It’s not everyday I get to talk to a travel professional and TV personality. I’m lucky to talk have a chance to chat with Sandra who tells me about her work in strategic marketing and travel media. Her new travel is set to launch soon and you can get a jump-start on it by visiting You can also find her amazing travels on Instagram @sandracottam, on twitter @villagegirltrav and on Facebook at

Sandra Cottam feeling right at home on the road

Sandra Cottam feeling right at home on the road

Up Up and a Bear: Please tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, what you do, etc).

Sandra: I’m blessed to be bi-racial (South Pacific & Australian roots) and to have had a childhood where my parents enjoyed and valued the benefits of travel. For many reasons including my father’s job, a foreign exchange program and a culturally blended family, we moved a lot. In fact I had changed schools 9 times before my senior year of high school. No doubt this led to a career in the travel industry and studies in tourism and marketing.

Originally I took a job as an international travel consultant STA Travel for the travel perks it gave me but the more that I delved into the industry, the more I realized the endless opportunities it presented. As my career evolved I was able to move from sales and marketing roles, into customer service and project management roles and eventually into media, all within the travel industry.

Right now I enjoy a very successful career that combines my two greatest career loves: strategic marketing and travel media. Every day I am somewhere amazing and able to share that with my fans. I love that armchair travelers (people who don’t travel much or at all) can live vicariously through me and that more frequent travelers can be guided by my travel news and tips.

On the other side of our comfort zone are some very amazing opportunities.

Up Up and a Bear: Wow! That’s great! That’s a job we’re all jealous. You’ve been all over the world it seems. How many countries have you been to?

Sandra: A Facebook quiz recently calculated that I have been to 88 of 195 countries in the world, which means that I’m not even half way there! LOL.

looking cool at Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico

looking cool at Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico

Up Up and a Bear: That’s 80 more than I’ve been to! What an awesome perk to your job. What is it like traveling for work that much?

Sandra: Right now I travel 90% for business and 10% for pleasure – that being said, I try to find some time to explore and experience something new on each business trip. Like most people I love food so eating is often at the top of my strategies to learn about a new destination. I also love taking photos although it’s most definitely a hobby, not a skill. I have a lot to learn about photography but I have a great teacher!

posing with the locals in Bethlehem

posing with the locals in Bethlehem

Up Up and a Bear: Experiences galore I’m sure. What are some things that you’ve learned from your travels?

Sandra: I’ve learned a lot about myself. I know that it sounds kind of corny to say that think of it this way… we all know ourselves in our everyday environment. But what happens when you’re in a different environment (culture, language, geography) every day? You find yourself being tested and tried in more ways than one. So I’d have to say that I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned about my best traits and gifts and more importantly about my areas for personal development. I have also learned that I need constantly be grateful for what I have and not worry about what I don’t have.

Right now I enjoy a very successful career that combines my two greatest career loves: strategic marketing and travel media.

Up Up and a Bear: Couldn’t agree with you more. I set out to discover the world and most often it’s us that we find. And I believe that traveling is a very courageous thing to do – the unknowns, the strange language, people, and culture can deter you from traveling. Did you feel this way when you started traveling? How did you deal with it? How would you suggest someone in the same boat do to alleviate this fear?

Sandra: To be perfectly honest I have never felt this way and can’t really relate to someone who feels this. That being said, there are things in life that are unknown to me and that make me anxious; new experiences, goals, tasks. When I need to tackle those I really try to educate myself first and foremost. I truly feel that we are uncomfortable when we don’t understand. On the other side of our comfort zone are some very amazing opportunities. So, be curious, ask questions, challenge the status quo and be open-minded to whatever knowledge comes your way.

enjoying coconut shrimps in Mexico City

enjoying coconut shrimps in Mexico City

Up Up and a Bear: Thanks for the great advice. I’ve often been rewarded mightily when jumping out of my comfort zone. Anyway, I’m sure that since you’re jet setting all over the world, you must have excellent organization skills (suitcase ready to go, routine down to a science, etc). What are some of your routines that have really helped you travel efficiently?

Sandra: Oh totally! I’m a great packer and an excellent vacation planner! I get asked a lot about how I pack and (I can take just a carry on for a two week business trip!) where I find the best travel deals. I’m currently working on my new travel series and am going to share both strategies with my viewers. I’m bringing my suitcase into the studio and unpacking it for everyone to see what I take and how I pack it, and I’ll also showing viewers how absolutely anyone can plan and afford to get on vacation no matter your budget. Exciting stuff!

Every day I am somewhere amazing and able to share that with my fans.

Up Up and a Bear: Sweet! That’s going to be a great show! Now I know that you’re the road a lot so it must take effort to work on your health and fitness. You mentioned you’re in a love/hate relationship with carbs and cardio. I think a lot of us have the same relationship with carbs and cardio. LOL. How do you balance this while you travel? Do you have tips for other travelers?

Sandra: Losing or maintaining weight while you’re on the road can be super challenging and there really is only one way to conquer it… it’s all about forward planning. I travel 3 weeks out of every 4 and have a range of strategies. I’ve lost one third of my body weight in the last 18 months, all while on the road. I plan out my travel snacks and buy them in advance – almonds, fruit, boiled eggs, vege chips etc. I’m never caught without food in my purse. When it comes to eating out I rarely look at the menu – I ask the waiter for grilled protein with a side of vegetables or salad. And every now and then I have a cheat meal…not a cheat day! I also schedule time to exercise. Every cruise ship or hotel has a gym and I try to mix up between cardio (you’re right, I don’t love it) and weights training.

Sandra about to host it up!

Sandra about to host it up!

Up Up and a Bear: Tell me a little bit more about your role as a Travel TV host and writer?

Sandra: What’s the favorite part of your job? I host and write for 8 different companies and also work with a major cruise line. I’m a travel expert savvy on a range of topics including but not limited to destinations, food and cruising and love special guest appearances and interviews (like this one) where I get to cover fun topics with viewers and readers. Every now and then I also guest speak at travel expos, conferences and industry workshops. I also write for several airline and travel magazines.

I have been to 88 of 195 countries in the world

Up Up and a Bear: Exciting work indeed! You know… I’m really looking forward to the launch of your site. It’ll be an excellent source for travel tips for travelers everywhere. What do you hope to accomplish on it? What will you write about?

Sandra: My new site launches at the start of February and is gorgeous if I do say so myself. Some of the fun features include packing tips, travel checklists and budgets, guest bloggers, recipes of world food, my top 10 travel must haves for 2016, prizes and competitions and lots more! Oh and this year I’m finally launching my new line of travel accessories!

looking sharp in Greece, Sandra

looking sharp in Greece, Sandra

Up Up and a Bear: Lastly, and most importantly, since you’ve been everywhere, where is the best pizza on the planet?

Sandra: Well, I’m so incredibly fussy with pizza. First of all it’s all about the thin dough and fresh toppings. I’m going to put my money on pizza directly from Italy…Milan and Naples! Oh and my favorite pizza is anything with three or less toppings especially cheese.

Up Up and a Bear: I’ve heard that Naples was the best place for an authentic pizza. Now it’s been confirmed! Thank you Sandra for sharing your travel life and good luck with your site launch.

Get a jump-start and sign up to get notification when Sandra’s site goes live at

Travel on my friends.

Reading time: 8 min

There are SO MANY TV shows based in New York – trust me, we’ve binge watched many of them on Netflix. I’m not proud of that… or am I? I’ve always wondered if New Yorkers were that crazy in real life? Luckily, Kristen is here to set the record straight. A transplant resident of New York for 5 years, Kristen considers herself a local and has graciously agreed to give us a behind-the-scene look at New York. You can find more of her awesome writing on her blog at I’m Not A Tourist, I Swear! and on Instagram @notouristiswear. Let’s talk!

a Kristen in the wild

a Kristen in the wild

Up Up and a Bear: Tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, what’s your passion in life, what makes you happy/sad).

Kristen: Can I just copy this from my Tinder profile or do you want something original?

Ok fine, original it is. I’m Kristen Sarra and I would tell you my age but saying it aloud only depresses me and makes me nostalgic for the those days when I naively believed growing older would take longer. Let’s just say I’m not as young as I look in my photographs.

I’m from a small 3-mile town called Gulf Breeze, Florida. It’s the type of place that no one ever leaves. Seriously, my family was once recognized for being the oldest living generation from the original Spanish settlers to still live in the area. Did I mention said settlers moved there in the 1500s? Yeah, my family suffers from serious separation anxiety.

I didn’t grow up traveling. The first time I left the country was when I went to Italy to study when I was 19 and I haven’t stopped traveling since. Now I own a travel website where I pen (or type) my stories from around the world and I’m also a contributing travel feature writer for Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.

Travel writing is my passion. My topics focus less on must-see sites and more on interactions with local people, highlights of smaller less-visited towns, and tales on finding culture. I gravitate towards small neighborhoods or tiny towns when I travel – an inclination that stems from my own small town upbringing. I love experiencing the day-to-day life of close-knit communities in other cultures.

Parliament, Budapest, Hungary

Parliament, Budapest, Hungary

Up Up and a Bear: Love it! Getting to know the locals and moving at their pace is an excellent way to learn about the authentic lifestyle of those living there. Small towns are so wonderful – though, sadly, I myself haven’t done much of that lately. Anyway, I understand that you made a big move to New York from that small town living. It must have been a harrowing and exciting period of your life, what was it like?

Kristen: Cold. Because my luck is always so spectacular, I left my sunny beach town a couple of days after Christmas and flew into one of the worst blizzards on record.

Only one runway was open at LaGuardia so my plane was put into a holding pattern. It circled around the airport for hours until our pilot so cheerily announced that we were running low on fuel so he felt hopeful that they’d let us land soon. Yeah, like that didn’t make some 200 passengers even more nervous.

As if the flight wasn’t bad enough, I wound up taking the worst cab ride of my life and thought I wasn’t going to live to see my first New York sunrise. The car kept careening off the road as it slipped on the icy surface. It was pitch black out, the streets on either side were piled high with snow, and I was heading to a new home I had never even seen in person before.

There’s no such thing as an outcast here. 

I finally arrived to an empty, unheated apartment with nothing but 2 suitcases full of clothes. The only thing in my new room was a bed frame, old mattress, and a handful of dead bugs. I remember thinking Oh God, what have I gotten myself into? 

Yet, morning came with this amazing feeling of positivity and excitement. I jumped into my brand new snow boots and set out to explore my latest neighborhood, not even caring that the never-worn-before shoes were giving me blisters.

After that initial night, everything just felt easy. Maybe it’s because I had studied aboard 4 times while in college and was used to settling down in unfamiliar places. I never felt intimidated or scared. I felt content – like I was finally home. Everything simply fell into place and I still live in that same apartment 5 years later.

Pier A at Battery Park, New York

Pier A at Battery Park, New York

Up Up and a Bear: I applaud your spirit of adventure. I don’t know if I could have done what you did, but I guess time takes care of everything. Now that you consider yourself a “local” New Yorker, what are some myths about New York that you no longer know to be true? 

Kristen: The myth that it’s big! Seriously, Manhattan is SMALL. The city is so compact that you can pretty much be anywhere within 25 minutes or less which makes it easy to be socially spontaneous. I can go to dinner in the West Village, meet up with someone afterwards on the Upper East Side, and then wind up at a nightclub in the Meatpacking District. This is a much more difficult feat in places like London or Los Angeles where you’re normally forced to commit to one area for the night since it takes a long time or is expensive to travel between other areas.

Locals also frequent the same 3 or 4 neighborhoods, same 4 or 5 coffee shops, and same 10 to 11 bars (more if you’re a lush like me). A sense of community is much easier to find in NYC than one would think. I’ve gotten to know bartenders, wait staff, and fellow patrons. I’ve run into friends in Central Park, at my favorite brunch spot, and at the bookstore. It really feels small yet at the same time there’s always something new to try. It’s the best of both worlds.

typical night in NYC - who's ready to move?

typical night in NYC – who’s ready to move?

Up Up and a Bear: LIES!!! Okay I wouldn’t know, but I’ve been to New York and it was a crazy sight. I’m hoping my next visit will be more local and chill as you described. By the way, how would one become a New Yorker?

Kristen: Oh us New Yorkers have very strict rules that you must adhere too. You must:

  • Do everything short of selling your soul to avoid Times Square. Just kidding – you’d actually sell your soul if it came down to it.
  • Excel at jaywalking.
  • Date someone for the sole reason that they have a washer and dryer in their apartment.
  • Measure time in city blocks. Like Be there soon, I’m only 7 blocks away.
  • Cry openly on the subway without giving a f***

(I) ate multiple boxes of shrooms in Amsterdam.

Ok so I could go on and on but the truth is anyone can become a New Yorker. All you have to do is move here and experience life in Manhattan for a year or so. It’s such an international city and hardly anyone is actually from here. Of all the friends I’ve made since moving here, not one was born and raised in New York. In fact, I think I’ve only dated one guy who was originally from the city.

I don’t think there really is a ‘typical’ New Yorker. The diversity here is just outstanding and it’s a testament to how open-minded and accepting the people of New York are. It’s a truly beautiful thing. There’s no such thing as an outcast here. 

Grey Dog on Mulberry St, New York

Grey Dog on Mulberry St, New York

Up Up and a Bear: I think I need to stop watching shows about New York because it’s nothing like you’re describing – lies my TV told me… New York is a big place and most people are going to flock to the more famous sights and attractions, but if they were looking for something more authentic, where would they go and what would they do?

Kristen: I always joke that real life in New York begins below 14th Street. I’ll admit to being bias though – I rarely surface above it if I can help it. If I had to pick one area where tourists are the most rare (though they are pretty much everywhere in the city), I would say the Lower East Side. It’s not pretty to look at on the outside but its home to the best coffee shops in NYC as well as great hidden restaurants. It really comes alive at night and its slew of music venues and clubs far outshines those of the trendy (and expensive) Meatpacking District. The Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side is my favorite museum in the city, yet it receives only a tiny fraction of out-of-town visitors.

I wrote a more detailed post on my blog called 150 Things Locals Do In New York City where I give away all my secret spots!

who's hungry for some testicle stew in Hungary?

who’s hungry for some testicle stew in Hungary?

Up Up and a Bear: Okay, if you’re reading this right now – go read that post Kristen mentioned above – now! So Kristen, do you miss life in the small community of Gulf Breeze, Florida?

Kristen: I don’t miss my old life in Gulf Breeze per se but I do miss being a part of my friends and family’s lives.

I loved growing up there and living there after college. I miss my big 2-story, 3-bedroom house. I miss my kitchen and entertaining. I was always cooking and having people over. I would hangout with the same group of 20 people all the time. I lived 10 minutes from my parents. I was a part of my grandma’s book club. I had a boyfriend.

I never felt intimidated or scared. I felt content – like I was finally home.

However, I was always restless. I would go through mood swings and be testy for no real reason. I’ve never done well with having a routine and life in a small town is very much a routine. There’s no major transport hub so traveling was difficult and expensive. It was great for a while but I was never entirely happy living there and I had trouble seeing a future for myself. I felt like I couldn’t relate to most people my age. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d traveled a lot and no one could understand my burning need to see the world. Marriage and kids had never been something I’d particularly cared about and that’s all I could see for myself if I continued to stay there. So I left.

I do miss my family and friends. It can be hard when the whole family is together and I’m thousand of miles away. I had to miss my brother’s engagement party last week and I’ve only met his fiancée a handful of times. A lot of my friends are married with children and I miss out on watching their kids grow up and being a part of their lives. One of my closest friends is pregnant and it’s hard not being there for her.

But that’s all part of living life on the road. I still stay in touch and I’m so much happier than I was while living there. It makes those short visits home that much more special.

La Mala, Cote d'Azur

La Mala, Cote d’Azur

Up Up and a Bear: I know what you mean. I’m the only one from my big extended family living in the Pacific Northwest. And as much as I miss being with my family, I’ve formed my own family and friends here so it’s okay. I cherish my time with them whenever I get the opportunity though. On your blog, you write extensively, and quite hilariously so, about off-path adventures and the desire to experience cultural authenticity. For most travelers, going off the beaten path can be quite frightening, especially if you’re traveling alone. What is your advice for the intrepid travelers? How should they proceed to travel like a local? 

Kristen: I love this question because it is the single most thing I struggle with when traveling. Despite how it may seem in my blog posts, I’m not naturally at ease in strange places or with strangers themselves. 

I’ve come to learn that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When traveling, it’s best to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s what helps you to learn and to grow. Otherwise you end up never leaving the hotel bar except to visit tourist sites where you are surrounded by other Americans. You wind up returning home with a souvenir or two but with very little insight into the local culture.

There’s no better way to challenge yourself than to get off the tourist trail. Stay in a hotel or hostel outside of the city center. Visit a small town rather than a capital city. Belly up next to the oldest man in the bar – chances are he’s a local with lots of stories to tell. Find a restaurant that’s a good 30 minutes walk away from whichever tourist site you just visited. Ask the concierge what he does with his time off. There are so many ways to meet locals and the reward is always worth it.

What are you going to remember most – a visit to a museum or that time you were invited to supper by a local Hungarian who proceeded to cook you a meal of chicken paprikash while explaining goulash is in fact not consumed by locals like the guidebook states? While I may not remember much after dinner thanks to the bottle of homemade palinka we consumed, I’ll never forget her hospitality.

hiking in the Scottish Lowlands

hiking in the Scottish Lowlands

Up Up and a Bear: Thank you! Hearing you say that you aren’t as comfortable and have to push yourself makes me feel better about myself. I truly try to make my trips as authentic as possible but it’s just a scary thing to do. And you’re right, sometimes you just have to go for it and get off the tourist trail a bit. And with that, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done on the road? Was it skinny-dipping on the rooftop of a Vietnamese house (without water)? 

Kristen: I think it’s just called streaking when you skinny-dip without any water present and yes that’s definitely up there on my list of craziest adventures. I’ve also been locked in a fake hospital in Prague, almost drowned while canyoning in Portugal, climbed up a waterfall (yes up – not beside, underneath, or above – but up through a waterfall) in Jamaica, stared down a wild dingo in Australia, and ate multiple boxes of shrooms in Amsterdam.

There was also that thing I did in Paris that must never ever be spoken of. Ever.

Stirling, Scotland

Stirling, Scotland

Up Up and a Bear: Okay… you win! And by the way, your secrets are NOT safe with me so it’s best we not discuss your Paris incident (or should I say AWESOME adventure?). Anyway, I really like your desire to feel like a part of the place you’re visiting. Where in your travels have you felt this way the most? 

Kristen: Scotland. As you can tell by the lengthy answers to your questions, I talk A LOT and the Scottish have a propensity for storytelling so we get along pretty well. They’re so friendly no matter where in the region you are.

In Stirling, I went to a local sauna and steam room and started chatting with a resident who later invited me to go hiking with him and his family. Then there was my tour guide at the Deanston Distillery who told me to say hi to his friend Mary at the Curly Coo and who wanted to introduce me to his son in London. I once had a wild night out in Edinburgh with locals who took me out for drinks and dinner. I always feel so at home in Scotland and it’s the one place I travel to at least once a year.

hiking the S¢lheimajîkull Glacier in Iceland

hiking the S¢lheimajîkull Glacier in Iceland

Up Up and a Bear: You should look into getting an honorary Scottish citizenship! It’s been my pleasure talking to you Kristen! Thank you so much for helping to illuminate all the myths of New York. Before we go, please tell us about your blog. What do you want to accomplish with it? What should readers expect to see?

Kristen: My blog, I’m Not A Tourist, I Swear! is a travel blog for the culturally curious, those less concerned with guidebook sites and more interested in hanging out with locals, seasoned travelers searching for new places to discover, those who enjoy slow travel, and for those who are constantly traveling in search of a deeper connection.

Readers can expect detailed and informative posts on off-the-beaten path places, little-known neighborhoods, offbeat adventure travel, and local culture.

I really try to hone in and focus on the cultural aspects of a city or country. For example, I won’t write a ‘list’ post like Top 8 Things to do in Lisbon where you’ll see your typical rundown of tourist sites. Instead I’ll call it 8 Unforgettable Ways to Experience Lisbon and I’ll detail the local practices I encountered and tell you how to immerse yourself in the Lisboeta culture so you feel as if you’re a true part of it rather than just a passing visitor.

I want to encourage people to dig beneath the surface of wherever they’re visiting and try to make an authentic connection with the local culture and people. Isn’t that what travel is all about? Finding and understanding the world through the eyes of people different to yourselves?

I hope my discussion with Kristen provided some comfort and inspiration for you to try traveling outside the box – maybe you can try to be a local in New York with Kristen’s excellent tips.

If you like this post, please share with your friends and let me know down below if you have questions or feedback for myself or Kristen. For more tips from locals, read How to be Dutch – and interview with @dutchgirltravels.

Travel on my friends!

Reading time: 16 min

Dear travelers, wanderers, and dreamers everywhere, we all know the world is a wonderful collection of life-changing experiences, awe-inspiring sights, sounds, and is full of life. We travel for many reasons. For some of us, we travel to live, to learn, to find out who we are. Along the way, we would have seen things we cannot even fathom: Northern Lights dancing across the sky, raging waterfalls, grand valleys and majestic mountains. These are but a small sampling of all that our incredible world has to offer, and we must strive to preserve this beauty for generations to come.

Like many of you, I didn’t think my contribution would make any significant dent in lowering carbon emission or waste reduction, but what if everyone in the world contributed? What if each one of us did our part to curb climate change? We don’t have to wait for political actions. We can act now. And together, we can make a difference!

I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite apps that speaks to this passion and vision. They are easy to use and put the power in your hands. Please join me in this endeavor to preserve the world for all travelers – today, tomorrow, and far into the future.

1. Daily Good

All rights reserved by Daily Good.

All rights reserved by Daily Good

Daily Good is available on the iPhone platform with a simple mission – show everyone that making a positive environmental impact can be easy and fun. The interface is extremely simple and easy to navigate. Every morning, Daily Good sends users a simple challenge for that day. The user can accept to do the challenge and earn points/badges or wait for another challenge the next day. Everybody can do these challenges! Examples of a challenge include taking a 5 minutes shower instead of the average 8 minutes or reusing a coffee cup multiple times or for other purposes. Each challenge you take is recorded, and you can see how you’re doing against your friends. It becomes a contest to see who in your circle of friends can unlock all the badges! You can even suggest a challenge and receive special badges for doing so.

Give Daily Good a try and see how easy it is to make a positive environmental impact.

2. Oreoco

All rights reserved by Oreoco

All rights reserved by Oreoco

Oreoco is a features-rich little app that turns a serious topic like climate change and sustainability into an informative and fun game. Oreoco tracks your daily life and calculates your carbon footprint based on your transportation choices, purchases, and various other factors. The app then tells you how you’ve personally contributed and how you can reduce your environmental impacts. Seeing how my daily choices stacked up was an eye-opener for me.

By following the app’s metrics, you will soon realize how you can reduce your carbon footprint – and compete against your friends while doing it! The app is very intuitive and simple to use. Why not give Oreoco a shot and see how your personal choices are affecting the environment.

3. #climate

All rights reserved by #climate

All rights reserved by #climate

Want to join in on a green movement? Want to shout it to the wold and make everyone aware of your passionate cause? #climate is a social sharing platform that compiles all the movements around the world so you can get involved and further the cause. If you’ve ever wondered what’s currently going on in the world and how you can help, this is the perfect app for you. Even if you don’t join in on all the causes, you’ll learn so much about the many movements around the world. The power of the app is in spreading the message via your social networks.

Give #climate and chance and discover the many amazing things people are doing around the world to preserve our wonderful planet.

4. Skeptical Science

All rights reserved by Skeptical Science

All rights reserved by Skeptical Science

Do you want to have a climate change expert in your back pocket to help you explain the complex issues and science behind global warming and other environmental topics? Skeptical Science is that expert. This app takes common claims for or against climate change and provide scientific details and explanation to help you discern what’s scientifically true and what isn’t. You don’t have to encounter a naysayer to use this app as it is full of interesting and information data.

Give Skeptical Science a try and learn as much as you can.

Travel on my friends!

Reading time: 3 min
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