‘Carivangelist’ Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon - Her mission: spreading the ‘gospel’ of the Caribbean to the world
In Voices from the Diaspora, Lynda Edwards and George Graham, two Jamaica-born writers a generation apart, interview interesting Jamaicans living abroad. George was born in 1934 in Black River. Lynda was born in 1967 in Mandeville. Both live in Florida. This week, they interview Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon (@JetSetSarah), a Miami-based Caribbean travel expert, award-winning travel journalist and TV host who, via her website, JetSetSarah.com , shares the diverse culture, lifestyle and people of the world’s favourite warm-weather destinations.
Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, 53, was born in England to a Jamaican father and a Barbadian mother. Growing up, she spent a lot of time in Jamaica. Initially a publicist in the travel industry, Sarah switched to the editorial side in 2007, when she started work at Florida-based Caribbean Travel + Life magazine, where she eventually became interim editor-in-chief. When the magazine ceased print production in 2012, she established her own brand and website, JetSetSarah, which features content focused on her three passions: travel, style and fitness.
Sarah now contributes to brands, including Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Islands.com, and the UK’s Daily Telegraph and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspapers. She was recently featured on Forbes.com as one of ‘15 Black Travel Writers to Read Now’.
GEORGE: Where do you live when you aren’t travelling? And how do you balance your career and home life?
SARAH: I live in Miami and my husband, Harrison, works in travel PR and so is very understanding of my peripatetic life! I enjoy living in Miami; it’s the gateway to the Caribbean, so it’s very convenient for my work. But I do miss seasons – and all the fashion opportunities they present – and I’d move to New York City in a heartbeat.
LYNDA: With both of you in the travel industry, do you ever get an opportunity to work together?
SARAH: Sometimes, for photos. Harrison takes them, with me as art director! I have a vision for the shot I want, I set it up, and then grab an unsuspecting stranger to help me make it happen!
GEORGE: Please tell us more about your career in newsstand magazines and what moved you to start your own website.
SARAH: I was recruited from Montego Bay for a PR job at Air Jamaica’s Miami office. That led to an editorial position at a custom publishing company and then to my dream job as an editor at Caribbean Travel + Life magazine. It was the only US news stand magazine exclusively devoted to the Caribbean, and I was there for six years until print production ceased in 2012. That’s when I created the JetSetSarah brand and website, initially as an umbrella for my freelance writing, which I figured I’d do “just for a few months” until I got another staff gig. And now, eight years later, here we are!
LYNDA: International travel has taken a severe hit in the last six months. What do you see as the future of international vacation travel? Do you think this experience will leave lasting changes in the industry? SARAH: Certainly, Caribbean travel won’t be the same for a while. For Americans, given the necessary travel protocols and advance planning now required to visit the Caribbean, the days of spontaneously hopping on a plane for a long weekend are behind us, at least for now.
Travellers will have to be more thoughtful about where they go, where they stay when they get there, and how long they’ll remain in the destination. But the good news is that the pandemic is giving us an opportunity to travel more responsibly, to make more sustainable decisions about where we stay, and to extend our visits so that we can really immerse ourselves in the destination, not just skim the surface.
GEORGE: Are people still going to large resorts, or are they looking for a more intimate experience?
SARAH: Travellers are rightfully concerned about being able to keep a safe social distance from strangers, so they’re really interested in private-island resorts (of which the Caribbean has several) and in smaller hotels in less-travelled destinations right now. No one wants to feel crowded or as if they can’t avoid people when they need to. Mega-resorts with hundreds of rooms are addressing this need by committing to running at lower occupancy so that guests still have space and feel comfortable being there. But boutique hotels and private-island resorts – with their smaller size, off-the-beaten-path location and high levels of seclusion – definitely have the advantage.
LYNDA: You are self-described ‘Carivangelist’. What does that mean?
SARAH: I call myself a ‘Carivangelist’ because I’m spreading the ‘gospel’ of the Caribbean to the world – the gospel being that the Caribbean is an incredibly diverse region with different languages, cultures, cuisine, topography, music … we’re not just a bunch of identical islands with beaches! That’s my professional mission, which I hope to fulfill through my articles, photos and videos.
GEORGE: Where do you see the future of news stand travel magazines going with all the changes in print media these days?
SARAH: It’s been a turbulent decade for all print media as audiences increasingly find and consume their information online. Back when I was at Caribbean Travel + Life magazine, our website was simply an adjunct to the star product, the magazine – kind of a ‘poor relation’. How things have changed! So many magazines have died as digital has risen, and while I don’t think they’ll ever become completely extinct, I do think that digital and video travel content is the way forward.
LYNDA: You say your not-so-hidden talent is your ability to sniff out a ‘shopportunity’. From one bargain shopper to another, what’s the secret to your sniff?
SARAH: Yes, no matter where I find myself, I can always find something to buy! I’ve bought red leather cowboy boots at the airport in Cancun; a necklace from a seller in a dinghy in the British Virgin Islands; and a canvas duffle bag from a family-run shop on a tiny Bahamian out island. The key is to always buy local (no one really needs another shot glass or fridge magnet!) and to be willing to look beyond the hotel gift shop. I’ve found great souvenirs in foreign supermarkets and pharmacies.
GEORGE: Another of your passions is running. Where do you enjoy running most?
SARAH: I run three or four times a week, and love that it’s an activity I can easily incorporate into my travel schedule. At home in Miami, my favourite route takes me along the Venetian Causeway, a three-mile road that connects the mainland to South Beach. When I travel, a sunrise run is a great way to explore a new destination as I watch it wake up. I can’t say I have a favourite place to run in, but I’ve had memorable runs in Iceland’s countryside, along Bajan beaches and on the streets of New York City where I ran the marathon in 2013.
LYNDA: You talked about curling up with a good book on vacation. What books do you enjoy most?
SARAH: I read mostly fiction, and just finished Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom and Luster by Raven Leilani. Next on my nightstand: Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud.
GEORGE: What else would you like to say to Jamaicans at home and abroad?
SARAH: Even though I wasn’t born in Jamaica, I know that much of the confidence I possess as an adult comes from growing up there, around people who are loud and proud and never ashamed to make their presence felt. It’s given me a rock-solid sense of self that, like my passport, I take with me wherever I go; a sort of ‘confidence visa’ that can never be revoked.
So, if you’re lucky enough to be Jamaican, recognise that you carry that same magic and magnetism within you, and don’t be afraid to share it freely with the rest of the world.