Instead of saying “hello” when she answered the phone, I said, “Where are you?”

“Hilton Head,” my friend Megan Pinckney responded, referring to the island in the South Carolina low country known for its Atlantic beaches and golf courses.

I know Pinckney from covering pageants, once part of my do-everything entertainment reporter lifestyle. She was crowned Miss South Carolina Teen USA in 2010 and Miss South Carolina USA in 2013. She placed fifth in the Miss USA competition.

Pinckney has an apartment in Columbia, S.C., although it seems she’s rarely home. I usually learn where Pinckney is through Instagram (@shadesofpinck). She writes about her trips on shadesofpinck.com.

Recently she’s been to New Orleans, Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention and San Francisco.

A few weeks ago, Pinckney, who is a model and girls’ leadership coordinator, sent a text saying she was going to be in the Bay Area. She wanted me to connect her with a photographer.

One of my summer interns, who has a great eye, suggested several iconic San Francisco locations for the shoot: the mural alley between Mission and Valencia streets, the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks, Dolores Park, The Wave Organ, the 16th Avenue mosaic steps and the cable car routes.

Pinckney chose the cable cars. We met outside of the Ritz Carlton along the California Street line. Although a ubiquitous representation of the city, locals know the cable cars, for the most part, are a tourist trap.

In Union Square, people stand in a snaking line to catch a ride when they could walk a few blocks uphill and hop on without a wait.

Pinckney and the intern didn’t have to pay the $5 one-way fare. There are advantages of having someone shooting photos of you standing in the street when a cable car arrives.

The tops of buildings were hidden by fog on that dreary and cold morning in July. San Francisco’s microclimates are unpredictable, and the chilly California wind often surprises visitors. After trudging up steep California Street and looking down on the city, I was once again struck by how beautiful San Francisco is.

I don’t have reason to travel to the Nob Hill neighborhood area often, and I was reminded of how much San Francisco exploration there is left to do.

Pinckney spent a day in the city before heading to Napa Valley to tour vineyards. She ate at The French Laundry, a highly regarded restaurant with a waiting list that stretches months. Pinckney enjoyed it so much that she took a photo with the chef de cuisine.

What other cities has she enjoyed visiting this year?

“This year, I—let me go through it in my head,” she responded.

The Charleston, S.C., native has packed a bag to visit Atlanta; Cancun, Mexico; Washington, D.C.; and New Orleans twice. The last time she was there was for the Essence Music Festival.

Didn’t you go to Vegas?

“Hold on,” she said. “We’re still in the winter.”

She’s been to Dallas for a wedding. She’s stayed at The Greenbrier, a 10,000-acre resort in West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains. She’s been to Kiawah Island, Aruba and Los Angeles. If you watched Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the DNC, you might’ve seen Pinckney on the convention hall’s big screen as captured by NBC.

“How cool was that?” said Pinckney, who visits New York several times a year. She’ll return in a few weeks for New York Fashion Week.

“I actually think that might be it for the rest of the year,” she said.

But it’s only August. Chicago and the Dominican Republic are tentative. She’s already planning a trip to Paris in March or April with women she competed against for Miss USA.

“I don’t usually plan my trips months in advance,” she said. “They kind of come short notice.”

It doesn’t take long to pack one bag, which is all Pinckney carries onto the plane. For a jaunt through London, Paris, Milan and Venice last year, she claims to have only brought a carry-on.

“While we were over there, we went to Turkey, too,” she added. “I had someone bring another suitcase.” (The person was already scheduled to join her.)

Pinckney does plan her outfits, and on Instagram she’s always wearing something striking. But she doesn’t travel to shop.

“I pick up pieces here and there,” she said. “I’ll find something at a really great sale, but I might not wear it for a year or two.”

The 25-year-old learned to travel light, well, on the fly. She didn’t board her first plane until she went to Las Vegas to see her sister, Queen, compete at Miss USA. Pinckney was 18.

“I didn’t take my first flight until my freshman year,” the University of South Carolina graduate said. “I was just unprepared.”

She flew in a short dress and sandals.

“I was so cold,” she said. “I was so uncomfortable.”

Now she travels in pants or a maxi dress. And socks. And she goes to sleep as soon as the plane starts taxiing. Once on a flight from Asia to John F. Kennedy Airport, she fell asleep as soon as she got on the plane. She woke up for the in-flight lunch before promptly snoozing again. She handled dinner similarly, awakening in New York.

The man next to her marveled.

“He looked at me and said, ‘That’s a gift,’” Pinckney recalled.

There are many reasons to travel. You can recharge by simply getting away from home for a few days. Pinckney seeks unique experiences from the cities she visits.

And cool photos.

For photo shoots like the one in San Francisco, she plans ahead by Googling the weather, the city’s architecture and color palette. She gracefully floated through SF’s fog-tinted morning in a mostly white outfit—7 For All Mankind jeans, Zara vest and an Equipment shirt. She accented with taupe Steven Madden heels and a black-and-white Celine handbag.

The jet-setting lifestyle seen on Instagram is just a slice of the life she leads.

“It is authentic,” Pinckney said. “But it’s not my whole life. It’s my life through one little looking glass.”

Otis R. Taylor Jr. is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist with a battle rap obsession. He is based in Oakland, Calif.