Born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Ohio, Rhode Island and New York, where she is based, author Jimin Han says road trips are a wonderful way to see the United States. "We drove through Colorado one summer and (though) I get car sick, it was so spectacular I'd definitely do it again," she says. "We flew into Denver and drove to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and then to Telluride. The landscape changed dramatically within hours. It was a snapshot of the diverse vastness of the United States -- in just a couple of days -- that only a car ride can show you."
In her novel "A Small Revolution" (Little A, $14.95), Han handles serious topics -- mental illness, political activism, domestic violence -- deftly. Stay in touch with the author on her website (
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Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?
A. When I was about 10 years old, we drove to Boca Raton, Florida. I remember being told it meant "mouth of a rat" and I couldn't shake that image from my mind. I pictured an ugly, awful place, but it turned out to be something out of a Hollywood movie with its beaches and palm trees. My great aunt joined us, flying in from South Korea. I'd never met her before. She bought me Japanese cosmetics -- I don't think she knew how old I was -- and was dressed in a pink Chanel suit. She fit right into Boca. We went to the beach a lot, but one afternoon we went with her to a cemetery. She knelt at a grave and cried. I heard later that it was the grave of her estranged son, who had been a marine biologist and died in a scuba-diving accident. I've developed a novel around that visit and that mysterious great aunt.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. One of my best friends took me to Mahale Mountains National Park in western Tanzania when she turned 40. It was an amazing way to celebrate a birthday. She'd been to Tanzania before, so she knew exactly what she was looking for: something remote and unusual. We flew into Arusha and then took a small plane to Mahale, then took a boat up Lake Tanganyika to the camp where we were staying. Each morning, we were woken with a lovely breakfast and then taken by scouts to the part of the park where chimpanzees were sighted. We spent the morning observing them quietly. In the afternoon we could hike or swim. In the evening we had dinner on the shores of the lake and took a boat out to look at hippos swimming.
Q. Where have you traveled to that you ended up including in your work?
A. For 15 years, I lived in a small town in upstate New York that had very few Asian families. In 1985, my parents sent me back (to Korea) by myself for the summer. The experience was odd because I'd heard so much about Korea, but I felt like an outsider when I was there and, of course, I was. "A Small Revolution" draws plenty from my experience. Another place was Greece. We traveled there with the same friend I went to Tanzania with, but this time our husbands and children came with us. Our friends arranged for a boat to take us to Drakonisi Island in the Aegean Sea. I wrote about it for my favorite series in The Rumpus.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. Being in Westchester makes you central to anything in the northeast. You can hop on Amtrak to Philly or Boston. You can drive up along the Hudson River to Rhinebeck or out west to the Poconos. You can pick delicious blueberries up in Red Hook. But my favorite short trip is to go into New York City and stay overnight. I guess because I don't have an apartment there anymore. It feels like a gift to be able to stay out as late as I want and eat at all of its fabulous restaurants. It's such a great city to walk through. Also, there are so many literary events in Brooklyn, which is even more south of me than Manhattan, so it's a longer trek. I'd go to a reading every night or maybe even two without driving home in the middle of the night.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. Comfortable shoes specific to that climate for my terrible feet. Notebook, pens, books, probiotic supplements for a sensitive stomach, a wrap for cold mornings and nights and maps for when cell service or Wi-Fi fails.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at
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