Instagram feeds with global adventures often fuel a dream or two.
We see them, especially during a pandemic, and the wanderlust kicks in. Remember when we could? Thinking about how we would? But, lovely as they are, those are images only.
Today’s guest has a beautiful way of showing and telling about the adventures we miss – or long to experience.
Give a warm welcome to my friend Stephanie Miller, the latest #GirlsRock interview. She’s the mind behind The Scenic Suitcase, a wonderful blog for travel. She delights in teaching readers to travel like an expert and experience the world like a local. Especially on cold, rainy, COVID-19 days like we’re having here today, a getaway is words away.
Eli: When you were little, what did you think you’d grow up to be?
Stephanie: When I was little, my family and I lived in California for a bit and we’d oftentimes head to Monterey for the weekend. I loved learning about sea life at the aquarium and exploring tidepools along the shore! So, it wasn’t a far leap to imagine me as a marine biologist. I dreamt of saving sea turtles, studying whales, and discovering new species in far-off destinations. It wasn’t until I moved back to a land-locked state that I let the dream die and focused my attention on other passions like art, writing, and history.
Eli: Those aren’t bad backup passions to have. What happened with those at that point?
Stephanie: I looked for ways to incorporate them in “the real world” and ended up graduating college with a degree in Advertising & Marketing (allowing me to exercise my creativity) with a minor in Business (because, you know, practicality). Since then, I’ve been able to apply the skills I learned to build my travel brand, The Scenic Suitcase. And, that’s given me the opportunity to do all my favorite things – photography, writing, graphic design, marketing, and traveling the world exploring historical sites and breathtaking wildernesses.
In 3 short years of running my website, I’ve met inspiring individuals that have become lifelong friends, challenged myself to push my boundaries, and had bucket-list experiences that stayed with me long after my bags were unpacked. It’s been incredibly rewarding, to say the least.
Eli: Can you tell us about one bucket-list experience that stands out?
Stephanie: Absolutely! There have been so many that I’m thankful for – cage diving with great white sharks, visiting all seven continents, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, taking the polar plunge in Antarctica, etc. But one that really stands out was going on safari in South Africa. Each game drive was more memorable than the last as we got up close and personal with wildlife in their natural habitat. Giraffes, elephants, zebras, rhinos, and a pride of lions (that, terrifyingly, got a little too close for comfort one evening!) It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget!
Eli: Any stories you would like to forget?
Stephanie: That’s a tough one. Even when experiences are less than ideal there’s always a bright side or, at the very least, a lesson to be learned. That being said, I could have done without the food poisoning I got in Cuba. There was a chocolate fountain situation happening and I simply couldn’t say no to the temptation of dipping strawberries in it. But, getting up every 10 minutes that night with graphic intestinal fireworks was absolutely miserable and caused me to miss my last tour the next day.
Still, by missing the tour I was able to spend time on the beach (which I would have otherwise missed) and I learned a painful life lesson – in countries where the water isn’t safe to drink, only eat fruit that has a peel.
Eli: Sage advice! Any other quick tips for travelers?
Stephanie: One piece of advice that I swear by is to always carry on your luggage. Not only does it save you money on checked bag fees, but it also saves you the headache of waiting in baggage claim upon arrival (and that’s assuming your belongings haven’t been lost or returned looking like they were dragged down the runway by the landing gear). I know it may seem impossible to fit it all, but by using compression bags you can squeeze a lot in a little amount of space. In fact, using them I was able to travel to Antarctica for two weeks (with lots of sweaters and thermal gear) with nothing more than my 21-inch suitcase. So trust me, it can be done!
Eli: That’s a marvel of geometry! I do like to pack light, but usually, that involves forgetting underwear or deodorant. Have there been things you’ve done in travel that surprised you? Something you might not have believed you could do until you did it?
Stephanie: One thing I would’ve never imagined doing was getting a hammam in Morocco. For anyone who’s not familiar, a hammam is a longstanding Islamic tradition dating back to the Roman empire that involves someone scrubbing you down with rhassoul clay and bathing you in a public bathhouse (while you’re COMPLETELY NAKED). For someone like me who’s extremely bashful, doing something like that was far, far outside my comfort zone. But, I like to immerse myself in the places I visit so my friend and I gave it a whirl. And I will say, after I got over myself enough to be in the moment instead of in my head, it was actually really fantastic (and my skin has never felt softer!)
Eli: Awesome! Have you encountered something like that in your travels that you made part of your everyday life, at least temporarily?
Stephanie: Something I tend to bring home with me that I enjoy incorporating into my everyday life is new food obsessions. I’ve discovered all kinds of delectable cuisine during my travels that I love to eat when I return. Tajine dishes after a weekend in Marrakesh. Caprese after touring the Italian coast (how had I never eaten that before?!) Macaroons after a few days in Paris. Stroopwafels after visiting Amsterdam. Dragon fruit after many breakfasts in Bali. King crab legs after cruising through Alaska (another thing I’m shocked I’d never tried!)
Each reminds me of past adventures and has the added bonus of being absolutely delicious!
Eli: I could eat my way around the world, Stephanie! How has the pandemic changed travel, at least in the short term?
Stephanie: You and me both! The pandemic has certainly changed the face of travel. And I imagine, much like after 9/11, travel will never be the same again. In the short term, it means empty security lines, vacant center seats, lots of hand sanitizer, and mandatory face masks. Not the worst thing in the world since no one appreciates the person coughing behind them and fearing they’ll end up with a cold by the time they reach their destination (something that happened to me in Prague and it was miserable!) Cruise ships are anchored with no idea when they’ll sail again. And for international travel, it means closed borders, quarantines, and certain destinations requiring mandatory testing.
In the long term, I imagine countries may begin requiring health passports or proof visitors aren’t sick when they arrive. Face masks may become commonplace rather than an exception to the rule. And, airlines’ cleaning standards may be forever heightened in order to make travelers feel more comfortable. But, that also comes at a price. So, I think we’ll see airlines cutting staff, aircraft, and routes which will mean tickets will become more expensive. And, cruise lines that weather the COVID storm will institute their own safety standards to avoid outbreaks in the future (meaning we can kiss the days of self-serve buffet lines goodbye).
But, although far-off destinations may become more cumbersome to visit, those closer to home will become more desirable. We’re already seeing an increase in RV travel and people hitting the road for domestic adventures. National Parks will become even more popular, and scenic byways will begin to see more traffic. So, those who need to scratch their wanderlust itch still have options amidst the COVID crisis.
Eli: I like the sound of that! I could take off in an RV. So what’s next for you Stephanie?
Stephanie: Next is a fluid situation at the moment. I had a lot of travel plans for the upcoming year (Croatia, Greece, Palau, Portugal, Egypt, etc) but obviously, COVID has put a halt to international travel. So instead, like many others, I’m now looking to some domestic destinations that I haven’t checked off my list. Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Maine, driving the northern California coastline, and renting a houseboat on Lake Powell now seem to be on the shortlist.
And, of course, continuing to work on my brand by attending conferences, seminars, and retreats where I get to work alongside like-minded creatives who inspire and motivate me. Because continuing to help people check destinations off their own bucket list is still at the center of everything I do.
Eli: I love that plan, Stephanie. What advice would you give women about traveling and adventures overall?
Stephanie: My advice to women dreaming of travel is not to let fear or apprehension stand in their way. Experiencing new places and cultures helps you grow in ways that change you to your very core. It opens your mind to new perspectives, teaches you how to handle adversity, and leaves you with an indelible love for adventure. Whether you travel solo, on a tour, with a significant other, or alongside friends and family, seeing more of the world around you is a decision you won’t regret.