Around the World: Katie from Stories My Suitcase Could Tell

I’ve followed Katie’s blog for a long time. Long before my move to Florence, when the prospect of leaving my little home of Cardiff seemed like an elaborate dream, her beautiful tales and intricately woven words would transport me to far away places.

Because that’s the thing about Katie. Despite her enviable life and many exciting adventures (she’s a published features writer and award-winning blogger who took the big bad jump from Scotland to New York with a long list of travels to boot) she has a way of speaking to you in a way that makes you feel as if you’re sat there in the room with her. She’s talented, all kinds of brave and a genuinely beautiful person, inside and out.

So, it is with great pleasure I introduce you to the brains behind Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, and the first in my Around The World series. Enjoy!

Well hello Katie! Can you tell us a bit about what was your life like in Scotland before you decided to take the bold leap to the States? What inspired you to move?

Before I moved to New York, I was living in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, where I grew up. After studying in St Andrews and Philadelphia, and working in China, I found myself back there, and I’m so grateful I got the chance to experience island life again as an adult.

My base was the Isle of Lewis, and from there I travelled as much as I could. 15 countries later, and in my eyes the Hebrides are still the most beautiful place in the world! During my travels I fell in love with an American, so a move across the pond had been on the horizon for a while before I arrived here last year!

Nisabost, Isle of Harris
Nisabost, Isle of Harris

It looks beautiful, I definitely need to visit ASAP! Did you find that you were you faced with any culture shocks in New York? What did you find was the biggest lifestyle adjustment for you?

I had already spent quite a lot of time in the U.S., as I lived here for a year here as an exchange student, but a ‘permanent’ move is quite different, both emotionally and practically, from a university year abroad.

The biggest adjustment was not being able to travel while my paperwork was processed – U.S. immigration law is a minefield! Having to pay out of pocket for visiting the doctor, even with health insurance, still gets me every time (as a Brit, it really makes me appreciate our good old NHS). And even though I’ve been here for almost a year now, there are still some funny moments when my British accent causes confusion with my American friends!

I’m still getting used to life without the NHS! So can you pinpoint the moment that you realised a life in the States was the one for you?

Since my husband is American, and was already living in New York at the time, it would probably have to be when he got down on one knee and proposed in Tokyo.

Wow, yep I’m pretty sure that would get me too, hook line and sinker! What would you say has been your most memorable experience throughout your travels to date?

That’s always a difficult question to answer – there have been so many memorable moments, big and small, in my twenty-odd years of travel. Of course, there’s meeting my now-husband in Tianjin, and our engagement in Tokyo, but apart from that it would probably have to be going on safari in Kenya. A safari wasn’t something that had ever been high on my ‘bucket list’, but it was truly awe-inspiring. People say it’s a once in a lifetime experience, but I’d disagree – when you’ve been on safari once, you’ll want to do it again!

Zebras in Tsavo East
Zebras in Tsavo East

I’ve never been on one – it’s absolutely on my bucket list! Now over to your fabulous blog – can you tell me a bit about Stories My Suitcase Could Tell? What was the motivation behind starting it and what can readers expect from it?

Stories My Suitcase Could Tell began life at my kitchen table almost four years ago, before blogging was really a ‘thing.’ It was actually while working in China after graduation that I first began blogging, writing about my day-to-day life as an English teacher, and keeping family and friends at home up-to-date.  I enjoyed it so much that when I returned to Scotland, I didn’t want to stop, so I started a new site, Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, as a place to combine my love of writing and travelling.

It’s now become a place for readers to find personal travel narratives, musings on expat life, and tips and reviews on where to eat, what to see, and where to stay in destinations around the world. I hope the blog inspires people to go out and see the world in some way, whether it’s the exploring the next town, another country, or a completely different continent!

Well, you know I’m your biggest fan! And what has been your biggest achievement (so far!) with the blog?

Winning ‘Best Travel Blog’ at the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards in London last year was incredible. I was shocked – I was shaking as I collected the award! – but thrilled too. I’ve been writing in one way or another since I was seven years old, so to be recognised by the likes of Cosmopolitan was a huge honour. A few weeks after that, one of my blog posts about Kenya was featured in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller, and I nearly fell off the couch in surprise (seriously – that’s not an exaggeration!).

While industry recognition is amazing, it means so much to me when readers tell me that they enjoy my stories, or that they relate to them in some way. This summer someone told me that when they read Stories My Suitcase Could Tell they feel as if they’re there on the journey with me, and it was such a truly lovely thing to hear.

I have to agree with you there… there’s nothing better than a reader taking the time to tell you a post meant something to them! And aside from the blog, what is typical daily life for you like in NY (just to fuel our envy even more)?

Wherever I am in the world, I cannot start the day without a cup (or two!) of coffee. I’m a features writer as well as a blogger, so after that I can usually be found writing, either at my desk in our apartment, at one of my favourite coffee shops, or at the local library.

Eating out in New York is often cheaper than cooking at home (and the food is very, very good) so my husband and I like to venture out a lot and try new restaurants. We first met at a street food stall in China, so it’s probably no surprise that we’re always on the lookout for the best foodie spots in the city.

The evenings are usually spent either hanging out with my husband or meeting up with fellow travel bloggers. New York is full of opportunities to meet people who share your passions, and one of my favourites is Travel Massive – I’ve made some really lovely friends through their events.

What top tips would you give someone considering a brave move or travel in general?

For anyone moving to another country, I’d advise them to make sure they’re aware of all the red tape and immigration regulations – if you don’t do all that stuff properly, you could be in for problems later on down the road. I’ve followed everything to the letter, and I’ve still been filling out forms for the last three years.

But in terms of travel more generally? I would say just go for it! I don’t think travel has to be this huge, monumental, leave-all-your-belongings-behind event. Most people I know (myself included), fit in most of their travel around work and other responsibilities throughout the year, so although there are of course exceptions, I do believe that it’s possible to work nine-to-five and still see the world. Even a day trip or weekend adventure can refresh your perspective.

The lead up to my move to Australia was full of life admin like that… totally worth it once you get there and can (semi) relax! What would you say is the biggest lesson your travels have taught you or maybe one way it has changed you?

Travel has definitely made me more adaptable. It’s taught me to expect the unexpected, and how to cope when situations change quickly. Living in China was a learning curve in that sense: when you’re thrown in at the deep end in a country where you don’t understand the language or the culture, and the people there don’t understand you, you learn very quickly to adapt and make the most out of the experience. By the end of the year I could get by in basic Mandarin, and empty a bowl of noodle soup with chopsticks in no time!

I’d like to think that travel has also taught me to appreciate the little things in life. When we’re on holiday we have our eyes open and senses attuned to everything – the sights, the sounds, the smells – and I think it’s a good idea to apply that to everyday life too. Some of my favourite adventures have happened close to home.

Spot on! Living in the totally alien culture of Italy before coming to Australia definitely made this most recent move far less scary. I think you come to realise that the world really isn’t that big, so long as you’re open to truly experience it. Now finally, what travel quote do you think best sums up the allure of exploring the world?

I like all the cheesy ones that everyone else does – at least according to Pinterest! I’m a lifelong bookworm, so I have to  admit to loving this St Augustine quote, which is everywhere: “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page.”

Manhattan skyline
Manhattan skyline

Thank you so much to the wonderful Katie – it’s been fantastic getting to know you! Don’t forget to head on over to Katie’s blog and follow her incredible Stateside adventures! Until next time… #AroundTheWorld


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