Fresh Start: Cultural and Sustainable Travel in the Caribbean and Beyond

Almost ten and a half years ago, on the heels of Thanksgiving Week 2008, I took the massive leap of faith I’d been planning all year. I left my job at a prestigious law firm in Washington DC to travel long term. It was a self-imposed sabbatical from the twelve-hour days of work-commute-home routine that had become my life. I’d teach myself photography and create a blog — called Sunshine and Stilettos, after two things I loved at the time — to share stories on my immersive, cultural experiences on the road in Jamaica. I’d also figure out and redesign my career and my life all over again. I was in my prime, in my thirties. What’s the worst that could happen?

Bit by the Caribbean bug in 2005 on a three-week visit to St. Lucia, Martinique and St. Vincent. Trust me, the stilettos are no longer in the picture!

Fast forward to December 2018: I was sprawled on my couch, in Santo Domingo, for at least two weeks. I’d just returned from extended work travel all over the Dominican Republic that year (again), to Belize back and forth three times, to Barbados, and the Bahamas, not to mention Austin, New York, and DC. My utter exhaustion was soothed by a heart filled with gratitude. It had been a productive year: researching and writing two 300+-page guidebooks for Moon Guides, working as chief editor of a biannual visitor magazine for the Belize Tourism Industry Association, writing all new destination brochure and website content for the Dominican Republic’s tourism board, and completing other content marketing writing for travel brands.

Along the way, I was humbled to receive writing and blogging award nominations. I picked up three from Barbados, including one for Best Blog Article of the Year (quite a feat because I could barely blog in 2018), plus a CTO finalist nomination for a CNN travel article and photo essay on Curaçao.

As incredible as 2018 and the prior years have been in landing writing and photography work, I realized that my travel blog has suffered for it. I was busier writing for other travel outlets and clients, not to mention researching my guidebooks. No complaints! But my posts became sporadic and focused on career updates.

After winning that Best Blog Award for my story on Rediscovering Barbados on Two Wheels, I realized that it was exactly this type of insider story that I loved to tell: exhilarating, unique ways of immersing and experiencing the Caribbean (or any place for that matter). The comments from the judges, am told, were: “This is what a travel story really is. We felt as if we were biking right next to her, along Barbados’ coastline.” I hadn’t shared this type of story on my blog in a long time. Many more of my stories and tips from the road were buried in my notes and memories.

The big travel outlets were focused on luxury brands and mass tourism in the Caribbean, or on listicle-type coverage written by non-experts in the destination. Plus, I wanted to keep telling meaningful, sustainable travel stories from my perspective as a serial expat and one of the few US travel writers based in the Caribbean long-term. I wanted to keep sharing immersive travel tips with my readers.

These past three months, regrouping at home and reflecting on what I’ve achieved and the kind of work I’d like to be doing going forward, I’ve decided to take on new challenges. The first of these, in case you haven’t noticed? Breathing new life into my blog.

Before I explain how I’m doing it, here’s a recap of why I created and kept my blog, as well as the philosophy that drives my work. It’s part of a 31-day blogging booster course I’ve signed up for this month.

Why I created Sunshine and Stilettos

Looking back at the past ten years, it’s clear to me that my success in travel writing and photography wouldn’t have happened so quickly if it weren’t for my blog! It’s incredible to think that a website I initially created to share stories and images from the road — just because I was passionate about cultural travel — was critical in shaping my travel career. My blog helped me land my first “real” gig in 2011 and it was a solid factor in landing my second one, which continues today (I can’t believe it’s been seven years).

So what was the original thought and purpose behind Sunshine and Stilettos?

If travel is the best life education there is, then growing up abroad and being an expat from a young age, by choice, is the ultimate privilege. I grew up with a passion for culture and heritage, and a desire to learn about other people around the world. It’s what undoubtedly led me to travel writing, photography and blogging. I learned to speak four languages fluently from a young age— including French, Spanish, and Amharic. I tagged along on my parents’ business or leisure trips to Europe, America, Africa, and studied on all three continents. Wanderlust ensued, naturally!

This multi-continent and third culture upbringing has been my biggest blessing, and the gift that keeps on giving. It’s part of why I feel compelled to share my unique perspective and use my voice to influence others to travel in an immersive, meaningful way.

I chose to focus on the Caribbean back then because it’s a region I fell in love with when I started traveling solo for fun in 2005. And it’s a region packed with culture and history, more visible and mentioned now than it was in the past. It’s also where I launched my travel writing and photography journey.

Today, the Caribbean is still my home and I plan to continue focusing on my current backyard, the Dominican Republic, and the region. But I’m also ready to incorporate other destinations with a similar focus. In the end, I’m a third culture kid who will always be curious about the world.

A fresh beginning: Sharpening my blog’s focus

Every day I ask myself the same question, and it guides my work: How can I guide and help people to travel in the most fulfilling, yet responsible way possible — even in a region where mass tourism dominates? How do I convince and share ways to immerse fully in the culture and connect with nature, while making a direct positive impact with their travel dollars?

I’ve been doing this widely across my books, articles and photography, but I’m sharpening and tightening my message.

How will I do this?

*Consistently writing multimedia stories on cultural, adventure, nature and people-to-people activities and experiences.

*Highlighting local businesses who are overshadowed by big foreign companies, particularly those that are women-led.

*Reviewing eco-friendly hotels and other tourism entities making a big mark on their communities.

*Showcasing national parks, protected areas, beaches, and other nature spaces — as well as sharing how to explore them responsibly.

*Sharing local stories of interactions with visitors putting their travel dollars where it counts.

*Reporting on major environmental and other social issues in the Caribbean and beyond, where relevant.

Exploring for culture and nature, while giving back to the destination I visit, is how I’ve always explored countries from a young age, from Africa to the Caribbean. As a travel journalist, I’ve also evolved and learned more about promoting ethical tourism.

Now that the world and travelers are becoming more conscious of their choices, the industry has coined phrases that are now recognized worldwide: sustainable tourism, community tourism and social impact travel.

Despite tourism being one of the largest economic sectors in the world, it remains a privilege for the few. That’s why it’s critical to bring balance to the destinations we visit.

Sustainable travel and community tourism continue to evolve slowly across the Caribbean, thanks in part to disruptive models such as AirBnB as well as community leaders. But there’s still much to be done, to learn and to discover across the region. Living in a developing country year-round over these past few years has opened my eyes to the important stories that aren’t being reported, where tourism awareness and support could make a big difference.

Sunshine and Stilettos will continue to guide through untold, inspiring stories on sustainable travel from the Caribbean — from food to outdoor adventures, heritage, history and more — that will help readers plan unique trips, while making a positive impact along the way.

Last but not least, I plan to expand the blog from the Caribbean to “beyond.” This means I’m open to covering similar regions and destinations with a sustainable travel focus.

So welcome (back) to the revamped to Sunshine and Stilettos, my 10-year old baby! Expect exciting and informative green stories and photography, and immersive travel tips from the Caribbean and well beyond.

A renewed focus: Cultural, green travel stories from the Caribbean and beyond at Click To Tweet

You can start now with my most recent posts. Read about the latest sustainable ways to explore Belize right now; explore the protected Saona Island in the Dominican Republic while avoiding the crowds; or journey to Crooked Tree Village, a small Kriol settlement in Belize now offering fun cultural tours. You can also catch up here on past stories.

As for the stilettos, which some of you still ask me about, I ditched them a long time ago (for the most part). What you’ll always find, however, somewhere in my posts, is a good dose of sunshine.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the form below. You’ll be the first to receive new posts and other special news and tips.

Not into newsletters? Find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also get in touch by email. Feel free to share this post with your fellow “green-loving” travelers and businesses.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my blog’s renewed focus and mission! Leave me a comment here or via social media.

Comments are closed.