The world is on the move once again, and after 2 years of geographic stasis, we are so very grateful. However, this is happening along with well-publicized travel frictions caused by an industry trying its best to scale up to the challenge of some pretty vast pent-up demand.
Sarah is a travel professional, who engages with the wider world without hesitation. Travel is what she does pretty much all day, every day in her role as an award-winning travel journalist and TV host. She is here to share her thoughts on what the pros know about packing, dream destinations and how to roll with whatever travel hiccups may come our way. If you have not booked a trip for this year, be it by car, plane or boat, this would be a good time to give it some thought, and with Sarah’s sage travel wisdom, you will be better prepared to go like a pro.
Where are the best places to travel this summer?
Everyone’s looking for wide open spaces, somewhere that you can be in nature and where you can social distance easily. So domestically, I’m seeing people gravitating towards states like California, Montana, Oregon. Anywhere you can be outside in the fresh air. The Caribbean has handled the pandemic really well and basically, once those islands started to open up in the summer of 2020, we’ve seen a lot of people going back there. And now as restrictions are loosening across the Caribbean and in Europe, you see an increased amount there.
“It should be clear to us all by now not just the privilege of travel but also the beauty of travel and the richness that it brings to our lives”
Any advice on how to deal with the issues airlines are having now (staff shortages, delays, cancellations)?
If you choose to travel right now, you have to start with the right mindset which is, you’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to be patient, you have to be prepared. The first and easiest tip is whatever airline you’re traveling on, download their app because that’s usually the fastest way to get notifications about delays or cancellations. If your flight is delayed or canceled and you need to rebook yourself, do two things. Number one, head to the counter in the airport that everyone will be heading for. At the same time, make sure you’re on the phone with the (800) number. Now you’re giving yourself two chances of getting your case in front of someone and you’re not waiting for 4 hours in line at the counter before you get on the phone. Put the odds in your favor.
Three P’s: be prepared, be patient, and be polite.
Preparing for me means avoiding getting hungry because hungry Sarah is angry Sarah so I always have snacks and I always have a diversion whether it’s my phone or my kindle. There might be some boring hours ahead.
Be patient. Everyone’s trying their best. If your flight is delayed, it’s not the fault of the other passengers, the person on the phone, or the person at the check-in counter.
Be polite. We’re all human beings. The airlines want you to get where you’re going on time. There’s no advantage to them if you’re an angry customer with a delay or canceled flight. So be understanding.
Checked or carry-on?
Carry-on ALWAYS! Luckily for me, As a Carribean travel expert who lives in Miami, my longest flight is 2 ½ hours so I’m not usually doing long hauls. And my trips are usually 3-4 nights so it’s easy for me to pack a carry-on. Although, for a 2 week trip, for example, even I am not able to fit everything into a carry-on. But, I know that checked bags in normal times can get lost and are certainly getting lost more now. I have bought an Apple Airtag and put that in my checked luggage. So even if the airline doesn’t know where my bag is, I will. That’s given me a level of reassurance and comfort that I wouldn’t normally have.
What do you pack in your carry-on?
I love my carry-on. It’s a larger Away aluminum carry-on (not sponsored!). It has stickers from everywhere that I’ve been. Those are my badges of honor. It opens like a clamshell and honestly, one half of that clamshell is pretty much always packed with the same things which are clothes. The other half has three packing cubes. One carries 3 pairs of shoes: running shoes, a pair of silicone Birkenstocks that I can wear in the shower because I have a thing about strange showers but I can also wear them on the street as sandals, and a pair of flats that I can wear with maxi dresses in resorts.
The second packing cube has a sarong, my reading glasses, a pair of sunglasses, exercise bands, an eye mask for sleeping, and a running bell because I’m a runner so I use it to alert people when I’m running behind them.
The third packing cube is my toiletries bag, which is large and fits way more than it seems.
“I hope that what we take away from the pandemic is a desire to travel more slowly, deeply, to connect with the people in the places that we visit, and to really absorb where we are”
Favorite places in the Caribbean?
I have 4. My first is Jamaica and I chose Jamaica because I lived just under half my life there and Jamaica is the total package when it comes to Caribbean islands. It has everything. Food, culture, mountains, rivers, beaches.
I love Anguilla because it is posh but unpretentious, kind of like me I like to think. 33 amazing beaches on a tiny 35 square mile island, I love it.
I also love the Turks and Caicos islands and the Grenadines because I like the idea that you can easily hop from one to the other and have a vacation from your vacation.
And my newest favorite is a Grenadine island called Bequia. I’ve only been there once a couple of years ago and it just has a very old Caribbean feel. Very simple, beautiful with the main street right on the water. It’s really relaxed and not commercialized.
Any travel fails you’ve seen?
The most pervasive travel fail that I see and it’s such a big rookie mistake is not traveling with a pen. I think people forget that you’re going to need a pen. You need a pen to fill out an immigration or customs form. To me, the mark of a rookie traveler vs. an expert traveler is that the rookie traveler is always asking the flight attendant or their neighbor for a pen.
What has changed between now and pre-Covid?
Travel has become much more complicated. It’s easier now but in the last two years travel has become much more complicated. The idea that you could take a spontaneous trip to the Caribbean was out for the last two years because you had to apply online for permission to enter the country, you had to know what the regulations were in terms of Covid protocols, masking, vaccinations, which test was accepted. There was also obviously a level of fear that surrounded leaving the house.
But, on the other hand, one of the good things that has come from this is that we have become more appreciative of the fact that traveling is a privilege and not a right. We’ve all taken it as a right but it really is a privilege and I hope that what we take away from the pandemic is a desire to travel more slowly, deeply, to connect with the people in the places that we visit, and to really absorb where we are rather than dashing from one place to another simply ticking places off. It should be clear to us all by now not just the privilege of travel but also the beauty of travel and the richness that it brings to our lives.
What new destination do you want to go to in the next 3 years?
I have many! I’m in the Caribbean most of the time and I’ve been to most of the Caribbean islands but if I had to pick three new places they would be Switzerland, Benin, and New Zealand.
Switzerland for the alpine landscape, snow, the lodge, the skiing – well, I don’t really want to ski but I want to après-ski with a rolling fire, a bear skin rug and a hot chocolate.
Benin because a few years ago I did an ancestry DNA test and it told me that a large percent of my heritage was West Africa, particularly from Benin and I’ve never been to the continent of Africa so I’m very interested to know if I went there if I’d feel a connection or some sort of bond with the people there and if they would recognize me as one of theirs.
New Zealand because I was made to sit through all of those Hobbit movies and when I figured out that a lot of those scenes were shot in New Zealand, I had a desire to go and see it for myself.
“I think being your authentic self and being honest is really, really important”
Where do you want to go back to?
Tokyo. Without a doubt. I went for my 50th birthday and it was way too short of a trip. I think I was only there for 4 nights and looking back now I realized I was jetlagged the entire time. It was such sensory overload and the whole time I was there I was so interested in it but the jetlag was just really something. I want to go back and get to know it. Tokyo is like nowhere I have ever been in my life.
What are your three life non-negotiables?
I really value authenticity in people. I work in an industry that has a lot of fakery in it and I’m not down with that at all. I want people to be authentically who they are and not pretend to be someone else. I think being your authentic self and being honest is really, really important.
Kindness is really underrated. I think there is a lot of pressure to be snarky and snappy and a bit sarcastic but kindness is lost. I require kindness in my friends.
And third… hmmm. I think I’d be suspicious if you told me you didn’t like mangoes. I don’t know how I can be friends with someone who doesn’t like mangoes! Who doesn’t like mango?
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