UNICEF USA CEO Caryl M. Stern’s secret travel weapons include Kayak and a red bear

The activist and nonprofit executive’s tips and tools for getting the most out of every day

UNICEF USA CEO Caryl M. Stern’s secret travel weapons include Kayak and a red bear
Caryl Stern [Photo: Jessie English for UNICEF USA]

For the last 11 years, Caryl M. Stern has been working tirelessly to make the world a better place for children. As president and CEO of UNICEF USA, she has helped the organization double its fundraising revenue and ensure that 88.4% of every dollar goes to helping kids. She has spearheaded the organization’s global emergency relief efforts for children, including in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 East Africa drought, and in the U.S., heading to the Mexico border to draw attention to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” child separation policy.  Of course, fending off scurrilous attacks by the president of the United States requires a lot of energy, which the mother of three and grandmother of two gets from a steady stream of black tea, chocolate, and pure grit.


Here, Stern reveals her tips and tools for getting the most out of every day.

What service or tool can’t you live without?

I can’t live without Kayak. My role at UNICEF USA gives me the incredible opportunity to travel all over the world. I see UNICEF’s work firsthand and bring back the stories of the remarkable children and UNICEF workers who I meet in my travels, in hopes to inspire others to support UNICEF’s work. Kayak is such a helpful site because I can see all of my options, filter my needs and it works for me.


What do you do with the time when you have…

A free five minutes? I love Words With Friends, so if I have a free five minutes, I check my Words With Friends to see if it’s my turn.
A free hour? I’ll either sketch or write.
A whole free day? If I have a free day, I will spend it with my husband. It doesn’t matter what we do but just as long as we’re together.

[Photo: courtesy of Unilever]
What product are you currently in love with?


I drink no less than eight cups of Lipton tea every day, and one my favorite mugs to drink out of is my floral mug from UNICEF Market, which offers items from artisans around the world. Each purchase not only supports the artisan and keeps traditional skills alive, but it also supports UNICEF. With this mug, I know I’m supporting Duangkamol from Thailand and at the same time, my purchase could provide 44 packets of lifesaving nourishment to children suffering from acute malnutrition.

What books are on your nightstand?

I love reading, and several books come to mind that have been a big part of my life–whether it’s a book that was life-defining in graduate school or a favorite that I love reading over and over again.


Every couple of years I reread Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. When I first read it as a kid, I could relate to a character who is coming into her own and finding her independence. I loved reading it then, and I love rereading it now.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I’m a fan of science fiction, and I find this book to just be fun.

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin. It’s a science fiction novel about a controlled society and how people break out of it. I have hard time coloring in the lines, so this novel suits me.


Men and Women of the Corporation by Rosabeth Moss Kanter looks at the challenges women face in business. I read this book during my first year of graduate school, and it was an eye-opening book for me. When I was 28 years old, I accepted the role of Dean of Students at Polytechnic University and was thrilled to be given the opportunity to take on the challenge. I didn’t realize until after I accepted the job that I was the first female dean of the school since its founding. I think back to this book and how it helped me then, and during my past 30-plus years as a child and civil rights advocate. I had the privilege to meet Rosabeth Moss Kanter recently, and I was so excited to tell her what the book means to me.

I also like to read what is closest to the register at the airport. The reality of my life is I travel a lot, and as I run through the airport, I always like to grab a book to read on the plane.

What’s your necessary vice?


Absolutely chocolate.

Where do you go to refresh and recharge?

If I had enough time, and I really could just go and clear my head, I would visit the Milford Sound in New Zealand. The first time I visited was on my honeymoon. Although it’s hard to get there, it’s magnificent. The water is glacial blue, and it feels like you’re at the end of the earth, surrounded by nature. Vietnam is such an incredible place. There are many places to explore, and one of the more relaxing but beautiful places is the Furama Resort in Da Nang, Vietnam. If I were staying more local in the New York area, I would recommend Valatie in upstate New York. We have a family home there, and I can’t think of many places that are prettier.


What song would you listen to when you’re…

Waking up?Another Day” by Paul McCartney
Driving? I like to listen to the Sirius XM channel The Bridge.
Working out? Anything that is fun with a good beat like Sly and the Family Stone.
Hard at work on a big project? If I have music on in the office, it’s folk music playing in the background.
Getting psyched for a big presentation? I can’t listen to music before a big presentation because I won’t be able to focus and I’ll just sing along instead.
Winding down at the end of the day?Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor. My husband and I played this song many times during my pregnancy. We knew that we were going to name our son James, and this song always calmed us. The other song is a Hebrew song called “Oseh Shalom.” It was the song that I would sing to my son to sleep each night.

[Photo: Flickr user Mike Mozart]
What classic product do you believe nobody’s ever improved on?


Mallomars. I know there are fancier treats, but if I was given a choice for a treat, that would be mine.

What’s your favorite thing to eat when…

You need a quick burst of energy? Popcorn.
You have plenty of time to go out and eat? If I have enough time, I’m going to cook a meal for my family. I find cooking cathartic. Whether it’s preparing a large meal or baking a dessert, I love to select the ingredients, go shopping, prepare it and then enjoy it with my family. If we do end up going out to eat, it’s going to be Italian or Thai.


What’s your On Switch?

My husband and I are usually woken up by our dog. As I feed the dog, my husband makes me a cup of tea and brings it to me. We then carpool with one of our family friends, and it’s my ritual every morning to read out loud the “Noteworthy facts from today’s paper” on the inside of the front page of The New York Times. You never know when those tidbits may be used in a conversation during your day!

What’s your Off Switch?


I often feel there is no real off switch for me. UNICEF is a 24-hour operation, and with the time differences around the world, a call can come at any time. UNICEF works in over 190 countries and territories to reach the most vulnerable children. From Yemen and Central African Republic to Guatemala, and so many places in between, children urgently need our help to survive and thrive. What does help me to clear my head is thinking how I’m truly inspired by the support of UNICEF partners and donors and the UNICEF staff who work tirelessly on the ground to make a difference for children and their families.

What travel tips do you swear by?

It can be hard on your family to have a busy travel schedule. When I travel, I like to take a lot of pictures and when my sons were younger, I always took one of their toys with me to place in the photos. For years, I took a little stuffed turtle to photograph in different places during my travels. It was fun for them to look at the photos and find the turtle. The turtle eventually had to be retired and my sons aren’t kids anymore, so now I have a red bear that I take with me. I post photos for my friends and families to see the red bear.


About the author

Melissa Locker is a writer and world renowned fish telepathist.