Tips + Trends

Unpacked: Erin Spens on Exploring Life One City at a Time

Welcome to ‘Erin-dale’: a big and crazy city full of energy, art and chaos. A community where people feel connected, workdays are short and nature is never far away. This is the city of Erin Spens. Or at least, her imagined city, because ‘Erin-dale’ doesn’t exist—yet. Meet the woman who’s not afraid to take on challenges. A storyteller who gives a voice to the people beneath the surface of a city.

It all started at the AC Hotel in Cordoba, Spain, where American-born Spens and her husband enjoyed a leisurely evening on the rooftop. That moment, overlooking one of Spain’s historic centers, the idea for Boat Magazine was born. And despite her lack of a degree in journalism, declining sales of printed outlets and her unfamiliarity with the publishing scene, Spens followed her dream. Blindly, and may we say fearlessly.

Today, Boat Magazine has grown into a global publication. Each issue focuses on the exploration of one single city, giving us a balanced take on its reality.

“Life’s meant for exploring,” Spens told AC Hotels’ “The Unpacked Project.” “And I mean not just hiking but really getting under the skin of people, places and the things we love. The media work hard to keep us afraid of the unknown, but the world has so much good in it. Regardless of culture, background or religion, I have found that the heart of people is good. With Boat Magazine, I try to spread those positive stories uniting people and communities.”

Six years, ten issues and an equal amount of cities later, Spens has gained far more insights in traveling and life in general. One lesson she lives by, she reveals to us, is to always assume the best in people and to start each journey with a positive outlook.

“If fear drives the decisions you make, you’re not going to live”, Spens adds. “Optimism, on the other hand, opens doors.” And we, at AC Hotels, hope that one day Spens’ positive outlook even opens the door to a home in the self-claimed city of ‘Erin-dale’.

READ MORE: The Unpacked Project Interviews Nigel Barker, Grant Legan and Liz Gardner

Erin’s Essentials

Whether in her imagined city of Erin-dale or any city that sparks her imagination, these are Erin Spens’ must-haves.

(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)
(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)

My Daughter

I love being busy; it’s who I am. My daughter keeps me grounded and focused on what’s most important. She has the simple power to bring me right back down to earth.

(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)
(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)

My Voice Recorder

Have you ever stopped to listen to the sounds of a city? A buzzing market or chaotic taxi ride: when I travel I record all sorts of little clips that transport me right back to that place and time.

(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)
(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)

My Plants

I’m planting a garden at my house in Los Angeles and it’s also full of plants inside. Taking care of them is like therapy. It keeps me connected while living in this big and crazy city. Plus they do so much for the air.

(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)

My Notebook

I start a new notebook for each issue of Boat Magazine. I keep everything in it: from dates and addresses to quotes and ticket stubs I tape inside.

(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)
(Photo: Courtesy Erin Spens)


Coffee is one of the few things left that we still do together, in person. I like it black but not too strong, please.

How to Get Under the Skin of a City

There’s a way to get to know a city. Here’s what Erin suggests.

  • Read but don’t research before you go. Let the magic of a place unfold right in front of you. Absorb the smells, colors and sounds when you’re there. Walk around and try new things.
  • Assume the best. Be optimistic and you’ll find people and places to be open and inviting. I’ve experienced this over and over again: people are good at heart
  • Don’t depend on technology: talk and listen. Go to a local hairdresser and become friendly with a stranger on the train or someone you stand in line with. Talking and truly listening to the locals, a cashier or barista is the quickest way to learn about a place.