Happy to introduce a writer, travel blogger, photographer and army spouse to you: Kayt Sukel of Travel Savvy Mom whom I recently met at itb09 in Berlin:
1) Who Are you?
Who am I? This kind of philosophical question might be better answered by someone a little more self-aware than I! But honestly, I think the difficulty lies in the fact that I wear several different hats. The explanation of who I am changes a little bit depending on the audience. I’ll try to define the big ones here.
Most in the travel community know me as Travel Savvy Kayt, a travel blogger and contributing editor for Travel Savvy Mom (Travel Savvy Mom). I blog about traveling with my just-turned-four-year-old, Chet, and also review family-friendly accommodations across the globe. We’ve most recently traveled to Jordan, Israel and Sweden, to name a few, and we regularly hop back over the pond to explore our official home country, the United States. Our next trip is to Sorrento, Italy and then we’ll return to the states for a few weeks. We’ve been traveling together — and usually just the two of us — since he was only a few months old. I can’t imagine ever stopping.
Professionally, I am a freelance writer, consultant and essayist based in the tiny village of Bedesbach, Germany. I most often cover neuroscience, technology and business topics with a dash of parenting and travel stuff thrown in for good measure. Before I came to Germany, I worked as an information technology consultant. My background is in neuroscience and usability engineering — I know, I know, a totally weird combination — and I helped companies make their websites and web applications both usable and useful for their user base. It’s actually harder than you might think. I still do a bit of this kind of work on occasion, too. But mainly, the focus is on the writing. My work has appeared in the Washington Post, BrainWork, American Baby, National Geographic Traveler and the AARP Bulletin — and hey, I’m always looking for new clients. Just sayin’.
And then, third, and perhaps the most surprising to those that know me personally, I am a military spouse. Not only a military spouse but a former Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and active volunteer in the military community. My husband is an Officer in the U.S. Army and currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I just started a new blogging endeavor for Military OneSource’s Bursting With Pride (Bursting With Pride) about how to make the most of long, back-to-back deployments. And most importantly, how to achieve your own dreams even when you might be following a Soldier all over the planet.
2) What do you like about what you do?
The biggest thrill? I’m always learning. I may be writing about epigenetics one week and then a great hotel in Istanbul the next. On Monday, I may be interviewing a Nobel Prize winner and then talking to the head of a destination management office on Wednesday. I love that I can wake up each day and be doing something a little different. The other upside to my freelance life is that it gives me the option to be a mostly stay-at-home Mom to Chet. And, of course, the flexibility to travel at whim is also a huge perk for us.
3) What don’t you like about what you do?
I hate to repeat the sentiments that some of your other 10 question folks have uttered but I suppose I have to: It just plain stinks that so many fantastic print publications are folding. These days, I have to work a lot harder and smarter to keep my freelance business up. So far, so good but it makes me sad to see so many great outlets that appreciate good narrative journalism and experiential essays about travel go the way of the Dodo. It makes my blogging seem that much more important.
4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.
Travel Savvy Mom is a website/blog geared at offering travel advice for Moms by Moms. Our main goal is to offer recommended family-friendly accommodations across the globe. We don’t actually print negative reviews — we just put our name on places that we thought were fantastic. We also write about great destinations, travel products and advice for traveling with children. It’s a lot of fun.
5) Your top 3 destination experiences youâ€™ve ever stayed to date and why?
This question is very difficult for me. How can I pick just three? Honestly, I think one of the most annoying things you can ask a travel writer is, “What is your favorite place?” My stock answer to that question is “the next one.” And I mean it, there’s something I love about planning that next amazing adventure…
But if I must choose just three, I suppose I’ll just go with the places that I’m yearning to return to this morning. Please understand — this could change in the next 10 minutes but I’ll try my best.
Petra, Jordan was all that I hoped for and more. I remember telling my father after seeing “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that I would go there one day. It’s an amazing place and incredibly well-preserved. And I love that there was no let-down in the experience.
If I want a lazy, layabout kind of beach vacation, I can think of no better place than Mauritius. Sure, the Caribbean is nice but Mauritius just has its own funky Hindu-Creole pulse that you cannot help but be moved by. You just step off the plane and immediately feel relaxed even if you aren’t sure exactly where to find your hotel. What more could you want?
And finally? There’s just something about New York City for me. It’s everything and anything rolled up in one small island. I always feel powerful when I walk the streets of this city I once called home. And its siren call coaxes me back there at least once each year.
6) Your top 3 accommodations youâ€™ve ever stayed to date and why?
Just last month, Chet and I stayed at a fantastic holiday apartment in Bayerisch-Eisenstein, Germany. Honestly, I haven’t stopped talking about it. Margaret and Martin own several houses in the village under the mantle of Bavarian Forest Holidays. Not only was the apartment, Haus Sterr Maria, both child-friendly and homey, it had all the modern amenities. But the thing that really made it for me were the small touches. Margaret and Martin were always available for good advice. The cupboard was stocked with real crystal wineglasses – I know that sounds crazy but as my son doesn’t actually drink wine, why should I be forced to drink good wine from a plastic cup? And the village was just one of those amazing little Bavarian places that creep right into your heart. I can’t wait to return.
The Kempinski Duke’s Palace in Brugge, Belgium is one of my favorite hotels. It’s luxurious, centrally-located and also very child-friendly. But the best part for me were the hidden nooks and crannies — the property, an old Ducal palace, has remained true to itself. Take some time to explore and you can walk up an old turret and find some little hidden alcoves that are perfect for a game of hide and seek.
Finally, the property that I will probably always measure others against is the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, Thailand. My parents took me there when I was about 13 years old. I remember being just amazed at the hotel’s beauty. And the service? I remember that a butler was trying to help unpack my things and I thought he was trying to steal my walkman. Yeah, I was that kind of teenager. But I soon learned that I didn’t have to lift a finger during our entire trip if I didn’t have a mind to. It was my first taste of a real luxury hotel and the experience will stay with me always.
7) Your top 3 most memorable food / wine experiences to date and why?
After living in Atlanta, Georgia for several years, I can still say that my absolute favorite restaurant of all time is Agnes and Muriel’s. It has the funky, 70’s style kitsch decor that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Somehow the joint has managed to capture this eclectic city’s history and potential future with its wacky display of Barbie dolls, Harb Alpert album covers, crocheted tea cozies and red velvet cake. And then the food? The chef somehow manages to give old Southern comfort food favorites a modern twist. I definitely recommend the Mac and Cheese fritters (it’s macaroni and cheese that’s been deep-fried!) and the fried chicken. You’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Or maybe that is just my arteries talking. No matter – you’ll love it.
When on the road, I’m a huge fan of roadside vendors. There’s just something amazing about stopping for a glass of fresh pomegranate juice or perhaps a little shoarma on your way. Not only do you get to try fantastic local foods but it also gives you the opportunity to get your nose out of your guidebook, stop and just look around for a few minutes. Some of the best people watching I’ve ever done, especially in the Middle East and Asia, has been leaning up against the side of the building while munching on a little something I’m not quite sure I can identify.
And for wine, there’s no beating St. Emilion, France. This little town in the heart of the Dordogne can be a bit touristy, to be sure. But the wine makes it all worth it. Sit in a cafe — any cafe — near the monolithic cathedral and just enjoy a glass of the local. It’s an ideal way to spend a gorgeous spring afternoon.
8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
On a trip to London a few years ago, we stayed in a city hotel that was absolutely horrifying. Super cheap but horrifying. The room was tiny, cramped and had no separate bathroom. So when you turned on the shower, you had the choice of jumping in really, really quickly and suffering ice cold water or waiting a few minutes for it to heat up to lukewarm and soaking the bed. It was pretty awful.
For a night-long lay-over in Beijing, I stayed in a small hotel that I’m pretty sure was actually a brothel. Between the neon lights everywhere and the scantily clad women, I felt a little out of my element. And when random men started coming up to me and speaking rapidly in Chinese, I got a little scared. But, of course, that might have been just as much about the Chinese concept of personal space. Or lack of it.
Did you ever see the moving, “Flirting with Disaster?” In it, Ben Stiller talks about why he’s not a good B&B person. I actually love B&Bs — adore them, in fact — but there was this one Vermont that was straight out of that movie. The old lady who ran it was mean, gave you an allotted bathroom time, liked to bang on the ceiling with a broom if you walked on the creaky floor after 9:00pm, and served me half an individual box of Frosted Flakes as my breakfast. It was a treat.
St Emilion with its Church by Frbou
9) Can you offer the readers 3 destination/ food / accomodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I don’t live in a city — Bedesbach is a sleepy little village nestled into the hills of Rheinland-Pfalz. If you are looking for some city life, you need to drive an hour to the city of Trier. It’s a great town with some fantastic old Roman ruins like the Ponta Nigra and even some nightlife. It also has a gorgeous Christmas market each year. It’s the perfect size, in my opinion — everything you need but not too overwhelming.
Locally, I can highly recommend the Gasthaus Born. This restaurant is about a 2 minute walk from my house and it’s my own personal German Cheers. The Borns work hard to make every one of their guests feel right at home. Everyone knows our name, they have this fantastic dry Riesling and you can get some great traditional German fare.
And finally, I’d recommend the local Draisinen Tour that goes through our village. There is a lot of railroad track in Germany that is no longer used by the Bahn. Instead, local areas now use it for the draisinen — little open train cars that are powered by bike pedals. There’s room on the back for a cooler of your favorite German beer and you can spend the day experiencing the stunning Rheinland-Pfalz countryside.
10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
I suppose the question that I’m most asked (after what is your favorite destination) is “How do you do it?” People seem to make a big deal about me being an Army spouse. But the answer is simple, and like everything else, you just do. What else can you do but make the most of the hand you’ve been dealt?
Thank you for being my guest Kayt. I really loved to get to know you better in Berlin and what a wonderful combination of functions you have. Hope to see you soon again! We share at least two passions: Photography and St Emilion. I was there once, but its wines are among my favorites.