While other babies screamed, a young Stefanie Michaels spent long plane trips giggling and cooing. And while other children played with toys, she was besotted with her father’s vintage typewriter.
Naturally, her parents anticipated a career in either travel or writing.
“Who knew that I’d find a way to do both?” she laughs.
One of the first 1,500 commercial sites on what was then referred to as the World Wide Web, Stefanie created Travel Partners as a photo journal of her travels.
Brand collaborations came flowing in and she soon found herself travelling the globe, detailing her adventures for a range of publications and, of course, her loyal online fans.
From defying gravity with astronaut Buzz Aldrin to swimming with dolphins at Paradise Island and feeding sharks in the Bahamas, Stefanie has ventured to nearly every corner of the globe and ticked off a large portion of her bucket list.
Her travel expertise has been called upon by the likes of CNN, Fox, and The Rachael Ray Show, and she’s been featured in Vanity Fair, TIME, People, and Marie Claire, just to name a few.
Stefanie sat down with The CEO Magazine to share her business secrets and travel recommendations for 2020.
Q. What’s your secret to success?
You have to do what you love. It has to be something that gets you up in the morning and gives you inspiration. And you also need to be a step ahead of everyone else. I’d always been a bit of a tech nerd, so getting my business online was a huge step.
Q. What’s one destination that stood out to you?
That’s a hard question for someone who travels for a living. The Blackwater River region in Papua New Guinea was truly eye-opening. The native tribes live in remote little villages on the water. There are men with bones through their noses and the women are topless and it’s absolutely fascinating to see how they live. When I visited, two of the tribes were at war over land and the tension was palpable.
Q. What destination is at the top of your bucket list?
Antarctica, without a doubt. I’ve been trying to get down there to camp with scientists who are based there. However, it’s extremely challenging to get to where they are compared to where you’d go on a fly-in fly-out visit. I’m determined to get there eventually.
Q. What destinations will we see trending in 2020?
Ireland is on everyone’s hot list right now. The people are amazing, the country is gorgeous, and it’s become a real foodie scene in recent years. A lot of chefs have come over from Europe and they’re utilising all the natural resources and fresh fish to create incredible food. Another trending destination is the Scottish Highlands, which is known for its natural beauty and hiking trails.
With a growing number of cities facing political turmoil or environmental disasters, travellers are seeking safe holidays. We’ll see Europe continue to trend, as well as destinations like Vietnam and Thailand. Meanwhile, in the US, road trips are becoming hugely popular – especially among European travellers looking to see multiple states in one go.
Q. Are you seeing sustainability play a greater role in the travel industry?
Yes and no. There are forward-thinking brands (like 1 Hotel West Hollywood) that have become completely green, and then there are those that are stuck in their ideal. Eventually, these brands will be forced to evolve. It’s so easy to do a simple Google search for hotels with green initiatives and find one that resonates with you – being green means different things to different people and brands.
Q. What are the most luxurious destinations you’d recommend?
St. Barts is an obvious choice. Another gorgeous high-end island is Mustique in the Caribbean, where Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez got engaged. In Byron Bay, Australia, there’s the Gaia Health Retreat & Spa founded by Olivia Newton-John, which is just beautiful. There’s Ashford Castle in Ireland, which recently underwent a US$75 million restoration.
If you’re looking for an ultra-luxe destination that most people wouldn’t think to visit, Nevis is the place to go. It’s a tiny little island off the coast of St. Kitts in the Caribbean. Bill Gates purchased the Four Seasons Resort there two years ago and he’s invested millions in it. It’s used by many as a tax haven, so it’s covered in empty mega-mansions and it doesn’t attract nearly as many visitors as Saint Kitts, so you don’t have to fight the crowds.
Q. Which underrated destinations are worth the visit?
There are a cluster of islands off the coast of North and South Carolina that are relatively unheard of, unless you’re a local. While you won’t find many hotels, you will find some fantastic Airbnbs that are perfect for an affordable summer holiday.
In the south of France, instead of a hotspot like Saint-Tropez, which can be really expensive, I’d recommend either St Paul De Vence in the hills or Antibes near the coast. Croatia has become really popular after Game of Thrones was shot there – and for good reason. The people are lovely, the seafood is delicious, and it has those azure Mediterranean waters. Neighbouring Slovenia and Albania are also like mini versions of Greece, but way more affordable.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is another destination that surprised me. There are so many beautiful towns so it’s a great place for a road trip.