Shami Chakrabarti: My life in travel

'My holiday luxury? An exotic cocktail. What happens on tour, stays on tour'

Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti, is speaking at the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall from 24-27 July (

First holiday memory?

Great Yarmouth towards the end of the school summer holidays with my parents. I've got flashes of Devon, Cornwall, and Brighton before that, but Yarmouth is more vivid because I was a little bit bigger. I remember being out late, buying hamburgers on the pier after dark, and feeling that it was all desperately grown up.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

There are lots of lovely places, but I am a Londoner born and bred. The work I do at Liberty means I'm on the train a lot, speaking in different places, but I'm a city person in particular. The coast and country are great for the odd break, but in the end I'm a Londoner.

Best holiday?

When I was 21, my parents saved up to give me some cash to go to America for the first time. I went with two college friends, one American and one English. The three of us went off together to New York and New England. We even went up to Canada to stay with my American friend's cousins who lived in the great outdoors.

Ideal travelling companion?

It comes partly down to how interesting and interested in the particular place they are, but ultimately you want someone who is quite chilled and flexible, adventurous and fun.

I've recently discovered literary festivals, because I have a book out in the autumn and I've been invited to speak at lots of events. What could be better than travelling with writers, having a laugh and swapping stories?

Greatest travel luxury?

An exotic cocktail. I like to be a little bit more experimental on holiday and order something that I wouldn't dream of drinking in London. What happens on tour, stays on tour.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

A culture bum – by which I mean, a little bit of culture, but not too much. I like lots of hanging out, not rushing around trying to see 25 different things. The ideal would be to see a couple of things and have a nice lunch, followed by a walk around a city, just absorbing it.

Holiday reading?

Liberty runs a programme called Writers at Liberty, so holidays are a great opportunity to catch up on all this great stuff that my chums have written. Things like Eleanor Marx: A Life, by Rachel Holmes, and A God in Every Stone, by Kamila Shamsie. For this summer, I've got Malorie Blackman and Richard Norton-Taylor waiting.

Where has seduced you?

I fell in love with the South of France when I was a student, because I had a friend who said: "Come to my mum's house!", so I did and went back every other year for many years.

More recently, in working life, I've found Cape Town a very beautiful place. South African people are lovely. It's such a contrast from memories of being a student and thinking apartheid would go on forever. Even though there are still enormous challenges in the country, there is a very optimistic feeling.

Worst travel experience?

I had a pretty miserable time in Martha's Vineyard. I hate places that are too pretentious, where everyone is trying to be a bit too cool. It's all about the money and showing off, seeing and being seen. I'd rather go to Dorset.

Best hotel?

I don't think I've paid close enough attention, but when it comes to the best hotels, they don't have to be mega posh, it's about hospitality in the end. I went to Pier One hotel in Sydney, that looks out on to the harbour, where the staff were all so happy, it seemed to come across in the way they dealt with guests.

Best meal abroad?

Tuscany with my dear friend Nicoletta. I've been to swanky restaurants in different places and had nice food, but there's something special about a meal, in the sunshine, staying with friends. It would probably be some simple but lovely pasta, sitting outside her home, just eating, drinking and laughing with friends, like we did last summer.

Favourite city?

New York is the ultimate city. It has some aspects of London, like the buzz, but kind of multiplied. In my early twenties, I thought New York was the place and wanted to live there. It's still fantastically exciting and I have lots of really good friends and human rights colleagues who live there, which helps.

Where next?

There are places that I haven't been to yet that I need to visit. I've been to Cape Town, but I need to see more of South Africa. Also, my parents came from India and I haven't been back since I was a child, so I want to go.

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