Traveling the World with SUITCASE Magazine Founder Serena Guen

Author: Navinder Birad

Vagabond and publishing guru Serena Guen found a way to turn her passion for travel into a tangible business. Serena founded SUITCASE Magazine when she discovered that an inspirational and authentic travel publication was missing from the market. With an emphasis on cultural education and creative immersion, rather than on cliché tourist spots and out-of-reach luxury destinations, SUITCASE caters to a new kind of traveler. 

Starting a magazine from scratch was no easy feat, Serena attributes her success to tons of hard work and sleepless nights. However, her determination has paid off, allowing her to launch an increasingly successful multi-media publication and granting her multiple international accolades - all while proving that the power of print still exists in today's digital age. Read on to learn more about her lifestyle as a world traveler and businesswoman.

Have you always been someone who travels a lot?
I was three months old when I first went on a plane to visit my family in Germany, so I think that’s a yes!

Tell us about your first significant/memorable travel experience…
I think one of my most memorable trips was to South Africa when I was 15. It was my first encounter with the "wild." The strength of the animals and the powerful beauty of nature there really puts you in your place. I’ll always remember the magical nights, as the sky stretched out for miles filled with millions of stars twinkling and soaring past me.

What kind of traveler are you?
I’m a conscious traveler. I love learning about the local culture of a place and trying to experience it as much as I can. Recently, I’ve become very interested in how travel can be used as a vehicle for positive change – whether that's bringing in money and awareness, or alleviating global problems such as global warming, poverty, and famine.

SUITCASE – essentially – started with a 15-page word document on things to do in Paris that you shared amongst friends during college. Tell us about this and how it evolved to become a full-fledged magazine.
SUITCASE stems from a passion for travel and culture, and sharing the discoveries that I’ve made. One summer, in my junior year of college, 15-page word documents just didn’t cut it when it came to showcasing a destination. I wanted to be able to bring travel to life again. Before embarking on anything I did lots of research. I decided that a beautiful, collectible print magazine was the best format to bring the creativity back into travel and make a statement about how the internet isn’t the answer to everything.

Now, four years later, we have turned into a multi-platform travel magazine bringing different kinds of content to people at different points in their journey. We still spend hours researching everything and getting the best experts, storytellers, curators, and content creators to help piece the world together in interesting ways.

“People will often advise you on what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and that can be helpful but at the end of the day, it’s your company and you know better than anyone what needs to be done, so trust your instinct."

What has starting SUITCASE from scratch taught you about yourself?
Personally, I’ve learned how with determination and hard work almost anything is possible – if I need to get something done, I will, even if it means staying awake for two nights running. People will often advise you on what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and that can be helpful but at the end of the day, it’s your company and you know better than anyone what needs to be done, so trust your instinct. Finally, I know never to rest on my laurels, that good press, awards or praise is a sign that I’m heading in the right direction but does not mean that I have reached the end of my journey. In fact, I think the best journeys are never-ending, so I try hard never to become complacent.

One of the most important things, as a publisher, is knowing your publication’s voice and who you’re speaking to. What is SUITCASE’s voice and who are you trying to reach?
We’re trying to reach a modern female traveler. A modern female traveler is curious, well-informed, well-travelled, tech-savvy and keen to dive deeper, learn more, laugh more, expand her horizons, do good for the world. However, we’ve learned that our voice appeals to a whole variety of people that we never expected – art students, businessmen, families – and that makes me very happy! Early next year we’re launching a couple of magazines to target these other audiences that we would like to cater to better – one being destination weddings and honeymoons, and the other is a surprise for now.

The world of media – especially print – is constantly changing. What are some keys to staying informed/relevant?
I think it’s important to use the platforms that others are using so that I have a good understanding of what works. However, I think the key is deciding what we want to get across with our content and constantly re-assessing what the best way, and platform, are to do that. Print will always be a key part of our brand and, contrary to popular belief, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s just evolving like everything else.

What were the greatest challenges when starting SUITCASE and how did you overcome them?
When I was first starting age was definitely a challenge – it meant that I hadn’t worked anywhere before, so had to teach myself everything, as well as establish a presence in an industry where I knew no one. I just worked really hard at creating a great product so that no one could say anything about my age - in fact, it turned into a positive. I also thought very carefully about who I wanted to work with and why, and I cold emailed them. Most of them responded and were excited about the idea and I still work with most of these companies today, including Estee Lauder. I think if you truly have a good idea and have something to show for it - even if you build a strong social following before launching your product - then people will gravitate towards it rather than you having to fight to convince them. If you have to fight too hard for an idea, then you need to ask yourself why this is happening and if it’s really right.

Why should more people go out and see the world?
Travel is one of the best and most accessible forms of education and inspiration!

Where have you traveled to recently and what were some highlights of those adventures?
Recently I’ve been exploring the UK a little more – I went to Inverness and it is so beautiful. There is also hardly any signal in the hills there, which is simultaneously disconcerting and extremely good for me. The Cotswolds are also gorgeous – I loved visiting the Daylesford Farm, and finding SUITCASE in the spa there was a great bonus. However, my best trip this year was probably to Jordan – it was extremely exhilarating exploring this ancient country. We quad biked through the Wadi Rum desert, climbed to the tops of the ancient city of Petra with donkeys and horses, and wallowed in the mud of the Dead Sea.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH means having a vision and making it happen.

Photos by: Amarachi Nwosu

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