Friday, June 13, 2014

Interview (33) - Jenny and her daughter Dakota

My name is Jenny, I’m 40-something and I have an IT job in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. My daughter, Dakota, who is turning 8 next week has been travelling all of her life – starting with a trip to Australia before I even realised I was pregnant.

After her father and I travelled in South America for a month without her, I made Dakota a promise that I would never leave her behind again. Now that it is just the two of us we have been able to continue our adventures with travel to more off-the-beaten-track locations – our latest trips have been to Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Japan.

  1. What was your inspiration or the event/idea that made you want to travel?
Jenny - Many New Zealanders go on their OE (overseas experience) in the teens and 20s, including many of my friends and my younger brother! Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances I wasn’t able to do the same. However, once those circumstances changed in my 30s I was off.

  1. What was your first travel experience?
Jenny - I visited Australia and Fiji several times, but they were more like holidays rather than real travel. So my first real travel experience would be a month long trip through Italy, France, England & New York on the way home. We were travelling in September 2001 so there was some uncertainty about how we would get home via NY, but it all worked out OK.

Dakota - Australia but I don't really remember it.

  1. Have you ever felt lonely travelling solo?
Jenny – No, never. I always have Dakota with me and I enjoy meeting people along the way, whether that is in hostels, Couchsurfing or just when we are out and about.

  1. Do you have any fun stories of things that happened to you that you realized even at the time, “This never would have happened if I had been traveling with someone else?”
Jenny – one of our best experiences was in Japan, in a small town called Nakatsugawa. It was dusk and Dakota and I were sitting on the side of the road using free wi-fi to send email back home. A couple walking by stopped to talk to us, and invited us to their party/gathering at a local bar. Even though only a few of the people could talk English we had an awesome evening sharing food, drink and laughs and meeting new friends.

  1.  What was your best travel experience?
Jenny - I loved being part of the Naadam festival in Mongolia, experiencing the New Year celebrations in Japan. And when Dakota and I completing our climb up Holy Nose, Lake Baikal (our guide did not think a 7 year old would be able to do it).

Dakota - riding wild horses and camels in Mongolia

  1.  Is there anything you would have done differently/ any regrets, if you could do it over again?
Jenny - Every time I go away I learn to pack less and less, especially as I have to carry everything for both of us. I wish I had done this from the start.

  1. What was your worst travel experience?
Jenny – As many tourists do, I went on a bike ride of the Death Road in Bolivia. Our guide had stopped to talk about the area when he stepped back and went over the side of the cliff. Tragically he did not survive, and the men in our group had to recover his body. We then had to continue the ride for another couple of hours to the end of the road, despite being in shock.
Dakota - my uncle nearly dying in Russia

  1. What’s the strangest situation you have found yourself in?
Jenny - Last year we went to Russia with my brothers. In Siberia one of them was hospitalised with appendicitis in small rural hospital. Becoming a customer of the Russian health system was an experience – from the dressing up in a white coat and plastic shoe covers just to visit him, the lack of medical equipment that is so common in NZ, through to the challenges about paying the hospital bill via travel insurance. But that said, they did save his life and for that I am eternally grateful.

  1. Where will you never return to?
Jenny – I would re-visit nearly every place I have been, with the exception of New Caledonia. The people were lovely, but it was so commercial and expensive I didn’t really enjoy my time there.

  1.  What are your future travel plans?
Jenny – Dakota and I are off again in November, this time to Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Israel and Jordan with a stopover in Chile; plus some travel in New Zealand beforehand.

  1. What are your top three tips for women traveling solo?
  • You don’t need to stop just because you have children – they give you a completely different perspective when you visit new places together, and you are expanding their minds.
  • Pack less – you really don’t need all that stuff
  • Smile

Dakota (for kids)
  • Stay close to your parents
  • Have a lovely travel time
  • Try Couchsurfing

  1. What would you tell women who are looking to travel alone but worry about their safety?
Jenny - The majority of people are friendly and more than willing to help a traveller if asked (yes, even in countries that are in the media as not been safe). That said, and especially because I have Dakota with me, I always go with my gut instinct if I feel uncomfortable in situation – which has only happened once.

  1. Couchsurfing..what do you think about that?
Jenny - I love Couchsurfing, we have numerous people come and stay with us here in New Zealand. In Japan and Mongolia we Couchsurfed and had the most incredible experiences staying with people. For example, our host in Numazu was our informal guide for two days, showing us around and teaching us about Japanese culture and customs.

Dakota - it's nice, you meet lots of people

  1. How do you pay for a life of travel?
Jenny - I work and save. My friends joke that I think of every purchase in terms of ‘What % of an airfare or hostel bed does that cost?’ We try to travel every 12-18 months.

  1. Tell us about the best food you have ever eaten on your travels?
Jenny - I loved frybread in America, sushi made fresh in Japan, and Borscht (Russian beetroot soup). The homestay we were in at Lake Baikal, Russia, had the most wonderful home grown and home cooked food with fish fresh from the lake every day.
Dakota – soba noodles when I was in Japan

  1. What is the most breathtaking view you have ever witnessed on your travels?
Jenny - Man-made would have to be Peterhof in St Petersburg - the grounds, fountains and palaces were stunning. Natural view would be the mountains in Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan, and the stunning Lake Baikal from the top of Holy Nose. I love NZ scenery as well.

Dakota - Lake Baikal in Russia

  1. What do you miss about your home when you go traveling?
Jenny - Not much really, maybe access to a washing machine when I need it.

Dakota - my cats and dogs

  1. What item will you always carry in your backpack?
Jenny - My hiking boots, though they are usually on my feet rather than on my backpack, and my camera, and a diary

  1. Who was the kindest or most generous person you met on your travels, and what did they do?
Jenny - When my brother was hospitalised our guide, who spoke English and Russian, offered to translate for him whenever he or the doctors required it. He helped us buy phones, phone cards so we could keep in touch as Dakota and I had to leave them both behind. He also went back to pick them up when he was eventually discharged and took them back to Ulan Ude, about 250km away. Oh, and Dakota has just reminded me that he drove like a madman to get him to the hospital in time, 80km on a dirt road, and no doubt causing damage to his car. I cannot thank him enough.

Dakota – Our Couchsurfing host in Japan who took us up Mt Fuji

  1. What have you learned from travelling?
That most people are kind, generous and welcoming, and willing to help. And that travel is more about the people you meet, and the experiences that you have rather than the bucket list items you can tick off your list. It has also been wonderful to see Dakota learn more about the world and see how things are so very different outside of New Zealand.

  1. Who inspires you? What other travellers do you look up to?

Jenny - I love talking to the couchsurfers that visit us, and am inspired by their travel stories

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