Meet the GeoEx Travel Experts: Jesse Knight
Jesse Knight has moved into a new role as Director for Premier Access at GeoEx. We recently sat down with him to talk about his travel experiences and philosophy, and his goals in his role.
How did you first get interested in travel and what were your first significant travel experiences?
I got the travel bug as a kid on long family road trips in the back seat of our red Toyota Corolla. One of my favorite trips was a month-long road trip visiting Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and the Canyonlands (Bryce/Zion/Grand/etc). My love for our national parks was born on this trip. But perhaps more importantly, it sparked my passion for seeing beautiful landscapes in faraway places. There is something about looking out the window and watching the world go by that has appealed to me ever since.
When I was 17, my parents asked if I wanted money towards a car or to go to Australia on an exchange program. I went to Australia, and if the choice were offered to me again – I’d take the trip every time.
What countries have you visited?
I’ve lived in Argentina and Indonesia, and I’ve traveled extensively around South America, Southern Africa, Spain, India, and the U.S.
I’ve been to more than 50 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Bahamas, Colombia, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Togo, Benin, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Madagascar, India, Nepal, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.
What trip has especially shaped you as a traveler?
I think I truly fell in love with travel on my first trip to Africa. This was on a college summer program aimed at “exploring culture through art.” The trip was basically an overland journey through seven countries in Southern Africa. We camped in national parks, slept in huts in small villages, saw landmines and met their victims, hiked up mountains, and canoed down the hippo-full Zambezi. I went scuba diving for the first time and fell in love with birds. It was all magic.
What’s the meaning or excitement of travel for you?
Travel to me is the greatest education on earth. It’s about seeing the world and making your own judgements about the people and places. It’s about experiencing something in real time – taking a moment to breathe in the experience. You can watch a lion hunt on TV, but there is something altogether different about watching it live. It’s like taking something 2D and giving it three dimensions. You move from the abstract, detached experience of sitting on your couch to being in the middle of the action, smelling the air, hearing the birds give out a warning cry, dealing with the dust and heat, and empathizing with both the hunter and the hunted.
Travel is also about looking at a place on a map and thinking “I wonder what’s there?” And then finding out. Meeting indigenous people in the Amazon or drinking a pint of Guinness in Dublin or tasting Michelin-star food in Colombia or Japan. It’s about wandering around a city and finding a cute restaurant or a live music venue or a quaint tapas bar. It’s about walking down ancient Inca trails or Himalayan footpaths and pondering how unchanged some places of the world are. And then hearing the ubiquitous sound of a cell phone ring.
My favorite trips are usually nature focused, so I’m particularly excited by trips that include wildlife or hiking. Practically nothing beats going on safari, waking up to sunrise in the bush and getting excited for whatever happens to come your way that day. It’s about the anticipation of spotting a leopard or lion, and then realizing the thrill of the hunt is only half the prize – while looking for the lion, you also get to see animal tracks and fossils, and birds and antelopes in the hundreds. Your guide will explain why animals like this tree or that, and how the ebb and flow of rivers or the cycle of rain dictates the great migrations on planet Earth. And during this time, while being distracted by all the sights and sensations around your vehicle, you might get lucky and be rewarded with the sudden appearance of a lioness and her cubs.
What about your job most excites you and/or gives you particular satisfaction?
For me, planning a journey is all about creating unique travel experiences for our guests. I love it when clients come back excited from their adventure and raving about an unexpected moment that made for a lasting memory – like a surprise bush dinner under the African skies or an unexpected roadside stop at a local village or market. Or when people return from a place like Iran feeling blown away by the kindness of the people. I also like hearing that we planned the trip so well that our guests “wouldn’t change a thing!”
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I can’t narrow down my favorite travel experiences to just one. Here are a few that stick out:
- Visiting Syria in 2007: I entered the country at a time when it was labeled as an “axis of evil” country. But the people I met were among the most hospitable and lovely I’ve ever encountered. The food was exquisite and the history was somewhat unfamiliar to me. Walking through the empty desert ruins in Palmyra felt like being in my own version of Lawrence of Arabia. I had similar movie-like moments walking through the old streets of Damascus, stopping to play backgammon and drink tea in one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth. The fact that the country descended into total chaos a few years later makes me terribly sad for its people and also makes me grateful to have visited at a time of relative tranquility. It’s a good lesson in life – don’t always believe the media reports about a country. And also, visit a place when the opportunity strikes, because the chance may not come again.
- Backpacking through Bolivia: Bolivia is a unique destination, with incredible landscapes and limited tourist infrastructure. The Salt Flats of Uyuni (the world’s largest) sit at the top of the Andes in an extension of the Atacama Desert. The roads are terrible and the conditions extreme (high altitude and extreme cold), but it’s worth every bump on the road. Traveling through this area brings you close to active volcanos, flamingo-filled red lagoons, and mirage-like salt pans with cactus-covered islands.
- Going on a night safari in Zambia and watching a pride of lions attack a family of elephants: The attack lasted about ten minutes and didn’t result in a kill, but I’ll never forget the sound of seven or eight lions roaring and a dozen elephants trumpeting and growling while stomping their feet and holding their ground.
- Working in Indonesia as a scuba diver: I loved swimming in the ocean every day and taking clients out into the pristine underwater reefs of the South Pacific.
- Every time I’m on safari: I’ve never met an elephant or lion I wasn’t totally enamored with.
What are your most memorable GeoEx travel experiences?
- Horseback riding for several days in Torres del Paine.
- Going on safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta: The riches included elephants galore, lions every day, frequent leopard sightings, honey badgers, incredible birds, and wonderful guides and local hosts.
- Helicopter safari-ing in Mozambique: I’ll never forget flying over herds of buffalo and elephant, then flying up a Hawaii-esque coastline to reach a gorgeous beach resort.
- Witnessing voodoo ceremonies in West Africa.
- Heli-hiking in New Zealand’s Fjordland.
Anything else about your travel experiences or philosophy that you’d like to tell us?
The idea that travel is about the journey, not just the destination, is a cliché, but it also holds a lot of truth in my life as a traveler. One of my favorite quotes sums up my travel ethos: “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
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To learn more about the many far-flung destinations that GeoEx travels to, give Jesse, or any of our experts, a call at 888-570-7108.