Positively Scottish Humans of the US: from Lewis to New York, the stories Katie’s suitcase could tell

The Big Apple – one of the most exciting, vibrant, and most cosmopolitan cities in the world. More than eight million people call New York City home, among them Katie MacLeod. For the Scots-born writer, the hustle and bustle is a huge contrast to her childhood spent in the calm and natural beauty of the Outer Hebrides. Katie, 28, still loves her Scottish homeland on Lewis, but big city life is now second nature to her. She has spent time living in Philadelphia, and the Chinese city of Tianjin. Her career as a travel writer has taken her to some of the most exotic and lively parts of the world, and she is the author of a popular and award-winning blog, Stories My Suitcase Could Tell. 

I’ve been writing in some form or another for as long as I can remember, and English was always my favourite subject at school. My first foray into journalism came while I was at the University of St Andrews, when I got involved with the student newspaper, The Saint.

During the holidays, I also started working for Events, one of the local newspapers in the Western Isles, and that was it, really – I’ve been writing for them ever since, filing copy from Stornoway, NYC, and even China.

It was while living in China after graduation that I first got into travel writing, although it was almost by accident. I started blogging about my experiences there, and I enjoyed it so much that when I returned home, I started a new blog – Stories My Suitcase Could Tell – that covered travel more generally.

What started as a hobby has essentially become another job – although that’s also partly because blogging itself has become a recognised industry in its own right in the years since I started. I still write about everything from business to books for other publications, but I get to indulge my creativity with travel writing on the blog, too, so I’ve got the best of both worlds.

The travel can sometimes be glamorous, but there is a lot more work behind the scenes than a lot of people realise. You’re constantly taking notes while you’re on the go, taking and editing photos, posting to social media, and making sure your site is running properly. It never gets boring, though, that’s for sure.

Every time I’m asked about my favourite place, I give a different answer. I won a two-week trip to Kenya as part of a writing competition in 2014, and going on safari there is probably one of my most memorable travel experiences. Seeing animals like elephants and lions in the wild is almost surreal, and the landscape was stunning too.

This autumn I visited the Vatican, and that’s up there on the ‘most memorable list’ as well. Spending a morning there was incredible. I’ve never seen so many historical artefacts and so much world-famous art in one place before, and the Sistine Chapel is just as amazing as everyone says it is.

My husband is from the US, and we decided to settle in New York; I’ve been here for just over two years now. I love living in New York. It’s impossible to get bored here, as there’s so much to do, so many new foods to eat, new exhibitions to see, and new events to attend. This really is the city that never sleeps.

macleodMoving here wasn’t too much of an adjustment, either, as I had already spent a summer here as an intern during university. I also lived in Philadelphia for a year, studying political science at the University of Pennsylvania, and I spent a year in Tianjin, China, while teaching English with the British Council, so I was already comfortable with city living.

At this point, then, I’m quite used to the contrast between island life and city life – although I admit on occasion I do miss the fresh air and peace and quiet of home. It’s always nice to go back to the Hebrides and recharge, and of course to catch up with friends and family. I try to get home at least once a year.

Everyone has been very welcoming and friendly since I moved here, and people are always interested in hearing more about Scotland – especially when they find out I’m from the Hebrides.

I thoroughly enjoy being part of the writing scene here in New York, and I’ve met lots of fellow writers, journalists, and bloggers here.

I find that the biggest differences between American and British media are in broadcast news. When I first came to the US, in 2008, I remember being surprised at the lack of international stories on the news channels.

In terms of the recent election coverage, I found the continued use of ‘false equivalence’ quite odd – it’s not something I’ve really noticed in the UK – and the 24/7 entertainment-style coverage was overbearing at times.

I do miss Scotland, and the UK as a whole, mostly because my family and friends are all over there. I miss the food sometimes too – like Stornoway Black Pudding, and Cadbury’s chocolate. Luckily, I can find the latter in NYC without too much difficulty, but sadly Stornoway Black Pudding is still banned in the USA…

To read Katie’s blog, go here

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