Wanderlusts, Vol. 12: House Beautiful’s Sophie Donelson

by Kassidy Silva

There are few places Sophie Donelson hasn’t traveled. We caught up with the editor-in-chief of House Beautiful about her global jaunts, travel habits, most memorable trips, and more…

How did you spark an interest in travel?
The first big trip I took was to Amsterdam and Paris when I was 17 or 18. I went to California for the first time at 19, and California was more exotic to me than Europe [Laughs]. I grew up outside of Boston, so when I went to Paris, London, or Amsterdam, it’s like, “This is familiar.” The cobble streets, the architecture. Then I went to L.A. and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco with a girlfriend, and my mind was blown.

Would you ever relocate to L.A.?
California and L.A. have always held a special place in my heart. I never moved there but I always wanted to. I thought I would move to the West Coast for a couple of years, come back, and stay in publishing, but I never got to do that. L.A. is sort of this other world when I am there. I was there six times last year and I am going again next month. It’s a little bit of an addiction. I mostly stay at Sunset Tower. Chateau is amazing, too! Sometimes I stay with friends because I work all day or have things to do and it’s great to get that extra time with them.

Are you big on traveling alone?
Yes, a month ago I went to Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Ojai in California. It was a four-day solo trip, which is a huge indulgence right now. When I’m not with my advertising team or my editors, my husband, my kid, going alone is really intentional because you do whatever you want. You stop to eat when you want, you pull over on the side of the road to take pictures, and you’re in charge of your destination.

How has social media changed the travel game?
I research the heck out of everything. I’m obsessed with it. The travel game is completely different in the day of Instagram and Foursquare. Now you can show up, hit the ground, press your location button, and see what’s around and find the cutest most Instagrammable café, just like that! One of my most recent Instagrams was a picture of this beautiful landscape in Montecito or Ojai. I said, “Where to?” and crowd-sourced it, asking for hidden beaches, look-out points, gardens versus shops, and restaurants.

Where did it take you?
Everyone said the same thing: Lotus Land. It’s this amazing private garden in Santa Barbara. One of the people who commented on my Instagram was a docent there and she volunteered to give me a tour, which was amazing. We spent two hours in the garden—it was soul enhancing, life changing, enriching, and mesmerizing.

Are you a big foodie when you travel?
I’m not really a foodie. I would rather go see the sites and explore and meet people. The visual stimulation is my nourishment in that way. The food is great but I am more likely to grab a croissant and a banana and keep moving.

What type of packer are you?
I am the world’s best packer. My dad grew up overseas—he was a diplomat’s son and they moved every two years and traveled constantly. He is in the school of rolling things, so I am a roller. I love packing. I am great at the actual packing but the list itself is challenging for me sometimes…there are things I overlook and definitely forget.

What’s your travel style?
I’m definitely in the separates camp. I used to pack a lot of dresses, but if you don’t feel like wearing that dress that day, you are kind of stuck. I tend to dress a little bit more streamlined, color-palette diminished, than I do in New York.

What will we always find in your suitcase?
I always overpack shoes. I love to have a pair of shoes for the day and one for night. A four-day trip is four to six pairs of shoes for me. I never skimp on that.

What’s your go-to travel gift?
Candy. I am completely obsessed with international candy. I buy a bunch of it and always bring it to the office.

Your next vacation is…
Fire Island! My husband, Teddy, and I go to Ocean Beach and we rent a cottage there. Teddy and Greg stay at the cottage and I come back to work for a few days in the middle of the week and go back out to the island. Back in the day we did a share house with 30 people, all the writers from New York Magazine and the New York Times, trading weekends. Now we rent a cottage and bring friends out to stay with us.

Do you ever stay in the Hamptons?
I do! I worked on Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, so I lived out there for two or three summers. This year I haven’t because I had work travel taking me elsewhere. Now the traffic and the scene is not what I equate with downtime.

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