As part of the next instalment in my international version of Guests’ Corner, I chatted to Jess of travel and photography blog, Longest Bus Rides.
Jess is an avid traveller, with a passion for photography, travel and culture. Through her incredible, visually stunning blog, Longest Bus Rides (inspired by a month-long trip around Mongolia), Jess tells her fascinating travel stories, sharing breathtaking photos as she goes.
She believes in wandering – be it about a village in Spain or Indonesia – and she always endeavours to head off the beaten track. Ideally, she also enjoys discovering foods she has never eaten before – although she’s sworn off coagulated blood, goat testes and frogs for good…
Jess believes in travel for the sake of travel, which is no doubt why her adventures have seen her visit six continents and around 30 countries.
Follow her beautiful blog for a heady dose of travel tales, tips and wonderful photography.
1) Who or what inspired you to go into travel blogging?
I had an amazing solo trip around Mongolia for a month and wanted an outlet for posting my stories and photography.
I had so much information – and fascinating, little stories to share. And I thought it could help other travellers, who were planning their trips. Especially those wanting to get off the beaten path… There was a dearth of information when I was researching for my trip.
2) What kind of traveller are you: thrill seeker, culture vulture, adrenaline junkie, nature lover or some of everything?
I would have to say that I’m a little bit of everything. It really depends on what I’m doing that particular day. But I generally enjoy anything that’s new to me and which provides some kind of learning experience. For example, cage diving with great white sharks in South Africa was a great experience. I entered nature in a way I hadn’t before, learned about the ecology and behaviour of these sharks.
Meanwhile, a day’s drive away, I’d been in Lesotho (the tiny country within South Africa’s borders), where I rode a pony several hours from the nearest road. And spent the night in a village, where I got to hang out with a bunch of women and partake in the maize alcohol they’d made and ate boiled sheep with greens and pap. (Ground maize, boiled to a consistency of rice).
3) Which are your top three most memorable travel experiences and why? Please list each one with a brief explanation.
1) In Haiti I’d hiked to the top of a mountain with a local friend: To check out a village that might make a good host for a day tour for foreigners volunteering nearby.
As we began hiking back down, a guy came from behind on his motorcycle and offered us a ride down. I don’t think he drove very fast, since the road was steep and stony, but I have never wanted to wear a helmet more in my life. Squished between these two men, I apologised each time I screamed in their ears. But it was really scary bouncing and skittering across rocks!
b. Doing laundry on the Mongolian steppe: After driving through the Gobi Desert and then horse trekking across the steppe, my clothes were pretty dirty… My guide and I stayed one night in a village he didn’t know but found a woman who rented out a spare ger.
Walking by another ger, I saw that inside was a washing machine… I will never know what a washing machine was doing so far from any road or electricity, as neither my guide, nor the woman spoke English. However, I pointed at it. My guide knew me pretty well by then and helped me negotiate a price for a load of laundry. I had to pay $5, plus take a truck down to the river with a couple of huge rain barrels. Using smaller 5-gallon buckets, my guide and I filled the big barrels.
Upon our return, the washing machine was connected to a generator and I put all my clothes in along with some water. Myself, the woman, my guide and a couple of other people watched as the wash cycle began and the water turned brown. The woman added powdered soap. When the water turned brown again a minute later, she added more soap… then more soap. Finally, she gave up and my clothes went through the wash cycle in brown water…
c. “Run!” My guide turned to run and I wasn’t sure what was happening. It was just the two of us in the Kenyan forest and I’d just been admiring the huge butterflies this area is known for. “Run,” he ordered.
In my flip flops and patterned orange sarong I ran after him. After a minute we stopped running. “I thought I heard forest elephants,” he explained, describing them as small but very dangerous animals. That was the first I’d ever heard of this kind of elephant. They’re differentiated by tusks that point slightly inward, giving a narrower profile to more easily move between trees.
My home country is the United States. It’s really eye-opening how varied ‘American’ culture is in different cities and states.
Food is a great example: Hawaii has poke (marinated raw fish, similar to ceviche), which was nearly unheard of in California until the past several years. And, living in California, we have California cuisine.
Also, in major foodie cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York people have come from all over the world and opened restaurants from their own home countries, like Ethiopia, Peru, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma)… Meanwhile, when I visit the Midwest, it’s totally different with local food more along the lines of barbecue, steak and potatoes or biscuits and gravy.
5) Worst (local) travel experience?
One day, I wasn’t far from home when I saw a family that appeared to be Muslim (since the woman was wearing a headscarf)… The family was crossing the street with their little kids, when some African American women drove up and yelled at them, “Go back to where you came from,” and obscenities.
I felt really helpless in the crosswalk, as the family hurried past me, since we were pedestrians in the road. The mean people were in a car, inching toward us threateningly. I had no idea what to do, other than let them hurry away and watch to make sure the bad people didn’t follow them…
6) Your top three travel destinations across the globe – either that you have personally experienced or would love to visit?
Poland, Cambodia and Mongolia, in no particular order, are my favourites. You should visit all of them as soon as you have the chance!
Can I add a fourth? Visit a country in Africa and do a safari! Safaris are available in all price ranges (even self-drive) – and there is nothing in the world like watching a wild animal close up.
Three destinations I’d jump at the opportunity to visit are:
Anywhere there’s a total solar eclipse. I recently saw my first in person – and it is definitely one of those natural events that makes you stop and watch.
Ethiopia and Rwanda are already on my list, as I have friends and family serving as Peace Corps Volunteers there. I was a volunteer myself. It definitely gets you living in the country, which is totally different from the average expat living in an expat community.
7) Any useful travel sites/blogs that you can recommend for following?
Lost with Purpose is the only travel blog I read, and even then, only occasionally. But I should read it all the time. The articles leave me laughing, as the author has a sense of humor that I love!
I always keep an eye on the travel website, TravelPirates.com, because fairly frequently they have airfares to some part of the world I haven’t visited yet for a very good price.
Sure, why not follow my blog if you enjoy off-the-beaten-track destinations. It’s called Longest Bus Rides… since I’ve been on a fair few of those!
8) If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
China. I’d love to trek through panda territory, trying local cuisine and seeing if I can spot a panda in the wild.
Plus, Xi’an looks like a fascinating place to visit, as it was on the Silk Road. It’s a huge country and has so much to see, both in terms of culture and nature.
9) Do you have any handy tips for planning a trip/day out in your city (and please state which city it is)?
If you ever visit San Francisco, California you should definitely visit places. And do activities that are in the Top 10, like visit Alcatraz, ride a bike or walk across Golden Gate Bridge and ride a trolley car etc.
However, you should also research a few neighborhoods and read about the history and learn the culture. For example, the Mission District is fascinating. Plus, it has the best taco shops and my favorite doughnut shop!
10) Best travel advice for locals and tourists?
Wander. Whether it’s for 20 minutes or days… Just wander around wherever you happen to be. You’ll discover something you never would have put on your itinerary. Or, maybe you’ll just get a little bored. Or, maybe you’ll get a little lost and have to find your way back… Whatever happens, take a quick photo to commemorate your mini adventure.
To read about and see all of Jess’s travel stories and experiences, you can visit her awesome blog.
Thank you very much, Jess, for appearing in this guest travel segment.
Author: Tamlyn Ryan
Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. And, despite a national diploma in Journalism, in her free time, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.
Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.