My Top 9 Favorite Trips: Where I Have Traveled the Last Few Years

One of the best parts of running Meridian is the connection and impact we’re able to create with our artisan partners, who are now working in over 20 countries around the world.

Using traditional methods of hand craft, we’re working together to create home decor and gifts that tell a story of their cultural heritage. As a result, we’re empowering our unique partners with the tools to build sustainable businesses, rise above the poverty line, and support their families.

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola meets with one of the members of our basket weaving cooperative from Zimbabwe.
Meridian Founder Ashley Viola meets with one of the members of our basket weaving cooperative from Zimbabwe.

As Founder of Meridian, I realized early on that it was important to meet with our partners in person. But I also recognized that our artisans are working across six continents, 13 time zones and so many languages and dialects that I’ve lost count! It’s not possible to meet with every group, nor to be everywhere all at once. Instead, I have made it a priority to visit all of our partners at least one time during the beginning of our partnership. The rest of the time, I rely on technology and mobile phones to stay in constant communication. That said, there is nothing better than working with our partners in person.

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola meets with the owner of an artisan workshop in Rajasthan, India.
Here I am looking serious as I meet with an artisan workshop in Rajasthan, India known for creating bone inlay furniture and decor.

Over the last few years, I’ve been able to travel to many of our partners, including several in South and Central America, Africa and parts of Asia. It’s important to visit our partners to ensure they’re working under fair trade standards and to help shape our partnership for long term success. On my travels, I visit our existing suppliers to see the environment in which they are working, meet the team crafting the product, and observe what they are working on. Sometimes we check in on an order that’s currently being manufactured, and other times we brainstorm what will be next for our partnership. I also dedicate some of my travel time to meet with new artisan groups. There are so many talented people in the world, and it’s incredible to have the opportunity to witness their handiwork in person.

Here are a few of my favorite trips from the last couple of years (including some spots I’ve hit more than once!).

Guatemala

Guatemala has been one of my all-time favorite places to visit! I loved it so much I’ve been a few times in just two years. This Central American country is filled with color, delicious food and friendly people.

Antigua is a Colonial town that is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Guatemalan history, craft and culture. Delicious and affordable restaurants are around every corner, and the shopping is incredible!

Meridian | The small town of Antigua, Guatemala is nestled at the base of a massive volcano.
The small town of Antigua, Guatemala is nestled at the base of a massive volcano.

Lake Atitlan is another spot that is worth a visit. Take a private shuttle from Antigua and stay in one of the small towns surrounding the lake. You can perch yourself in a town along its shore, and take boat taxis to visit other towns for day trips.

Meridian | Lake Atitlan, Guatemala is a delightful spot to take a rest from your travels and spend time in a private villa overlooking the lake.
Lake Atitlan is a delightful spot to take a rest from your travels and spend time in a private villa overlooking the lake.

While in Guatemala, I met with our incredible artisan partners and sourced one-of-a-kind huipil textiles, which are traditional garments that feature colorful, hand embroidered designs. We use vintage huipil garments to create our line of bespoke Huipil Pillows.

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola meets with Guatemalan partners selling vintage huipil textiles.
I spent most of my time in Guatemala falling in love with (and chasing down) extraordinary vintage huipil textiles.

India

India was one of the first big sourcing trips I ever went on, and it was truly an eye-opening experience. The food was incredible, the people very kind, and there is a constant barrage of colors and scents to keep you going!

Meridian | The pink sandstone hued Hawa Mahal is one of the reasons why Jaipur, India is referred to as the "Pink City."
The pink sandstone hued Hawa Mahal is one of the reasons why Jaipur is referred to as the “Pink City.”

On our sourcing trips, my work days are roughly 9 – 11 hours long. We get up before the sun to prepare for visits with family-run textile groups and the country’s best antique dealers. A typical day includes driving off the main road to visit remote villages, digging through thousands of textiles, meeting with families of artisans who have been perfecting their crafts for generations, and learning more about who they are, how they do what they do, and why it’s so special.

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola digs into a large pile of block print textiles in Jaipur, India.
In my mind, a pile of textiles is like an invitation to dig in.

If we’re lucky, we get an afternoon here or there to sneak off and do something touristy. One such lucky afternoon, we were able to get away for a private tour of the Jaipur City Palace, where the Maharaja still resides today. Outside, the hum and bustle of Jaipur’s busy streets buzzes with excitement. Inside, gorgeously ornamented rooms sit atop the palace walls, and overlook the entire city.

Meridian | The Maharaja resides in the Jaipur City Palace, Rajasthan, India.
The Maharaja resides in the Jaipur City Palace. This is my favorite room for our tour!

Jaipur is my favorite city in India because it is home to our block print artisans who stamp by hand every detail of our popular block print napkins and block print pillows.

If you’re heading to India, you cannot miss the Taj Mahal, which is in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. When you visit the Taj, it’s best to arrive at dawn to avoid the crowds, which push to over 100,000 on the busiest days. You have to wear shoe covers that are like shower caps for your feet, which makes things very slippery on the marble floors. There’s a reason the Taj is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World – it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime place to see!

Meridian | There’s a reason the Taj Mahal is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World – it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime place to see!
There’s a reason the Taj Mahal is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World – it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime place to see!

Morocco

Morocco is up there with Guatemala as one of my all-time favorite trips from the last few years. I’ve been twice in that timeframe, including one whirlwind visit over a long holiday weekend to catch up with our partners and eat some amazing food.

The architecture, the people, the food and of course the language (I’m a huge Francophile) keep me wanting more of this beautiful country. On our various trips, we’ve spent time in Casablanca, Chefchaouen and Marrakech.

Meridian | Chefchaouen is located in Northern Morocco, and known as the Blue City.
Chefchaouen is located in Northern Morocco, and known as the Blue City.

Marrakech is located near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, and is a busy and fashionable city known for its fine cuisine, luxe riad-style accommodations, and stellar shopping in posh boutiques and a packed market known as the souk. I wrote about my favorite spots in Marrakech here.

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola shops for textiles in the souks of Marrakech, Morocco.
Marrakech is a fashionable city known for its fine cuisine, luxe riad-style accommodations, and stellar shopping (especially in the central market known as the souk!).

It was the textiles that originally drew me to Morocco, which is known for colorful, abstract designs on carpets and pillows. For Meridian, I sourced many Cactus Silk textiles and a few other pieces which are now long-sold. I love how these pieces add texture to any space, and they complement every design style, from contemporary to bohemian.

Meridian | Morocco is known for colorful, abstract designs on carpets and pillows.
It was the textiles that originally drew me to Morocco, which is known for colorful, abstract designs on carpets and pillows.

Egypt

I have always been intrigued by Egypt, with its rich history, architecture (hello, pyramids!) and geographic location at the intersection of Northern Africa and the Middle East. On this trip, we met with a few potential suppliers and researched hand-crafts coming from the area, which include papyrus papermaking, stone and metal work, gold jewelry and textiles such as kilim rugs.

Meridian | Camel rides are a popular activity in the desert near the Great Pyramids outside of Cairo, Egypt.
I have always been intrigued by Egypt, with its rich history, architecture (hello, pyramids!) and geographic location at the intersection of Northern Africa and the Middle East.

We spent nearly two weeks on our journey and traveled up and down the Nile to see some amazing sites, including the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, temples in Abu Simbel and Aswan, the modern-meets-ancient city of Alexandra, and the Valley of the Kings near Luxor.

Meridian | The Great Pyramids emerge from the desert, just outside of the busy city of Cairo, Egypt.
The Great Pyramids emerge from the desert, just outside of the busy city of Cairo.

Mexico

Mexico is a country that I feel very close to because my step grand-mother lived there for over 40 years as an expat of the United States in a small town called San Miguel de Allende. I visited her many times as a child and I credit those experiences with fostering a lifelong love in me for other cultures, traveling and handmade craft! Our recent trip to Mexico was focused on other small towns in Southern Mexico, and it’s been many years since I’ve been back to San Miguel. It is on my list!

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola shops for Otomi textiles in Mexico.
I have always loved Otomi textiles, which feature hand-embroidered and colorful animal designs.

On this trip, we spent a few days in Mexico City, which really impressed me! It was easy to navigate, had top museums and very good cuisine. You can read about our quick trip to CDMX here.

We also were able to spend some time in the craft capital of Mexico, Oaxaca. Our days were long on this trip, and we spent much of our time driving out of the city to visit small towns and artisan producers who are experts in their various crafts. We had a crash course in natural dyes by a world-famous family of master weavers who are able to extract hundreds of hues by selecting careful combinations of locally grown plants, natural substances and thoughtful tools. Their ability to mix artistry with sciences is truly remarkable!

Meridian | Here is the studio space of a family renowned for their use of natural dyes in their master-level weaving.
Near Oaxaca, Mexico, we had a crash course in natural dyes from a family of renowned master weavers.

Turkey

It had been at least a decade since I had visited Turkey, and our recent trip there really blew me away! We spent a few weeks there last March to travel around the country to meet with artisan producers known for their textile work. As a result, we were able to source some one-of-a-kind Turkish kilim rugs for our Market Finds Collections, and meet with a family-operated business to create some of our collector-favorite hand towels.

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola shops for textiles in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
You can buy anything you want in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. There is everything from food to jewelry, to home goods!

I loved Istanbul, and it reminded me a bit of Paris and New York mixed together. It’s a small and manageable city with easy-to-use mass transit and endless options for your daily kebab cravings. I also may have eaten all of the halva, which is a sweet and dense dessert made from tahini.

Meridian | A view from the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.
I loved Istanbul! It reminded me a little of Paris and New York mixed together.

Greece

After a very busy few weeks in Turkey, we were able to sneak away for a quick weekend getaway in Athens, Greece. We loved every second of it. Pink walls! Feta cheese! History around every corner! We loved visiting the Acropolis and stuffing our faces with some of the best European food east of Italy.

Meridian | The streets of Athens, Greece.
At the end of our two week trip to Turkey, we snuck away for a weekend in Athens, Greece.

Peru

I’ve had a couple of trips to Peru over the last few years. Several of our partners are in Lima, and much of my time spent in this bustling coastal city was to meet with the friendly people who create our luxuriously soft alpaca blankets and handmade knit stuffed animals.

Meridian Founder Ashley Viola meets with our partners to design our line of handmade, knit stuffed animals.
In Peru, I met with our partners to design our line of adorable knit stuffed animals that are made by hand in the Peruvian highlands by a Fair Trade women’s cooperative.

After multiple long days of meetings, we flew off to Cusco for a weekend of digging through textiles. I immediately fell in love with the frazada, a thick and colorful textile that is handwoven by women in small, remote villages in the high Andes mountains. Weavers use locally sourced sheep’s wool and natural dyes to weave together two narrow panels on a backstrap loom. They sew these panels together to create the frazada, and each one takes about a month to complete.

Meridian | A group of women in traditional dress show us their 2 month old baby alpaca and one week old baby sheep in Cusco, Peru.
In Cusco, Peru we met some ladies from a nearby village who showed us their 2 month old baby alpaca and a one week old baby sheep.

Frazadas are traditionally used as blankets, and artisans in this region often can be seen wearing them wrapped around their bodies for warmth in the chill of the Andean mountains. As a parent to both a human child and a dog, their versatility speaks to me. These sturdy and durable pieces can be used as bed coverings, rugs, throws, or even as upholstery.

Meridian | A stack of colorful handwoven frazada blankets from Peru.
Each handwoven Frazada blanket takes about one month to complete.

Indonesia

One of the most memorable trips in my recent memory was our visit to Indonesia. The trip was fraught with bad luck: A devastating earthquake occurred just days before we were scheduled to leave, thwarting our itinerary and creating a wake of aftershocks for the weeks that followed (one of which my 7 year-old slept completely through as I held on for dear-life!). We also lost luggage, broke two cameras, endured our first bout of travel-related food poisoning and out-ran a tsunami on the return leg that forced us to travel for more than 40 hours straight. All of these challenges aside (no one ever said traveling was easy!), we loved our time on the island of Bali, with the strong sunshine, cultural artifacts and chance to meet with some artisan groups with unique offerings, including a family who has specialized in macramé for multiple generations.

Meridian | We loved our time on the island of Bali, especially our visit to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces near Ubud.
We loved our time on the island of Bali, especially our visit to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces near Ubud.

One of the most extraordinary parts of our trip to Indonesia was the end-cap to our journey. For the last five days, we took a short vacation to the island of Borneo. At the airport, we met a boat owner and traveled into the Kalimantan jungle where we lived on a house boat for several days. We meandered through small rivers and streams throughout the jungle and visited several spots that are dedicated to the conservation of the environment and the animals that call this jungle their home, including the endangered orangutan.

Meridian | We capped off our two weeks in Indonesia on a house boat, traveling through the jungles of Borneo, Indonesia.
We capped off our two weeks in Indonesia on a house boat, traveling through the jungles of Borneo.

Have you taken any great trips recently, or is there a destination that’s near the top of your list? I’d love to hear about it!

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