Q&A With Megan Starr – One Of The Best Pure Travel Blogs Out There
I was lucky enough to have the chance to bounce some questions off of Megan Starr who, in my opinion, has one of the best pure travel blogs out there. The blog is of course named Megan Starr :). What makes Megan’s blog so great is that she travels to many areas that are not well known and shines the light on them so to speak. And her photography makes you feel like you are there with her. If you have not checked out her blog before, it is a must. I asked her if she was willing to answer some of my off the wall questions and she was gracious enough to accept. So sit back, relax, and get ready to be inspired!
I know that you are on the move often staying in hotels, with friends, house sitting (I loved the Wales house-sitting article by the way) but do you also have a home base? And how often during a regular month do you find your head hitting the home team pillow so to speak?
I actually don’t have just one home base- I now have two thanks to my string of bad luck getting visas. Frankfurt, Germany and Yerevan, Armenia are my ‘homes’ right now. I have no idea how much time I spend in either but I know it is never long enough to catch my breath! I hope 2019 brings a bit more stability. Most of my business is now taking place in Yerevan and that is where my office is so I am not exactly sure what the future entails. Standby!
Since you do a lot of solo travel I was wondering if you have any tips for solo trips, and women in particular, on how to stay safe and explore an unfamiliar area on your own? Or any words of encouragement for people that don’t often consider solo travels?
To be fair, I just put my trust in people. Most people are good and are just as curious about you as you are them. I try to be vigilant and stay alert which is crucial as a female but I have definitely learned that most of my threats are in my own backyard. I’ve never had anything stolen… except in good ol’ Frankfurt, Germany… my home. I also tend to travel to places where people aren’t used to heavy tourism and haven’t learned to take advantage of that yet… they are just happy to see someone there.
The goal of your blog is to explore the unexplored and to find the hidden beauty of the world so to speak. Can you give me a few locations that unexpectedly took your breath away?
So many places have blown my mind over the years. I recently got back from the Greek Islands, a place I had long ignored due to the assumption that it was just overrun with tourism, but it turns out that there are more islands than just Santorini and Mykonos (who knew?!)… and the islands I went to were remarkable and still give me chills just thinking about them. I have to say that my two favorite countries that I think are severely underappreciated are Armenia and Kazakhstan, however.
Armenia just has so much to offer from scenery to fresh food and wine to some of the most hospitable people in the world. And Kazakhstan easily has the most beautiful landscapes I have ever witnessed in my life. It is one of those places that you just can’t wait to show off to people because no one knows! What a magical and underrated country!
The top location or two you have still yet to see but can’t wait to check out?
Ugh… Russia. I have only been to Moscow and I am dying to visit Russia extensively. From
Kamchatka to the Kola Peninsula… I want to see it all and spend a lot of time getting to know the country. Now if I could just score that Russian visa!
I also want to see Western Kazakhstan. I have spent so much of my life in Kazakhstan but I
tend to go to the same places over and over. It is really time for me to venture west and see what the hype is out there. Apparently, the scenery is pretty sick and I can’t wait to witness it with my own eyes.
The older I get, the less desire I have to travel to new countries and places. I could have
picked anywhere to explore and I picked two countries I have already been in, albeit different regions. Not sure if that is a bad thing or good thing… but I’ll opt for the latter.
The place you visited in the last 12 months that you would be most likely to make a return visit to?
Everywhere. In 2018, I spent three months in Central Asia and three months in Armenia. I have already been to Armenia in 2019 and am heading back there in two days for a couple of months. I will be in Central Asia in October again. Otherwise, I struggle to stay away from Italy. If I need a weekend away from Frankfurt, Italy is always where I end up. Maybe they will hook me up with a visa on the sole basis that I love the country.
If you close your eyes and imagine one meal in one place throughout all of your travels what is the place and meal that stands out most to you?
I am a die-hard ramen fan and think that this would be the place for that… but since I haven’t been to Japan, I am going to go with shopska salads from the Balkans. There is something about tomatoes that don’t taste like cardboard that makes me salivate (sorry, German tomatoes). After living in Norway for four years and relocating to Frankfurt, I remember struggling for a few months due to lack of accessible nature (darn you, Norway) and I booked a last-minute ticket to Skopje, (North) Macedonia. Once there, I bolted for Lake Ohrid and as soon as I arrived, I ate a shopska right on the lake by myself. I remember feeling so relaxed and happy during that moment and it has stuck with me. Shopska salads have been one of my favorite foods since.
I believe that we all have a travel destination that feels like home, maybe even more than our regular home. Mine is a place I went to as a child in Northern Michigan and now I get to take my children there and share it with them. Do you have a similar place like that?
If I can name a place stateside, it would definitely be Pittsburgh. I was born in the Ohio Valley nearby but never really lived there after being born there. However, my whole family except my parents still lives in the Pittsburgh and Ohio Valley area… so when I go there, I feel so comfortable and at home. After moving to Norway in 2011, I make it a point to go to Pittsburgh every year when I am back in the US and it is the place that feels so comfortable and like home to me. Doesn’t hurt that I cheer for all of their sports teams…
As for places abroad that feel like home- Yerevan, Armenia , Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Kiev, Ukraine. I have already gone into detail about the first two, but Kiev is definitely up there. If someone asks me what my favorite city in the world is, I’ll tell them the Ukrainian capital every time. Something about the city, its energy, and the many things to do in Kiev just inspires me.
I know that you are a big craft brew lover (myself as well) so let’s do a rapid fire session of sorts on the topic:
Best beer city you have been to?
Kiev, Ukraine. Just book that ticket and let your mind be BLOWN.
Favorite craft beer (or two) you have had?
Oh goodness … where shall I start? I guess I’ll just give my hometown of Richmond, Virginia a shoutout and say that I have had some incredible beers at Veil Brewing Company there. As odd as this sounds, I tend to hit a sweet spot with beers at 6.5%. If it sits at that, there’s a good chance I’m going to like it. How weird is that?? Brewers and craft beer enthusiasts are shaking their heads at me in disappointment.
Coolest brewery/pub atmosphere you have been to?
Smokehouse in Chisinau, Moldova. After a really long travel month, I wandered in this craft beer bar only to find a state of Virginia flag hanging behind the bar. I felt so at home that I never wanted to leave. The copious amounts of delicious beer sold there didn’t help things.
Best city to pull up a chair, grab a pint, and mingle with the locals?
Pittsburgh. Such friendly and fun people and I never have negative encounters when there. I absolutely love it. I also really like Hamburg. Sitting at the many bars and Hamburg cafes when I am there always leads to new friendships. Hamburg is a much friendlier and open city than Frankfurt!
Your must have snack with a beer while watching your beloved Ohio State Buckeyes?
Dried fish. I think this is a sign that I have spent far too much time in post-Soviet countries. It would be remiss of me to not say Buckeyes (the chocolate and peanut butter treat that dreams are made of), but Europeans don’t have the same appreciation for peanut butter like I do (it’s a tragic thing really).
I recently wrote an article about how social media, bloggers, and influencers have skewed our travel perceptions and happiness. During our talks you said that you had to step away from Instagram (IG). I know I am probably far from the first person to tell you this but your website photos are like the ingredients of awesomesauce 🙂 and basically perfect for IG. So I was curious to hear that you got off IG and was wondering if your thought process or reasoning was similar to mine or if there was another reason?
Well, thank you very much for the compliment (I’ll take a compliment that includes the word ‘awesomesauce’ any day!) Sadly, I just hated Instagram. I love taking photos and I love sharing my favorite places with the world… especially since so many places I travel to are in need of increased tourism. But, I have also seen places like Iceland and Norway suffer from the tourism they now receive and a lot of it has come at the hands of Instagram (never blaming the app itself but rather the irresponsible way it is used). After years and years of whining about the app and what I have seen unravel in front of my very eyes, I decided it just wasn’t a great fit for my business and deleting it was the best way forward for me. To be honest, I haven’t missed it yet. Not at all. I was over it long before deleting it.
In addition (I suppose you wanted to short answer… sorry!), so many brands don’t know what they are doing and so many influencers are the same. I am seeing these terrible partnerships forming between brands who only focus on numbers (which are more often than not, fabricated or bought) and these influencers who promise the moon and the stars and know dang well that they can’t deliver, but hey, they scored a ‘free’ trip. The lack of business acumen and knowledge in influencer marketing is abhorrent and as someone with a heavy business background, it astounds me. So, my day is made slightly more pleasant by spending those extra 10 minutes that would have been spent on Instagram watching dog videos on Facebook.
Our site focuses a lot about reducing the cost of travel with miles and points. I know you don’t really talk about the topic much but I was wondering if you use them at all in your travels? If not (or even if yes) are there any money saving tips you have picked up along the way that you would be willing to share?
I’m glad you saved this question for near the end because if the readers here were to know
my money management skills, they would run far, far away. I don’t use miles and points and I don’t save money. But, I’m an optimist… so one day? My parents must be very proud.
As an Ohio State fan, and me being a big Michigan State fan, what is it with Wolverine fans? I kid I kid – I just couldn’t resist 😉
I am starting to gain a bit of respect for Wolverine fans, to be honest. It must be really hard supporting an overrated program that can’t deliver year after year. You guys are lucky to have a really good craft beer scene in Michigan that can tend to this ongoing problem.
Any parting words/inspiration you would like to share with the fellow travelers out there?
My only advice is that there is no right or wrong way to travel (so long as you do it ethically
and sustainably). If you like cruises- go on a cruise and have a blast. If you want to go to an all-inclusive resort, I’m probably jealous of all the food you’re going to eat. If you like traveling off-the-path, do your thing and show me your photos later. Don’t let people tell you that your travel isn’t ‘good enough’ or ‘real enough’. Just be sure you leave a destination a better place than you found it.
My sincerest thanks to Megan once again for being willing to talk travel with me. I know I will continue to share her articles often in our Around the Web series and I may or may not be looking up Kiev flights as you read this 😉. I need to buy Megan a beer and get her into the miles and points world too!