Kristen Jacobson is a Canadian travel blogger who is one hundred percent addicted to traveling and truly embraces adventure and the unknown. Her adventurous attitude has taken her all over the world and gotten her into some truly memorable experiences! Here is our exclusive interview with the fabulous Kristen, so make yourself a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy as she tells her tales of wanderlust from all around the globe.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from, what do you do, what is your website about?
My name is Kristen Jacobson, and I’m a risk-taking, adventure seeking, travel junkie. I am also an actor, humanitarian, ferret owner and flower child. I also have a pretty cool pair of traveling pants.
I am originally from Brampton, Ontario, which is a city just outside of Toronto.
I am the creator of Hopscotch the Globe – a travel website containing tips & tales from an adventure junkie and her traveling pants. I started Hopscotch the Globe about a year and a half ago, just before I left for a 300-day trip around the world. I wanted to have a place where I could share my stories, videos and pictures with other travel enthusiasts. Its also fair to say that if you ask people who have known me for a very long time, they will use the word world traveler to best describe me. I have been backpacking across different countries solo for 8 years, and love to inspire and encourage others who dream of venturing into the world, far away from their comfort zone.
What was your first travel experience?
There is definitely a difference between my first travel experience, and my first “real travel” experience. What I mean by “real travel” is actually staying long enough in a country to live and breathe the culture. This means, mingling with the natives, learning the language, eating the foods, participating in cultural ceremonies, etc. So, my first “real travel” experience was when I was 17, and I spent 4 months living and volunteering in Paraguay, South America.
This is when I was diagnosed with the travel bug – the NEED to continuously travel for remainder of my existence. It was my last semester of high school, and spending four months in Paraguay, South America was an opportunity offered by my school as a co-op program in exchange for six credits. It was there first I boarding a plane without my parents and the first time I’d be away from my family, friends and home for an extended period of time. I was scared, sad, nervous, and excited. My experience in Paraguay was amazing, and I really learned about myself. I realized that there was and entire planet that I needed to explore.
Can you describe the moment where you realized you were addicted to travel?
When I arrived back to Canada after four months of living in Paraguay, my whole world changed. What I mean by that is I had become a different person who looked at the world differently. I had really grown and experienced what many people don’t experience their entire lives, and I was only seventeen years-old. When I came home, everything and everyone was the same, which came as a shock to me because I was so different. It took a lot of time and readjusting to feel comfortable with my family and friends in Canada.
Thankfully, they all understood that I had just had a life altering experience and respected that I needed space. I eventually got back into the swing of the Canadian lifestyle but my love for travel only got stronger in time. Before I knew it, I was on another plane, headed to another country, and that routine has continued for the past eight years with no plans on changing. I am so grateful for the experience I had in Paraguay because without it, I don’t know what I would be doing and who I would be today. My travels have greatly shaped the person I am, and I am so happy for that.
What has been the destination that felt most like home to you?
There have been different times in my life where I’ve felt closer to certain cultures or places. I feel strongly connected to the Latin culture. I love being in a Spanish-speaking environment. I also feel extremely connected to India. I feel an overwhelming love wash over me as soon as I step foot in the country. I just feel so captivated and in awe of the motherland (I told you I’m a flower child). However, I didn’t feel this way for the first month I spent in India. It wasn’t until the second month I was there, that I became so in love with the country.
Describe your most peaceful/happiest travel moment?
Oh, geeze. This one is a toughy because there are so many! Honestly, nearly every moment I am traveling, I am the happiest and luckiest girl in the world. From the new experiences to the thrill seeking adventure to the wonderful people I meet, it all makes me so happy and peaceful. I feel at one with myself and the planet.
Having said that, I can share my most rewarding experience:
In the summer of 2008, I traveled to Peru where I met an underprivileged family of 8 living in extreme poverty.
After spending 2 days with the family, I learned that they had been saving for years in order to get a clean water system in their village. After 3 years of saving, they only had 1/6 of what was needed. My fiancé, Siya, and I put together all of the money we had in our wallets and it equaled the exact balance of what it would cost the family for the pipeline. Siya and I took the mother aside and discretely handed her the money.
We told her that we wanted her to have it so that her family would have access to what all living beings should have the right to – clean water. The moment we handed her the money, is one of the moments I will never forget. The mother covered her face and broke down crying. She was speechless for words but managed to get out “bless you and thank you.” At that moment, I felt so grateful for having the chance to do something that seemed so little but would ultimately change their life.
Months after returning home, I got an email from a Peruvian friend with pictures of the family in front of their new water system with smiles that covered their entire faces.
Describe your scariest travel moment?
When I think of scariest travel moments, two experiences come to mind. The first one was the bus ride I took in Peru to get to the Colca Canyon. It was a long winding road up a mountain. The road was so narrow that each time we took a turn, I thought that my life was going to end. The bus looked as if it was going to fall right off of the cliff and send me plummeting thousands of meters to my death. It was even worse when cars and trucks driving towards us needed to pass. Sometimes it took 10 minutes just to do this and again, when you are trying to put two large vehicles side by side when you only have 5 feet of room, and you are 1000 and 1000 of meters from sea level, it is terrifying. I basically cried the entire ride. I really did! I still don’t know how I survived.
Another scary moment was getting robbed in Kolkata, India. Someone came into my room while I was sleeping and stole my camera, $250 CAD, a watch, and MP3 player. It didn’t take me long to find out that the fairly sketchy hotel had set us up. I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days after that incident. All I could think about was someone coming into my room and watching me sleep so that they can take my belongings. It’s very creepy. What was cool about it though is I got to ride in the back of a police truck and be interviewed by a swarm of media.
I also almost drove off a cliff in Thailand and almost got eaten up by a boat propeller while scuba diving… also in Thailand. I saw a shark while snorkeling in Indonesia, and my life flashed before my eyes.
What do you think is the most overrated destination?
The one time I felt disappointed about a place was in the south of Thailand. So many people told me that Thailand is the land of smiles. I expected to meet the friendliest people in the world, and it was actually the opposite. I found a lot of people to be rude and not want anything to do with travelers. However, I completely understand this. The south of Thailand is constantly swamped with travelers, tourists and expats. I think there may even be more foreigners than Thai’s living on the south islands.
There are also a lot of “irresponsible” tourists who come, get trashed and make a mockery of themselves. It’s disrespectful, and I’m sure many of the Thai’s who see this everyday are sick of it. Who wants to see their country’s beautiful beaches being trashed? I must add that I really do love Thailand… a lot. It’s a beautiful place and some of the kindest, most genuine people I know come from this country.
What do you think is the most underrated destination?
I think Malaysia is underrated. I don’t hear many other travelers talk about Malaysia, and it’s such a wonderful country. Malaysia is a bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony. If you love nature and outdoor activities such as hiking through jungles or snorkeling, this is the country to visit. Malaysia is also rich in animal and plant life.
There are many different environments for animals in Malaysia, including mangroves, mountainsides and rivers, former mining land, primary and secondary forest and open fields. The resulting diversity includes over 1000 species of butterflies, more than 600 species of birds, 280 species of mammals, 140 species of snakes and 165 species of frogs and toads. Many of the species are endemic to Malaysia-they are not found anywhere else in the world. New species are constantly being identified, especially in the depths of the rainforest. It’s a pretty amazing place, and I can’t wait to go back.
What is the most breathtaking view you have ever witnessed on your travels?
There was the most outstanding sunset that I had the chance to experience one night on Koh Phangan Island in Thailand. The ENTIRE sky was orange, yellow, red and black. It was outstanding to say the least. It was like something I’ve never seen in my life and probably will never see again. It had so many people gathered at the beach in complete awe. The sunset had these shapes along the horizon that looked like an entire city, and it kept molding into new forms throughout the duration of the sunset. I didn’t have my camera, and I am kind of glad I didn’t. I got to experience it with my mental camera, and I can still see it whenever I think back to this moment.
What is the strangest food you have ever eaten, and did you like it?
Oh gosh, where do I begin? I’ll divide it up by country:
Thailand – scorpion, disturbingly large grasshoppers, grubs, frog, bee larva
Italy – Goat brain, cow tongue, cow penis, cow heart
Peru – Guinea pig, piranha, alpaca, alligator, turtle foot
Morocco – Pigeon, camel
I’d have to say that out of all of these, the bee larva was the most revolting. I could taste the larva pop and ooze in my mouth each bite I took. It was far from pleasant.
The most delicious was the guinea pig and the large grasshoppers. I ate those grasshoppers like chips quite frequently during 2.5 months in Thailand.
What life lessons have you learned from travelling the world?
I have really learned to live in the moment. To focus on what I am doing in the present moment in order to appreciate everything much more. I learned a lot about this while I stayed in an ashram in India. It’s a continuous struggle to really live in the moment and be present but I’ve never felt more present than I do when I’m traveling. I guess it’s because I don’t have other priorities to think about. I am completely free of a schedule that someone else has made for me. What a great feeling that is!
I’ve also learned how to communicate and connect with people on a higher level. When you meet other people while you travel, you open yourself up to them right away. You share rooms with people you’ve only known for an hour and you share your most life changing experiences with people you’ve only known for a day. The people you meet on the road become your closest friends. At least, I can say, the best friends I have in my life are the one’s I’ve met on the road.
Another one is patience! Traveling really develops your patience for everything. When you are trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the same language or you are standing in line to buy a train ticket in India or you are teaching a bunch of six and seven year olds who just want to play jokes on the “foreign” teacher, you need to be patient. This has been a challenge for me at times, especially when traveling in India. The phrase “what the $%&@’ was constantly playing like a broken record in my head for the first month in India because nothing made sense to me and everything was done backwards.
At times I would get frustrated, but eventually those frustration turned into laughter, and now the things I wasn’t so patient about made me are the same things that made me fall in complete unconditional love with the country.
What item will you always carry in your backpack?
A pashmina. You can use it as a head wrap, pillowcase, blanket, top, dress, skirt, shoulder cover or just something to cuddle with. My traveling pants are also a must when I travel. They wouldn’t be traveling pants if I didn’t bring them with me everywhere. I also really love my headlamp and of course my notebook
What advice would you give to a first-time traveler?
Make sure you do some research on the place you are traveling to. It’s good to know the customs and a bit about the culture. You also want to make sure you have all of your passport and visa information and you’re up to date on travel vaccinations. Having said that, don’t research too much. When you don’t plan your trip to the “T” great thing you couldn’t even imagine will happen. You will have the freedom to take opportunities as they are handed to you. There’s no better feeling than arriving in a country and not having a plan. It’s a huge thrill! The options are endless, and all at your fingertips. After all, life is about the journey, not the destination, right?
Which destination would you recommend for a first-time traveler?
It depends on the person. There are all different types of travelers. Some want to jump right into it and be taken out of their comfort zone and have the most out of the box experience of their life. Others may be nervous because it’s their first trip and want to feel comfortable, safe, and taken care of. For the more nervous type, then it depends on their interest, how long they want to go for, who they will be traveling with, etc. It really depends, and I would need to talk specifically with that person. If that is you, feel free to email me at email@example.com and tell me a bit about yourself.
For the person who says, “I’ve never traveled and now I want to. Tell me the most adventurous place where I will feel completely out of my comfort zone.” I’d tell them to close their eyes, spin a globe, and see which country their finger lands on. This is actually how I chose to travel to Ghana in West Africa.
Did your life philosophy change once you started traveling?
Absolutely. The more I travel, the more I learn about the world and myself. As a result my life philosophy is always changing. Basically when it comes down to it, I’d say my life philosophy is “Life is what you make of it.” You can spend your entire life doing something that makes you comfortable and secure or you can continue to challenge yourself both physically and mentally. Travel is definitely a challenge but it is the best gift you can give yourself.
Who was the kindest or most generous person you met on your travels, and what did they do?
My best friend Alex, who I met during my travels in India and who I continued to travel to Thailand and Indonesia with gave me her camera when mine was stolen. She just gave it to me, with no thought about it. She said, here you go, I’m going to buy another one and I want you to have mine. This was so generous of here because I couldn’t afford to buy another camera and I wouldn’t have pictures from Morocco, Turkey and Greece if it wasn’t for her.
Another story of kindness was when I met a wonderful family in Chennai, India. Upon arriving at the Chennai Airport from Kolkata (after getting my things stolen), I was discussing prices of getting into town with a rickshaw driver when a very kind Indian lady approached me and said that her and her friend would be happy to drive me into town. Following my gut feeling that I could trust these people, I took their offer. After driving around looking for a hotel within my price budget, I was unable to find one. When I finally agreed to pay a little more than normal, the family asked me to stay at their house for the night.
Again, I felt safe and that I could trust these people, so I agreed. Little did I know that I would be staying in a BEAUTIFUL home with a beautiful family. The entire family works in the television industry, so we had a lot to talk about (that is my profession). It turns out the father of the family is a producer and the grandfather was a very famous cinematographer in India. The daughter had just finished her studies in television and film and the mother helped out a lot on her husband’s sets. The family gave me my own room and washroom for the night and fed me enough in one day to keep me full for a week. When I was getting ready to leave to my destination in Auroville, they made me promise that I would come back and stay with them again. Once again, I agreed.
Which destination was completely different than you expected?
I try not to make many expectations about travel. Again, I try and not research to much or ask too much about a place, because I’d rather just go and make my own experiences. I can say that Morocco did shock me though. I went there on an Intrepid trip that I won, and was blown away by the country. I loved it! It was so beautiful and interesting. I wish I spent more than 2 weeks there.
Which destinations are top of your list for future travel?
I really, really want to go to Antarctica. I also would love to go to Mongolia, China, Guatemala, Japan, New Zealand, and the moon. The list is far from ending there.
What are your future plans?
This year, I’m going on a cross-Canada road trip, visiting my friend in Guatemala or Costa Rica, possibly returning to Thailand, and well that’s all the information I have at the moment. However, I’m a last minute travel plan type girl. I could end up in the Arctic this year for all I know, and I would be more than happy.
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