Tell us a bit about yourself and your passion for travel.
My name is James Matthew. I’m a 35-year old African- American teacher, currently in the UAE. I’ve been here for 5 years now. I’m originally from Louisville in Kentucky and have lived in the Washington DC metro area before I moved to the UAE in 2014.
My first international trip was in 2006 in the summer after my graduation. I travelled with my mom who is a medical missionary (a nurse). We visited Kenya that year. At that time, international travel was a new thing for me as I had only travelled within the United States.
When I came here to the UAE, the first vacation I had was the National Day in December 2014. We travelled as a group to Egypt. I would say that that trip sparked the passion to travel which has now honestly become an addiction. But I think it’s a healthy addiction. Outside of travel, I love my faith, being with friends, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. I also love to sing and dance.
How would you describe your fashion style when travelling?
I would describe my travel style as fashion-forward yet practical. I like to be stylish while travelling, but also have to take into account both my place of stay and my activities there. However, I must say that there have been times when I decided that I wanted to wear a particular outfit that might not have been the most practical or comfortable one (especially for an entire day out being a tourist), but it was necessary for the right photo. In general, though, I try to marry both the fashionable and practical styles of outfits.
How do you usually pack your outfits when travelling?
I plan my outfits before travelling. But they are not all “set in stone.” Some pieces are paired in advance and I also pack separates that can be mixed and matched to make several outfits, depending on my mood and the weather or activity.
What are your top 3 tips when packing luggage?
My top 3 tips are:
- Pack with your destination in mind (culturally and climatically). Don’t pack beach clothes when you are heading to a conservative nation where you will be walking inside the city most of the times.
- Pack outfits that can be worn with the same shoes. Shoes are often both heavy and bulky. So I suggest packing clothes that can be worn with the same shoes to save both room and weight in your luggage.
- DO NOT OVERPACK and always save room for shopping. This is a hard one for all of us travellers, but it’s necessary to learn properly so that you can cut back on time spent on packing things you won’t wear, along with saving money, especially when travelling on low-cost airlines where weight is a factor when paying for bags.
What’s the best way to pack a suit when travelling?
When packing a suit, the best way is to use a garment bag (used as your carry on or personal item) that can be either hung in the closet of the plane or folded NEATLY and placed in the overhead cabin above the seat.
How many countries have you explored so far?
I have been blessed to travel to 63 countries and territories thus far (count as of June 2019).
If you could list 5 destinations as your favourites, which would they be?
My top 5 travel destinations would be:
- Cartagena in Colombia
- Paris in France
How do you decide where to travel to next?
There are multiple ways I choose my next destination. But in general, when I see something through my time browsing travel IG accounts or the Internet and I like it... Then, I decide to go. ‘When’ I go is determined by the weather in that place (I’m not a huge cold weather fan) and the time off allowed from work. I also decide on destinations based on flight deals. Nothing wrong with saving some cash while travelling!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt during your travels? The most interesting thing I’ve learned when travelling is that taking just a small amount of time to try and learn a bit about the people and place that you are going to, will make all the difference in the world. People appreciate that you are visiting and interested in their culture (language, history, etc.,) and not just there to take a good picture for social media. Learning to say hello, please and thank you in a local language goes a long way.
What’s the biggest first-world problem you face? The biggest first-world problem for me as an American is when applying for visas in advance. I’m so spoiled by this passport that when I have to do paperwork and apply for visas before I go somewhere (especially if it’s a long process), I can become frustrated easily.
Tell us about your top airport hacks.
- Make sure your travel clothing is security-ready. You don’t need to wear all your jewellery and belts before going through security... You hold up the line for undressing just to go through a scanner, and then you have to get dressed again. So just put it all in your carry on when you go through security.
- Check-in with the flight in advance and just use bag drop (this saves major stress).
- Keep both your laptop and liquids easily accessible. You know you will need to take these things out when going through security. This helps expedite the process.
Any travel apps you’d like to recommend?
- Skyscanner (for flights)
- Culture Trip (for planning)
- Hotels.com (for lodging... Every ten hotel rooms booked equals a free one. And the prices are cheaper when using the app.)
How do you share your travel stories with the world?
I should be blogging... I know... But currently, I document my travel through social media (Instagram and Facebook).
What comes to mind when you hear the names of these countries/cities?
- Maldives: Beaches, clear water, unforgettable
- Slovenia: Natural beauty, small, knows how to party
- Ireland: Friendly, green, temple street
- Croatia: Walled cities, Game of Thrones, beautiful views, beaches
- Australia: Far, kangaroos, poisonous animals, Sydney Opera House
- Budapest: Energy, inexpensive, friendly, walking city, architecture
- Serbia: Inexpensive, food, fun, welcoming friendly people
- Colombia: People, music, vibe, energy in the streets
- Venice: History, canals, architecture, unique
This or that?
- Trunks or winter boots? — Trunks
- Strict schedule or go with the flow? - Go with the flow
- City or countryside? — City
- Window or aisle seat? — Window seat
- Dorm or private room? — Private room