Here’s our new traveller: Sarah Swank – a travel blogger from Indianapolis, Indiana, that likes to spend a lot of time abroad eating and exploring coffee shops.
It’s on her blog Suitcase Six where she shares tips on more sustainable travel, and also inspires women who love travelling too.
Midlands Traveller: Talk a bit about yourself.
Sarah Swank – Hello all! My name is Sarah, and I’m a 26-year-old American girl who currently works remotely for a mentoring program in my state’s juvenile prisons.
The summer before my senior year of university, I’d only been to one other country outside the USA.
I received an opportunity to visit Costa Rica through work that summer, which I promptly took and turned into a backpacking trip. Since then I’ve spent as much of my time travelling as I’ve been able to manage.
My biggest hobby is my blog, Suitcase Six, where I try to document my travels, help people travel more sustainably, and share inspiration from working women who love to travel too.
Home is Indianapolis, Indiana, my city for most of my life. I live with my boyfriend and our little black cat, Lil’ Spooks.
Outside of travel and work, I love to play board games, cook, spend time with my friends and family, and get outdoors whenever I can manage. I’m an obsessive planner and list-maker, spending a lot of my time abroad eating and exploring the coffee scene.
MT: When did you start to be interested in travelling? /What is your first travel-related memory?
SS: I’m combining these questions because my answers are related!
One of my first travel memories is going on a family cruise that stopped for a day in Jamaica; I was around nine. For an entire day, we had a local guide who drove us through the mountains picking fruit off the side of the road.
I have a flashbulb memory of tubing down a cool river with enormous, tropical trees lining either side. It was a huge adventure and I think this kicked off my wanderlust spirit.
MT: What is your favourite place (travel destination) in the world? Why?
SS: This is so hard! All around, I’d probably say Portugal. It has nature, great food, beautiful architecture, lovely wine, and pretty affordable prices.
Costa Rica, Norway, Japan, and Singapore stand out as some of my other favourite places. My answer varies though if you’re asking about best travel adventures, where I’d want to live, where I’d want to backpack, or other specifics – so many places stand out for different reasons.
MT: Have you ever had any bad experiences when travelling?
SS: Absolutely! Tons. I’ve had food poisoning, gotten bed bugs twice, lost expensive items, had things stolen, been super homesick…even messed up a visa process which wasted a ton of money on non-refundable tickets & bookings, and forced me to reroute a lot of my trip. None of them has put me off travelling though!
Travelling is no different from regular life in that you have great days and terrible days sometimes. They’re unavoidable, and the struggles usually make for great stories later, so trying to keep perspective is key.
Each of my mishaps on the road has been educational and made me more empathetic and aware.
I can better appreciate my American passport for the passage it gives me to so many countries, and I can better imagine some of the extreme challenges the visa application process can present for so many with far more serious consequences than the rescheduling of a backpacking stop.
I’ve learned how to stay calm in emergencies and how to plan my travels so that I avoid as many risks to my safety as I reasonably can.
I know that I can handle most things the world will throw at me and that it’s okay to ask for help and that sometimes a good cry will help. The more you travel the more you learn to minimise the likelihood of bad experiences, but they can happen to anyone at any time, even at home.
MT: Which countries have you travelled to?
SS: I’ve travelled to 38 countries including all of Central America from Belize down to Panama, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, northern mainland Europe, Russia, Japan, Korea, Canada, Thailand, Morocco, Rwanda, Uganda…not the entire list but that’s most of them!
MT: Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
SS: You don’t have to go far or be extreme to start travelling, though sometimes diving headfirst is the best way. Don’t feel pressured to travel any certain way – there’s no right or wrong style of travel, as long as you’re respectful of the people, places, and customs in the area you’re visiting.
If you like luxury travel don’t feel like you have to stay in a hostel to be a “traveller”. If you’re not one for monuments, don’t feel like you have to add them to your itinerary just because it’s a popular site. If you’re true to yourself and what you like to do, you’ll have a much better time.
I’d also suggest spending at least a full day in every city you visit, which does not include days of travel to or from the city.
Otherwise, you run the risk of being too tired and short on time to see much, and spending most of your time going from place to place instead of getting comfortable with a spot. Slow travel often leads to the richest experiences.
MT: What are the challenges of travelling solo? (if you are a solo traveller)
SS: You have to rely on yourself completely. Run out of money or get lost? It’s up to you to solve it. Feeling lonely or homesick? You have to find a way to get through it. The planning is all on you.
Solving my own problems and making my own plans are what instils me with that “I can do anything” attitude and gives me the independence I crave. But it can also be the hardest part!
Unless you’re trekking in the wilderness alone, when you’re solo travelling you’re usually not alone if you are brave enough to talk to the locals or other travellers you come across.
Most people are helpful when asked directly for help, and a lot of people are desperate to make connections if you just reach out to them!
MT: How have your travels changed you?
SS: In every way! My priorities are different, my resiliency is greater, my self-confidence is higher, and my world perspective is broader and more nuanced. My goals are different…I feel like my travels have truly shaped nearly every aspect of my being.
I’ve been able to see what I’m most passionate about, what’s most important to me, and what I can live without. All of that comes with me when I return home.
I’d say most importantly that I have become more concerned about what’s going on in the world and how every one of us plays a role – a little less self-centred, I suppose.
MT: What country or city is your travel bucket list?
SS: New Zealand, Madagascar, South Africa, Antarctica, and Galapagos Island are on the tops of my bucket list. I’d like to visit as many places as I can though so really anywhere, I haven’t been (and some of my favourite places) are on my travel bucket list, which is ever-growing.
MT: Future travel plans?
SS: In 2020 I have a lot of travel plans in the books! So far, I’ll be spending a few weeks on the west coast of the USA (San Francisco, San Diego, and Las Vegas) visiting family. I have a wedding in Cabo, Mexico and a music festival in Manchester Tennessee planned as well.
I’ll be heading back to Uganda for the second part of the year with my partner who works in Kampala about half of the time.
We try to visit different cities along the route to Uganda since there are no direct flights from the USA. We’re tentatively planning a weekend layover in Istanbul, Turkey and a longer trip through Belgium and England on the way home.
I’m hoping to travel a bit through east/southern Africa while we’re based in Uganda too, though this is less planned at the moment. Possibly a work away in South Africa? Lots of travel coming up this year which I’m super excited about!
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