Interview: Sara from OfftheMapTravels.com

Today we bring you an interview with our dear friend Sara, a native New Yorker and the creator of OfftheMapTravels.com. We met her while traveling in New Zealand and we are constantly inspired by her adventurous nature. She is always planning her next trip and has created her travel company so that she can help others plan unique and interesting travel experiences as well. Sit back and enjoy some of Sara’s travel tales.

Sara enjoys some street food in Trinidad
Sara enjoys some street food in Trinidad

Who are you and what is your blog about? What was your first travel adventure and how did you get started traveling?

I’m Sara. I’m 30 years old, was born, raised, and currently live in NYC. I love learning about and experiencing as many cultures as possible. That’s the thing I love the most about travel- experiencing traditions that are thousands of years old and partaking in the food, music, and religious ceremonies with the people who still maintain these traditions on a daily basis. Many of my major travel milestones seemed to occur in Israel. My first overseas travel experience was at 6 months old when my parents took a trip to Israel to visit my father’s family. At 12 years old, my first solo flight was to Israel. And at 18, after a birthright trip to Israel, I took my first solo day-trips around the country, with Tel-Aviv as my base. After college, I made a pact with myself that I’d travel to one new international destination and one new domestic destination annually. And 10 years later, I’m still keeping this up – many times, exceeding my two destination quota. In 2009, I quit my job at a finance company to take a career break in New Zealand for six months. After New Zealand, I decided to continue exploring down under, and lived and worked in Australia for six months, as well. I’ve been back in the US for 1 ½ years now, but continue to enjoy my shorter-term travels.

I blog about my travel adventures and use my past experiences and lessons learned to show new travelers (and future travelers) that they can do it too. I provide tips and suggestions to make your travels more meaningful and personalized, rather than run-of-the-mill touristy.

Where in the world are you today?

Currently in my hometown of Brooklyn, NYC. But can’t wait to get back on the road (or plane.. or boat or..)!

Tell us about what you are currently working on?

I’m currently working on my travel planning and consultation service, Off the Map Travels. I’m also spreading the word about experiential and adventure travel through my blog.

Sara and Kelly, right before going caving in New Zealand
Sara and Kelly, right before going caving in New Zealand
You offer a service where you help travelers plan their ideal trip, what inspired you to create this business?

I’ve never been scared or hesitant about traveling solo, nor have I ever been scared to travel off the beaten path or “Off the Map.” However, I realize that for many people out there, this may be a daunting activity. No matter how much they want to go out and experience new destinations, they’re held back by something, be it their own confidence, peer pressure, news & media, or something else and instead end up following the usual tourist path. I wanted to be available to these, new travelers and help them along the way.

That’s why I created three different services – each for a different level of independence. 1) The travel consultations are great for those who need a confidant, a person they can speak with and receive personal guidance on any travel related concerns they might have. 2) Experiential travel packages are for those who are ready to move forward with a travel adventure, but may not be ready to go completely solo. These packages are tours that promote authentic local culture and other soft adventure travels. 3) Custom Itineraries are for travelers who are ready to travel independently – without a packaged tour, but aren’t sure how to go about planning their trip – or may just not have the time to do so. Based on the traveler’s preferences, we plan a fully customized itinerary and make any necessary bookings.

What advice would you give to someone planning their first travel adventure?

Plan – but don’t plan too much. You want to plan enough where you get to a destination and you have some sort of idea about what there is to do there and what you’d like to do. But, you don’t want to plan every hour of your vacation. Leave room to let things just happen. The best travel experiences happen when you don’t realize they are going to happen and they just do.

Of all the places you have traveled, do you have a favorite destination?

The more I travel, the more adventurous I get in choosing destinations. As such, I tend to enjoy my most recent travels the most. I love the street food and steel band culture of Trinidad & Tobago. I love Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia for their extremely friendly locals. And I really enjoyed my recent trip to the West African countries of Ghana, Benin and Togo – mainly because it’s my first trip to Africa and everything from people, food, culture & etiquette, and just general lifestyle is just so different from anywhere else I’ve ever been.

Sara participates in a chief initiation ceremony in Benin
Sara participates in a chief initiation ceremony in Benin

What is the strangest situation you have ever been in while traveling? What about the scariest, or the funniest?

It’s hard to pinpoint the strangest situation while traveling. Many things seem to be equally strange. By far, the scariest situation occurred only four driving hours away from home. This past Labor Day weekend, my family took a trip upstate. My siblings and I decided to go white-water tubing. Being that I had white-water rafted several times in the past, and the river was only class I-II, I thought this would be a fun, safe activity. However, about two-thirds of the way in, during the peak of the class II rapids, I hit a rock and my tube went flying – without me. My siblings were far ahead of me and out of sight.

I unsuccessfully attempted to get back on the tube, but it was holding me back more than helping. So I made the decision to let go of the tube. For about one mile, I fought the rapids, was pulled under water multiple times. I choked on my life jacket, was bruised and injured by rocks, and got caught on branches. I called for help, and while there were rafters in the distance, I was moving too quickly for them to help me. I truly felt that was going to hit my head on a rock or worse yet, drown in the current. Luckily, right at the end, when the rapids quieted down, a group of white water rafters and their kayak guide helped me up and out of the water. After taking a few minutes to catch my breath, I walked 15 minutes with no shoes, no glasses, no tube (all lost in the water), back to the cottage where we were staying. Will I ever go tubing again? Sure! But this experience taught me a very valuable lesson: when participating in any extreme sport, always research the outfitter and make sure there are people available to watch and help you in case of danger.

One of the funniest situations for me was during my trip to Luxembourg. I had a day in Echternach, and had heard that there were some great bike paths in the area. I had biked through a forest and some campgrounds along the Sure River. About an hour into the bike ride, I had arrived at a sign that said “Luxembourg.” My first thought was “Wait?!? I wasn’t in Luxembourg before?” I looked back to where I had come from and saw a sign at the other end of the bridge I had just crossed. Biked back over there, and read the sign: “Deutschland.” I had crossed the border twice and hadn’t even realized it. While this may be a normal occurrence for Europeans, as an American, this was the first time I had crossed a border without needing to pass border control. I loved that I was able to leave and re-enter a country without even realizing it.

Sara Accidentally Biking Between Luxembourg and Germany
Sara Accidentally Biking Between Luxembourg and Germany

You’re a New Yorker, what advice would you give to someone visiting New York City for the first time?

There’s more to NYC than Manhattan. Each borough has its own unique flavor. Make sure to check out Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island as well. Everything is accessible by public transportation, be it train (subway), bus, or ferry, so make the most of an unlimited metro card. Public transportation can be an experience of its own. You never know who you will meet or what the subway “entertainment of the day” is.

What destinations are on your future wishlist?

Anywhere I haven’t been yet! However, destinations that are at the top of the list include: Romania – to track part of my family history, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Micronesia.

Sara and Kelly in New York City
Sara and Kelly in New York City

If money was no object and you could plan the perfect trip somewhere, where would you go and what would you do?

To me, it’s really not about the money. You can always find ways make travel affordable – whether you work while you are there or couch surf – and this is really true for pretty much any destination. While money may not be much of an issue for me, safety plays a more important role in determining where I travel. The middle-east is one area of particular interest to me where safety and political turbulence is holding me back from visiting much of the region. It really is just a matter of time, but I intend on visiting as much of the globe as I can.

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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