Do you remember when and where you caught the travel bug?
Both of my parents loved exploring and my mother used to go on trips while pregnant—I’ve literally been traveling since before I was born! Growing up in the Middle East, we were strategically located so that toggling between continents was much easier. We lived in Asia, one grandmother lived in Africa and another was in North America, so my family was lucky to go on adventures to each of those locations frequently—and to different countries in between. My first planned trip with friends happened while studying in college in the US; I enrolled at two different study abroad programs in Europe without my family. I’ve been traveling ever since.
So how often do you travel?
Since moving to NYC three years ago, I travel daily. Every subway stop is another country, it seems! My parents still live in the Middle East so I visit my home in Saudi Arabia as often as possible and enjoy trips along the way. I also read often and travel through words on a page.
That is the billion dollar question! My plan is to stay healthy, happy and embrace every available opportunity. As a freelance journalist, I’m always looking for stories and identifying publications to pitch to. Won’t close any windows or doors without careful consideration. Life has a sense of humor and can’t wait to find out what it has planned for me!
Do you typically travel by yourself or with others?
I’d like to call myself a social loner. My trips tend to always involve others, either I meet someone at a location or travel with or to them. But, I tend to break away from the crowd and talk to locals on my own during the day. Let’s say, we would meet for breakfast, then we’d go off on our own for a few hours then meet for lunch. It’s so important for me to be able to soak in the atmosphere in an authentic way, and if I stick to whomever I’ve traveled with only, I’ll risk missing out on speaking to those who are native to the area. It is easier to strike up a friendly conversation with local shopkeepers, for example, when alone. I always arrange to meet with friends along the route so that we can catch up and exchange stories. As a traveler, it is important to be comfortable in being by yourself but also balance that with interactions with complete strangers and family or friends.
What is the place you most like returning to and why?
I have such fond memories of different locations and situations, but no place or face stays the same. That is why I look at each trip as a new journey, even if I go to a repeated destination. Each experience is different and that is what I like about it because we should never take any trip for granted. Every trip is a special and today is a gift—that is why we call it the “present.”
Of all the places you’ve been to, what’s your least favorite? Why?
Visiting former concentration camps in Eastern Europe and ex-prisons and dungeons. It is harrowing to think of how many innocent souls lost their lives in such vicious ways—humans did the unthinkable to other humans. We each walked the same path and perhaps our footsteps even touched, if only generations and lives apart. It is humbling and inspiring.
What was your most embarrassing travel moment?
Ten years ago, we were in Zurich in Switzerland and took a local train to Lausanne—instead of to our intended Lucerne. We found our hotel, which was a chain that had locations in both cities, and we were very frustrated when they couldn’t find our booking. It was lovely, but looked nothing like the photo on the website, we all thought. That was because we accidentally went the wrong city in the same country! The names suspiciously sounded similar and perhaps they couldn’t understand our accent when we purchased the tickets in person at the train station. Next time, we know to show them the name of the city literally spelled out on a piece of paper or book online!
What’s your least favorite airport?
It was mostly due to the chaotic nature of our arrival, but would say that the airport in India was my least favorite only because it was so disorganized and it was a very humid summer day. Upon entering the airport, we saw dozens of people sleeping on the airport floor awaiting their flights, with loads of luggage cluttering the sides. An airport employee kept spraying insect repellent in the air and the baggage claim area was so crowded, slow-moving and hot. The bathroom lines were ridiculously long and everyone seemed irritated. There were stray cows just walking around outside, too!
What are the top 3 places you’re burning to go to?
- Any country in Scandinavia! Admire their calm culture, minimalist design aesthetic and (Viking) history
- Would love to visit any country in East Asia; particularly Japan, China and Korea—for their food, calligraphy, architecture and fashion
- Cuba to visit my mother’s origins and to any country in South America (haven’t been to any yet!)
Can you share some of your travel secrets and tips?
- Walk next to shop windows to see the reflection of those around you. That way you can check out the latest fashion displays and feel safe without looking paranoid
- Screenshot the directions to every location you want to visit, so that if you don’t have Wi-Fi, you can look at an image in your photo gallery instead of roaming
- Take a photo of where you parked your car, bike or the designated meeting spot
- Make sure you understand the currency conversion and make sure your electronic charger plugs into the walls
- Always carry some change in the local currency, in case you need to tip anyone along the way or buy from a local street vendor
- Smile and memorize the words for “Hello! Thank you! How much? Good night” in the local language
- Avoid traveling with new shoes!
- Bring plenty of colorful scarves and bold accessories to dress up a neutral dress, so that you never look the same even while wearing the exact same outfit. I like hairbands and hats, too!
- Email yourself a scan of your passport, ID and itinerary and share that with someone who isn’t on the trip
- Write down the emergency numbers in a notebook and take a matchstick from the hotel to show anyone if you end up getting lost. If your phone’s battery dies (although you should always pack your charger in your handbag), you’ll still know where you need to go
- Pack granola bars or dried fruit/nuts in your handbag and a small bottle of water that you can refill
- Don’t be afraid to stray from the crowd but stay in well-lit areas and don’t venture alone in the dark alleyways
- Buy lunch to-go from a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try and eat at the park! It’s cheaper, you will get to mingle with locals and enjoy nature all at once
- In your purse, bring an empty canvas bag, a long scarf (which can become a blanket), basic first-aid kit and tissues
- Pack a lot of patience, a sunscreen stick and lip balm!
Short bio: Jasmine Bager is a freelance journalist who lives and writes in Manhattan, the Middle East and the World Wide Web. Her work has appeared in numerous publications on three continents, including Time.com, Architectural Record and Oasis Magazine. You can often find her strolling the street, picnicking at the park, browsing bookstores/supermarkets or at an art gallery. She is one of the first Saudi females to graduate from Columbia Journalism School. She would love to hear from you on Twitter, Instagram or in person.