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With this interview, say hello to Valentina from Valentina’s Destinations!
Valentina’s Destinations was born from my obsession with meticulously researching, organizing, and planning my travel itineraries. I’m originally from Serbia, but I grew up in Chicago. I love hunting down local restaurants, unique experiences, and hidden gems.
How long have you been blogging for? Why’d you decide to start a travel blog?
In college, I studied science. I thought about going to medical school and finally decided to get my Master’s in Medical Science and become a PA-C. In grad school, I suffered through memorization and formality. I craved the discussion, creativity, and engagement I felt in undergrad.
I realized I didn’t like “typical” medicine, and that I much preferred talking to people. I loved hearing their unique stories. Naturally, I landed a job in psychiatry (which I’m still at and absolutely love).
Although, when I started working… I felt this huge wave of restlessness wash over me. I was no longer commuting, I was no longer studying for hours each weekend. I had all this time and energy, and my psychiatry job wasn’t enough.
I wanted to do more, and I realized that I had a lot of excitement and passion for planning trips. I realized that my OCD-level organization and detailed approach in research towards planning trips might be of use to others.
I started my blog in the fall of 2018. It was my perfect creative outlet. My way to share my passion for travel with others.
Do you have any tips for new travel bloggers/aspiring travel bloggers?
Don’t waste your time with social media! Focus on a solid keyword strategy early. Take a good blogging course sooner rather than later, so that you can learn how to do this.
There’s some good free content out there, but much of it isn’t enough and can be confusing. Find a blogger you trust and take their course.
Looking back, I think I wasted a good year gaining a Pinterest and Instagram following. I wrote so many articles incorrectly (and I’m still slowly working to improve them).
What’s one thing you wish you knew before you started traveling?
I wish I had known how much my travel blog was going to enrich my travel experiences. I would have started my travel blog much sooner!
Why do you love to travel?
I love trying new food, learning about history & connecting with different people all over the world.
Cooking is one of my passions. I’ve appreciated having the opportunity to pursue this more deeply during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Since there’s been nothing else to do… I’ll pick out a few new recipes to try each week.
When I’m traveling, I love to sample local delicacies and try new flavors. It’s a form of creative exploration and inspiration. My favorite foodie experience was Italy — since then I’ve tried my hand at making Naples-style pizzas, fresh pasta, and homemade sauces.
I also love how history comes to life while traveling! History is one of those things that I didn’t care much about growing up. It’s one thing to read a story in a book. It’s completely different to walk through the lives of the people who lived that story.
When traveling, I try to explore every ruin, UNESCO site, and monument I can find. I love guided tours conducted by passionate locals.
Wherever I’ve been, I’ve noticed that despite differences in culture, we humans are far more alike than we are different. It’s really rewarding to make connections with people and learn more about their lives. Traveling helps to foster tolerance, respect, and unity among people.
What’s your best and worst travel experience?
In 2019, my boyfriend and I traveled to Pakistan to attend a wedding. It was one of the most life-changing travel experiences.
First of all, we couldn’t just fly to Pakistan, we needed to obtain a visa. It was somewhat scary because the US Government recommended against traveling to Pakistan at that time.
When we got there, we were welcomed so warmly by our friends. His family went above and beyond to make us feel safe and comfortable.
The wedding was the most lavish, beautiful, and artistic thing that I’ve ever seen! It was unbelievably colorful, lively, and fun.
We were dressed up in traditional garments & the family helped us to pick jewelry and accessories. It was so fun and different! We also got to tour incredible UNESCO sites in Lahore.
The most difficult aspect of the trip was seeing so many people living in poverty.
Also, some cultural aspects related to women were a little unsettling. It was strange (somewhat unnerving) to be in a place where you’re the only tourist, and everyone’s staring at you.
It’s an experience that I’m so glad to have & something I’d do over and over again if I had the opportunity to.
Do you prefer solo travel or traveling with other people? Why?
I prefer traveling with a companion.
My amazing boyfriend Remigijus is my main travel partner. We are extremely compatible with regard to our interests. We’re big foodies, we like to visit museums, we like to be on our feet the whole time, and we get along well together.
Although, it’s certainly much harder to travel when you and your travel companion don’t have the same activities in mind.
For example, when I traveled with my cousin, I was a bit shocked to hear that she didn’t like to visit museums. Although, she was a big sport and did up visiting a few of them with me.
What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been to? Why?
I’ll have to say Italy! Again, super obsessed with Italian food! Like, really, really obsessed.
Not only the pasta, pizzas, and bread. I also loved all the fresh ingredients and herbs that are locally grown. The artisan meats and cheeses.
The gelato, *sigh*. The quality of the food in Italy absolutely blew me away!
On top of all that, I love Italian wines and exploring vineyards. I’ve only been to Tuscany, so I hope to return soon and check out some more dynamic wine regions.
Besides food, Italy is a treasure trove of history and culture. It offers overflowing museums, ancient castles, mountains, lakes, beaches, and hiking opportunities.
Take me back to Italy ASAP!
What’s your biggest travel tip?
Use google maps while traveling. Google maps is great because it allows you to download the map you’ve created and use it offline while traveling.
Is there one specific thing you like to do, see, or buy in every place that you visit?
On my most recent trip, I sent a postcard to my grandparents in Serbia. It brought them so much joy! So, this is something that I’m excited to continue. I hope to make it a tradition soon enough.
Also, I do buy a magnet from every place I go. Super generic tourist thing, I know! Although, I love to see this collection growing on my fridge.
Is there one particular food that you’ve tried while traveling that you loved? What food was it and why do you love it so much?
I fell in love with empanadas in Mendoza. Manchego cheese in Spain. Mozart Kugel in Vienna. Cacio e Pepe in Rome. Burek from Belgrade. Dulce de leche in Buenos Aires. Stroopwafels in Amsterdam. Chapati bread in Lahore. Sorry, can’t pick just one!
Plane or train? Train
Hotel or hostel? Hotel
City or nature? City
Popular site or off the beaten path? Popular site
Suitcase or backpack? Suitcase
Fast travel or slow travel? Fast travel
Professional camera or iPhone photography? Pocket size digital camera 🙂
Warm or cold weather? Warm weather
All photos used throughout this post are courtesy of Valentina from Valentina’s Destinations.