In celebration of Black History Month, Cultural Xplorer is doing a series of interviews to eradicate the myth that African-Americans and people of color do not travel and to show you people of color who are traveling the world and making history. This series will feature a number of interviews from both men and women of color from around the world who are passionate about traveling and sharing their stories through their writing and through travel videos.
Meet Sarah V. of the travel blog Travel Cake. Sarah is a part-time budget traveler who has occasionally been traveling solo for almost 11 years. Sarah is from Belgium and she has traveled to over 60 countries and lived in several countries including Rwanda, Saudi-Arabia, Tanzania, and the United States.
Sarah on Travel
How were you exposed to traveling?
My parents were expats so I spent my childhood traveling from one country to the next. We never stayed in one place longer than 2 years. I would show up in a school in a different language in the middle of the year. It wasn’t travel in the traditional sense, but it did teach me all the travel skills; exposing me to ‘being a foreigner’, to other cultural habits, to long distance flights, packing, leaving loved ones behind, making new friends in places where you don’t know a soul…
What motivated you to make travel a part of your life?
I never really questioned it. During my first unsupervised trip (i.e. without parents), my friend and I had incredible adventures in Zimbabwe. It felt so good to be traveling I knew I needed more. So I guess my motivation is simply that when I travel I’m 100% in my element. It feels good and natural.
What is your most memorable travel experience to date?
The first time I set foot in Latin America I was so proud of myself; I was 20 years old, paid for and organized the entire trip myself. I was in awe when I saw “Los Roques” where some of the most beautiful Venezuelan beaches lie. Only in fancy magazines had I ever seen water so blue, sand so white and fine. I had thought these experiences were reserved for the rich booking expensive tropical holidays. Yet here I was, floating in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean. The astonishing environment and the realization I could do anything, go anywhere, made me cry tears of joy.
How many places have you traveled to so far?
I’ve been to 65 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. I realize it’s above average, but I still feel like there is so much more to discover!
What is the greatest lesson you have learned on the road?
From the many lessons I’ve learnt, the most recent one and maybe the most important one for me is about the danger of a female smile. I’ve learnt to smile at a man “correctly”. I used to smile at everyone in the same way, the only way I knew how: genuinely and wholeheartedly. I’ve often travelled to places where women are considered inferior to men, places where a woman’s smile equals an open invitation to “indecent proposals”. Throwing around that welcoming smile got me into unexpected trouble several times (fortunately, nothing serious). First I noticed it abroad, then I noticed it’s everywhere in the world, it just happens to be more obvious in gender segregated cultures. So when I say I’ve found the “correct smile”, I mean a smile that is friendly yet strict, disarming but a little distant. As a woman traveling alone, you are somewhat vulnerable and it’s important to protect yourself. I still smile “normally” at kids, women and the elderly though.
What has been your biggest challenge on the road and how did you overcome it?
I’m very curious and can be fast paced sometimes. In travel, that translated itself in me wanting to hit as many places as possible in the little time I would have. That resulted into a shallow knowledge of a destination. Although it’s a great way to get the feel of a place, it’s like looking at the intro of a movie. If you’ve only seen the intro, you can’t really claim to have seen the movie, right? It was hard for me to let go of this habit, but now that I have, I truly enjoy traveling at a slower pace. Even though every now and then I fall off the wagon…
Sarah on Blogging
When did you decide that you wanted to become a travel blogger?
I decided to blog a few years ago, but fear was holding me back from actually doing it. I was afraid to put myself out there, afraid of not being good enough. It took me some time to grow a pair and just get started. Now, I can’t believe I was held back for so long… Funny thing, that ‘fear’…
What makes your blog unique in comparison to other travel blogs?
Unlike many other bloggers, I haven’t quit my job and sold everything to travel the world. I’ve been doing so while working and studying, leading a ‘regular’ life at the same time. Also, I try to travel to uncommon destinations. Places that deserve to be on the tourist map, but are forgotten or never mentioned. When I do visit a touristy area, I look for the hidden corners, the quirks, the madness…
What are the top three articles that you feel everyone should read on your blog?
- Backpacking Africa? Yes you can! – I wrote about the misconception many travellers have, that you can only travel Africa on a tour or a package holiday.
- Spiritual tourism: Thaipusam 2014 – I love cultural festivals, so I reported about a unique Hindu festival in Malaysia. Not for the faint of heart.
- As an illustration of the quirks I mentioned earlier, read my post 5 quirky things to do in Manila
- More good stuff coming soon like ‘why I travel solo even though I have a husband’
Who is your target audience?
Anyone looking for ideas and cool things to do for a future trip. People who love to travel to unusual places or who like to read about it. Men and women of color looking for confirmation that “we” can and do travel.
Sarah on Life
Favorite travel (or life) quote:
“If you look anything like your passport photo, you’re too sick to travel.”
What is something that your readers do not know about you?
I’ve developed a slight fear of flying! Yes, the girls who took over 500 flights gets sweaty palms when there’s a little turbulence… Surprise!
Where do you plan on going next?
Next month I’m heading to Hong Kong, which I’m very excited about. This summer I’m hitting Africa for a personal event! I can’t tell you much about it yet, but I can say it’s going to be big and yes, I’ll be blogging about it!
Learn more about Sarah at…