IN CONVERSATION WITH: SERENA GUENSeptember 16, 2015
Originally penning city guides for close friends after being exposed to a childhood of travel, Serena Guen turned her expertise to merging fashion and travel into what we know as Suitcase magazine. Avoiding tourist traps by having local experts as contributors, Serena’s aim is to enable people to have fun while exploring other places and cultures. We caught up with Serena to discuss all things wanderlust.
UO: Can you tell us a bit about your story? When and why did you decide to found SUITCASE?
The first time I set foot on a plane I was only six months old and I was going to meet my grandmother for the first time in the United States. Ever since then I’ve never looked back. The journeys in the planes, trains, cars and the destinations and other cultures that I was exposed to from such an early age formed the second part and perhaps even most important part of my education. My father is German-Tunisian and my mother Italian-English, so I had an extremely diverse and exciting upbringing (minus speaking the other languages unfortunately).
My childhood was spent travelling the world, visiting various relatives or getting as far away as possible from them! From a very early age, I remember wanting to be able to share this with other people, so I started writing just to record everything that I was seeing and learning. Eventually when I was living in a different city for the first time, I wrote my first ever ‘guide’ to a city, a piece of writing that was actually meant for other people, which I sent to all my friends who were visiting. Then I wrote a New York guide, a London guide and so on. This grew and grew and what seems like over night (but was actually a year later) it took a creative turn by combining fashion with travel and turned into a full-blown magazine with not just me writing the guides, but local experts.
UO: Where does your passion for travel come from?
I think it’s genetic. Apparently the Tunisian side of my family were originally nomads, roaming the desert and finally settling in Kairouan.
UO: What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Don’t bring emotion into it. Business is business. Remember that almost every problem has a solution, so take a deep breath and try to find what that is. While getting stressed may give you the adrenaline you need to get results more quickly, I’ve never heard of anyone being successful driven by tears, anger or jealousy.
UO: What are some of your favourite independent magazines to read?
In Clover is a fantastic, whimsical read that really captures the world of travel and a new kind of back-to-basics lifestyle for young urbanites that’s relevant to 2015. I also find the concept of majestic disorder (sustainable lifestyle) really fascinating. The founder, Kelley was one of SUITCASE’s first columnists and I like that the magazine makes me think through the impact of things that I do.
UO: What’s your favourite SUITCASE memory so far?
Nothing will beat holding the first issue of SUITCASE in my hands, but recently it was meeting Alain de Botton. For those who don’t know who he is, he is a philosopher that really manages to capture the Zeitgeist of today in his writing and his projects. His book, The Art of Travel changed my life. Anyway, I met him by chance and he not only liked SUITCASE, he wanted to collaborate and was excited about what we are achieving. When your heroes like what you’re doing, you know you’re doing something right.
UO: Is there a particular city to which your heart is repeatedly drawn? If so, why?
It’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, but New York. I find it a fascinating place. I studied there and my brother lives there part-time. I think of it like a catalyst. If I ever want to get something done quickly, I go to New York. I’m also completely magnetised by the mentality there – there’s such a can-do attitude and everyone’s pursuing their passions. It’s something that I carry with me everywhere.
UO: Who is the most inspiring person you’ve met on your travels and why?
Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of G Adventures. The fact that the Dalai Lama wrote the foreword to his book says it all. When I first met him, he asked me: “What do you think it would take for tourism to be the biggest form of wealth distribution the world has ever seen?” I’d always had similar trains of thought, especially after travelling to less developed countries but had never been able to phrase it so eloquently; I’d considered the possibilities of making travel more sustainable, not only taking away, but giving back and preserving cultures through travel. And that definitely put my head into a spin.
UO: What do you consider to be the most important thing about travel?
It gives you perspective. Through being in a different setting, experiencing things that are different to your norm, both good and bad, they make you question what that ‘norm’ is. Every time you go away, I feel like you come back that little bit better.
UO: What is your biggest inspiration?
People who have discovered their passions and have made the time to purse them.
UO: What are your on-the-road suitcase essentials?
Lots of portable chargers, my Macbook Air, at least two good books, Lancôme liquid eyeliner, Beats headphones, a few good Spotify playlists that are available offline, Lucas’ Pawpaw Ointment, a tiny bottle of jasmine scent from Jaipur and a big black shawl that can double as a blanket.
UO: Which cities or countries are on your bucket list?
More than two thirds of the world! I’d like to visit everywhere at least once in my lifetime. Currently Easter Island, the South Pole, Champagne and Taipei feature prominently.
UO: What advice would you give someone looking to launch their own travel publication?
First I’d ask: what are you trying to achieve? Why is it important? Then, I’d say: given all the new technologies and new retail experiences available, is a travel magazine truly the best format for what you want to achieve?
UO: You’ve mentioned the importance of staying on the ball and always pushing boundaries, so what’s next for SUITCASE?
The way people are travelling is changing. Big time. Our aim is to enable people to explore other places and culture as easily and in the most fun and exciting way possible, so expect an updated website which does just that, plus a few very exciting collaborations with other travel brands because we can’t do it alone, after all.
The ultimate European city break is… Berlin
My ideal winter getaway is… the Maldives
My number one cultural destination is… Istanbul
My favourite season is… one where it’s hot enough to go swimming
I’m currently listening to… Fleetwood Mac
My favourite on-the-road snack is… local fruits
My biggest release is… watching SUITS. Haha no, being by the sea.
If I could be anywhere in the world right now it would be… Mozambique. I’ve heard good things.