Erica Mallin (she/her)
Lived here for: 5 years
Originally from: Laurel Canyon, California
Notable: World traveler, Italy travel expert, former educator and school counselor, volunteer for Animals As Natural Therapy, needle-felt painter.
Tell me about the beginnings of your trip-planning business, Roads Less Traveled Italy?
I was working as a school counselor in Bellevue at the time. My kids were getting older, and we were planning on retiring early, so my husband was like, ‘You’re gonna want to do something.’ And I was like, you’re right, but what do I love to do? And it’s travel planning. I started taking some [online] classes in the evenings in travel planning.
I had been to Italy before, but we took a family trip there in 2013. And it just hit right there, staying on the family farms — they’re called agriturismi. I felt like, ‘this is something I can present in an authentic, sustainable manner,’ something different from how people normally travel to Italy.
I retired in 2019 … I was ready to launch it. I had just gotten my first paying clients. And then COVID hit, but it gave me a lot of time to really delve into the website and the business part of it.
Another piece that is really important to me is giving back. I wanted to donate a certain percentage of my fees, so I found an organization called Planeterra, and they help support small, community-based tourism organizations, like a little tuk-tuk business in Vietnam, or a community coffee stand in Colombia.
What is a “don’t miss” in Italy?
Some of the smaller villages — getting outside of the city. I know most people, especially coming from so far away, want to go to one of the big cities. So what I try to recommend is: Go to the city, and then go around the region.
If I can get people to spend their entire time in one region, they would be stunned by the amount of art, and local festivals, and other kinds of interesting experiences that they can have — that they can’t necessarily find in the city — and just the relaxed atmosphere, and the ability to connect with locals.
How many countries have you traveled to? Which is your favorite?
Around 20 or so countries. I didn’t start traveling much internationally until I was around 40 years old.
One of the most fascinating ones is Trinidad and Tobago. They’re two separate islands, and Tobago is kind of the classic Afro-Caribbean, small island. Trinidad has this history of East Indians coming over. So you can go to a Hindu temple on the Caribbean, and you can go to certain cities where you feel like you are in an Indian market. I just loved the interesting mix of the cultures.
What is the best piece of advice for a first-time international traveler?
Slow down. Don’t try to see too many places in one small trip. Try to stay a little longer.
Do you have any resolutions for the new year that you’re willing to share?
Gratitude, hour by hour.
Tell me more about the Whatcom Community & Continuing Education class you’ll be teaching this month?
The purpose of the class is for people who want to [travel to Italy] on their own, to get a sense of how they could. I give them a lot of ideas, tell them about the different regions, a lot of travel tips, things like that … The last session, I bring in a bunch of guidebooks, and I let them start to build a trip that they might be interested in with me right there to answer questions and give guidance.
Online registration for the Whatcom Community & Continuing Education “Traveling Italy: Off the Beaten Path” class is open. The class meets from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, Jan. 27 through Feb. 10. Registration fee is $109.
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