Fiona Caulfield: A quintessential travel curator

Photo Credit: Clare Arni

Photo Credit: Clare Arni

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”

Unlike material purchases, experiences like travelling to explore the world, can bring us joy and fond memories that last for a long time, even a lifetime.

Fiona Caulfield is a travel writer and travel designer who specialises in India. She understands well that travel is about destinations, but more importantly about how you experience them.

Through her travel guides, we not only get advice and recommendations about cultural destinations, food, shopping and accommodation, but also inspiration through her personal stories which inspire travelers to discover and curate their own experiences.

Born in Australia, Fiona is a global citizen and has lived in the UK, the USA and Canada before relocating to Bangalore in 2004 where she established the Love Travel brand – hand-crafted travel guide series, now regarded as the flagship guides for India.

Building on her successful writing career, she is now also a travel designer, and provides an innovative resource for travellers to the subcontinent.

Fiona spoke with Advance to share her adventure story in India and her next moves.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications Officer, Advance

What made you move to Bangalore? 

Prior to moving to India in 2004, I had lived in Manhattan for some years, first working in advertising and then I became the President of an Applied Futurism consulting firm.  When I decided I was ready for the next life adventure, both as an avid traveller and as a futurist, I felt my choice was between India and China. I chose India.

Could you tell us the concept behind your guidebooks and your travel design services?

I believe that falling in love with a destination is as exciting as falling in love with a person. So I decided to create travel content that helped people fall in love with a place.

I believe the ultimate luxury is time, and I use time as my benchmark, not money. My target audience is luxury vagabonds and their time is precious, they want to maximize great experience and minimize crappy ones, like all of us! They value authenticity above all else and they decide what their budget is. I simply present the best experiences irrespective if they are free, cost just a few rupees or much, much more.

I believe in conscious travel and encourage my readers and clients to support those organisations that contribute meaningfully in India.

These beliefs help me curate both the content for the guides and are the framework for my bespoke advice.

What inspired you to choose India over other countries to launch your brand?

I was in India when I had the brand idea. I had spent a few weeks trekking to Everest Base Camp and post this was on my way to Bangladesh to see the National Assembly Building in Dhaka designed by Louis Khan. Enroute I stopped in Calcutta for 24 hours and whilst there wanted to eat great Bengali food and discover their acclaimed textiles. I needed expert, precision advice and it simply did not exist.  I believe that ‘more adventurous” destinations deserve the same curated content as the more traditional mainstream ones.  Hence a Love Mumbai guide should be able to sit alongside Love New York. The brand started in India but could easily expand globally, if only there was more time!

Could you share the biggest joy that you have experienced through your projects?

Photo Credit: Rajesh Soni

Photo Credit: Rajesh Soni

I truly still take great joy in exploring India and the sub-continent.  The longer I am here the more there to discover.  I think a journey in India, is like taking you on a journey inside one’s self and that is indeed the ultimate journey.

I am proud that the brand has become known as the flagship guides for India and that they have received widespread critical acclaim including British Vanity Fair ranking the brand within the top three guides globally.  I also value that passionate Indophiles as well as the world’s leading travel editors, and other elite travel planners use them as reference guides and that many designers and boutique owners use them as source guides.

I delight in hearing from my readers and my clients about their experiences and how my work has enhanced their journeys and their knowledge. In particular I love it when people tell me that I know their hometown better than they do and tell me that they have made new discoveries because of my work.

But the biggest joy is the difference that my work has made to some of the individuals featured in the book, for example: the rickshaw driver in Ahmedabad who now runs a fleet of cars, the chai wallah who has opened more stalls, the weaving cooperative that landed a big client and could offer the weavers assurances of long term work.

You use handmade papers to produce books amidst today's fast-paced world, what's your reason behind that?

MIB front plain high res DSC_8123.jpg

The design concept was sensuality. I wanted you to feel like you had arrived in India when you first saw and held the book, wherever in the world you picked up a copy. I wanted you to smell, touch and taste India.

I also wanted to create a completely handmade product as I believe you connect at a deeper level with destination by connecting directly with makers. As well as handmade paper, we create hand woven khadi covers (the fabric of India’s independence), we have hand woven bookmarks and also hand screen the title and hand bind the books. For the ‘made in’ series we also hand embroider the labels. We also only use hand drawn illustrations, no photography.  This is truly slow passionate artisanal publishing.

In essence I wanted to create beautiful, meaningful, timeless and highly personal objects. I believe that the intimate writing style and the sensuous design helps to future proof the guides in the digital dominated travel content space.

Would you consider launching a digital version of your book?

Only if someone could convince me of a high integrity business model to do so. I am not interested in selling advertising and doing promotions.  I value merit-based recommendations.

The books are true labours of love and break even at best, so to support them and myself I offer bespoke travel design services.  I have embraced social media, in particular Instagram but this does not deliver the same level of curated and bespoke content that the books or my services provide.

What's your next project?

In amongst ongoing writing and travel design work and some consulting work, my next new book, the 5th edition of Rajasthan, will be ready to launch at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2019. I am already consulting to some special interest groups and am contemplating leading my first group journey in the second half of 2019. My longer-term project is to deliver a Love India, sharing my recommendations for India’s best 108 experiences.

Could you share with us the best way to experience the real Bangalore that tourists often miss?

Engage an expert to show you their ‘home-place’ through a specific lens, be that through contemporary art, food, history, environmental sustainability, politics, wildlife, textiles, spirituality or indeed anything that you are passionate about. This enables you to connect far more deeply.  Oh, and don’t miss the spectacular wholesale flower market and a super South Indian breakfast at Brahmin’s Coffee House.

How did your writing experience assist with your work in Travel Design?

After a decade in India I expanded the business in 2004 2014? and began creating extraordinary travel experiences for discerning private clients and providing bespoke advice. I draw upon my intensive and extensive personal travel, my books, my writing for the world’s best travel media and my robust network to deliver a completely customized ‘end to end’ travel experience.

I begin with collaborating with my clients to create a unique itinerary and then partnering with India’s leading on the ground operator to seamlessly deliver the itinerary to the highest standard. It is undoubtedly inspirational and memorable travel and as close to effortless travel as is possible in India. My clients gain unrivalled access to India’s most authentic and interesting people, places and events tailored around their specific interests and preferences.

Who inspires you?

I love Pico lyer’s philosophy on travel:  “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more…… And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

How can people get in contact with you?