It was the middle of the night in rural Rajasthan. The road had become a dirt track, and our taxi driver was refusing to admit he was lost. I was trying to quell a rising panic when my friend Belinda turned to me and winked, “This is going to make a great story someday.” She was right. We eventually found our way to the hotel, but more important, we’ve been getting mileage out of that adventure ever since.
We’ve been friends for twenty years, and in that time, Belinda has moved from England to France to Thailand, and I’ve done two LA-to-NYC loops. Traveling together is what cements our relationship. Once or twice a year, we’ll meet up in a new place: the stranger and more unfamiliar, the better. We become our best selves on these trips. We make each other braver, wiser, more spontaneous. And we share the same medical need for coffee in the morning, so there’s that, too.
Here, we discuss our favorite memories from our past two decades of travels.
— Lisa Borgnes Giramonti
Lisa Borgnes Giramonti: We met in London in 1996 at a dinner party, and within twenty minutes, we had made a date to go on a Jack the Ripper ghost walk.
Belinda Carlisle: We clicked right away. Anybody who goes on a ghost walk is someone you have to take a second look at. Little did I know that you had the same deep-rooted curiosity that I did.
LBG: And then you called me up a couple of months after that and asked me to go to Kazakhstan with you for a concert you were singing at.
BC: I remember we were stuck in that big corporate hotel, and we had that bodyguard Akmed with the gun, and he didn’t want to take us beyond the gates, but we insisted. We wanted to immerse ourselves with the locals and have an authentic experience. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, like with that old Soviet bathhouse.
LBG: It had moldy gray tiles, and there was that Siberian prison-guard lady who started shouting at us, “No clothes, no clothes!” and we froze and then slunk shamefacedly out.
BC: But that’s what I loved about you: you were willing to try it. What bonds us is a sense of adventure and curiosity. When it comes to traveling, you don’t want to go sit on a beach somewhere. That’s not me, and that’s definitely not you.
LBG: Whenever we travel anywhere, we have our little explorer saints looking over us. Women like Freya Stark, Martha Gellhorn, Sybille Bedford. One of our all-time heroes, author Lesley Blanch, was your husband Morgan’s godmother. I know how hugely important she was in your life, and still is.
BC: Before I met her, I never knew anybody like her, and I’ve never met anybody like her since. To me, she was the ultimate bohemian soul and traveler. In every way, she was living the dream — traveling all through Afghanistan and the Middle East, she had Bedouin boyfriends and this crazy life.
I would go over to her house in the south of France, and she would be in a turban and caftans with all her rugs that she had collected on her travels, and I would practically sit at her feet and say, “Lesley, tell me about Afghanistan.” And she would say, “Well, it was the most beautiful place on the planet, and the people were the loveliest, and they had the most wonderful figs and fruit and nuts …” She is my guardian angel, and I think of her quite a bit. Her stories opened me up to Central Asia, Iran, India, and gave me a different way of thinking.