Who exactly is Shabnam and what is so special about her? I am from Azerbaijan, studied in the US and Sweden. I now live in New York with my amazing husband. I work in PR and marketing. What is special about me? I make the most delicious banana pies! And I have been to 42 countries.
What countries have you visited?
I have been to many countries. Here are those that I would visit for the second time: Brazil, Indonesia, Malta, France, Italy, Kenya, Canada, UAE, Hungary, UK, Iran, Germany and Netherlands.
What was your travel ambition? As many countries as possible, certain countries, a region, a travel theme?
First it started as a curiosity, then turned into a hobby, then escalated into affection and now is has evolved into a habit. I am a very curious person. So, as soon as I have a spare time, or holiday coming up I rush to go somewhere. Because traveling is the best way to refresh one’s soul, to escape from the daily life problems, then come back with a different view.
I have to confess; I also was traveling as much as possible while I am student and single. Because once you get married, you step into a more ‘luxurious’ lifestyle, where sleeping in a hostel, or eating in a creepy place is not an option anymore. But to me, traveling is all about discovering these little local spots, rather than enjoying high-end luxury. Because luxury is the same across the world, it’s those small local spots that make travel experience authentic.
What is the most unusual place you’ve ever visited?
We are in Amsterdam with my mother. The only thing I knew about the city was that there are many bikes and marijuana is legal in the country. That’s it. After taking many tours and spending three amazing days there, my mom tells me ‘Everyone is talking about this Red Lights District, shall we go and see what kind of place it is?’. I still laugh when I remember that neither me, nor my mom had any idea what this street was about. So we are asking people how to get to this mysterious district, and of course, everyone gives us that ‘oooo!’ look. So we get there, seeing half-naked women on the windows, trying to catch clients, we were first shocked, then burst into laughs putting pieces together, why people were asking those weird questions and giving us those looks on our way there.
Have you ever been disappointed by a destination? So we are in Paris. I am excited from the beautiful images of Eiffel Tower, its romantic lights, its breathtaking beauty, and its charming silhouette. Around the noon we arrive at the destination, where supposedly Eiffel Tower stands. I ask the Indian guy, selling small Eiffel key chains where the Eiffel tower is. He says ‘Look up!’ Well, I saw this small, rusty, brown monument, but would never believe that this piece of iron if Eiffel Tower. I was very disappointed. After a few days in Paris I realized that this city is much more beyond the Eiffel Tower with its delicious food, museums, culture, even people-watching. After seeing Eiffel I always underestimate the pictures on postcards.
In Kenya, I was disappointed in general. We were staying in a five-star hotel in Mombasa, the beach and the nature looked very polished, we always had running water, hotel staff was very well mannered and everyone looked happy. However when we stepped outside the hotel to see the city, after five minutes of drive by the expensive houses and hotels, a long line of slums started. It was heartbreaking to see how these people lived, what they ate. We had conversations with some of them, turned out each of them has lost at least one immediate family member from famine, or sickness. But among them I met happy people too. One guy told me ‘I know I will die before I am 40, but for me, quality matters, not quantity’. When I think of these people I always have mixed feelings. For them every day is a struggle to survive, but they are very relaxed and happy.
Have you traveled alone or with a pair? How does it feel?
I would always travel with family, or friends. Of course traveling with husband is more amazing. You don’t have to pay for anything! 🙂
You recently married – Travel Husband! 🙂 How well does he travel? What was your first destination?
Well, like all Americans, he thinks US is the best country in the world and there’s no need to go to any other country. So, we went to Hawaii. We spent a week in Maui Island. Okay, I have to accept, it was amazing! He is an awesome traveling partner. Probably because I love him too much and it’s great to share amazing moments with your loved one!
As I know, you are a vegetarian. Traveling with your new married husband, did you have any challenges to decide what to eat? How did you cope with it?
As a man from Caucasus, he is a big meat-lover. If we have dinner table full of vegetable dishes, he will look at me and ask where the food is, by which he means meat. When traveling I had no problem with my diet; in the US the vegetarian eating is getting more attention and there is always a meatless option in the menu.
What is your most memorable travel experience in Hawaii? In Maui Island of Hawaii the most memorable day was when we drove on the road to Hana. Hana is a small town in the island, but the trip is not about this town, it’s about the mountainous road that leads to Hana. On the way there are hidden waterfalls, beautiful rivers, botanical gardens and the breathtaking views of the island. Don’t leave Maui without driving to Hana.
As an experienced traveler, where would you suggest to couples to travel for honeymoon? And why?
Any nice place with a quiet beach and good hotel service will do. Consider Phuket in Thailand, Bora Bora Islands, Mauritius, or Barcelona in Spain.
What is your favorite city?
Imagine a city, where people leave for lunch, go to beach, swim for an hour and go back to work. Everyone is smiling, happy, helpful and loving. The most common family activity is hopping into the car, going to the beach with tents, BBQ, drinks and TV to watch your favorite show in the fresh air. Every 5 minutes you bump into amazingly delicious and surprisingly cheap fresh fruit and smoothie booths. Imagine white beach, beautiful sun, stress-free life, happiness, and serenity… That’s how I fell in love with Rio de Janeiro…
What is your most memorable travel adventure so far?
We were in Bali, Indonesia. The Eat Pray Love movie had just came out, my mother and me saw it and decided to find Ketut Liyer from the movie. After a lot of ‘googling’ and asking around, we were able to find his house. There was a long line of tourists waiting to meet with him. We stood there for three hours. When it was our turn, first sentence he said to me was: ‘You will be very very rich. Please don’t forget me and come back again’. Then he said I will get married soon, live in another country, have a big house and all of these would happen within a year, or two. Back then, having no marriage plans, no serious relationship, I thought his words were nonsense. Now when I look back, I get goose bumps. All these came true within a year and a half.
What is the key lesson you have learned as a woman traveller?
1. Never dress down for travels, always dress up. You never know whom you will meet on your journey. 2. Learn a few slangs and pretend to be local. 3. Take ‘eyegraphs’; it’s my word for stopping the moment that you enjoy, looking around, remembering every sound, feeling the vibe and carving the moment into your memory. Later I realized that these eyegraphs are first things that come to my mind about the places that I had visited.
Is there a travel philosophy you live by?
I look at every country as an individual human being which character. For example, Brazil for me is a hyper young lady with lots of energy, Switzerland is a rich, laid-back uncle, France is a middle-age lady, who spends all her salary on expensive make-up and face-lift, the UAE is a little boy, who spends the big heritage from grandparents left and right. When the countries are categorized like this in my brain, I choose best friends among them, whom I feel most comfortable with, who I can share secrets with.
What has been the hardest part of your trip, and how did you cope with that hardship?
I was going to Kenya. I applied for visa four (!) months in advance. Every time I called, they asked me to call later, until two weeks before my travel date I went to the Embassy and demanded an answer. After a lot of search, it turned out that my documents had been lost and I wouldn’t get a visa. Seeing my tears and panic, Embassy representatives said they would help me get a visa within two weeks. They lied. I wasn’t given a visa. I flew anyways. It was a big risk, but I flew. I reached Kenya. At the border I claimed I had a visa ready, waiting for me (I lied, thinking my confidence would affect the outcome). Since there was no computer, they had to look among the stacks of papers over and over again. No luck. Suddenly, the fax machine started printing papers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My visa was among those. You can call it luck, miracle, but I call it Law of Attraction.
What has been your most meaningful travel encounter? Who did you meet who marked you the most?
I was studying in Sweden. I don’t consider it a travel, but there I met a person, who changed my outlook into life: my professor Thomas Ohlson. Despite his severe cancer and doctors’ restrictions, he would still continue teaching at our university, he always had the biggest smile on his face and was always hopeful and optimist. I think it’s because of his positive attitude that he lived 4-5 years longer than the doctors had predicted and he even managed to get married. I adored him as a person and there was so much to learn from his positive mental attitude. He taught me a lesson for life: not what happens to you, but how you react matters.
When it comes to travel partner, my most amazing travel companion was my mother. I have met hundreds interesting, wise, funny people during my travels. But I never met anyone funnier, smarter and more interesting than my own travel companion – my mom. I am very grateful for every single second that we spent together.
What have you learned about yourself and the world so far?
I have learnt that despite the skin color, religion, ethnicity, all the human beings are so similar. We all are parts of one Universe. There are so many values, events, traditions that unite us. We all believe in the power of love, we all need care, we all cheer up from a simple act of kindness, we all get sad from loss, we all need to believe in something to survive, we all thrive towards happiness, we all have dreams, hopes… Therefore, ethnicities, races, religious beliefs and nationalities are so tiny in comparison with bigger values and emotions that unite us.
Compared to when you first began traveling versus now, have you noticed any big differences in relation to travel? Every time I go somewhere, I feel re-born. Every travel is full of completely new adventures, new people and new places. Traveling is not like sports; the more you do it, better you get at it, on the contrary, the more you travel, the more your start from scratch to learn, to discover and to enjoy.
If you had to recommend somewhere to visit or some sight for the readers to see, what would it be?
Venice!!! I tried to take thousands photos in that city from every angle, but God, no single photo can show the beauty, serenity, elegance and unpredictability of Venice. Just go there before you go somewhere else. It may be gone in 20-30 years due to the rising water level.
Do you see yourself traveling for the rest of your life?
Every time I fall in love with a city, I pick the most beautiful house there and promise to buy it when I am a billionaire. So, having so many houses, I will definitely travel till the end of my life if not die in the plane. 🙂
As we know, March 8 is International Women’s Day. As a woman traveler and a new married wife what message do you have for women? What is your greatest wish for females?
I hate hearing/saying wishes. I would rather have people share a nice piece of advice, or motto, or an encouraging story, rather than wishing clichés. So let me share 3 quotes that drive me in life:
1. Dream big. You are limitless in your dreams, you can close your eyes and be whoever you want, have whatever you want. Dreaming is the force that lifts our souls up and helps us move in life with shinier eyes. So, don’t limit your dreams. Dream BIG!
2. “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” (Carlos Castaneda) We all have days full of joy, success, happiness, but we also have to go through failures, loss and ‘not-my-days’. Us, women, are emotional beings. It’s good to remember that attitude matters a lot and time heals everything.
3. If you want to be happy, then be. Sometimes we keep on wishing for stuff to be happy, once we get them, we wish for more and more again. It’s very important to stop, look around and be grateful for the things we have right now. Because there is no key to happiness, the door is always wide open.
In closing, do you have any words of advice for newbie travelers?
I doubt anyone will read the post till this point, but if you have read through such a long interview and you are a newbie, then no more words needed. You passed the reading test! 🙂