Jetsetter of the Month: Spud Hilton
Spud Hilton was working for the San Francisco Examiner in 1999 when a travel feature containing several short stories landed on his copy desk. “I got halfway through the second one and called my wife [to say], ‘We’re booking this trip today.’ I discovered travel and the power of travel writing on the same day,” Spud says.
The current travel editor for the San Francisco Chronicle and a blogger at “Bad Latitude” on SFGate had plenty of experience with domestic, road-trip travel growing up as one in a family of six with relatives around the country, but the introduction to foreign travel showed him a whole new world.
“People who are more interested in others than they are in themselves are, well, more interesting,” Spud says. “We are better as people and as a culture when we learn more about other people and cultures, and the best way to do that is to go meet them and experience them.”
Spud has done just that—and made a career out of it, traveling all over the world and sharing his experiences with Chronicle and SFGate readers. However, while the job involves more time spent sitting at a desk than one might think, he says he still feels lucky to have the opportunity to see firsthand how people’s lives can be changed through travel.
“One of the things I hope to give readers is storytelling, a compelling view of a place (good and bad) that has a point—not just a rehash of my diary or what I did on my summer vacation,” Spud says. He adds he tends to treat the newspaper a bit more seriously and hopes to make people chuckle or groan on “Bad Latitude,” “not from jokes or snark, but from the absurdity of situations, people, and culture in general.” For Spud, it is not the media platform but the quality of content that matters. “There’s never been a more important time to inspire people to learn about other places, to actually better understand the cultures, not just to know where the ‘Five Best Burgers in Moldova’ are,” he says.
While Spud says Disneyland is the place people inquire about the most, one destination he finds himself recommending over and over again is New Orleans. “Yes, it’s a party,” he says, “but it’s our most European city, with a splash of Caribbean spice thrown in and a generous helping of sweet Southern ease. It’s a terrific place to just be.” When he’s in the Big Easy, Spud says he loves to sit over coffee or a Sazerac and people-watch. “Sometimes the best way to experience a great city is to just sit and watch, preferably from a table on a plaza, instead of rushing around to hit every museum, cathedral, and attraction,” he says.
It’s likely that’s how Spud saw Oman, one place he visited before and says he must visit again. The country, he says, has “incredible scenery, people, and culture, but [is] so ridiculously overlooked by US travelers.” He encourages people to let go of any prejudices they might have about the region and book a trip.
With all the amazing destinations Spud has had the opportunity to visit, he must have had at least one life-changing experience. “This is going to sound brutally corny, but every trip changes my life,” he says, adding, “Also, I was pretty happy to find out they have Red Bull in Latvia.”