Better known as the Dame Traveler, Nastasia Yakoub encourages self-love
By Bianca Kasawdish
“I very much believe that I was called to be a vulnerable girl who wears her heart on her sleeve because of how many people I've been able to connect with simply by not being ashamed of my life, circumstances, decisions or myself,” says Nastasia Yakoub, founder of Dame Traveler, a travel brand that inspires and empowers women to travel more, experience more and be more.
With more than 576,000 followers on Instagram, it’s become a global platform – and much more than a travel blog. However, it wasn’t part of her original plan for her life. Yakoub, born in Farmington Hills, Michigan, moved to Chicago in 2008 for something she initially set her sights on - nursing school. In 2011, she took her first ever solo trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where it all began.
Fulfilling a dream of hers to volunteer in Africa, she decided to impulsively book the flight on her own and take the trip. “That trip changed my life and ignited my love for solo travel and it empowered me to know that I did that all on my own,” she says.
After graduating from Loyola University nursing school in 2013, she soon landed her ‘dream job’ as a Registered Nurse on the Labor and Delivery unit. However, she suffered a serious work-related injury that kept her bedridden for months.
This came after she thought she had it all figured out, and everything she thought she knew had changed. Reality set in that she would then have a completely different outcome than she planned for herself, which was unknown at the time.
“It was during that down-time, when I was feeling uninspired and down on my luck that I began scrolling through Instagram to live vicariously through other travelers since travel was the number one thing that made me happy back then,” she says.
When she was featured on Travel and Leisure’s Instagram page, she realized that Instagram lacked a female focused travel community – where there were communities for everything else, from fashion to athletics and more. She decided to take that niche and run with it – and Dame Traveler was born. What started out as an Instagram hashtag (with currently more than 5 million hashtags) has become a very popular name and now a blog with more than 100 contributors, and continuing to expand into other areas outside of social media.
While keeping up with all of this is no simple task, Yakoub shares that her favorite part of it all is helping women realize the potential and strength within themselves and not to be afraid to use these qualities to their advantage to achieve the life they envision for themselves.
“Ever since I was little, I've always been one who wanted to change that and to push those boundaries because we all have a right to live our lives the way we see fit not the way others want us to,” she says. “I'm really grateful that God has given me a voice and the courage to use it, along with a large platform for the purpose of the greater good of all but, especially for women.”
Celebrating women of all colors, races, sexualities, abilities and lifestyles, Dame Traveler allows women to see the world and discover its beauty, share stories and encourage each other to go out and explore, to be fearless.
With 67 countries on her map, Yakoub’s best memories are the small moments and connections she’s made with people all over the world, with very different cultures and lifestyles than her own, making many friends along the way.
Transparency and honesty are part of the brand she has built, and social media has allowed her to share every part of her journey, and in turn, helping others to do the same. This has come full circle with Dame Traveler.
Yakoub has been very open about her struggles with scoliosis, depression, anxiety, self-love and self-care. And with that vulberability came a positive impact – an outpouring of support and messages from people who could relate, reaching out for advice or support. Helping others has helped her cope with her own battles and realize she isn’t alone, and that she shouldn’t be ashamed for feeling this way because so many others do also.
“I believe this is what it means to live an authentic life, embracing ourselves for who we are and our life for what it is instead of painting this picture perfect image of a life that doesn't exist for anyone,” she said. “And while yes, God has blessed me with some pretty great things, I'm always transparent and I don't hide the not so great things either.”
Yakoub shares she’s constantly inspired by the little things, especially in her home of New York City, where she says, “magic is constantly happening, the energy is unmatched anywhere in the world.”
Whether it’s someone she meets who came to New York to chase their dreams, or a couple dancing in the sunset to the skyline in the background, she believes it’s a place where people are free to be exactly who they want to be – a perfect reflection of herself and how she lives her life.
While the hustle and bustle of New York may not be for everyone, it pushes her out of her comfort zone, inspiring her to work harder and smarter, and she’s proud of who she’s become. “And when I'm feeling weak, wherever I am in the world, I walk into an empty church or an empty place of worship and pray, cry and breathe. This has always helped to cleanse my soul and my mind.”
A vision come to life, Yakoub will release Dame Traveler’s first published photography, coffee table book, Dame Traveler: Live the Spirit of Adventure in March 2020 with Ten Speed Press of Penguin Random House. The book will highlight the women in the Dame Traveler community, their stories, insider tips and much more. Yakoub hopes to encourage more women to adventure around the globe with a sense of pride like the women featured in its pages.
She expresses gratitude to her family, who are her biggest cheerleaders and supporters, friends, and community members who have supported her all this time, without which she wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of this.
As for the best advice she’s received, a few simple words: “Gut feelings are guardian angels.”
Follow Yakoub on Instagram @dametraveler