Every year we take some time to sit down with our user who visits the most countries that year, our “Globetrotter of the Year,” to hear more about their adventures. Last year it was Oscar Garcia, who visited 18 countries (via 13 flights and 4 trains) as part of a 91 day trip. This year it was Jillian Krisinger, who visited 15 countries with StudentUniverse as part of three trips in 2015.
Here’s what we spoke about (caution – this post could cause extreme wanderlust).
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Are you a current student?
I am currently 24 years old and enrolled in an online business program at Western Governors University. Taking classes online gives me the flexibility to travel and take part in my degree program from anywhere.
When did you catch the travel bug?
After I graduated from undergrad, I studied abroad in London at age 21. That was my first time abroad. By the end of 2016 I will have been to 50 countries – I covered a lot of ground in three years.
Where did you travel to in 2015?
In 2015 I went on three trips. The first was a volunteer trip to Vietnam for two weeks.
The second was a month long trip in June to eight countries in Central America – Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Panamá and Costa Rica. I went on a tour through G Adventures for part of the trip.
The third was a month long solo backpacking trip in August where I hit five more countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
What were the most memorable spots you saw along the way?
Going to Vietnam was my first introduction to Southeast Asia. I am going back this year. The infrastructure for tourism is already set up there, which makes it easy to get around.
Nicaragua was my favorite Latin American country. I visited here as part of a G Adventures tour, during which I stayed at a Homestay on an island (on a volcano) and stayed at a surfing lodge/hut where I surfed and hung out.
How do you fund all this travel?
I currently drive for Lyft. It’s a great job because it offers me the flexibility to work as much, or as little, as I want. Some weeks I put in 50 hours of driving to make extra money.
In reality, when you are booking travel, the most expensive thing is the flight. If you can get the flight for cheap, you are halfway there. I have been using StudentUniverse for a few years now and book 99% of my flights this way.
In terms of accommodations, I stay at both hostels and homestays. I generally try to set up a homestay, but if it doesn’t work out then I book a hostel. When I stay at hostels, I make sure they are cheap and that they have a kitchen where I can cook my own food. Couchsurfing is also a really cool way to travel; it runs on a reviews-based online community and you get to spend time with local people that live there (sometimes literally on a couch, other times in a spare bedroom) and go out to eat or participate in activities that aren’t as touristy as you may have otherwise. At one of my homestays, I helped make dinner at night and they let me stay in one of the dorms for free.
All of the trips I go on take months of planning, budgeting and preparation to run smoothly. Usually when things don’t run smoothly, that’s when extra expenses can start popping up.
What tips do you have for other travelers packing for long trips?
I do one of two things – I either carry on a large backpack (make sure your backpack fits carry on specifications before your trip) or I check my large backpack and also carry on a smaller day pack. In my carry on day pack, I bring an outfit or two, and the things I would need to survive if my large backpack was to get lost for a few days.
I would suggest you make sure the zippers on your backpack lock, bring a travel towel (which takes up a lot less space than a regular towel) and use packing cubes (zipping mesh cubes that you can fit a lot of clothes in and stack in your backpack together) to maximize the space in your backpack.
Traveling alone and staying on people’s couches, what safety tips do you have for other travelers who may be nervous to do the same thing?
I’ve never had a problem doing these things. Bad things can happen anywhere, but as you prepare to travel to a foreign country, you should always do your research on things that are culturally different, and what you should and shouldn’t do. If you’re staying at a homestay, always talk with the host ahead of time and make sure they have reviews. Overall, just be wary.
How do you handle currency when you’re traveling to so many different countries on a single trip?
You will always get the best rate on currency when you take it out in your destination at an ATM (I usually get some out at the airport). I also travel with a debit card, a Visa travel card (you can put different currencies on it through Travelex and locks in a good rate) and a few hundred US dollars – just in case something goes wrong.
What’s your next trip?
I have already bought another 15 or so tickets through StudentUniverse to go on my biggest adventure yet in 2016. I will hit six continents (including North America) as part of this trip. On Thursday I leave to head to Colombia for six days. From there, I go through Europe, Asia, North Africa and end in Australia (it will take me six months to get there). Once I arrive in Australia, I will start a one-year Working Holiday Visa, which will allow me to work in Australia for a year. I will spend 18 months away from home.
We hope Jillian’s trip inspires you to travel on in 2016!