We thought a lot about the No. 1 choice — ultimately selecting New Orleans, on the occasion of its 300th birthday (see the item by yours truly, the project’s coordinating editor) — and tried to make sure there was a little something for every type of traveler through the rest of the list, providing a geographic and thematic mix.
So what about that 52 Places Traveler? It’s an idea that has been percolating for the last couple of years, but always seemed too daunting to pull off. This year, we finally posted the job. We expected a passionate response from a group of inveterate travelers — but I can’t say we expected 13,000 submissions.
A team of four, including myself, divided up the applications and took at least a glancing look at all of them, diving into the ones we thought showed the most promise. Over many multi-hour sessions, we narrowed the list to 139 people — including a father-daughter team and Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights” — and asked each to send a video introduction, as well as a sample video story from the road for posting to Instagram.
We narrowed the list further, to six finalists. One is an editor at a major travel magazine. Another works as a breaking news videographer for a TV network. Another is a lawyer-turned-journalist. (Mr. Bissinger, sadly, did not make the cut, though his submission video was as compelling as one would expect.)
A team of folks from around the newsroom — representing the Travel section, the video department and the photo department — met with those applicants either in person or by video chat. All were impressive — indeed, any one of them could have done the job.
But in the end, we decided on Jada Yuan. Jada is not a professional travel journalist, but she possesses some of those skills. As a writer at New York magazine for the last decade, she has profiled plenty of celebrities, but she has also parachuted into film festivals and presidential conventions — each time having to find her footing in a new place. She knows how to locate interesting people to talk to. And she knows how to insert herself into a piece in a way that is both personal and insightful (take, for example, her article for Cosmopolitan magazine on trying to date in six U.S. cities).
We’re trying to connect Jada with a few of the applicants who made the first cut. Jamie Lafferty, a travel writer from Glasgow (No. 10 on the places list) has kindly offered to be her guide to his hometown, and we’re going to take him up on that. We’re hoping that other applicants will do the same.
Jada starts her journey around the world in New Orleans in less than two weeks. She won’t be doing the list sequentially — that would be, well, insane (try getting from No. 6 rural Chile to No. 7 South Korea, for example). So after New Orleans, she heads to a few other cities in the southern United States, then farther south to the Caribbean and Latin America. We can’t wait to tag along with her.