Name: Cessalee Smith-Stovall
Location: Home Free (sounds better than Homeless)
Occupation: Musical Theatre Actress
Number of Countries Visited: 25
Last Country Visited: Morocco
What is your favorite country you have visited and why?
Because I adore seeing other places, this is a really hard question to answer. But for the overall awesomeness, it comes down to Belize and Iceland for me. But I’m going to pick Iceland. It’s so far from both my “vacation” norm and my personal norm, the food, the land, the weather, the people, the activities. It pushed me to find ways to enjoy things I never would have done and can’t imagine doing anywhere else!
What is your least favorite country you have visited and why?
There’s something to love about everywhere I’ve been able to see. I guess if I had to pick a least favorite I’d say the Bahamas, but ONLY because when I worked on a cruise ship for almost a year, it was our only port other than a private island and Port Canaveral. Nassau gets pretty boring after about five months!
What countries are on the itinerary for this year?
So far this year, I’ve seen England, Ireland, and Morocco. Up next are Bolivia, Peru and Australia!
When did you start traveling? Did it start at an early age for you?
When I was a kid we traveled a good amount domestically. My mom tells a story that when I was about four we were on a long flight and she had fallen asleep. When she woke up, I was sitting in the lap of the person next to her, reading her one of my books.
Why do you travel? What is your personal reason for traveling?
For me, there’s no better way to understand another person than to see them for myself. I travel because there’s no right way to “do” life, so it’s amazing to get to see, first hand, how other people live their lives.
Why do you believe it’s important for others to travel and see the world?
There is so much fear. And to quote my good friend Tryphena, “Fear is Stupid.” It’s so easy to be afraid of what we don’t know. And what we have no reason to investigate. If we see poverty in Africa, it’s easier to be afraid to visit than it is to go see for ourselves. If we hear that the Middle East is all Muslim terrorists, it’s easier to just stay out. If we hear that Mexicans are rapists and criminals, it’s easier to just believe that rhetoric. But when we travel, we are instantly removed from our comfort zone. And sometimes we’re moved into what we fear. And when what we fear becomes part of our comfort zone, as people, we are all connected just a little bit more. I know it seems so “Pollyanna”, but I truly believe that if we spent more time trying to understand our differences instead of ignoring or fearing our differences, the world would be a much kinder place.
How you manage to visit so many amazing vacation spots so frequently? What is your travel strategy?
I’m a flight deal, girl! Of the 20 countries I’ve visited on my 6-month trip, also known as Cescapades, I didn’t specifically seek out any of them. But one deal popped up after another and I found time to make it work. This trip started as a month in Europe and ended up with about five more months…and counting!
You just got back from a series of trips that you coined the “Cescapades.” Tell me about all of those trips and what was the motivation behind them?
I work in Musical Theatre and had been living a dream with the best job an actor could ask for. But my body was tired after doing eight shows a week for almost three years and I physically needed a break. It’s not uncommon for actors to have several months go by between gigs so I wasn’t too concerned about taking a break. A deal popped up for about $300 RT to go to Europe from New York. I had already booked the Abu Dhabi $255 RT tickets for a few weeks before that so my plan was to go to the Middle East, go back to my home town to get my things and move to NYC right before this flight. But then the Iceland deals happened, and slowly but surely the trip went from a month to two to six over the course of about three months.
So the official run down of countries was:
- USA (I count it because I visited 10 cities and the Virgin Islands during the Cescapades)
- The Netherlands
How did you put together such a comprehensive itinerary to travel around the world?
One flight deal at a time! When a great deal came up, I would first check to see if I could fit it in anywhere in my schedule. If it fit, I booked! Then I would immediately look at lodging. There were a few times when I had to get a bit creative about where I would stay. Hotels in Amsterdam and Germany were close to $150/night, which wasn’t in my budget but I was able to use AirBNB to make it work. Because the majority of the time I traveled alone, I used the advice of friends and TripAdvisor to make sure I was booking in safe areas. I had the majority of the destinations in place by May and then I made a big master travel document with flights, hotels, confirmation numbers, frequent flyer numbers and more so I could see where my holes were.
What, if anything, did you learn from the Cescapades?
My favorite question to ask is, “If you could have an unlimited supply of money, visas weren’t a problem, and you could bring all your family with you, where would you go?” I left expecting to hear a lot of people say America, some beautiful island, or maybe some other destination. What I didn’t expect was for so many people to say, “I’d stay here in my home.” It’s easy for us to think that because our way seems so right, it’s the best way. Or even worse, the only way. I was really taken by how many people see their way of life as the best possible option. And they’re so right.
What inspires you about the travel experience?
The most inspirational thing about travel for me is thinking about the journey my ancestors went on for me to be living the life I lead. To imagine that only a few hundred years ago my ancestors, the strongest willed and most able-bodied, were brought to this country. They worked and fought so that one day I would be free. And now, I’m free to see the world, see it’s people, see it’s places, see how it works. And it’s all thanks to those who never got the chance to see. Knowing that I have the choices that they never did, I feel so inspired to see and do and understand as fully as I can.
What do you like least about travel?
Jetlag!! And trying to be #teamcarryon.
How do you balance your career with travel? What recommendations do you have for others?
Traveling is hard for actors. If you’re working consistently, you only have two weeks off a year. And if you’re auditioning, it’s hard to plan in advance. My recommendation would be to set aside a small amount a week, even $15-$20, into a travel fund. You’ll be amazed at what you can gather. Don’t be afraid to book a deal. Depending on the site, you get 24 hours to work it out and cancel without penalty. So book it now, work it out later. And make sure you have good trip insurance!
What recommendations do you have for someone who is looking to be more adventurous and travel?
I’d say to start small. Go visit the next state, or a national park. Look on Google Flights and find a cheap place to visit for the weekend. Or if that’s too much, go grocery shopping on the other side of town. Go to the bar next door to your favorite. Push your own boundaries when you can. When you watch the news and they mention a country, look up where it is. Search for images of their downtown or their theatres or their schools. Understand that people and countries aren’t made up of the 3-minute clip you see on the news. There’s a great quote in the musical Kinky Boots (now on Broadway and a city near you). It says, “You change the world when you change your mind.” So let’s go and change the world!