Hey fellow travelers! In my Celebrity Travel Addicts interview series, I chat with fellow travel content creators I admire and pick their brains about all things travel-related! In this edition, we speak with Nicole Smoot, the traveler, photographer, and storyteller behind the popular travel blog The Adventures of Lil Nicki! We chat with Nicole about her love for traveling to atypical destinations far off the beaten path, how travel has the ability to shift perspectives, her favorite destinations around the world, and more. Check out her best travel advice and find out where she’s off to next!
I always had an interest in travel growing up, whether I was looking at colorful images in books at the school library, or balancing foil on the bunny ears to get channel 7 to come in on the TV to watch National Geographic Explorer on Sundays. I never had the opportunity to travel outside of Alaska until I was about 11 years old for the first time. It wasn’t until I was 16 and went to Mexico though that I started thinking of how I would incorporate it into my life.
Although travel is the ultimate freedom to me (not to mention a luxury and a privilege), it’s really about learning, understanding, and acceptance. There have been countless times that I’ve had preconceived notions about certain cultures, their traditions, or religion before visiting a destination, but after returning my perspective had shifted. I truly believe that traveling generally opens people’s eyes and minds, and challenges them to empathize more and accept and appreciate our differences. When you finally get to meet and speak with people with very different lifestyles and backgrounds from you it helps to form a better understanding between cultures even if our rudimentary beliefs are quite different.
I started a blog a little over 5 years ago to essentially write about my travels after a little pushing from family and friends to do so. Back then I didn’t exactly know what blogging was, aside from being an online diary. I didn’t even know there were people making incomes and businesses online.
By the point I began blogging, I was already traveling to atypical destinations whenever I had the chance to go somewhere and I figured that would be my main focal point. Paired with the fact that I have a habit of getting into odd predicaments that turn into full-blown misadventures that looking back on usually turn out to be quite entertaining. Those couple caveats gave me the idea that I could blog about off the wall destinations and figure everything out the hard way so that you don’t have to.
I don’t feel like I necessarily sought out off the beaten path destinations from the beginning, they sort of just found me. Socotra, Tajikistan, and Moldova were three places hovering around the top of my list since my late teens. Socotra ended up on my radar because of a list of peculiar places around the world that popped up on the MSN homepage (this was like 2003 of 2004). I saw Dragon Blood Trees and wild beaches and knew that was somewhere I had to see if the opportunity ever arose. A year or so later, Tajikistan came to me from a random image search when I was scrolling through photos of mountains and I stumbled upon someone’s photos from a trek into the Fann Mountains, including Chimtarga Pass and those names stuck with me. Moldova I was assigned as the main subject of a project in a social studies class in grade 10 and as I researched more about the little-known country in Eastern Europe, the more I found it fascinating.
I think always being naturally allured to offbeat places has in a way shaped my interests, to be honest. Paired with the fact that I’m from a place with such a small and sparse population, a selfie-stick wielding mob of tourists is an anxiety-inducing thought to me and has kept me away from a lot of the iconic destinations most people gravitate to (or at least away from them in the peak season).
I think my first trip through Yemen and Socotra is probably the most memorable and important trip I’ve taken. As I mentioned earlier, Socotra has firmly been atop my list of places I wanted to see. This was about 10 years after I was made aware that the island existed. But as I would do occasional research, I started to become more and more enamored with the whole of Yemen as well. By late 2013 I had already been talking back and forth with Socotra Eco Tours about arranging a visit. At around the same time, my grandmother had fallen ill somewhat abruptly. As the month of December crept on she pleaded with me to book a trip somewhere as I hadn’t traveled overseas in a while and her health was improved and looked like she’d have a smooth recovery. I booked the trip for January and went about life.
Well, my grandmother took a sharp turn for the worse about two weeks before my departure, so I had decided that I would assess things as the date neared and potentially have to cancel at the last minute. Six days before I was set to leave, she passed away. At that moment I knew I had to go, she’d have killed me if I’d have stayed behind to feel sorry for myself. What else did I have to lose after all?
It wasn’t the easiest trip I’ve taken, from the perspective of the chosen location or the situation I was in when I left for it, but I think because of the rollercoaster of events leading up I appreciated travel a lot more because it was my first time experiencing how finite life is.
Alaska is wild and untamed and that’s what I adore about it. It’s one of those places where the more effort you exert and the further you push your limits the bigger the reward. My favorite things to do when I’m between trips back home mostly involve outdoor activities. With hundreds of thousands of mountains and glaciers, the hiking opportunities are endless, and with more than 3 million lakes and 6,640 miles of coastline, there are more than a few places to kayak or canoe across. When people ask me what they should do in Alaska, I always tell them to rent a car, road trip, camp, hike, fish, kayak and enjoy the endless nature.
It depends on the year. In 2016, 2017, and 2018 I traveled for a little under six months each year. In 2019, after having had plans to spend more time at home I was only away about four months. In 2020, it’s hard to say, with the ensuing Coronavirus pandemic, but it’s really looking like I’ll spend a lot more time home this year which I’m okay with given the situation.
I have been focusing on reducing the number of trips I do take each year and trying to condense my travels into fewer, but longer trips that focus on a single country or region and via overland travel as much as possible. This is partially because I don’t want to constantly be flying, but also because I’m a nervous flyer at all, to begin with.
For the people that land on my blog researching their next trip I hope they find the tools, resources, and information they need to make it happen. For the people that come across my work via my photography, I hope that showing some of these lesser-known parts of the world stims a curiosity to travel there one day themselves or at least to want to learn more about the location or its inhabitants and culture.
I’d say Yemen + Socotra, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan likely top my list, but that’s a loaded question!
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, the best place to have lunch, the best sightseeing, etc.
My top 5 for each would be:
Yemen + Socotra
*Bonus 6. Try the uniquely Tajik dish of Kurutob at Kurutob Olim in Dushanbe.
I’m not 100% sure at this point! I’d have to sit down, make a list and count. I stopped counting once I started spending a lot of time in autonomous territories and separatist regions. I will say in the last couple of years I have not visited many new countries as I have been returning to the same few to travel more extensively.
This is another hard question to answer for me because there are so many places with amazing cuisines! So not counting Alaskan seafood, I think I would have so my all-time favorite is Cypriot. Southeast Asian cuisine (Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese) and Mexican I’d say round out the top three for me. Since I was limited to three, I’d like to add that I also love Yemeni, Afghan, Egyptian, Dungan and Uyghur cuisine.
7 St. Georges Tavern in Paphos, Cyprus. It’s a small family-run restaurant and there is not a menu. You’ll simply be asked if you want red or white wine and if you have any food allergies or intolerances. After that, it’s plate after plate of delicious Cypriot goodness. All the ingredients used are locally made on the family farm or sourced locally.
Well, I’m gonna be honest- I rarely ever watch movies. I just Googled ‘travel movies’ and clicked on IMDB’s article ‘The 25 Best Travel Movies of All Time’ for ideas, and it turns out I haven’t seen a single one on the list.
I’d say probably Dubai, Ashgabat, Taipei, and Incheon, are probably my favorites. Though if the questions is to fly into, I’d say Juneau because the views over Glacier Bay on a clear day and the look of the wingtips nearly touching the snow-capped peaks on either side of the plane is mildly terrifying, yet beautiful.
Dushanbe, Tajikistan for sure (I may be biased after spending to much time there), but there are heaps of other cities I could list off.
My friends, Jolie, Tay, Jeremy and Dan (as in Dan from Dan Flying Solo).
I’d say if I’m in motions, like in airplane- probably sleeping. Honestly, though, I rarely have time to kill in my travels.
Probably Antarctica if you ask most people. To be completely honest, Antarctica didn’t exactly feel exotic to me given where I come from (Though I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity).
For me, I’d say the tours I’ve lead in Mainland Yemen, Socotra, Eastern Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Northern Pakistan were probably the more exotic (and fun) of my work-related travels.
Just go. I know a lot of people hold back because they’re scared to go alone, or because of what friends and family back home say (it’s dangerous there, a woman shouldn’t travel alone, are you insane?!?). Of course, do your research and know what you’re getting into, but if you’re waiting for someone to go with you or for someone else’s approval, you may die on your couch and never had gone anywhere.
I can’t think of four things I truly need to have with me for all my travels as we as humans are truly resilient and can usually find a means to survive in a lot of situations if we absolutely had to… but then again my backpack, busting at the seams says otherwise.
Dream destinations that I want to visit and haven’t yet would be Sikkim, India; Astola Island, Pakistan; Chad; Niger; Abd al Kuri (part of the Socotra Archipelago); Nuristan, Ghazni, Ghor, Kunduz, and Takhar Provinces in Afghanistan; and several destinations in Northern Yemen that aren’t currently possible.
I was supposed to be accompanying two groups to Turkmenistan right now actually, but that fell through due to the current Coronavirus outbreak. In May I tentatively have a work trip back to Karakalpakstan (Uzbekistan) that will more than likely be canceled. After that, I have a project that will be taking me back to Tajikistan this fall but may need to be postponed for obvious reasons.
Alaska bred, Nicole was born for adventure travel. She spends her days venturing to some of the most inaccessible corners of the planet, from Antarctica to Moldova, Tajikistan to Yemen, Karakalpaktan to the Republic of Artsakh and countless places in between. She started her adventure travel blog in 2015 and spends much of her time growing her content.
When not traveling, Nicole is based at home in Southcentral Alaska.
To learn more about Nicole, be sure to check out her website. You can also connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!
97 Countries • 1400 Cities
Leave a Reply