candle at both ends is something I can’t get out of my system, the curse of having always worked in deadline-driven environments. I currently divide my time between taking care of my family and contributing to a handful of local and international publications, including Condé Nast Traveler, Orient Express, Financial Mail and Conde Nast House & Garden. Thanks to Michelle Snaddon’s impeccable credentials and powers of persuasion, has just been added to that list.

I have been filing reviews for Condé Nast Traveler’s annual hot list for nine years, which involves scouting out the coolest new hotels, game lodges, island resorts, spas and restaurants in southern and East Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. BC (Before Children) I could jump on a plane with minimal fuss if they needed me to check out a hotel or resort at the last minute – which they often did. These days it takes military planning to leave the house, let alone fly to a remote destination. When I do manage to get away, my husband (who capably holds the fort in my absence), always threatens it is going to be the last time … until I return and he sees that slightly crazy, euphoric look on my face which means my wanderlust has been satiated once again. How could he deny me that?

Contributing to Traveler has taken me to some unbelievably beautiful places that I would never have had the good fortune to visit without robbing a bank. Hanging out in luxury hotels and resorts in the name of research is a vicarious stab at celebrity, I know, but oh what fun to think back on some of the places I’ve been, knowing that the likes of Leo Di Caprio, Bono, Charlize Theron, Elton John, Ralph Fiennes and our dear Madiba (Nelson Mandela) have stayed in the same room, suite or safari tent as me.

As much as I adore the bush and all aspects of a safari, I’m still a sucker for island getaways and some of my favourites include the scattering of islands north of Nosy Be in Madagascar, the smaller, often privately leased islands in the Seychelles, Mozambique’s Bazaruto archipelago, and of course Zanzibar. The only down side about travelling in style is that you never really get to see the heart and guts of a country – it’s all helicopter transfers and chilled champagne. Thankfully, you encounter special people along the way - drivers, housekeepers, chefs and spa therapists - who add magic to your experience often without even realizing it.

So far, holidays with the children have been all local – trips to malaria-free game lodges, Plettenberg Bay, the Karoo or the magical Gonnamanskraal on the West Coast – but we are planning a major jaunt to the South of France or rural Italy just as soon as Sarah and Elijah are capable of walking for more than 10 minutes without getting hungry, thirsty, tired or all of the above. Grownup holidays (sans children) are an opportunity to indulge our obsession for eating out in the foodie capitals of the world – next stop New York.

I joke that the FM is good for my marriage, as at least once a month my husband and I are forced to go on a dinner date so that I can file a restaurant review. There’s no doubt that, after our children, food is the glue in our relationship. Michael (the chef who didn’t get away) has a restaurant called Terroir on a wine farm in Stellenbosch, and always says that I am his best critic (meaning, most honest). So each new starter, main and dessert that appears on Terroir’s chalkboard menu has to be sampled and appraised. As far as unofficial, unpaid jobs go, it’s not bad.

Stories Published:
Michelin Star Restaurants, London
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*The contributors' countries listed above, refer to each individual contributor's current country of residence, whereas the flag next to their name denotes their nationality, the country where they were born and raised!