Travel introduces you to incredible people. Several years ago, I met an elderly German man on a walking pilgrimage through western Europe. Last year, I met a Russian woman, who wrote a piece about the best finds in Moscow. And during a journalism study abroad trip last year, I met Simone Esters. Our group strolled through Prague’s Christmas markets, drank Brussels’ finest beers, hiked in Spain and ate entirely too much gelato in Rome. Simone’s bubbly personality and infectious laugh are contagious, and it’s no surprise that a matter of months after this trip, Simone would go on to become Miss Missouri and second runner up in the Miss America competition.
Thanks to competitive twirling, Simone has traveled to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Peru and beyond, and although she has phased out of competitive twirling, Simone has kept the travel bug. I had the privilege of chatting with her about her Miss America experience, her best travel advice and her travel routine — she’s traveled almost 20,000 miles in the past six months!
K: What are three things you always pack for every trip?
S: I always take my computer and my charger, which I always do seem to forget, but because so much of my life is business and administrative-oriented now, people that are reaching out to me, I have to make sure that I stay connected.
My skincare routine is something that I always take with me, no matter what. I cannot go to bed if I don’t wash my face. Every night, I do the exact same thing. I cannot sleep peacefully if I don’t. In the mornings I use Philosophy Clear Days Ahead, and then I use a Mario Badescu toner. In the evening, I use Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser.
I do literally the same thing every day. Even though I am traveling and things are so crazy, if I start my day off and end my day the same way, it keeps me in that routine, which I think is important.
And a pair of tennis shoes because I like to workout and stay active. And for me, that’s something that’s really important that no matter where I go or where I travel, I always try to find time to incorporate that whether it be the hotel gym, or I used to have ClassPass, which is (an app where) you can sign up and take classes in that area. I also use the Nike Training Club app.
K: You’ve been a frequent flyer for quite some time. I remember you telling me that you traveled a lot during high school for twirling.
S: Given that I’m originally from Pennsylvania, I would fly to Nashville for twirling stuff at least once a month. But as it got closer to our national season (for Team USA), I would go probably every other week.
K: That’s so much traveling!
S: Yeah, especially in high school. You’re trying to balance a social life and then your class schedule. That was a very formative time of my life for sure.
K: Was it worth it?
S: Oh, absolutely. That was the biggest time of growth in my life because I was forced to be so independent, given that I was 15. Traveling by myself away from my family, I would have to navigate my way around. That’s where I really saw myself develop into the person I am today. And that’s where I found that sense of appreciation for being on my own. My mom will tell you this, too: Whenever we would go anywhere, I would always be the one that would plan everything. I would be the one that would navigate us around the airport. And anytime we’d have a problem, my mom would just be like, ‘I don’t know, just ask Simone, you’ll figure it out.’ So it definitely made me more savvy in that regard as well.
K: I bet. I have to know — are you a carry-on only or checked luggage gal?
S: It depends on the trip. I carry on typically anything that can’t be replaced. So if I’m traveling for a competition, I bring all my costumes for Miss America, all my gowns. But other than that, I try to fly on Southwest as frequently as possible cause you get two free checked bags, obviously. I’m a huge Southwest girl for sure.
K: Oh, me too. We’re itching to know what being Miss Missouri is really like.
S: Miss Missouri is a full-time job pretty much although I’m not getting paid on salary. It is something that I devote my 100% energy to. I’m not a student right now though I will be coming back in a couple of weeks doing online (courses) and will graduate in December 2020, because so much of it is based on traveling and doing things around the state. A lot of my time is spent traveling to different schools and promoting not only the organization but also a social impact initiative. Mine is called Leave Your Mark, Mentor at Risk Kids. I spend a lot of time working, whether it be in the school setting talking to kids about how they could benefit from a mentor or talking to an older demographic about how they can give back and become a mentor. I was really excited because this year, I was able to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Missouri and help work with them to recruit.
K: Tell me more about Miss America and what you learned from it.
S: The Miss America experience is one that’s so unique. And the whole time I was there, I just really couldn’t believe that it was something that I was getting to do. The best part of it was the people that I’ve met through the organization. There’s constantly things that are changing because you really have no clue what to expect. Being around so many other strong and service-driven, like-minded women was really empowering. We relied on each other to make sure that we were all okay and doing well because it’s stressful for a lot of girls. It was one of my goals to at least make the finals. It’s so good being able to say that my hard work has all paid off, and now I have something to show for out of it, which is a really great feeling.
K: For sure, congrats! Simone, what do you think set you apart?
S: I was just myself the entire time. I won Miss Missouri on my second try, which is kind of abnormal. Most people have competed for at least three years or more. Given I haven’t been around “the organization” or pageantry my whole life, I didn’t have an idea of what Miss America was supposed to be or who she was supposed to be. I was just myself, and if I fit the job description or I fit what they were looking for, then that’s fine. And if I wasn’t that person, that was okay for me, too. So through the whole week, I just really stayed true to myself and I didn’t let anything else allow that to waver from my spirit.
They’re trying to rebrand the organization into someone that is a relatable woman that can connect with a diverse audience of people and people that might not have ever considered doing Miss America before. I think that’s the direction that they’re trying to go, which is what probably aided in me being successful as well.
K: And you made some money throughout this whole process, right?
S: I’ve competed in five pageants or competitions, and I’ve won $40,000. So I don’t know any other places where you can gain that kind of money. For most young women, that’s a big thing; college is expensive. So if this is a way that you could drive the cost of college down and it’s so beneficial to all facets of your life, then like, why not? That’s what drove me and what I hope will drive other women to the organization as well.
K: Most definitely. You’ve traveled to so many places, but do you have a favorite?
S: I’m going to say London. A huge part of that was because I was with all my best friends. And since my friend was there studying abroad, she was able to show us around all these places that you might not typically go as just a “tourist,” more local places as well.
K: Are you a planner when it comes to traveling?
S: I am very planning-oriented. I was able to find so many places on my own. And we wanted to get a nice brunch one day. So I sifted through all these travel blog articles to find a good brunch place for us to go to, and I ended up finding Coppa Club. You can see the Tower Bridge, and you were eating in these igloos, and it was so cool. It was the perfect place to eat, but the only time that we were able to get a reservation was at 7:30 in the morning. I was like, all right, well, if we want to do this, it’s going to be a crazy cool experience. We’re gonna have to wake up so early. So we ended up waking up at 5:30 in the morning getting ready to go, but it was the best experience. I’m definitely the one that leads the travel plans.
K: What’s your best piece of travel advice?
S: Staying flexible and going with the flow. Since there are so many things that are unpredictable about traveling, it’s so easy to get yourself really stressed out about it. And if things don’t go your way, if your bags get lost or whatnot, remembering that even if everything doesn’t go perfect, still something enjoyable could be found in those moments.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos courtesy of Simone Esters.