How I Travel: Mary H.K. Choi Psychoanalyzes Everyone Around Her at Airports


If it feels like you’ve aged rapidly during the pandemic, Mary H.K. Choi’s newest novel might be exactly what you need. The YA author has a knack for capturing the frenetic, vibrating voices and perspectives of young people as they enter and navigate the world; her latest book, Yolk, is out March 2 and follows two sisters brought together by a potentially fatal illness against the backdrop of a glittering New York City.

Choi, who grew up in Hong Kong and Texas, has also spent this time hunkered down in New York, releasing episodes of her podcasts Hey, Cool Job! and Hey, Cool Life! and dreaming of foreign airports and fried anchovies. She chatted with Condé Nast Traveler about the charms of Switzerland, the importance of hotel kettles, and an unforgettable trip to Corsica.

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What she misses about traveling:

I miss landing in a place where nothing has anything to do with me. I love arriving and having that moment of everything being so indifferent to my arrival, if that makes sense. I love landing and hearing the airport, just the noise of it, and adjusting or not adjusting if there’s a time difference, having the hardest reset. It’s like deleting every app on your phone in one moment, and I really love that.

How she remembers her last trip before the pandemic:

Profoundly and often. With my whole body. Right after I finished a long tour for my second book, I went with my partner to Corsica. I’d never been before, and we have a family friend who has a house there. It was just such a beautiful place and the view, it was like being on the captain’s deck of a spaceship. I read, and we grilled octopus. The food was incredible, the cheese and the cured meats and the fact that Corsicans all carry a little knife to help themselves to charcuterie. We did a little day trip to this medieval cliff-top fortress called Bonifacio. You know what a Viennetta ice cream dessert is? When you cut into it and it’s layered and all the chocolate has shattered? It was like that, with a fortress on top and a town attached to it. We went to a seafood restaurant and they had these succulent whole fried anchovies and you pop them, like I am a giant and I’m eating a whole fish. It’s spritzed with lemon, and the whole thing of it: the yellow of the lemon with the blue sky, the turquoise Mediterranean, and the air. I was immediately resentful. Like, “How dare people not bring me here [sooner]?” It’s like Sardinia to Italy, it has both nothing and everything to do with France. It feels like this wholly separate place, and that adds to the magic around it.

On her pre-travel routine:

I am a nightmare human, insofar as I pack a week early. All of my things are packed away and I’m using secondary things I don’t like because all my good stuff is inside the suitcase and hermetically sealed. I use packing cubes and I’m really anxious. It never occurs to [me] that they also have things where I’m going. Also I arrive at the airport two hours early. I have TSA PreCheck, I have all the things that people have, and yet I am that person. I also like to board as early as possible. I’m the person who stands and mills, and the blast radius of their anxiety then affects other people. My partner is not. I used to get on as soon as humanly possible, jockeying for position. My partner is usually the last person on the plane. Both in the pandemic and throughout life, the statement we say most frequently to each other is, Thank you for your patience and continued support.

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