Well Wandered - Travel Tips & Stories
Susan of Brooklyn Tropicali
One of the aspects I love most about travel is the people that you meet along the way. Often you connect over a shared love of travel, but sometimes if you’re lucky, you connect over something deeper, something unspoken… perhaps a kindred spirit.
One such person was Susan the creator of Brooklyn Tropicali, an inspiring and informative travel blog full of not only fabulous tips and recommendations but insightful musings on the nuances of travel. Her genuine warmth and openness comes through in her posts and I personally refer to her website regularly for tips!
We met Susan earlier in the year at the house warming of Caitlin, founder of Thread Caravan in Oaxaca. We bonded over our shared love of travel, yoga, our shared background in fashion and our introverted ways.
Here Susan shares with us her travel tips from making the most of a limited travel wardrobe to forging friendships on the road.
You’ve just settled in Oaxaca after three years of travel. How’s that going? What have you found interesting about living in Oaxaca? For example, I love the guys who drive around selling the one gallon bottles of water shouting “agua” from the streets!
Settling down in Oaxaca has been amazing. There were some challenges in the beginning with finding an apartment, furnishing it from scratch, and just learning the systems for all these things. But since then, it’s felt like home. A very inspiring home - the colorful buildings, the abundance of artisan work, the frequent calenda street parades, the amazing food, and the beautiful valley make me excited to start each day.
I’ve also loved learning the distinct sounds and delivery options that pass my door each day - agua, gas, camote (sweet potato dessert), the trash truck bell, and the guys who ring a triangle and have delicious cookie-like wafers. The longer that I’m here, the more I understand the everyday systems and the culture.
We both have backgrounds in fashion, so I imagine that like me you’re forever questioning your “travel wardrobe”. What’s your idea of the perfect (long-term) travel wardrobe?
This was always such a challenge for me. You can only fit about a week’s worth of items in a suitcase. I would get so sick of them! But I figured out how to choose items that were very cute but also comfortable and versatile. I leaned heavily on easy dresses (to dress up or down), and comfortable ankle boots and huarache sandals. Scarves double as beach blankets, sarongs or towels. And a jean jacket goes with everything!
I would also often repurpose items that were wearing out - cut a dress into a top, or tie a loose dress up as a skirt instead. I tried to be creative with what I had.
What is your most treasured overseas purchase?
I didn’t actually buy a lot during those 3 years because of my limited space. The items really had to be functional.
But I think my most treasured item was actually a gift - it’s a small, beautifully woven colorful little bag made by the Huichol people in Nayarit. Near the beginning of our 3 years of travel, we did a house-sit in a remote part of the Nayarit, Mexico mountains, on a crater lake called Santa Maria del Oro. There were almost no international tourists or expats here, it was a local weekend destination for people nearby.
The locals in the small town were so warm and welcoming to us, even though my Spanish was really basic then. I learned so much about Mexico and Mexican kindness during that time. We made friends with the butcher in town, and would chat with him for awhile in English and Spanish every visit.
On our last day, we were saying goodbye and he saw me eyeing this little bag that he had hanging on the wall. So he promptly gave it to me. This just illustrates for me further how helpful, kind and warm people in this country are.
Do you like to cook while on the road? And if so what’s your go-to meal?
Not so much, haha. I do like to cook in general, but when you only have limited ingredients and utensils I find it uninspiring.
But I’ll often adapt simple meals based on where I am and what is available locally. For example, I spent 2 months in Italy last year, and I got really good at my own version of pasta carbonara - so easily with fresh pasta, pancetta and delicious cheese at my fingertips!
What are your tips for making friends on the road?
Honestly, lately Instagram has been amazing for this. I’ll try to reach out to people in a place I’m going, or I’ve also had people reach out to me. I’ve met some (now) very close friends this way. And in a roundabout way, that’s how we met!
I’ve also met people housesitting, usually friends of the homeowners. Or from coworking spaces or digital nomad communities.
I love following your Instagram stories because you are constantly discovering new places to go; how do you research interesting things to do in a new place?
Thank you! I have actually gotten sooo lazy at research before I go somewhere. I just usually don’t feel like I have the time. It’s become more of a last minute thing.
I do always like to check out travel blogs of bloggers I trust and blogger friends. I’ll also start following the local hashtag for awhile beforehand so I can start seeing places in my IG feed for ideas. (Sometimes this is also how I find people I want to meet somewhere).
And often I’ll start asking people questions when I arrive. If I am chatting with someone at a coffee shop or bar who I think might know good local spots, I’ll start grilling them for suggestions. Sometimes this brings me to places I would never have heard of otherwise.
What inspired your love of travel?
It actually started a bit late for me. I never traveled growing up.
Several years ago I had the chance to tag along on a music festival tour in Mexico - that went to Guadalajara, Queretaro and Puebla. I had only been to Mexico once before to a pretty touristy beach area. This experience was completely different - going to everyday Mexican cities and meeting tons of cool and creative people. It was a breakthrough moment for me when I could truly see beyond where I came from and understand that there are interesting people all over the world that I wanted to meet. For me, a huge part of travel is the human connection.
I know there will be many, but straight off the top of your head can you share with us a treasured travel memory.
Ah this is always so hard! But one of the first that comes to mind was doing an intense 2 day trek in the very high altitude Ausangate/Rainbow Mountain region of Peru.
We hiked up to 16,500 feet or 5050 meters - an altitude I had never experienced before, let alone hiked through. But it was amazing. The landscape was otherworldly, not a lot of wildlife or plants can live at that elevation, it felt like trekking on another planet.
We saw huge snow covered mountains, bright red mineral rocks, glaciers, alpacas, and not another soul for 1 ½ days.
We camped overnight, which was challenging despite the gear. It was so so cold, windy, and the altitude made it hard to sleep.
But the next day, after more challenging hiking and amazing landscapes, we arrived at Rainbow Mountain through the back way. This tourist site is getting pretty popular, and it is amazingly beautiful, but was made so much more special by the landscape and challenges we experienced to get there.
Being sustainable while on the road can sometimes be tricky – what are your tips?
It’s a constant learning process. To be honest, I wasn’t as good about sustainable decisions when I was traveling full time. I could have been better, but it’s easy to make excuses when you are moving quickly and feel “too busy”.
But I’m making a big effort to correct that and make better decisions, one by one. When we moved here, we committed to trying to make all of our many home purchases from local and small businesses as much as possible. It was a lot more time running around, but we eventually found just about everything we needed, and minimized shopping from bigger businesses.
I am educating myself on new purchases - I want to support clothing, accessory, backpack, etc companies that are making positive impacts on the world.
Seemingly small things like carrying a reusable water bottle or a canvas bag in your suitcase actually make a huge difference. The number of plastic water bottles you can go through when traveling quickly is appalling.
How do you take care of your health (physically and mentally) while on the road?
Yoga! We bonded over that when we first met. :) But yoga for me is the #1 thing I do for my health. I love that I can do it anywhere in the world at any time. I carried around a yoga mat with me for 3 years and it was absolutely worth it. It makes me strong and balanced, but also helps clear my head each day. If I don’t have time for separate meditation, yoga does the trick. It also helped a lot physically to combat the terrible Airbnb chairs I would have to work from for hours.
Walking everywhere in new cities is easy and fun exercise. And I also try to find ways to add in fruit and veggies to meals, even when I am traveling quickly.
What do you wish you had known before starting out on long-term travel?
I wish I had gotten rid of more stuff! Haha. We got rid of almost everything, but kept a small storage space outside of NYC. A lot of the things were, “in case’ items, in case we had to come back and start over - at least we would have a bed and a table. But now, it’s just sitting there and I need to do something about it. It is amazing how little you actually need to live and be happy!
What are your top travel tips?
Frequent Flyer miles - if you are a responsible spender and have the ability to get credit cards with airline mile bonuses, you can save so much money on flights. I have paid very, very little for all my flights around the world over the last 3 years.
Learn the language - even if you just learn some basic words, it makes a world of difference in the way you can interact with the local culture. If you aren’t able to interact with them, you likely won’t have the chance to learn much.
Meet people - whether locals or other travelers, it makes your experience so much more meaningful if you can hear someone else’s perspective and share a bit about yourself too.
Learn about local artisan work - this is a passion of mine, and I know yours too! I really connect with a culture when I can learn about their traditional artistic expressions.