Freelance writer, videographer and blogger, Jeannie Mark picked up and left her life in Vancouver in her late thirties, when most women her age are buying real estate, making their way up the career ladder and/or attending PTA meetings. The Alberta native took a leap of faith and decided she needed a “shakedown to the core”.
Since uprooting her life back in 2010, Jeannie has travelled across Canada by Greyhound and to 14 countries. She recently “settled down” for a while in China to teach English but isn’t done travelling. Her next trip is to participate in the running of the bulls at Pamplona this summer, followed by a trip to the south of France.
On her blog, Nomadic Chick, launched in 2009, Jeannie dispenses lots of excellent firsthand tips for solo female travellers and waxes poetic about getting lost, getting lonely and getting tattooed.
Why did you ultimately decide to quit your job to travel? Had you travelled much before that point?
I had been living a pale life, which is nothing new, but a few things happened that pushed me to finally live my dreams. I was overlooked for a promotion at work, which led me to evaluate whether I even wanted the promotion to begin with. Then I noticed a cropping of grey hairs—my thirties were fading fast and I decided to stop living a life that was disingenuous.
Travel and writing clicked because I had enjoyed both without compunction in the past. I had travelled when vacation time allowed. Those trips were too brief, but always revealed a side to myself, and to life overall, that was attractive to me. I needed to explore that further. The worst thing one can do is let regret be their sole occupation in old age.
You were in your late thirties when you started travelling. Do you recommend that to others? What do you say to those who are past their freewheeling twenties who are afraid to take that step?
Frankly, in my thirties I finally had the maturity to deal with the stresses of travelling. All these external forces revolve around you and maturity and wisdom allow you to filter the negative from the positive. Humans are living longer than ever before, which means many are also vital, curious and not interested in fading into the background. I can still party like a twenty-year-old—though recovery time is a little longer than it use to be!
I do get the occasional email asking what my “secret” is. It can be difficult for people to change. I always tell someone that they carved a life for themselves and they can easily step back into if they have to. Nothing is ever lost, and can always to be regained. I then challenge them to discover the “why”. Doing something this drastic has to have solid reasons, ones that can’t be influenced or suppressed. People who are close to you might not be supportive at first—not because they don’t love you, but because they worry. Once you are solid with the whys, start making a plan to put your goals into action. Fear is necessary. It shows us that we are close to what we truly want.
How long did you spend planning and saving for your trip before you started out?
About a year-and-a-half. The key to planning is making financial sacrifices. One has to be willing to do that, which ties into the “whys” of embarking on long term travel.
Before you started out around the world, you travelled to from Vancouver to Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and New Brunswick. What did you take away from that trip?
The overall experience of taking the Greyhound bus across Canada was surprisingly fulfilling. I love meeting characters and what better place than with a busload of strangers? I spoke to a poet, a teacher, a fella who worked at a mill and a retired couple travelling from Calgary to Toronto to visit their grandchildren. It was like encountering the entirety of Canada. My other discovery was how diverse Canada really is. Landscapes and attitudes changed drastically as I moved from the west coast to the east coast. And for God’s sake, get to Montreal before you die! It vibrates with an energy that is infectious.
Do you think it makes a difference to be in your thirties rather than your twenties for extended travel?
I think it boils down to perspective. In my twenties, I appreciated things less and was more selfish. This is not to imply all people in their twenties have these characteristics. The twenties is about exploration: making friends, seeing places, getting sexy with someone. In our thirties we look for deep, lifelong connections in tandem with that exploration. (And the occasional sexy time!)
What’s the hardest thing about travelling solo?
Unwanted isolation. At times I am greedy with my alone time, but sometimes what’s missing is that other person to bounce ideas off of or share the same experience.
How do you meet people as a solo traveller?
Couchsurfing offers meet-up nights in many cities. Lots of other sites like TravBuddy can also give options on traveller meet ups. I tend to meet people at my hostel or hotel randomly, and have been known to mingle with other travel writers and bloggers who are scattered across the world by way of social media. I personally love meeting everyday folks, not always other travellers. It’s the everyday citizens who clue me into that country or city.
A lot of your posts read like literature. Do you do any fiction writing or have any aspirations of authoring the “great Canadian novel”?
Damn, you found me out. My previous ambitions were to be a writer of Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates status. In Paul Theroux’s novel, A Dead Hand, the main character is a travel writer with severe writer’s block, hence he has a “dead hand”. It’s been an interesting journey, because my dead hand is spastic—so out of control these days that my fingers can’t keep pace with my mind! In short: yes, aspirations are a beating heart.
You recently decided to stay in one place and teach English in China. Why did you choose China and this job in particular?
Another one of my lofty dreams was to actually live in a foreign country. China’s demand for teachers makes it attractive because you can pick a posting that suits you. I liked the job because it’s with university-level students, which is where I’ll be most effective. And despite my adventurous nature, part of the reason was that I have a great friend here, a fellow writer. Also, Wuxi (near Shanghai) is a mid-sized city, giving me enough stimulus and quiet.
What three things do you miss most about Canada?
Poutine! I tried getting it in Hong Kong. Big fail. It tasted like a sloppy, congealed mess.
Pleasant drivers: China seems to have no driving laws, so pedestrians are fair game.
Central heat: I’ve now stopped fantasizing about men and imagine central heating units or tropical locales.