Our Meet the Travel Blogger Series continues this week with Stephanie Kempker from Myquarterlifeepiphany .
Our goal is to continue featuring leading travel bloggers from around the world. We’ve lined up some amazing bloggers for this series and hope that you enjoy the series. If you know of a travel blogger that would be an awesome addition to the series, let us know.
As the official venture focused on developing tourism in Jerusalem, we place great efforts in positioning Jerusalem as a primary international tourist destination.
(Last time, we interviewed Cheryl Howard)
Who is Steph?
I am an expat travel blogger at MyQuarterLifeEpiphany, and professional content writer and editor.
Originally from the United States, I spent two years living in Bangkok and traveling Asia, and am now in Brazil. My plan is to continue to base myself in a city that I love, while working, and traveling the surrounding area and countries on mini-trips… eventually experiencing the whole world as an expat-traveler.
Now, I live in Rio De Janeiro and spend the average weekday writing in the morning, and volunteering at a local program for children in the afternoon. On the weekends I like to hang out in Rio and travel to the surrounding towns. At least once every two months, I try to take a longer trip.
How did you get started on your blog?
I was really inspired by what I was seeing in Asia, and wanted to share it with my friends and fellow American peers back home, who might not travel.
I was shocked by how much I didn’t know about what was going on in the world outside of the US, the poverty and wealth disparity and the unfairness of how your birth place really affects the rest of your life. The whole “you can be anything you want to be” line that we (as Americans) get fed at birth does NOT apply to the rest of the world… and I wanted to share that. And maybe inspire others to do what they can to share what they can, with others who weren’t born into such privilege.
What inspired you to go out and travel the world?
I studied religion at university, and loved my classes on religions in Southeast Asia. I was always interested in other cultures, religions, and traditions
While working in marketing in Grand Rapids (Michigan), I took a one week trip to Thailand, alone, a place I had always dreamed of but had been waiting and waiting until I had a boyfriend or friend to go with me. One day I realized that I couldn’t wait anymore, because maybe I would be waiting forever.
A one week vacation turned into a lifestyle. I fell in love with Thailand (my first trip out of North America), canceled my flight ticket home, and ended up backpacking for 3 months before finding more meaningful work in Bangkok. Being based in Bangkok allowed me to travel a lot – mainly 3 or 4 days to one week long trips around Southeast Asia.
Favorite travel destination in terms of style and unique flavor?
I like small towns (Kompong Cham in Cambodia for example) or places that don’t cater solely to tourists, because I want to meet locals and know about their vision of the city.
I also love places that have significant historical or religious importance (Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Jerusalem, Rome).
Bonus points for walkability – I would prefer to walk everywhere (you see more, experience more, and meet more people that way), so I like to choose places that don’t require isolating taxis.
Best hotel you’ve stayed at is …
Railay Garden View in Railay, Thailand. Can’t beat your own little bungalow looking onto the sea.
Favorite City Besides Jerusalem Of Course…
Bangkok. I lived there for two years and it still has my heart. It’s a city with everything, and so conveniently in the heart of Southeast Asia.
When did you visit Jerusalem?
During Passover 2015 (I was in Israel for the first two weeks of April)
What was the purpose of your visit to Jerusalem? Business or pleasure?
Pleasure.. I’ve always been interested in Israel, especially lately, and I wanted to see it for myself.
Which sites in Jerusalem were your most impressed by?
- The Western Wall. It was right after Passover and there were so many people! I was lucky enough to have someone who lives in Jerusalem with me, and her family, so they explained the significance of the wall.
- The Israel museum, there were interesting exhibits of Jewish culture (like different menorahs and wedding clothes and jewelry and religious items from many different countries) and also stunning classic art and beautifully recreated rooms from Victorian and other areas. Everything was also signposted in English with excellent explanations.
- The Old City, just walking through it. The tight spaces should feel claustrophobic but somehow don’t, and are just beautiful and feel so full of history. I like how the walls, the supports, and the floors are all stone, everywhere. It makes you think of the hands that laid them, so long ago, and how many footsteps have worn them down.
Things that you missed?
I didn’t see any of the major Christian sites in Jerusalem. I’ll be back to Israel within the next year so I plan to make up for it then.
Did you eat at any awesome restaurants? Or see unique culinary creations?
- It was during Passover so I had a lot of Passover-approved bread and matzoh.
- “Brasserie ein Kerem” has the most amazing view, and really great vegan options (I’m a vegetarian)
- Breakfast at “Caffit” in the Botanical Gardens was super relaxing on the porch, with a view on the pond. They have an amazing Israeli breakfast (I think Israeli breakfast is the best in the world, and I am NOT a breakfast person.. but I looked forward to every single breakfast on my trip and miss it now)
- For drinks, “5 May” in Machane Yehoda market had tons of options for everyone and really great late-night snacks.
- I went to a falafel place in Abu Gosh on the way out of Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and it was AMAZING. Simple but so so so good.
What are some of the most important things you have learned along your journey?
– I’ve learned that there’s more than one way to live your life, and that I need more than a comfy desk job and 10 vacation days (the typical American allowance) a year to be fulfilled and experience the world… and that I’m willing to sacrifice salary for more time. The only truly limited resource we have as humans is time -there’s always more money, there’s never more time.
– It is important to experience people and situations first-hand before passing judgment – especially if you watch mainstream American news and media. For example, this applies to the incorrect and biased propaganda promoted against Israel. In Thailand, it was the United States’ very positive stance on the (corrupt) former Prime Minister Yingluck.
– You are the ambassador of yourself, and how you treat other people is so much more than a passing interaction.
– Your passion needs you, and the world needs your passion. You have something to offer that no one else does, and it is up to you to find it, and find time for it. Maybe you can find it at your current job, maybe you can find time for it after work, and maybe you can’t. Hating your job or feeling unsatisfied or unfulfilled in your life is NOT better than taking a chance at doing more (even if you fail).
With so much travel under your belt, were there any big highlights? Any downsides or unexpected complications?
Partaking in an important tradition of a culture that isn’t your own is the biggest highlight I can imagine – so celebrating Carnaval in Rio, Songkran in Thailand, and my first-ever Passover in Haifa.
For destination highlights, Schwedagan Paya (the Golden Temple) in Myanmar is one of those rare places that is significantly better in person – not only for the beauty of the temple but the welcoming kindness of the people. Another top highlight was when I biked through the Mekong Discovery Trail and stayed with villagers on a small river island in Cambodia. I was lucky enough to witness a family of rare pink river dolphins.
A downside or unexpected complication worldwide has been women’s conditions. In Rio de Janeiro, this is excessive sexism, and harassment – men calling out, making crude gestures, and grabbing at women (in addition to the large numbers of rape). In Bangkok, the social acceptance of prostitution amongst the expat community is shocking.
The inequalities of education (between those who can afford private education and those who can’t) have been disheartening as well. If your parents can’t afford school, your future has pretty much been predetermined for you. Not everyone has the luxury of education, and I think those of us that have, should be appreciative and generous of the great gift that we’ve received.
You live in Brazil now, what attracted you to there?
I had lived in Thailand for 2 years, and the political situation (military takeover) was getting less and less favorable for foreigners. While Bangkok will always feel like home, I was ready to try something new, and I had never been to South America. Rio seemed like the “perfect” city for me, really walkable, with excellent public transportation, and a bunch of beaches! Who could say no?
Your blog has shifted towards weekend or 4-5 day visits to cities. What are you looking for in those 4 days?
I want to feel like what it feels to live in that city. Where do people eat? What do they do after work? Maybe most importantly – how do they spend their weekends? What do they do when they want to enjoy their city and culture? This is how I really experience a city.
I want to see the monuments, I want to experience the major sights, but I also want to dig deeper.
It isn’t just me, but also my readers. Most of my readers have full time jobs, and don’t have the lifestyle or the luxury (or the desire) to travel for months at a time. Is 4 days enough to experience a whole country? No. But I think it’s enough to really experience a city, or at least get past scratching the service. And that’s what I encourage.. taking time to experience a place more deeply, rather than checking off points in a to-do list.
Urban tourism. What does that mean for you and what attracts you to a city?
For me, urban tourism is experiencing a city like the people who live there do. I like to visit cities with good public transportation, a local food scene (something casual and unique to the city/country, not something I could get anywhere), cool markets, green spaces/parks, and high walkability.