This week we would like to introduce Sara of Simply Sara Travel. Sara traded her New Jersey bagels for French baguettes when she moved to Paris two years ago. Since the big move she’s learned a bit of French, has eaten more cheese in two years than the previous 25, and can now tie a scarf in 10 different ways.
1. What inspires you to travel, and how would you define the word ‘traveler’?
When I think of the word “travel,” I think foremost of its notion of movement. To travel is to go, to get out beyond the routine. A traveler is someone who leaves the comforts of his or her home for a change of scenery. It’s hard for me to say more beyond that because I recognize people travel for different reasons – to relax, to explore, to connect with others, to learn a new skill, to rejuvenate mind and body.
I travel because I want to experience and learn about new cultures. I love the richness that travel brings to life. It allows you to see there are more than one way to go about living life. I enjoy learning about the history of different places, observing cultural differences, and of course, trying regional food and drink specialities. I love seeing how unique different cultures are but yet how we are all connected and the same at the core. It has made me realize how big the world is and how small it is, all at once. I’ve traveled a lot of Europe at this point, and hope to see new continents in the future to be pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged in new ways.
2. For those who don’t yet know you, can you explain your travel style?
Paris is my home base and I travel with my husband throughout Europe whenever we have the chance. We travel when he can get time off work, which amounts to generous time-off benefits in France. When we’re not traveling in Europe or the occasional visit back home, I’m out exploring Paris. I’ve been lucky enough to have plenty of friends and family be able to come out for a visit, and sharing the city with some of my favorite people has been wonderful!
3. How do you afford your travels?
I learned shortly after moving to Paris that travel through Europe can be expensive. Our first full weekend after our move we were excited to get out and explore France right away. We decided to do a day trip to Reims, which is only a 1 hour direct train ride from Paris. When we got to the train station on the morning of, we found it was over 100 euros round trip for the two of us! So the myth that “traveling within Europe is cheap” was shattered pretty abruptly.
Now to keep expenses down, I do a lot of research to book trips in advance to get the best rates, as well as research places to stay inexpensively (ibis budget hotels and Airbnb have been some favorite go-tos). I think anyone can travel though if it is a priority. I don’t think Michael and I have really exchanged birthday or Christmas presents in a while because we both rather use the money to go on a trip together.
4. Where was your first international trip and how old were you?
My first international trip (I don’t count Toronto, Canada) was to England and Ireland while I was in college. It was my sophomore year so I was about 20 years old. My college offered classes during our winter interim break, after New Year’s but before the spring semester started. I took a theater class for about two weeks which started in Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, continued on to London, and ended in Dublin. All we had to do was attend a theater show once a day (sometimes twice) and write short papers on the productions. We did have assigned reading and class each morning, but other than that we had plenty of time to explore. I had always longed to travel to Europe and that first taste just had me dreaming of more destinations to visit.
It is so hard to choose! I will say that my most unexpected favorite destination has been Iceland. I love exploring old European cities full of intricate architecture, centuries of history, and delicious food. Iceland was out of my normal comfort zone as I’m not really an outdoorsy, sporty type. All that to say when Michael convinced me to travel to Iceland, I was blown away. It has to be one of the most beautiful, and geologically active and diverse places I have ever been. I’ve been there twice now and everytime I leave I start scheming a next return.
My other favorite without question is Bruges, Belgium. Why? Because, well, Bruges. It is my favorite weekend trip from Paris, oozing with cuteness and romance at every corner. The chocolate, waffles, and Belgian beer doesn’t hurt its case either. We’ve been twice and have a third weekend in the works!
My least favorite has been Amsterdam. Its canals were pretty and I enjoyed the museums there, but on a whole I just didn’t connect to the city. It’s one of those places that I’m glad I saw once but have no desire to return…although I would love to see more of the Netherlands (discovering stroopwafel and eating the cheese there convinced me there is serious potential in other parts of the country!). Every time I see others’ photos from Amsterdam or read glowing reviews of the city it makes optimistic about giving it another chance…but there are so many places that rank higher on my wish-list.
6. If you had to settle down in one location forever, where would you choose and why?
There are lots of places I have loved visiting, and even places that I have felt I would gladly settle down in. But one thing that this move to Paris has taught me is that people really “make” a place. I have been so fortunate to have made such wonderful friendships in Paris with people who have become family to me – which has made it difficult to see some of those people eventually move away. If I hadn’t made these friendships, Paris would have still been beautiful and all, but those friendships added such a richness to my time here that the best chocolat chaud or loveliest view just can’t deliver. When I do think of settling down, I honestly always think back to home, in New Jersey. My husband and I are fortunate to both have lots of family in the area as well as friends, and I couldn’t imagine starting a family anywhere else.
I think when you are around perpetual travelers, the idea of “settling down” can sound negative, like giving up on a dream. But I don’t think that’s the case at all. I love the depth of relationships you gain when you settle down anywhere for some time. It’s such a beautiful thing to be known by others – friends, vendors, shopkeepers, neighbors. I’m looking forward to when the time comes to settle down. Which doesn’t mean I have to stop traveling!
7. Have you ever had high hopes for a destination, tour, etc., only to be disappointed in the end? Or any travel mishaps?
I was really looking forward to going to Milan, Italy since it is an easy, cheap destination to fly to from Paris. I loved my previous trip in Italy to Rome, Florence, and Venice so I was really looking forward to seeing another big Italian city. Milan was the first trip I booked once I moved to Paris, and it was a bit disappointing. The Duomo was beautiful and getting to see the Last Supper was a highlight, but the city wasn’t the charming Old World Italy that I had fallen in love with. And I found I preferred Tuscan cuisine more than Milanese. Two of the four days there we took day trips to get out and see other areas beyond Milan because we didn’t really desire to see more.
8. What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
Honestly the first one that pops into my mind comes from my two-week trip to Poland. I traveled at the end of April/beginning of May and while the weather was generally nice, it was still quite cool. And yet everyone seemed to be eating ice cream! Cold and rain didn’t stop the Poles from enjoying a nice soft serve. When I think of Poland, pierogies immediately come to mind – but now I associate ice cream with the country too!
9. What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations?
I love to makes scrapbooks of my travels, though I admittedly am VERY behind! (I just finished scrapbooking a three-week trip my husband and I took to Italy and France back in 2010. So basically I haven’t even touched all the travels we’ve done since moving to Paris in 2012!) Because of this, I hold onto brochures, ticket stubs, restaurant cards, you name it. Plus I like to buy a postcard from museums of my favorite painting/object I saw to remind me of my visit, also for the scrapbook.
10. How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
I always travel with my Kindle. I prefer real books but finally broke down and bought a Kindle when I moved abroad. I do love having lots of reading material with me at all times, and often carry it around to refer to my Rick Steves travel guides on the go. Oh, and a camera! I don’t go anywhere without it!
11. Why did you begin blogging? And how did you come up with your blog name?
I started a blog when I arrived in Paris as a way to keep in touch with friends and family back home. It was a way to check in, share a little of our travels, and show a picture or two of our smiling selves to assure everyone we were still alive and well. Over time I realized how much I enjoyed talking about our travels and helping others plan trips to European destinations we had visited. I decided to start my current blog, Simply Sara Travel, to share more about my life in Paris and European travels in a way to hopefully help and inspire others. That’s how I came up with the name – I want to make travel simple. Travel can feel intimidating at times but anyone can do it. I hope to empower others with knowledge to give confidence to travel independently.
12. What’s next for 2014?
I thought by moving to Paris that I would get this travel bug out of my system and check-off all the places in Europe that I have been wanting to visit. Problem is, for each place I go, I add five more destinations to the wish list! 2014 is winding down but I still have some places on the horizon: Budapest, Morocco, Bruges, Zurich, Germany, and Austria. Once 2015 comes around though, I have an open slate to work with – any suggestions?!
Backpack or suitcase? Suitcase, for the wheels! But carry-on size…I’ve lightened up my travel necessities with practice.
Solo or group? Solo – though I consider traveling with my hubby to be solo traveling since we’re almost always together on the road (and share a brain at this point)! We make a good team – I pick where to go and he navigates.
Tapas or sushi? Both are so good, so I’ll have to choose my first love, tapas.
Beach or mountains? Beach.