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This 23-Year-Old Has Already Been to 82 Countries!

woman in front of waterfalls and a rainbow

Jenny Lundt is a young world traveler — she is currently 23, with 82 countries under her belt. She is a TNN community member, an advocate for equality, and a wiz at finding international scholarships and internships to aid her traveling. Today she talks to us about her love for travel, fast and slow travel, and gaps in the industry. 

About Me

Hi! I’m Jenny Lundt. I graduated from Colgate University in May 2019 with a dual degree in peace & conflict studies and Middle Eastern & Islamic studies. My mission is to work toward an equitable and peaceful world. A vital part of this vision is quality education, especially for women. However, cross-cultural understanding also plays an integral role in this, and travel is a great way to understand other people. 

I have combined my love of peace studies with my love of travel and have sought out enriching experiences around the world, yielding extended stays in Brazil, Jordan, Morocco, Thailand, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste. I have studied abroad in Nepal, and most recently, I was a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Malaysian Borneo. 

I love trying new food, trying to scheme my way into the tallest building in any new city, long walks, and books. At the time of writing, I am only 23 and have been to 82 countries.

woman in hammock near palm trees

Where do you call home? Describe it for us.

This question is always so difficult for me! I have four brothers, and up until recently, we occupied five states and five time zones. After being evacuated from Keningau, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo in March, I moved back in with my mom in Encinitas, San Diego County. She also recently relocated here for work, so it has been a process of learning about the area together. I wholeheartedly love it here. I feel like I’m a character in a dreamy, technicolor movie, chowing down fresh fish tacos and riding my sky-blue cruiser down the beach with a fiery-orange California sunset behind rows of palms. 

Why is it important you have a supportive travel community around you?

It was a strange sensation going to college immediately after having spent a year abroad at the age of 17. I felt strangely disconnected from my peers. I didn’t want to be that obnoxious girl always talking about my gap year. I also knew the stereotype that taking a gap year implied: mommy and daddy shelling out thousands to have a cool experience abroad. Little did they know that I surprisingly turned a profit during my year abroad.

Going to a 3,000-person school in the middle of nowhere amplified these feelings of isolation. I didn’t feel like I had anyone who I could swap my stories with and was concerned with making friends and how others would perceive me. I found solace in online bloggers, Facebook groups, and other traveling friends. 

The dominant travel voice out there is, “I was 30 years old and I realized I hated my job, so I sold everything and bought a one-way ticket.” Not to belittle their stories and experiences, as I think you need significant bravery to go against the grain like that, but it exactly wasn’t the community I was looking for at my age and stage of life. Slowly but surely, I found other young travelers, and they have been an incredible resource and source of inspiration for me.

woman smiling in front of colorful buildings along a river in Europe

How did you start traveling — like really traveling? What was the trip that had you bitten by the travel bug?

My mom’s brother died in the Vietnam War, and since no one in her family had a passport, they weren’t able to fly to spend his last moments with him. As a result, my mom vowed that there would never be a time we were without a passport. She dreamed that we would never be limited by anything, and has worked tirelessly to make this possible for us. From a young age, my four brothers and I learned that the world is full of endless possibilities and instead of being afraid of the unknown, we should embrace it wholeheartedly.

Now, my mom travels nearly half of every month for work, so she has the most impressive number of airline miles and hotel points accumulated I’ve ever heard of. As a result, she has earned hundreds of free flight tickets. As the only girl in my family, I lucked out. When my mom is deciding which child to accompany her to work, it’s very easy to just say “I’ll just take Jenny.” 

I spent some of my most formative years on wild adventures with my mom: the Amazon jungle, the United Arab Emirates, China, etc. We also did a lot of domestic travel: for three consecutive summers, we embarked on a 9,000+-mile American road trip. Spending every night in a new bed in a new city with four annoying brothers prepared me for a life on the road.

What did your first major trip teach you? Where did you go?

My first major trip was when I graduated from high school at the age of 17. I went with my high school best friend, Emma, on a six-week trip to Europe. We had — no joke — probably a cumulative $300 in the bank account. We were having a typical Italy trip, staying with family friends and seeing the main sites — the Coliseum, the Tuscan countryside, the Duomo — when after a night of a tad too much wine, we bought a $27 flight from Milan to Belgrade, Serbia, the next day. 

We spent the next three weeks gallivanting around the Balkans: learning about the Bosnian War, hitchhiking, Couchsurfing, eating ćevapi, sleeping in $4 hostels, dancing our hearts out in Belgrade clubs, sleeping in parks, eating bread for lunch, and befriending various boat captains to take us out for the sunset. Much of it was thoroughly irresponsible, but it was truly the best of times.

No one I knew had been to Albania or Macedonia before, and this was exciting to me. It felt like there was so much to learn that was never touched on in my history or geography classes, and I had the power to fully immerse myself in it. If 95% of the people I knew couldn’t find it on a map, then I needed to go there.

woman in front of bell sculptures in the mountains

What’s one of your most significant or pivotal travel moments?

I had an internship in Rio de Janeiro after my sophomore year of college. Our office was two blocks away from Copacabana Beach, and I lived in a beautiful loft studio with massive windows and ocean-blue shutters. I would bike to work each day, stopping at my favorite açaí stand to get my regular bowl (guaraná blend topped with mango, coconut, and paçoca). I would go into my office with my entirely Brazilian co-workers and spend the day half working and half messing around with my hilarious officemates.

My evenings were spent at long dinner parties with friends I had made. Then the weekends were spent hosting long beach barbecues, heading to island retreats, or practicing samba in the legendary nightlife of Rio. In three short months, I curated an enviable life for myself in Rio. I had: a steady income, a community, close friends, favorite restaurants, and a routine. I had proven to myself that I could find a salaried job and move anywhere to create a life filled with companionship, vitality, and a heck of a good time.

woman hiking in the mountains

What is your travel style?

The more impulsive, the better. I rarely book places earlier than the day of departure. This drives many people insane, and I’ve learned that maybe those people aren’t the most compatible travel partners. When I started long-term traveling, I tried to visit as many places as possible in a given time. Especially when I was 17 or 18, I thought, “This is my ONE chance to be here. I have to see as much as I can.” My gap year in Thailand? I was a crazy woman hopping from tourist site to tourist site, thinking to myself, “When am I ever going to come back to Asia again?”

Now, I have been back to Asia four separate times since my gap year, each time for at least two months. I’ve revisited many of the places I spent a rapid 22 hours when I was 17 and have enjoyed the experience a lot more. My style has evolved. Now, I would much rather spend quality time somewhere in order to sample my way through restaurants. I’d rather visit a plethora of museums to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the place than merely passing through for 26 hours. As a result, I find myself less tired on the road, with more meaningful connections, and a feeling that I am participating in more ethical travel.

woman smiling amongst locals

Strangest travel story?

While in Naftalan, Azerbaijan, for a three-week class with my university, I visited a sanatorium with a spa that claimed to have healing properties. Once I found myself in the spa room, I had to strip down and take a bath in raw petroleum. An Azeri woman then ushered me into the shower and scraped the gasoline all off me with a blade as she barked things at me that I couldn’t understand… wish I were making this one up.

Is there a creative way that you fund your trips?

If you are paying a company to volunteer or teach abroad, you’re doing it wrong. Gap-year programs charge obscene amounts of money, and many of them are taking advantage of you. At only 17, I found opportunities to live and work for a semester each in Thailand and Morocco with housing and an income.

With my Colgate scholarship program, I got to go to Brazil, Estonia, Finland, and Russia for free. Each summer, I received a grant or a paid internship to go abroad (Jordan, Indonesia, and Brazil). I also earned research grants in my sophomore, junior, and senior years to do mini-research projects abroad: chess in Peru, community radio in Mexico, and sustainable building in Colombia. After graduating high school, I received a service grant where I spent a month in Ecuador. Last summer, I received a Projects for Peace fellowship to spend three months in Timor-Leste. Fulbright was an additional excellent paid-for opportunity abroad.

woman walking around beautiful architecture

Tell us about a time on the road when a stranger or local made an impact on your life?

I have met hundreds of benevolent strangers around the world, but none kinder than those who have taken me in to live with them in their home. I’ve had the unbelievable fortune to live for 2+ months with families in Morocco, Jordan, Nepal, and Indonesia. I will forever relish my first direct experience with Islam during my five months living with a family in Morocco. I will never forget hearing the harrowing stories of escaping Tibet from my lovely family in Nepal. I will forever remember the dinnertime conversations I had with my Indonesian professor host dad over delicious Yogyakarta food prepared by my host mom.

For the rest of my life, I will be inspired by Ramzi and Majd, two Jordanian twin boys my same age, who invited me to move in with their family after knowing me a single day. The kindness they and their family extended to me during a time of need has left a mark on my life.

woman drinking and eating on a rooftop

What brought you to East Timor? What were you doing there?

Timor Leste (East Timor) is one of the most under-visited places on earth. This last summer, I had the fortune to spend three months there on a Projects for Peace fellowship focusing on women’s livelihoods on Atauro Island, a small island off greater Timor. In 2016, a Conservation International team analyzed marine life surrounding the island and found an average of 253 reef fish species off the coast, making the waters the most biodiverse ever recorded. Thus, for an entire summer, I lived with my best friend in a hut directly on a beach, with the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs at my doorstep, while doing research with a direct impact on local livelihoods. Sounds like a dream, right? It was.

You can read about our summer adventure here. I also wrote pieces for the Matador Network here and GoNomad here.

woman in a colorful tower

What’s it like to be at home now during this pandemic? How are you keeping connected to your love of travel?

This is the longest time in years that I’ve been home, and I’m relishing in it. I’ve been constantly on the move for the last six years. For me, being home is a silver lining in the pandemic. Before COVID-19, the longest I’ve spent at home in the last six years has been a month. Now that I’m home, I’m spending quality time with my family. I am not running off to a new country, mom isn’t flying to nine cities next week, and Blaine isn’t in his college classes. Whether we like it or not, we are in this together.

We swap stories about our workdays, I brainstorm essay topics with my younger brother, and we go on hikes. I’ve also been dabbling in the kitchen, cooking some of my favorite cuisines from around the world. Recently, I read two of Anthony Bourdain’s memoirs and am devouring his TV shows.

I understand the collective pain the world is experiencing, with the tragic loss of life for many, and I feel extremely fortunate to have resources and a supportive family to spend time with.

How has your view of traveling changed since the coronavirus?

I’ve always taken travel for granted. Having had the privilege to do it my entire life, it feels odd that now that I have both endless time and a bank account over $400, I’m not able to do it. It’s an odd paradox. Like anyone else, I never could have predicted this.

Recently, because of the collective national outrage at black deaths due to systemic violence and the national support for the Black Lives Matter movement, I have thought extensively about the privilege I carry abroad as a white, American woman.

Some of my best travel moments have been because I’ve gotten lost somewhere and found a good Samaritan who has helped me out. Wherever I go, no one is really afraid of me. I’m a white, blonde-haired girl. People go out of their way to help me. People bring me free things, and 99.9% of the time, I’m met with a smile and kind greetings and invitations to others’ homes. This is not always extended to my friends of color.

When coronavirus is all said and done with, (hopefully soon) I will never take the ability to get on an airplane, walk through crowded markets, and eat food that’s been sitting out for hours for granted ever again. I’ll also make more of an effort to be actively anti-racist when I travel, especially because I’ll be moving to the Horn of Africa soon. This week, I’ve shifted my Instagram feed to follow black travel bloggers, instead of the model Bali types that normally exist on my feed. The influencers in the travel industry are predominantly white, and I don’t think this is something we have been talking about enough.

woman playing chess with the locals

What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever received?

One of my favorite books, given to me by my Couchsurfing host in Madrid during my gap year, is called the Royal Road to Romance, written by adventurer Richard Haliburton in 1925.

My favorite quote in the book is this:

“Realize your youth while you have it”… the sound of my own voice startled me, but the woods echoed back the phrase approvingly, so I took courage. “Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, or giving your life away to the ignorant and the common. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals of our age.” … “Sickly aims, sickly aims,” the crickets chirruped after me. “Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you. Be afraid of nothing. There is such a little time that your youth will last — such a little time. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty” — I was already a year past twenty — “becomes sluggish. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!”

I had youth, which is both transitory and fugitive, now. I had it completely and abundantly. Yet… what was I going to do with it? Certainly not squander its gold on the commonplace quest for riches and respectability – I wanted freedom. I wanted the freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy. I wanted freedom to search the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous, and the romantic.

Reading this at the age of 17 set me on a course of adventure. I read it about once a month.

What’s in store for your future travels?

I recently signed a contract to be on the Faculty of Humanities at the Abaarso School, an American-style boarding school in the middle of a semiarid desert in Somaliland.

I am beyond excited to go to this nation that no one else considers a nation. I had the opportunity to visit Transnistria upon the completion of my freshman year of college and was fascinated by this claim of a country that’s not recognized by anywhere else. There are only a few places like this in the world, and I’ve been determined to visit them all. 

I’m so thrilled to move to Somaliland and delve into the fascinating but convoluted politics of this nation. While it’s within the traditionally recognized borders of Somalia, it has its own visas, passports, currency, flag, and government. While its southern neighbor is cited as dangerous for tourists, Somaliland is a bastion of peace. I cannot wait to learn about the country through the wonderful students I’ll be teaching. I also look forward to traveling an extremely “off the beaten track” region: Djibouti and Eritrea, here I come!

woman on a bridge on a hike

How can we keep in touch with you? Tell us all the places to follow you!

If you want to learn more, you can follow me on Instagram or connect with me on LinkedIn. I love meeting other travelers, especially younger women. If you have any travel book recommendations, please get in contact or add me on GoodReads!

Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members. If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog Guest Post.”

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