We came upon the vividly energetic Sarah sometime ago and have been following her travels and exploits ever since. How can one not pay attention? At 4′ 9.5″ she is irrepressibly positive and magnetically energetic. Her field of work is travel, and she does it with gusto. She also manages to run almost every day and even competes, including running the NYC Marathon at 47.
Miami via UK and Jamaica
Where are you from?
I was born in England. Until my early 20s I bounced between living in the UK and Jamaica, where my father’s from. I moved to the United States in 2003 and have been here ever since.
What brought you to Miami?
I was recruited from Montego Bay to lead in-house PR for the now-defunct airline, Air Jamaica, which had an office in Miami. After that, I worked on the editorial side in custom publishing. A couple of years later I snagged my dream job at Caribbean Travel + Life magazine, which was then the only newsstand magazine exclusively devoted to the Caribbean. I was there for six years until it folded in 2012. After that, I thought I’d freelance “just for a few months” until I got another staff gig. And now here we are, eight years later!
Travel, Style, Fitness in the Caribbean
What is it that you do?
All the things! Like many self-employed people, I wear many hats. I’m a travel writer who specializes in the Caribbean and tropical destinations. (I call myself a “Carivangelist” because I’m spreading the “gospel” of the Caribbean to the world.) After Caribbean Travel + Life closed, I reinvented myself and created my personal brand, JetSetSarah. It’s built on my passions – travel, style and fitness – and I create content about those subjects for brands including Travel + Leisure; AARP; Essence magazine; The Telegraph newspaper in the UK and Canada’s Globe and Mail. I love being on camera, and I also host travel videos for clients including Miami International Airport.
I like to joke that I “live” on Instagram and I really enjoy connecting with my following on social media. That’s led to partnerships with brands such as Athleta, which come with event management and promotional responsibilities, so, trust me, there’s always something going on! On any given day I could be writing copy in my home office or the Centurion Lounge at MIA; I could be interviewing a hotel manager; I may be hosting a public event on behalf of a brand partner; or I could be soaking up the sun on a Caribbean beach (we call that “research”).
Transformative Power of Travel
It is your line of work, but what does travel do for you personally?
For me, the magic of travel starts at the airport. Unlike many of my travel writer colleagues — who love to be in the destination but hate the process of actually getting there — I’m still besotted by airports. I’ll arrive at Miami International three hours in advance to take in the “performance theater” of the concourse. The people, the fashion, the unique universe that is an airport — a place that exists outside of time and seasons — is endlessly fascinating to me.
I also think travel can have a transformative power on a personal level. Away from the people and places we know, we’re free to be whoever we want, no longer subject to others’ expectations of or beliefs about us — or even those we have of ourselves. On a plane or in a new destination I can be mysterious or gregarious, introverted or outspoken Sarah. It’s up to me to choose, and I find the whole concept very liberating.
On the other hand, when you change your environment, who you are as a person, at your core, can become much more clear. On my first glamping trip in Costa Rica a few months ago, for example, I learned that I wasn’t the a/c-loving “anti-glamper” I’d spent my life thinking I was. Instead I was completely fascinated by the tropical plants and flowers that surrounded me and only mildly inconvenienced by not having ensuite facilities. Turns out I really am a happy camper!
Traveling Solo as a Woman
How is traveling as a single woman different?
I’m married but I most often travel alone for work. Once I’m on the ground in the destination, I may join a group of other journalists on a shared itinerary or I may be totally solo, left to explore on my own. If I’m solo, I make an effort to strike up conversations with other female travelers, not just for work research but because it’s nice to have a few “friends” where you’re staying. I’m particularly friendly with the front desk staff and, for safety reasons, I always let them know if I’m going out for an early-morning run and when I hope to be back. As a female traveler, I think it’s smart to distinguish yourself in some way from the other guests, and hope that if something goes awry, the staff will remember who I was!
“Traveling in my 50s means traveling with a high level of comfort”
How is traveling at our age different?
Luckily for me, most of the hotels I stay in for work are high-end, but I’ve always thought that, if needs be, I could “rough it.” I realized last summer that I was totally wrong; I CANNOT rough it! I’d flown to Vancouver to run a half marathon but because I’d got into the race so late (it was a lottery with multiple drawings), there were no rooms left in the city in my price range. So I booked a hostel and hoped for the best. Turns out it was clean and the staff was friendly but after you’ve run 13.1 miles, you (or at least, I!) want to come back to a room that’s a real sanctuary — you know, a spotless marble bathroom, a king bed with starched sheets, a huge TV with tons of channels and a spa on site … that sort of thing. In that respect, my hostel experiment was a total failure.
So, for me, I’d say that traveling in my 50s means traveling with a high level of comfort. I’m all about having rugged and active adventures during the day, but I want my base to be, at the very least, as comfortable as home. And ideally much more so!
At this age, and traveling as much as I do, my comfort is key. So no matter where I’m going, to minimize stress, I arrive at MIA early and make myself comfy at American Express’ Centurion Lounge, where the team knows me by name, I can get a manicure, and the people-watching is superb. Although most of my work flights are less than four hours, inflight comfort is crucial, too. So I always have a reusable bottle in my carry-on that I fill with the drink of my choice post-security so I never have to wait for the beverage cart. Many of my flights are in the morning so I travel with an extra-large, super-soft eye mask that also covers my ears. I look a bit like a hostage when I’m wearing it, but who cares? I arrive rested, and that’s all that counts. And I’m NEVER without a snack (usually a Quest protein bar or cookie), because a hungry Sarah is an angry Sarah.
Swimming with Turtles and Climbing Volcanoes
Any interesting travel stories?
Well, I’ve certainly had some adventures! I’ve climbed St. Lucia’s Gros Piton volcano and the island of Saba’s highest peak, Mount Scenery. I’ve swum in Mexican cenotes; with turtles in the Tobago Cays; and beneath Grenadian waterfalls. I rode a camel in Jamaica; snorkeled over stromatalites in the Bahamas; and danced half-naked through the streets of Trinidad and Barbados during Carnival. I’ve tasted iguana soup in Bonaire; eaten alpaca and guinea pig in Peru; and I know the secret of why Jamaican KFC is the best in the world. (Go to JetSetSarah to find out!)
How long have you been running?
Before I found running in my late 30s, shopping really was my cardio. But I signed up to run my first half-marathon at 40. I finished at the back of the pack in 3:35 but finished nevertheless. After that I continued to run for fun and, after weight loss surgery in 2011, ran more and more until I succumbed to the siren call of the marathon and completed the New York Marathon at 47. I’m pretty sure I’m “one and done” as far as the marathon distance is concerned, but I still run three or four times a week and race 5ks, 10ks and half-marathons.
“Running is a great way to explore and meet locals”
Do you exercise when you travel?
Absolutely! Even if I have to hit the road before dawn, I always go for a run before I leave for the airport because I’m probably going to be sitting most of the rest of the day. Then, once I get to my destination, running is a great way to explore it and to meet locals (runners are notoriously friendly). If it’s too hot outside I may go and lift in the resort gym, but my preference is always to exercise in fresh air.
What are your favorite destinations?
In the Caribbean, I have four favorites. 1. Jamaica, because it’s the total package of natural beauty, vibrant culture, incredible food, and the world’s most creative people. 2. Anguilla for its beaches and laidback luxe. 3. The Turks and Caicos Islands because of the ease of hopping between each one means you can have “a vacation from your vacation.” 4. Bequia in the Grenadines because it’s small, friendly and has old-school Caribbean charm. Beyond the Caribbean, Tokyo is where I most want to return to. It’s so different from anywhere else I’ve been, which makes it incredibly fascinating to me.
“I wore a beige top once and had to go home to change”
You seem to love color.
I do love color but I’m really not sure where that propensity comes from. As a child my mother would tell me that bright yellow looked good on me, so maybe I just internalized her opinion … Whatever the reason, I must wear at least a pop of bright color every day. True story: I wore a beige top once and had to go home in the middle of the day to change.
What do people think of your outfits?
I express my creativity and personality through my outfits, so I love it when people comment on them. I dress for myself but I joke that it’s really a public service because once I leave home I don’t see how I look, but I like to give passersby something interesting to rest their eyes on! When I travel (and at home) I like my looks to be colorful and a little eccentric, yet comfy and practical. I’m particularly thoughtful about my travel OOTD’s because I always post them on my Instagram feed, and I have a signature shot I take on the curb at Miami International Airport before every trip.
Carry-On Packing Down to a Science
What is your guide to packing?
Even though I travel three times a month, I never pack without consulting the personalized packing list I keep in my iPhone’s Notes app. Divided into categories (electronics, snacks, workout stuff, in-flight supplies, etc.), it’s a reminder to bring the small, Sarah-specific things (my Garmin watch, protein bars, contact lenses) that make a big difference to my trip but aren’t typically found on pre-printed packing lists. The note is bulleted so I can check things off as I toss them into my case.
I’m #TeamCarryOn and I keep my rollaboard half-packed with flip-flops and running shoes; a zippered pouch that has other essentials such as a sarong, my prescription glasses, and tabi socks for walking through security; and The Daily Edited’s travel case, which is, hands down, the best TSA-approved toiletry case.
Love for Long-Sleeved Swimsuits
Tell us about that long-sleeve bathing suit. It looks great.
I get so many questions about my long-sleeved swimsuits! Really, they’re a way for me to protect my skin from the sun (because Black does crack!) and to express my love of style and fashion at the same time. They also come in handy for Caribbean media trips when I’m traveling with other journalists who I may not know and I feel like I want to be more covered up. A long-sleeved suit just seems a bit more professional than a skimpy one! I’m only 4’ 9.5,” so I often get them from J. Crew Kids, where I take the largest girls’ size. Adult brands I like include Mott 50 and Axesea, and you can find really inexpensive versions on Amazon.
JetSet Sarah: https://www.jetsetsarah.com/