While Jen is an adventurous Aussie with an insatiable hunger to explore the world, she is quite realistic about what travel goal might be attainable for her at this moment. She says that even a lack of something in a new place can expand your view of the world if you know how to look. She is a firm believer in the principle that less is more and we kindly invite you to read her amazing travel stories.
Zip-line in Costa Rica, 2017
Jenny, tell us something about your early life and how your interest in travel developed?
My parents both met and married in Maryborough which is a small town in southern Queensland Australia. I am the middle of 3 girls and I would have to describe our early childhood as typical 70’s Australia. My dad was a mining engineer and we moved for his work multiple times during my childhood beginning when I was 5.
It’s not unusual for Australians to move away from their home towns and as our country is so big you have to get used to long driving distances early. We would often travel to Hervey Bay for Christmas holidays in the back of our station wagon from wherever we were living and of course, in those times flying wasn’t available either at all or for people who weren’t wealthy.
At home, we spent most of our time outside but on odd occasions, if it was wet for days on end, we would be stuck inside the house playing Lego or going through our Encyclopedia Britannica checking out the amazing colour photos of mysterious places. Unusually, it wasn’t the images of the remote Congo or the Hmong people of Thailand that resonated with me, it was Dad’s stories of living in the UK and travelling Europe when he was a young man.
While those encyclopedias were a great escape, those places just didn’t seem relevant or real to a 10-year-old. When Dad tried to make us Yorkshire pudding or talked about the Dales – I knew he had been there and that made it seem accessible.
I feel that I really embraced the gipsy lifestyle and sometimes wonder if it was sheer boredom that started my desire to venture further afield. I always remembered Dad’s stories however I never had the means to explore further than Australia until I was about 25.
After I met my husband, who is from Western Australia, we spent 5 years travelling around Australia which was kind of a right of passage for so many young people in those times. Australia is a long way from almost everywhere so exploring our own country was way more affordable than trying to get to Europe. Especially on hairdressing wages! Even though I had a trade I earned less than most shop assistants so saving $5000 to get to Europe just wasn’t possible.
Like so many Australians our first overseas trip was to Indonesia. We spent a month there on our honeymoon and on the way home started planning our next trip. That is something we have stuck with to this day. I’ve travelled a lot on my own, however, if Brad and I are together on a trip, on the plane home we work out where we are going next.
Kumamoto Castle, 2016
Ha Long bay, Vietnam, 2010
Tell us about not popular but valuable places to visit in Australia.
Australia is on so many people’s bucket list, however, a lot of people that visit Australia just don’t have the time to dedicate to seeing a lot of the country. There is a well-worn route between Sydney and Cairns and while that does showcase so many of Australia’s best destinations, getting off the beaten track is something every visitor to Australia should try and plan.
- Ningaloo Reef, a strip of coast that runs between Carnarvon and Exmouth in WA is simply stunning. It’s a shallow reef that hugs the coastline and while you won’t see the vibrant colours of the Great Barrier Reef you will see more marine life than you might have ever seen. To see the best of the area you do really need at least a week and a 4wd, however many tours now operate from Exmouth and Coral Bay enabling you to see at least some of the area with a 2wd vehicle. While snorkelling, whale watching, hiking the surrounding national parks and sitting staring at the amazing sunsets are high on the list of things to do, swimming with the whale sharks has to be the ultimate Ningaloo experience. If you are visiting between March and July you will get the opportunity to experience this first-hand.
- Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland is another of my favourite spots. A good 6-hour drive inland from Gladstone, Carnarvon Gorge is very popular with the locals but not well known at all for overseas visitors. There are public campgrounds and lodges on site and while you can access the park entrance via sealed roads, once inside the park a 4wd is advisable. You will see some amazing slot canyons, climb the bluff for views out over the park, see indigenous art from thousands of years ago and of course swim in the creeks and waterholes. There is everything from short walks to overnight hikes and 3-4 days will ensure you get to see a lot.
- Adelaide is often referred to by Australians as Slowelaide which I personally don’t think is warranted. While it is one of our smaller state capitals, it is a beautiful city with heaps of things both in and around the city to see and do. It has a very art-based annual events calendar and has everything from stunning beaches to great museums, wineries a few hours from the city and some of the best food in Australia. While it does get cold in the winter and can be stinking hot in February or March, the shoulder seasons are typically beautiful weather. You could easily spend a week in Adelaide wandering the city, drinking coffee or wine and learning about some of Australia’s colonial and indigenous history.
Mokoro Okavango Delta, Botswana, 2017
Leon cathedral, Nicaragua, 2016
Which traits of character help and interfere you while travelling? Tell us about your personal travelling style, please.
I am a very independent person so I’m not often nervous or scared. I guess this has enabled me to travel on my own fairly easily and also to travel to more remote places than some other women might. The other side of not needing other people to travel as I want is that I can often find myself on my own for weeks or even months at a time.
While I do meet other travellers, I don’t mind being on my own so I don’t feel the need to try and connect constantly. I’ve become very aware of this as I get older and now sometimes will join a multi-day tour simply for the purpose of meeting other like-minded people.
I usually travel on a budget where possible and would rather spend money on experiences than accommodation. When Brad and I are travelling together we tend to pay a little more for accommodation and visit restaurants rather than prepare our own food and I really have to try and not get frustrated with this.
I often get irritated that he drinks a few beers at dinner and I can find myself mentally adding up that cost in my head and planning what else I could do or see with that money. I really have to take a deep breath and understand that he doesn’t travel like me and he has a right to do it his way as does every traveller.
There was a comment from Globe Trekker travel presenter Ian Wright that I’ve hung on to over the years. He talked about how he hated “travel snobbery”. Often he would hear people talking about how they weren’t a tourist, they were a “traveller”. It doesn’t matter how you travel, we are all tourists and whether you want to camp in your car or stay at the Hilton, travel is travel and everyone benefits when we all visit places that expand our own horizons.
I also like to really immerse myself in the region I’m visiting so while I try and keep moving, it’s not unusual for me to plan 3 weeks in Japan and end up staying 6 weeks. I always like to keep at least a week up my sleeve mostly because you always hear about things to see or do once you are in a country and I don’t want to have a flight booked and lose the opportunity to do something amazing.
I’m also not a country ticker. For me, spending a day in Munich doesn’t really mean that I’ve seen Germany. I know I have been there and it’s on my passport, but I don’t consider a location to have been really visited unless I’ve spent some time there. I don’t know anything about Germany because I’ve literally only spent 1 day in Munich so I don’t have any real impressions of Germany as a whole. Until I can do that, it will remain on my list of countries to visit. That’s just what works for me.
Honey Island Cypress Swamp, Louisiana, 2015
Hiking in Samoa, 2019
Could you share some travel stories with us, the ones that stay deep in your head and heart?
I was on an over-landing truck through Africa a few years ago and became firm friends with a woman from New Zealand called Julia. We visited a tribe in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia who are known for their skin scarification and lip plates. When you arrive, you learn about the village and their day-to-day life and after about an hour they all go and get all their finery on and pose for photos.
The photos were 5Bir (Ethiopian currency) which is nothing to us but I always feel slightly uncomfortable with this type of thing. I know that the money they make from one little van of tourists coming out to the village probably means they have money to fall back on, I just never really feel great about it. I like that they are paid for their time but I get really nervous that if it goes away, will they be OK?
So I took maybe 10 photos as did Julia and then we moved to the shade of a tree to wait for the others. A woman that had been following me around came over as did a few other older women from the tribe, and with no common language we managed to have quite the discussion about “women’s business”. It was so much fun and so cool to hang with these women who lived a totally different life from us and still be able to communicate about issues we all face.
Another story that I think about often happened when I was walking the Camino de Santiago with my sister Sue. We were at this tiny Albergue one night in a small village and decided to have dinner at the Albergue instead of going to the one restaurant in town as did the other 4 hikers staying there that night.
We were having dinner and Sue commented on how much the Spanish love bread. Every meal you have on the Camino has almost unlimited bread. One of the other hikers, Rosario, an Italian man, said that the very best bread in the world was Afghan bread. Immediately the gentleman sitting next to him, Bruce, turned and asked how he came to be in Afghanistan.
It turned out that Rosario, who was an ex-Italian special forces soldier and Bruce who was a medic, had both spent time in Afghanistan in the same location at the same time. Not only that, they were both walking the Camino trying to process these experiences and be able to settle into everyday life.
Rosario was doing 35-40 km a day (which is high mileage for the Camino) just because he was so used to being constantly ”on” that he couldn’t seem to operate at a more relaxed level. Bruce was walking with his headphones in and with his god trying to open up and dismantle the wall that he had put up to protect himself from the trauma.
I was in tears, Sue was in tears and the other couple at the table were also really affected. We quietly excused ourselves and went to bed, and when I got up to use the bathroom at 2 am I could still hear them talking downstairs. What are the chances in a tiny village in Spain, in a small albergue, at a private dinner table that 2 people who were fighting the same demons came together and met someone else who knew exactly what they were going through?
There is a saying that “the Camino provides” and I’ve come to believe that it’s more like “the universe provides”. While I think about Rosario and Bruce often, the outcome of that experience is that I have made myself much more open to hearing others I meet in my travels. I find that now I really listen to what they have to say and if I can help, I do. I might never see them again but I’m 100% happy with that because I know that it will come back to me one day.
Bamboo rafting, Thailand, 2007
What are the most interesting and exclusive things to pay attention for travellers, in your opinion?
Travel for me is about the landscape, the people and the animals. If you boil it all down, that’s what it’s about.
Landscapes allow you to see things you have never seen before. It might be a sunset, or a cave, or a reef system, but letting go, paying attention and really experiencing where you mean that usually, that feeling will stay with you forever.
People allow you to learn. Learn about their life, their customs, and what is important to them and often learn more about yourself. Paying attention to what is important to a Zimbabwean might help you to understand what you can do to alleviate global warming.
Animals are a wonder for me. Sitting on a mountainside in Uganda for an hour with a family of 20 mountain gorillas will change your life. Volunteering with a turtle hatchery in Borneo will open your eyes to the damage happening to our oceans, and sitting on a log eating your lunch while on the Overland Track in Australia and having a wombat waddle past reassures you that there is still hope.
We need to pay extra attention to the plight of animals as we cover the planet with more and more and work hard to establish a compromise on how we all can share this planet.
I always feel that there is something interesting and noteworthy wherever you are. Even a lack of something can focus your attention on what might be your next cause.
Pyramids of Giza, 2014
Three cities, Malta, 2017
How did your general view of the world change with travelling?
People often ask me what I’ve learned about travelling. If they are someone that I know will consider what I’m saying my response is always “less is more & education is king”.
To me, at the end of the day, my zip lining experience in Costa Rica isn’t going to be any less because I’m using a 4-year-old phone, or my clothes are from the thrift shop – BUT – my footprint on the earth will be. The lighter my footprint the more hope I have that the things we can see and do now will still be available for future generations. For me, less is more.
Travelling has really opened up my eyes to everything and I hope every time I visit somewhere new that I come away with a better idea of how we can all live and interact genuinely and with purpose. I feel that every destination educates me in some way, whether it’s just learning about new cultures or learning how to be better myself. You can make better decisions in life if you have the knowledge of how to do that. Education is king.
There are so many times I’ve taken a deep breath and felt grateful for where I was born and the services I have access to, and I honestly believe if we could all get out and experience just a slice of a life that isn’t ours, maybe we can all learn to be a little smarter in our decisions and leave this world better than we found it.
Jen and Paige at Taj Mahal, 2012
Anapurna Circuit, Nepal, 2013
Which places would you come back to and why?
I always find it so hard to pick places that I would return to, mostly because there’s always something else out there I would love to see. Overall as far as countries go, I have probably 5 that I would love to go back and spend more time in.
- Spain – despite spending 3 months in Spain I would love to go back and immerse myself into the smaller communities.
- USA – Like Australia there is so much to see and do in the US and I find the people overall to be incredibly hospitable. Their national parks are stunning, their cities are diverse and it’s an incredibly easy country to travel. I’ve visited I think maybe 20 US states and feel that I’ve only touched on what it has to offer.
- Chile – I would love to go back and see much more of Chile. We visited over 20 years ago and I feel like there were areas that we would have loved that we just couldn’t get to at the time. Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park is a dream of mine so Chile is on the revisit list for sure.
- Iceland – We visited Iceland in the winter and while it was amazing for 2 Aussies to be in those conditions I can only imagine how stunning it must be in the summer. I will definitely go back and visit during that time.
- Samoa – Samoa is one of the most relaxing places on earth. I’ve only spent 3 weeks in Samoa but I do feel I’ve seen almost all of it and yet it calls to me like not many places do. The people are lovely, the weather divine and that coastline… What’s not to love!?
I do have to mention Africa as a continent here. I don’t have a specific country I could name but Africa seeps into your soul. I’ve spent about a year travelling in Africa and still have probably 30% to see but experiences from Africa are always front and centre in my mind. So not that I have somewhere specific to go back to, but I don’t feel I will ever really fully let go and say I’m done with the African continent.
Dog Sledding in Canada, 2015
Niagara Falls, 2013
Do you aim at visiting all UN countries, and why? If not, do you have any ambitious travel goals?
I would love to visit all UN countries however I”m not sure I have enough time left! It would be a dream to experience life from the perspective of every nationality, and it is a dream, but I’m realistic about it actually coming to fruition.
Larapinta trail hike, Australia, 2019
Cap Blanc, Mauritania, 2016
Finally, our signature question – if you could invite any 4 people to dinner, from any period in history, who would your guests be, and why?
I would definitely have my husband so he can have the experience with me. 3 other people…. Hmmm
Louis Theroux – for behind-the-scenes stories
Betty White – just for fun!
Lee Harvey Oswald – I need to know!
Volcano Pacaya, Guatemala, 2009