This week I have another wonderful WITs (Women in Travel Summit) alum! Although Katie of Stories My Suitcase Could Tell and I have been Twitter friends for years, we met in person when Katie introduced herself at one of the conference breaks and I couldn’t have been more pleased! (By the way I was selected as a speaker for the Women in Travel Summit taking place in March in Irvine, California! Come by and see me!)
Katie is a transplant to NYC from a beautiful island in Scotland, a journalist by profession and an award-winning travel blogger.
When and how did you become a traveler?
In some ways, I became a traveller before I had ever left the country. As a child, the night light by my bed was a globe. For personal projects in primary school – those early attempts at research – other eight year olds chose ‘normal’ topics like animals or famous film stars while I chose the far-flung places I wanted to visit, like France, Australia, and Greece. My family had visited lots of different places in the UK, but it wasn’t until I was 12 that we set off on our first foreign family holiday, to Turkey. It was different to anywhere I had ever been before, and I adored it – I’ve been addicted to travelling ever since.
Where do you love to travel?
I love a bit of everything when I travel: city and countryside, culture and food, relaxation and exploration, so I enjoy anywhere that incorporates a few of these things. Other than New York, where I now live, the places I’ve visited most are probably London and Paris. I went back to Paris at the end of 2013, having not been since I was a teenager, and it was glorious – I had somehow forgotten what a beautiful city it is.
Most memorable travel moment:
One night I was at a street food stall in Tianjin, China, deliberating over what to eat. Was that a potato, or a peculiar piece of meat? I debated it with the American guy next to me in line, and we got talking, as expats do in places were English speakers are few and far between. Fast forward five years, four countries, countless flights, and a proposal in Tokyo, and the stranger from the street food stall line is now my husband! An encounter at a street food stall might seem small, but it’s definitely my most memorable travel moment.
What won’t you travel without?
I’m a journalist, so it’s a force of habit to never leave the house without a notebook and pen. Plus, you can’t guarantee your phone or iPad will have enough power to record that conversation with a city local, or type up those notes about that cafe with the amazing coffee, so having an old-school back-up is always a good idea.
A day isn’t complete until I…
have written something, whether it’s for work, for my travel blog, or simply in my journal.
A quirky daily habit of mine is…
waking up in the morning and heading straight for the living room window to get a quick look at the New York skyline. I moved here less than a year ago, and that view still gets me every time!
Travel essential – 3 things you always travel with.
My passport, my camera, and a notebook.
Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:
My selfie stick. I swore I’d never buy one, but after a solo trip to Amsterdam I realised there wasn’t a single photo of me, nothing to show that I had ever been there. So earlier this year I gave in, bought a selfie stick, and I have to admit – I love it! Selfie sticks have a pretty bad reputation, but I think there are lots of advantages to them while travelling. I wrote a blog post recently arguing my point, and I was pleased to learn that there are some other people out there who feel the same.
Perfect travel day from start to finish.
Wake up early to see the sun rise and watch the city or town or village come to life. Sip a latte in a local coffee shop before grabbing breakfast. Explore the streets by foot or by bike, stopping anywhere that looks intriguing. Relax over lunch (preferably outside). Do some sightseeing, shopping, or maybe pay a visit to a museum. In the late afternoon, pop back to the hotel to freshen up. Head out to eat some traditional food for dinner. Indulge in a glass or two of wine, or some dessert (probably both, I am on holiday after all). Finally: fall asleep after a full day, ideally in a large, luxurious bed.
What are your favorite food cities? What restaurants do you go to in each?
It’s not a city, but the islands of the Outer Hebrides (where I’m from) have wonderful food. Here the idea of ‘farm to table’ isn’t a trend, but a way of life.
There’s a little take-away restaurant on the Isle of Lewis called 40 North that has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten: everything there is handmade on the premises and comes from their croft (that’s a particular kind of Scottish farm) or the local area.
Croft 36, a little shed by the roadside on the Isle of Harris, is amazing too. You can pick up dressed crab, or maybe some fresh scallops, and pay by leaving the money in an honesty box by the door (it’s also next to one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, which is a nice plus!).
And I can’t forget Delights, my favourite little coffee shop in the main town of Stornoway. I’m yet to find a replacement coffee shop in New York that has all of the three ingredients that make Delights so special: great coffee, delicious home baked cakes, and the lovely people working there.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
China. The culture and way of life was in many, many ways even more different to British culture than I had expected it to be. But the country was also a lot more open to the outside world than the headlines and textbooks had led me to believe. I could access English-language news online without a VPN, and my teenage students knew all about American sports, TV shows, and music (many of them knew about and used Facebook too, but I had to pretend to not know what they were talking about).
What has travel taught you?
Travel has definitely taught me to expect the unexpected, and how to cope when situations change quickly. Living in China was a learning curve in that sense: when you’re thrown in at the deep end in a country where you don’t understand the language or the culture, and the people there don’t understand you, you learn very quickly to adapt and make the most out of the experience. By the end of the year I could get by in basic Mandarin, and empty a bowl of noodle soup with chopsticks in no time!
Best and Worst place you’ve been to and why?
It’s always difficult to choose the ‘best’ place I’ve visited… One of them, though, is Kenya. Whether by the Indian Ocean or out on safari, the landscape was absolutely stunning, and I loved the friendly, laid-back culture. One of the Swhahili phrases I heard the most while I was there was ‘Poly poly’, which means ‘Slowly slowly’ – and they really mean it.
I’m not sure if I could describe anywhere I’ve visited as being ‘the worst place’, but Tongli, a little town in China, certainly wasn’t one of the best! My friends and I went there for a day trip based on a recommendation in our guidebook, and it was uninspiring, to say the least. It certainly wasn’t the beautiful old town we’d been led to believe. Now though, we laugh about ‘Tongli’ – it’s almost shorthand for any bad travel experiences we had in China!
What’s one location on your bucket list?
Cuba. I read an article about Havana in a travel magazine when I was about 14 years old, and I’ve wanted to visit ever since. It’s quite a popular holiday destination for Europeans, so it was interesting to move to the U.S. and see the issue and logistics of travelling there from a different perspective.
Hotel: Le Royal Monceau in Paris. Heavenly is the only way to describe it; I think my two nights there may have ruined me for hotel stays for the rest of my life!
Airline: British Airways
Airport: Heathrow (Terminal 5) in London.
Mode of Transportation: I know planes are the most convenient, but I love train travel between locations, and bikes (if there isn’t too much traffic) for getting around a new destination.
Travel snack: I’m a chocoholic, so some type of chocolate, preferably Cadbury’s. My friends had a good laugh at me when I pulled out a chocolate bar at the top of one of the watch towers on the Great Wall of China!
Travel Gear: My ONA Bowery camera bag. (I too love the Bowery Bag!)
Travel App: Google Maps.
Travel Book: Bill Bryson’s ‘Neither here nor there’ always makes me laugh.
Travel Movie: I watched Bottle Shock recently, a movie about the early days of the wineries in California, and it really made me want to visit Napa Valley.
Song on your smartphone: Latha Math by Manran – it’s an upbeat, catchy Gaelic song about the Isle of Lewis, where I grew up. It makes me smile every time I hear it!
How about you? What would you like to know about Katie?