Jade Johnston, a Canadian Tripper, blogger and avid traveler who’s lived in 6 countries, is our Tripper of the Week…..
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I am a 25 year old “digital nomad” from Canada. I grew up on the Canadian prairies and did not begin travelling until I was 17. After that I pretty much travelled non-stop. I participated in the Canadian volunteer and travel program, Katimavik, and then soon after moved to Denmark on a university exchange. I completely fell in love with Europe and ended up staying there for a couple years afterwards.
I love the idea of volunteering and travelling. In 2007 I went to Costa Rica for three months to work on an eco-tourism project. The experience and connection with the community that we developed there was amazing.
I have now just finished a year working abroad in New Zealand and will soon be heading to Australia on another working holiday visa. I’m looking forward to seeing the outback, but I’m terrified of all of Australia’s poisonous animals!
What is the craziest adventure you’ve had on your travels so far?
I have had a couple pretty intense travel experiences, which is strange since I am a pretty cautious person. I don’t usually try to put myself in “extreme” or dangerous situations, however, sometimes it just sort of happens that way.
When I was traveling through Laos, my partner and I stopped at the famous backpacker haven of Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is famous for the river tubing. This activity can be dangerous, and often results in injured backpackers. However, it was not the tubing which almost injured me! We decided to go on a “relaxing” guided hike the day after our tubing. We didn’t realize that in order to access the area we would be hiking in, that we would have to cross an extremely dangerous and extremely rickety bridge. The bridge was basically four wires – two to walk on and two to hang on to. There were also a few rotting and cracking boards placed over the wires, but they would snap in half if you put your weight on them. I managed to get across without injuring myself, but not without first having a mild panic attack half way!
My other really crazy adventure involved taking a chance and trusting a stranger. During a trip about Hungary, Romania, and Serbia in the winter, I ended up stranded outside a train station in southern Hungary. I had missed my connection due to a train derailment in Serbia and had to wait until the next day to get a train. Unfortunately the small town did not have a cheap hotel and I was not prepared to shell out the cash for anything posh.
I was resolute that I would sleep at the train station and wait for the early morning train. One of the local guys decided that this was not a good idea and tried desperately to convince me of otherwise, but I was resolute. He was not able to communicate in English though, so eventually he came back with a cell phone. The man with broken English on the other side of the line informed me that this man was his father and he would help me get to where I was going.
Confused, but worn out, I decided to trust the man. He led me across the train tracks to a very old looking train engine which was not attached to any cars. Without any warning, he grabbed my bag and tossed it inside, and then helped me get inside as well. After first grabbing us both some coffee and sandwiches, we got in the train as well and proceeded to drive the train…. All the way to where I was flying out of…. Which was half way across the country! I guess you can say it was my first time accidentally hitchhiking!
You’ve traveled to more than 30 countries. What has been your best experience interacting with locals?
My best experience interacting with the locals definitely has to be in Costa Rica. I went to Costa Rica with 13 other young people through an organization called Youth Challenge International. We lived together in a small house, in a small community in rural Costa Rica. While there, we worked alongside the locals on an ecotourism project that the community had started.
Since we were working on a project that the locals themselves had initiated, they were also very involved themselves. There were always two or three locals each day working alongside us on the project. The families in the community were also so incredibly supportive. They invited us over for dinners, taught us how to make tortillas, and even invited us to weddings and other family celebrations. We even got weekly salsa dancing lessons from the cutest 12 year old girl.
The community there really took us under their protection as well. When word got around that some strange men were seen around the area with machetes, a small gang of local boys went to the bus stop to safely escort some of the girls in our group who had come back from town after dark.
I think the most amazing aspect of my time in Costa Rica was how easy it was to connect with people who spoke a different language than I do. My Spanish skills are pretty basic, but everyone still somehow managed to understand each other and work together.
You participated in Canada’s Katimavik program. Can you tell us a bit about the program and your experience there?
Katimavik is a Canadian travel and volunteering program for youth aged 17 – 21. Ten youth are selected randomly from applicants from each area of Canada, in such a way as to represent the larger Canadian demographic. When I participated, the program was seven months long. We lived in three different Canadian communities and worked full time on volunteer projects.
The interesting thing about Katimavik is how the selection process is randomized. You never know who you will end up living with. We ended up with one girl who couldn’t even speak a word of English.
The program, to me, is more about learning group and team work skills, and how to relate to, and work with people who are very different from yourself. Almost every evening we had group learning and team building exercises, and each week two people would have to stay home and do all the cooking and cleaning for the group.
Although I learned a lot from my three job placements that I had in Katimavik, I think the most valuable lessons I learned were from the group living environment. Canada is a huge country, and the culture changes significantly from region to region. The Katimavik environment forces us to confront these differences, and learn a way to work with them. I think it was this experience that helped prepare me for overseas travel.
You have lived in 6 countries. What is it about moving to a new country that you love most?
So far I have lived in Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Costa Rica, and New Zealand. One thing I really enjoy about living abroad is that you learn so much more about the local customs and ways of life than you would as a backpacker. By living with locals, and working alongside them, I really get to know about the culture.
Another great thing about living abroad is that suddenly everything is an adventure. Getting to the other side of town, or even to the newest supermarket requires research, maps, and wrong turns. Getting to know my way around a new city really feels like an accomplishment to me. The best feeling is when I can give tourists directions.
And of course another bonus of living and working abroad is the new experiences. I have worked in a huge variety of jobs, some of which I would have never considered if I was at home. I have been a nanny for non-English speaking kids, I have been a freelance journalist, and recently I worked in the Earthquake recovery effort in New Zealand. I don’t think any of these opportunities and work experiences would have been available to me if I had stayed at home.
Food is one aspect of travel you love. What is the most amazing meal you’ve eaten on your travels?
Sometimes when I am travelling, I develop an obsession with a particular food and just HAVE to have it all the time. It gets to the point where the last few days in the country are spent with me compulsively and obsessively seeking it out. In Thailand it was mango sticky rice. In Laos, it was laap. In Malaysia, it was cendo. Actually, most of my food obsessions revolve around desserts!
I think one of the best foodie destinations I have been to is Belgium. People don’t usually think of Belgium as a great food destination, but it actually has more high rated restaurants than France. Belgium has everything you could ever want, and the prices are really reasonable as well. Over 700 varieties of beer, and ooo so many amazing varieties of chocolate! Of course there are also French fries, which were actually invented in Belgium, not France. If you want something a bit healthier, then of course Belgium is also famous for their mussels – although I am not a fan of shellfish.
Where are you traveling next?
In November I am heading to Australia, after finishing my year in New Zealand. My partner and I plan to work for 6 months, and then travel for three before heading to Asia. We are planning to tour several countries in Asia, but the one absolute MUST DO on my list is Mongolia.
Jade is a Tripper from Canada who has visited more than 30 countries and lived in 6. Currently based in New Zealand, you can follow her adventures on her blog Our Oyster and connect with her through her Tripping profile.