Carmel Valley resident’s travel itch has blossomed into a writing and teaching career

By Joe Tash

As a travel writer with more than 60 countries on all seven continents under her belt, Cynthia Dial is used to bringing her notebook and camera along to record her adventures.

But for the most special moments, Dial takes a kind of mental snapshot, which she files away for safekeeping in her memory.

Such as the time she and her family attended a midnight Christmas mass in Salzburg, Austria. The church lights were turned off about 2 a.m., and an a capella choir sang “Silent Night” by candlelight. As the family walked outside, snow began to fall.

“It was so iconically perfect,” said Dial, that she knew it would be something she, her daughters and her husband would talk about for the rest of their lives.

Dial, a Carmel Valley resident, studied journalism in college at the University of Texas at Austin, then tried a few different fields, such as advertising, producing corporate videos and being a travel agent. But it wasn’t until she merged her two passions — writing and travel — that she seemed to find her true calling.

Over the past two decades she has written for overseas editions of Time magazine, authored a book about travel writing that has been updated through three editions, and penned a travel and shopping column for a Canadian newspaper, among other projects.

She’s also traveled the globe from Europe to South America, Asia and Antarctica, and all points in between. Dial has trekked in the Canadian Rockies, learned to surf at Waikiki Beach, toured whiskey distilleries in Scotland and met reindeer north of the Arctic Circle in Finland.

“It’s addictive,” said Dial of her travel itch. “It’s like an illness I have.”

And Dial believes the addiction is genetic, because it’s shared by her father, a retired CPA, and her two grown daughters. Her husband, Kent, a Realtor, may have picked up the bug by proximity.

In determining her own favorite travel destinations, Dial uses a simple test: would she like to return to the place with her family? One destination that passes muster, she said, is the Ticino region of Switzerland, where Italian is spoken and visitors can relax around pristine lakes with views of the Alps for a backdrop.

She’s stingy in picking her destinations these days, because there are still so many places to see.

“If I go back and repeat one, that means there’s one I won’t get to,” she said.

Dial has also invested time and energy in teaching others how to preserve their travel experiences in writing. She first taught a class on travel writing for the Learning Annex, which provides adult education classes and workshops.

She later parlayed that information into her book, “Get Your Travel Writing Published,” which is available on

Dial advises those who aspire to become travel writers to take detailed notes, paying attention to small moments, such as a humorous comment made by a restaurant waiter. She keeps a separate notebook for each trip, and a bookshelf in her home office is devoted to her travel notebooks.

“I can write an accurate and entertaining article because I’ve made notes of things I don’t want to forget,” she said.

Writers should experience a place as a traveler, not as a tourist, and that means seeing things from a local’s point of view, Dial said. She said travelers should do the things they like to do at home, whether it’s shopping for fabrics, going to a soccer game or attending church services.

When visiting a place for the first time, she said, get out and walk, even if it means getting lost. She said travelers should bring a map on their forays, and ask at the hotel desk for areas to avoid.

On her trips, Dial said, she starts her day by lacing up her tennis shoes and going out for a walk, stopping for a coffee, then goes back to her hotel to get ready for the rest of the day’s activities.

“I get to watch the city wake up,” she said.

Taking public transportation — whether the subway in New York, a tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) in Bangkok or a pedi-cab in Malaysia — is another way to gain the local perspective, she said.

Next summer, Dial will co-lead a walking tour along the French Riviera, sharing her knowledge of travel writing with participants. The trip is part of a series called the Blue Walk, sponsored by a La Jolla travel company. Dial will give writing workshops, and give a glimpse at the life of a travel writer in action.

Dial is also planning her next project, a series of travel-themed children’s books.

For more information about Dial and her work, visit her website, For information about the 2014 French Riviera walking trip, visit