For this month’s Hungry Traveler Interview, I am pleased to introduce Sean Lee. Sean graduated from the University of Cincinnati a few years before me but we were involved in many of the same campus organizations and have many friends in common. I’ve enjoyed following Sean’s travels on social media and was especially intrigued by his climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Check out the interview below for Sean’s impressive bucket list and some valuable travel tips.
Let’s start with some background. Can you tell us about yourself and why you travel?
I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and I still live there today. My wife and I live downtown in OTR (the hipster, foodie neighborhood) and we use Cincinnati as our home base for traveling. I grew up in a very modest family and we didn’t travel much at all. On average, we would take a vacation once every four years to classic midwesterner destinations like Gatlinburg, TN or Destin, FL. Since my parents were homebodies, I always knew I wanted to do the opposite and see the world. I am very fortunate that my current position as a global brand manager at P&G allows me to travel for work and tack on personal trips.
My personal philosophy is that I value “experiences over things.” I try to live my life in a way that allows me to spend my money on travel. My wife and I have a tradition of giving gift certificates for future experiences to each other for birthdays and holidays because travel is so important to us.
Sean in Barcelona
Tell us about your travels. Where have you been?
I really started seriously traveling in 2007, when I went on a trip to Haiti for nine days to help build a school and distribute medical supplies at local clinics. That trip was the first time I ventured out of the ‘U.S. bubble’ and it really had a deep impact on me. I grew so much from that trip by learning about different cultures and having conversations with locals about their political and worldviews. I’ve been hooked on traveling ever since.
Since that time, I’ve traveled to most major cities in North America (NYC, Toronto, Chicago, L.A., Boston, Portland, Austin, Dallas, etc), Mexico, the Caribbean, a handful of countries in Europe, and I’ve climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Sean in Haiti
What are some of your most memorable or best travel experiences?
It’s really hard to pin down my most memorable experiences, because every place I have travelled offers unique and fond memories. I’ll do my best to some them up.
Most Life Changing – Port Au Prince, Haiti 2007 – This is the trip that gave me the travel bug and made me appreciate different cultures. It really put into context the economic difficulties that some countries face. I will never forget spending a day in an orphanage and making friends with a little girl who had hopes of being adopted and going to the states. After I left, I remember breaking down into tears from our conversation. This trip changed my life for the better and made me want to see and experience other cultures.
Most Difficult and Most Breathtaking – Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania 2015 – This trip was one of the most challenging, but rewarding things I have ever done. It took two days of travel each way to get there and back and we stayed on the mountain for 7 days (five up, two down). The climate went from tropical rain forest, to alpine dessert, to below freezing with snow-capped glaciers. The days were challenging, but the food and good conversations in our tent at night made it all worthwhile.
Hanging out inside the tent on Mt. Kilimanjaro
Mt. Kilimanjaro Terrain
Most Fun – Manzanillo, Mexico 2013 – We stayed at a house on a ridge overlooking the bay of this Pacific Ocean Mexican port city. The city is so different from the stereotypical Mexican vacation spots you hear about (Cancun, etc). We went on some amazing adventure day trips. We zip lined thousands of feet above some beautiful Mexican forests. The safety standards are non-existent in Mexico, so the company gave us construction gloves to use to slow ourselves down. We also rented ATVs and rode through abandoned coast cities and sand dunes.
Most Relaxing – Virgin Islands, Multiple Years – I highly recommend going down to the Virgin Islands, renting a car and just getting lost trying to find non-touristy beaches. Some of my favorite beaches are Water Island, Coki beach, and the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke. The Soggy Dollar is very cool, because you can only get to the bar by boat. You have to swim into the bar, thus all your dollars get soggy.
Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke
Best Food – Spain, 2015 – My wife and I went to Spain for our honeymoon and it’s hard to say where we had the best food. All the Tapas were so good and we tried to find local spots off the beaten path. We explored local markets and took an epicurean tour. Overall, we went on a two week foodie binge that was the best I’ve eaten in my entire life.
So tell us a little more about Mt. Kilimanjaro. What were the best and worst parts about the trip?
The best part about the trip was the amazing scenery and the support staff we had to summit. Our group of nine had four guides and 30+ porters who helped us get up the mountain. We were a small army. The days were hard and we put a lot of miles on our boots, but the views made it all worthwhile. We walked through a rainforest and saw monkeys in the wild and we were in a cloud in the middle of hail storm. We experienced almost every climate the earth has to offer over a seven day period. After nine months of planning, when we finally reached to top of the mountain and the roof of Africa, the feeling was surreal.
The worst part about the trip was taking altitude sickness medicine called Diamox and getting food poisoning. The side effect of the medicine is that you have to pee… A LOT. This meant that you couldn’t get a good night’s sleep because you’d wake up every one to two hours. On my last day, I ate a traditional African meal to celebrate the summit. BIG MISTAKE. I ended up spending the next 24 hours with stomach problems and sweating non-stop. I had to take a harsh prescription medicine to get back to normal.
Tents on Mt. Kilimanjaro
Have you had any terrible travel experiences?
My worst travel experiences usually involve flying and delays. I must personally attract maintenance and weather problems. My wife keeps a log of all our issues. Two experiences really stand out as the worst. The first was an emergency landing in Corpus Christi, TX coming back from Mexico. We had to land to avoid a storm and we could not deplane because the airport did not have US customs. We sat on the runway for 4 hours. The bright side of the experience was that I tried every snack box that Delta has to offer.
The second bad experience happened on a flight home from Paris. We were in the air for 1.5 hours and we were about to enter the north Atlantic flight track. The pilot came over the radio and said that we had to return to Paris because a sensor on the wing went out. Overall, a nine hour flight turned into an 18 hour flight when all was said and done. However, Delta provided me with 40,000 free miles for the inconvenience. That’s the equivalent to a free flight to Hawaii. Not too bad for nine extra hours of watching movies on the plane.
Any memorable drinking experiences from around the world?
My most memorable drinking experience occurred when I stayed at an Airbnb with my friend Drew in Paris. When we checked in, our host gave us a matchbox and told us we could meet them at the address on the box for a drink. We figured this could either go poorly and or be incredibly awesome. Drew and I showed up and ended up going out with our host and his friends the entire night (well until 4:00a.m.). He took us to a local hipster bar in Montmartre that served amazing craft cocktails. I remember mine had Skittles in it and Drew’s had marshmallows. I can’t remember the name of the little bar, but we met so many cool local Parisians and didn’t see another tourist there.
Sean (on the right) at a cafe in Paris with his friend Drew
What is on your travel bucket list?
My travel bucket list is pretty extensive and ever evolving. My life goal is to visit every single continent (even Antarctica). Here are some near term items I’d like to do.
1.) Go dogsledding and visit the Blue Lagoon hot spring in Iceland
2.) Run the Great Wall of China Half Marathon.
3.) Stay on a hut over the water in Fiji.
4.) Go to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls.
5.) Go to Germany for Oktoberfest.
6.) Go to Rio for Carnival.
How do you avoid getting sick while traveling?
This is an easy one. I listen to the signals my body gives me. I make sure I get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, I drink tons of water on the plane and throughout the trip, and I wash my hands a little more than I normally would.
Sean and his wife, Robin, in Barcelona.
What advice do you have for novice travelers?
1.) Don’t over pack. I try to fit everything I need in my two carry on bags. It makes the trip easier in the long run and allows you to focus on the experience without any baggage to weigh you down (pun intended).
2.) Sign up for travel rewards programs. Pick an airline and a hotel chain to be loyal to and book all your travel with them. I average a couple free flights a year. That adds up quickly.
Any great travel resources you can share with us?
About Sean Lee
Sean is from Cincinnati and works at Procter and Gamble as a Brand Manager. He gets to travel for work and pleasure a lot. He has fell in love with traveling and believes you can learn so much and grow as a person by immersing yourself in different cultures.