An Interview with Mayssam Samaha
Home Base: Montreal, Quebec
Blog: Will Travel For Food
Connect With Mayssam
My name is Mayssam and I am the writer behind the Will Travel for Food blog. I was born and raised in Lebanon and have lived in New York City but I’ve called Montreal home for the past 25 years. I’ve always loved food and travel and started writing about my trips on my blog 5 and half years ago.
Will Travel for Food has since been a finalist in the Saveur Magazine Blog Awards in the Culinary Travel category two years in a row. My hunger for travel is never satiated and I roam the world in search of the next culinary discovery from Michelin-starred restaurants across the planet to the latest hole-in-the-wall down the street.
When and how did you discover your passion for travel?
I’ve always had a passion for travel, ever since my dad packed us all up in the car and took the family on an unforgettable road trip to Turkey (I grew up in Lebanon). My parents travelled at least once a year when we were little and started taking my two siblings and I along when we were old enough to appreciate it.
How has travel changed your life?
Travel opens you up in ways you couldn’t even fathom. It makes you tolerant, patient, curious and sympathetic. It makes you love your fellow human like you never thought possible. It makes you love this planet we are so lucky to roam. I don’t want to sound cheesy but as the saying goes “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” and that is absolutely true!
What is your biggest pet peeve while travelling?
The actual travelling part. I don’t enjoy packing, waiting at airports or being stuck in a plane for a long flight. I will be the first one to sign up when teleportation becomes available. I just want to get there and start exploring!
I also hate paying for WiFi at hotels (or anywhere else for that matter). In a world where the Internet has become such a necessity, I think WiFi should be available as part of the basic amenities.
What is the one thing you absolutely never travel without?
Ever since I’ve had an iPhone, it’s become an essential part of my travels. I have prepared notes and maps of the place I’m visiting, I use it to take photos, to record interviews, to take notes of the places I’m visiting and to check my TripIt, one of my favourite travel apps which contains all my dinner reservations, hotel bookings, flights and more.
What is the most unique experience you've ever "accidentally stumbled upon" while travelling?
I booked a hotel room last winter in Havana through a travel agency. A friend had given me the name of a contact of his who could’ve booked us an apartment but I was apprehensive and went with the “safe” choice. Turns out the hotel was a dump and we moved to one of Raúl’s apartments for the rest of the trip and it was marvelous! It was in a great location in the heart of the Vedado neighbourhood and had wonderful 360 degree-views of Havana.
If you were going on a one-week rest and relaxation vacation somewhere you've previously been, where would you go and why?
Cuba! It’s such a unique country, which I’ve visited several times, including last year. It’s got gorgeous beaches on which to relax, beautiful colonial towns to visit and Havana, a wonderful, highly photogenic city that’s been frozen in time since 1959. But beyond all the clichés, Cubans are the most resilient, inspiring and joyful people and the reason why I keep going back to visit their beautiful country.
With the Canadian Dollar being a little weaker than it once was, what is something unique you do to stretch your dollars while travelling?
Rent an apartment and go grocery shopping. Apartments are usually less expensive than hotels and buying groceries means you can stretch your dollar by eating out only once a day if you have to.
If you could pack only a carry on sized backpack for an extended trip, what would you pack?
It depends on where I was going but then again, I think you can do carry on for an extended trip only if you are heading to a warm place. It’s a bit harder to do with winter gear. So assuming that, I’d pack a few t-shirts, one or two nice tops, flip flops, sandals, a couple of dresses, shorts, one or two summer pants, a bikini, a light sweater and an oversized scarf. I’d wear jeans and my Converse on the plane so I’d also have those to use on the trip as well. Easy! Oh and one of those folded canvas bags, just in case I need extra storage at some point during the trip.
What kind of mistakes did you make when you first started travelling?
Not being prepared enough, which is a mistake I definitely don’t make anymore since it often takes me weeks to prepare for a trip: what to visit, where to stay, where to eat are all important elements that will make or break a trip.
What is your most embarrassing travel story?
It’s not too embarrassing but I was travelling to Italy last summer but was sent back before I could board the plane because my passport was expiring less than 3 months after my return date. I had to buy another ticket and rush to get my passport done urgently so I can fly out the next day. Worse of all, I had a road trip planned the minute I landed and I missed out on the first day, which I had to skip all together to catch up. I had dinner planned on that first night at the alleged best pizzeria in Italy (thus the world). I have yet to try it.
What's the craziest thing you've ever eaten while away?
I just came back from a trip to Peru where I ate some cuy, or Guinea pig. It’s been a staple of the Andean diet for 5000 years and I had to try it. It tastes a big gamier than chicken but it’s not bad! You can read all about it on the blog.
What is the most exciting thing/craziest story that has ever happened to you when travelling?
Not when travelling but my whole trip to Hong Kong last year was a crazy, unplanned story! There was a bug on the Delta Airlines website in the spring of last year which allowed me to book a ticket from Montreal to Hong Kong for $332! Now if that’s not an exciting surprise, I don’t know what is!
Of all the places you've been, what was your favourite destination and why?
This is such a tough question. I tend to say that my favourite destination is my next one. Among my favourites are Hong Kong, because it’s a crazy and exhilarating mix of North America and Asia; Cape Town because it’s just a beautiful city with a gorgeous coast and a wonderful wine region; Italy, because of the food and the history; Barcelona is one of my favourite cities because I’m an architecture lover and the food there is amazing. In North America, I love New York because it feels like a second home to me and Chicago because of the architecture and food. I could go on forever!