Fitness expert Eliza Shirazi is in awe of gorillas, and dreams of one day visiting the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda. “It’s extremely rare to be able to get close to gorillas, so how cool would it be to go to her sanctuary and have a front-row seat to something people rarely get to see?” she said. “To see these mystical creatures would be a dream come true.” Shirazi, 31, has seen another dream come to fruition: building a popular fitness brand, Kick It By Eliza. Combining kickboxing, dance, and aerobics, Shirazi’s music-driven group fitness program has a worldwide reach, with roughly 100 certified Kick It By Eliza instructors around the world. Since her first certification class in 2016, Shirazi has trained more than 500 instructors who teach virtually and in person. The Leominster native said she loves empowering women and helping them reach their health and wellness goals. We caught up with the University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate, who lives on the southern New Hampshire seacoast with her partner, Ryan Price, who works in technology sales, and their 5-year-old Goldendoodle, Finn, to talk about all things travel.
If you could travel anywhere right now, and money was no object, where would you go? Cape Town, South Africa. I studied abroad there many moons ago and it left such an impression on me. Being on the coast and having amazing views of Table Mountain is something I will never forget. I got to travel along the Garden Route, do a homestay in Khayelitsha, and studied at the University of Cape Town. I even got to teach Kick It at UCT. The entire thing was incredible. I’ll never forget it and would love to go back!
Where was the first place you traveled to after COVID restrictions were lifted? The first place I traveled to was Los Angeles for 48 hours for work. It was really strange because my final trip before restrictions were put into place in 2020 was a flight home to Boston from LA. I didn’t know if I was going to get out of LA because rumor had it that all flights were going to get canceled. It felt very full circle — and strange — that my first trip when restrictions lifted was back to LA.
Do you prefer booking trips through a travel agent or on your own? I have notoriously booked trips on my own, but my friend recently started her own travel company, ELx Travel. I’m going to use them for my next vacation because I really want to take the thinking out of it.
Thoughts on an “unplugged” vacation? Yes, please. If I am going somewhere for vacation that doesn’t have cell service — even better.
Do you use all of your vacation time or leave some on the table? Being a small business owner, my work can follow me anywhere I go. Blessing and a curse. I am really trying to prioritize true time away throughout the year.
What has been your worst vacation experience? Well, it’s funny now, but it wasn’t then . . . I was on a trip to Portugal with a guy I was seeing and his family. He begged me to come on this trip, but I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to go because the fling was so new. I ended up going and had the best time ever. Portugal was absolutely beautiful and I was all starry-eyed over this guy. Romantic, right? Well, on the last night that I was going to be there — he was continuing on with his family for an extended period — the two of us went to dinner by ourselves. He broke up with me at the table, and I flew out the next morning by myself. It was so shocking that it was comical. Now, I can really laugh about it. And I also learned to always trust my gut.
Do you vacation to relax, to learn, or for the adventure of it all? I think it depends where I am going. One time that I really did all three was a trip to Japan with my two cousins in 2018. We were there for 10 days and did everything from exploring Tokyo — like walking around the Tsukiji fish market and Senso-ji Temple. We adventured to Shibuya — which was overwhelming — ate our way through Kyoto, fed deer in Nara, and saw the most beautiful landscape in Hakone. Closer to home, one place where I love to fully relax is Provincetown. I go every year with my family and it’s a pure relax, have fun, and unwind trip.
What book do you plan on bringing with you to read on your next vacation? Ah, I don’t know. I love to peruse the library and get lost in all of the rows of books — picking them up, looking up reviews, and settling on what feels right in the moment.
If you could travel with one famous person/celebrity, who would it be? I know that over the years Ellen DeGeneres has become a bit controversial, but I would love to travel with her and see her gorilla sanctuary in Rwanda (the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund). That would be just wow.
What is the best gift to give a traveler? Recommendations!
What is your go-to snack for a flight or a road trip? Chomps turkey sticks all the way.
What is the coolest souvenir you’ve picked up on a vacation? The coolest souvenir I picked up was perspective. Back in 2017, I got a group together to raise money for Flying Kites, a nonprofit that provides education for children in rural Kenya. But this was more than raising money — a group of about 10 of us were going to fly out to Kenya to visit the Flying Kites school and then attempt to summit Kilimanjaro. My worst enemy was the altitude — even just at the school, which was at a fairly low elevation. Once we started our Kili ascent, I was nervous and anxious, but so proud that this group came together for this adventure and great cause. I think I made it to day five out of eight, which is about 16,000 feet in elevation. I got pretty sick. I thought my head was going to pop off from pressure. I was throwing up and felt awful. I decided that next morning that I was going to make my way down. It was super disappointing, but I knew my limit. The rest of the team completed the summit and that’s all I could have ever asked for — seeing them achieve it was a win. The entire experience gave me a great amount of perspective — and a lost toenail — that we can do challenging things, but we can also respect our limits. It’s not a failure, it’s just a reroute.
What is your favorite app/website for travel? ELx Travel is going to be my go-to for future booking, but I typically have Yelp and other apps like All Trails downloaded to see reviews on local hot spots and trails.
What has travel taught you? That my problems are really so small. Travel feels like this exhale that gives me so much perspective on just how big this world is and how minuscule my current stressors really are. It is so humbling. It has also taught me to be grateful for the simple things in life. I always come back from a trip feeling energized and inspired because of it all.
What is your best travel tip? Have an open mind. Sometimes it’s easy to be super rigid with plans, but the most beautiful things can happen when you go with the flow.
Juliet Pennington can be reached at email@example.com.