Woman of the Week: Sarah S.

 

An exhausted photo of me after hiking Volcan San Pedro in Guatemala for five hours.

MEET THE BLOGGER

My name is Sarah, and I’m the creator of Suitcase Six. I’ve already explained my inspiration for creating this site on the homepage, but I specifically created this section to get to know the women featured on Suitcase Six and their work/travel backgrounds. Beyond myself and my five best friends on whom I’ve decided to focus, I also hope to feature other women with whom I’ve crossed paths who inspire me with their work and travel. My plan as I launch this site is to ask these same six questions to as many woman as I can and share all our stories, wisdom, or otherwise, with whoever may be interested. Hopefully I can pass on some of the inspiration I’ve gotten from all the amazing women who have explored this globe before me.

1. Tell us about yourself.

To give a brief introduction of who I am and what I like to do before the hard questions:

  • I graduated from Indiana University in May of 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in History, and Mental Health, and a minor in Public Health.
  • I currently work as the Mentoring Director for a program called H.O.P.E Mentoring (Helping Offenders Prosper through Employment) which trains college students to serve as mentors to incarcerated youth in the Indiana.. I helped start this program with the first professor I ever had at Indiana University (who I call T.O.) as a part of the HOPE research organization, and my work with HOPE has evolved from a part time research assistant, to a full time employee working officially under the Indiana Department of Correction.
  • It’s one of my big bucket list goals to see every country.
  • My hobbies include yoga, which I’ve been learning and practicing over the past five years, scuba diving, and travelling. I love cooking, reading, hiking, and learning.
  • My first international travel experience was when I went out of the U.S. for the first time around age 9 on a cruise with my family. About eight years later, I went back to Jamaica with a group of teens from a youth group for a week. I really fell in love with travel at that point, and finally took my first backpacking trip abroad the summer after my junior year of college when I spent 9 weeks in Central America.
Me in my super cute dive gear during my scuba certifications in an Indiana quarry.
Anna, the nurse of Suitcase Six and my roommate during my fifth year living in Bloomington, Indiana.

 

Melissa and Marie, the other two Suitcase Six women who went to Indiana University with me – we all lived on the same floor our sophomore year and I roomed with Melissa three years of five!

2. Why do you travel?

In short: to learn about myself and to learn about the vast world around me. When I left for Central America on my own, my dad sent me this famous Mark Twain quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and I feel like Twain said it just about as well as anyone could. I travel because I love to see how similar people are around the world, even when their culture may seem starkly different on the surface. We share far more in common with each other in goals, fears, and passions.

Every trip I’ve ever taken, I have talked with people who’ve found success and happiness through an unconventional path. Seeing how other people work, how other cultures live, helps me to reflect on my own life and figure out what is really important to me focus my personal priorities. I come back from every trip a bit different than I was before and that growth is one of my main motivators in wandering as often as I can.

3. How do you balance travel and work?

This is a loaded question and it will look so different for anyone. The entire “considerate travel” portion of the Suitcase Six site has been inspired by my work, volunteer and otherwise, over the past decade, and my travels have informed my work when I am home. On a broader level, my work and travel (often unintentionally) complement each other and influence how I do one or the other. I will be addressing this topic of balancing travel and work in more detail on its own page bluntly titled the “Work and Travel Balance” and because this “interview” is getting long quick, so I will try to give a concise answer here.

I have a great and long relationship with my professor and boss, having served as her research assistant over the years and worked as a team with her to develop and implement the HOPE Mentoring Program. A lot of the work we do requires coordinating of mentoring sessions, ensuring mentors have completed all training requirements, designing the website, and other projects that can be done online. As I’ve gotten to know T.O., we’ve discussed openly my ambitions to travel and she has done her best to help facilitate those dreams for me, letting me take vacations abroad whenever I can afford them, working online when I can, and scheduling projects carefully so we work hard when we are in the country but can enjoy ourselves when we take breaks.

Me (far left), My boss, T.O. (far right) and one of our mentors getting her certificate of training completion and HOPE rock, to signify she is ready to be paired up with a mentee.

Find mentors who travel and work with them if at all possible. Work hard when you do work and make yourself a valuable asset to your organization. And then COMMUNICATE. I know this is not feasible for a whole host of positions, bosses, jobs, and circumstances. However, when you let people know your goal is to travel, you will inadvertently start finding more opportunities to incorporate your travel into your work. Maybe there is a work conference where you can visit another city, or your boss will let you take a working break, or you are looking to switch careers and can coordinate something in between jobs. Let people know you want to explore and your network will widen with people who want to help make it happen.

4. What is the best lesson you’ve learned from your trips?

The best adventures tend to be the ones you didn’t plan for and least expected. When I’ve gone back through my photos and journals from past trips, this truth always stands out to me. I am always, ALWAYS, always excited about whatever trip I’m planning, and this excitement usually centers around the things I can expect. Typically when planning a trip, I have an idea of how long I’ll spend in each place, which hostels I’ve booked, and a few things I want to do or see in each city – I look forward to these and often times they are every bit as amazing as I’d expected. Other times, the tour I’d been dreaming of doing gets pushed aside when I meet fellow travelers who recommend something more interesting I hadn’t discovered on my own. The city I wanted to spend two weeks in doesn’t feel like the right fit and I fall in love with another destination instead. I connect with an amazing person I’ll stay in touch with long after the trip. We meet a rowdy group of Irish cops and spend the night singing pop songs at the top of our lungs at a pub ignoring that we have an early tour the next morning.

Sometimes, even the travel disasters that are painful in the moment make for the best stories and funniest memories when you can finally talk about the incident. I’ve lost all my underwear week one of a 9-week trip, had credit cards hacked and run completely out of money before my trip was over, gotten sick and thrown up in a famous historical site on a tour group, been so lonely I hid in my hostel and cried, and the list goes on and on. BUT now that some time has passed and I’ve had time to reflect, it’s obvious that these moments are ones I’ll remember forever because they taught me something. (Even if that something is not to pack all of your underwear in a travel pillowcase that you may leave on a boat by accident.)

Over the past few years I’ve begun to find a balance between planning enough to be prepared, but leaving enough room to experience the unexpected.

5. Tell us about one of your favorite travel experiences.

It’s impossible for me to list an ultimate favorite travel moment, but I’ll share one of my tops from my first solo adventure through Central America. I stayed in a hostel called Casa Zen on the west coast of Costa Rica for about a week. It was an incredible little hostel on the beach – one of those places that fosters friendships among travelers. Although there may have only been some 20 people staying in the hostel, large groups of the Casas Zen guests gathered together to chat on the beach, go out to communal dinners, try tantric yoga classes offered at the hostel, or learn to surf. I met a really awesome guy from Cali who introduced himself to me and we hit it off on a day when some of the other guests were renting ATV’s.

On one of my last days there, we decided to follow suit and we took off through Costa Rica riding on giant red ATV’s through farms, beaches, and relaxed towns, eventually making our way to a waterfall an hour or two away. I’d never ridden an ATV and haven’t since, but I have not forgotten the thrill of speeding through the open air, dust and dirt forming a thick layer on my skin, with the freedom to ride wherever we could cross with our four wheels. I hadn’t planned to rent an ATV during my stay – I’d actually thought I wanted to try surfing. (When I saw how brutal the waves on our beach were, and how skilled the surfers who were successful looked, I changed my mind deciding I would certainly need more than a week to make any progress.) But none the less, this surprise adventure was one of the most fun-filled, carefree days I had. I always look back on it fondly and it reminds me to leave room for changing plans.

A photo of the beach stumbled across via ATV while in search of a waterfall.

6. If you could share one travel tip, what would it be?

Along the same vein as the best lesson I’ve learned, I think the single best travel tip I can give is to stay flexible. I am a type-A person and have a hard time leaving anything to chance when I’m getting ready for an adventure abroad. My first trip I felt inclined to have every hostel picked out, to know where I wanted to eat, to plan out each day from morning to evening. I didn’t leave room to modify my itinerary if I wanted to stay longer in a certain place or try out a recommended excursion.

Having such a tight schedule to stick to can make what should be an enjoyable adventure stressful and disappointing if things don’t go according to plan. I would suggest to anyone who is planning a trip for the first time to definitely do your research. Book a few hostels, reserve your spot on a tour or two, identify some things you’d love to see in each place. But factor in some time for plans to change. Locals and more experienced backpackers will always have some gold star recommendations you’ll have missed, no matter how thorough your Pinterest or Trip Advisor research. Murphey’s law will get you now and again, and you’ll inevitably have a travel mishap that induces stress.

Staying flexible can help you remember why you’re taking the trip in the first place and enjoy it for the lessons and adventures it brings to you rather than only enjoying it if it went exactly as expected. I’ve heard it said that it’s not an adventure if you wish you weren’t there at some point – stay flexible and these moments will be fleeting and instructive. Stay flexible and I promise you will enjoy your experience far more, whatever it may bring.



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