I met Jennifer at WordCamp Montréal this summer and really enjoyed talking to her about travel and packing, so I asked if I could interview her to learn more about her travel experiences. Her blog, Moi, mes souliers, is a thoughtful and comprehensive guide to traveling anywhere and she's been called one of the top travel bloggers in Québec.
OtB: You’ve traveled all over the world, to over 35 countries. What do you hope to experience when you arrive in a new place?
MMS: Hum, it’s hard to describe. Every place is different and you travel to each and every one with a different expectation, but I always try to keep them low. This way, I’m almost always surprised and amazed by at least a few aspects of the place. I generally hope to find colourful photogenic spots, some awesome food I can try out and definitely markets. I love those!
OtB: What did you enjoy about travel when you first started, and what do you enjoy about travel now?
MMS: I think at first travel was a way for me to show I was free, I could be independent and I actually could show others I could make it. After my first big solo trip (2-month trip around Germany and surrounding capitals), it morphed into fascination at being constantly surprised, confronted with my own thoughts and values, seeing life is different everywhere and happiness isn’t always what you would expect!
As for now, I’d say I enjoy people the most. I travel slower, look forward to meeting locals, discovering their life, their way of thinking, much more than seeing all the sights. I know, that sounds corny, but it’s true!
OtB: How much planning goes into each trip you take? What tools do you use to research trips?
MMS: Wow, if I’d had answered this 10 years ago, you’d have laughed at me for sure. I used to create Excel spreadsheets with tons of info, places to see, times I thought it would take to see them so I could cram as much I could in when visiting a city or country.
Now, planning revolves more and more around the time I have beforehand. I like to read a guidebook and a few blogposts about the place I’m going to, make sure I know what to expect in general, and then I let spontaneity do the rest. The less I plan, the more I enjoy my trip, although I do plan certain things in a global manner, like the cities I want to see and the first few nights where I’m going to sleep.
OtB: How has travel changed your view of the world?
MMS: I’m much more open-minded. I try to understand where people are coming from before I judge them. Not everything works like it does here in Quebec and that’s what makes the world go round. I appreciate even more what I do have!
OtB: How did you build a business around your travel blog?
MMS: Hard question! For one, it sure doesn’t come overnight. I started moimessouliers.org for fun because I loved to write and wanted to share my love of travel. Soon, the corporate world I was in didn’t fulfill my needs and couldn’t bring me happiness any longer, so I decided to drop out and chase my dream to be a freelancer. The blog now is at the center of that life, but I can’t say it’s my sole income. I translate, copywrite, write for different blogs and publications, consult on my former IT experience, work as a community manager, etc. My travel blog has become like my resume, people know me because of it and it brings me awesome opportunities, but as many bloggers will tell you, it’s really hard to make a living off of blogging without having any sidelines. I wouldn’t change it for the world though!
OtB: What are the challenges you face working on the road and traveling constantly?
MMS: I am a little different from typical digital nomads, as I have a home base where my fiancé is, in Montreal. I’m sometimes on the road for months at a time, but I’m also home for long periods as well. Let’s just say you absolutely need a good day planner to survive all the dates to remember! :-)
The main challenge I would say is Wi-Fi! Not everyone understands the importance of it for digital freelancers. It’s like a drug and although it might be strong enough for travelers to check their email, it might just not cut it when I need to upload photos to my Google Drive, making me want to pull my hair out!
OtB: You’re fluent in both English and French. Why did you choose to blog in French? Do you have any suggestions for how English-speaking travel bloggers can do a better job of connecting with bloggers who write in other languages?
MMS: Indeed! My mom is a French-Quebecer and my dad an English-Quebecer, so I couldn’t really tell you what my mother tongue is, but I did go to school in French. I chose to blog in French because researching information in that language on the Web five years ago was such a hassle. I either found blogs from France, Belgium or Switzerland or had to revert to searching in English. It seemed information for Quebec readers was just non-existent, so I decided to fill that gap as best I could!
As for suggestions, it’s hard to say. I think basically being open to the reality that although English is the main blogging and travel language, other worlds exist and we can very easily cohabitate would be a good start. Guest interviews like these help bridge the gap! :-)
OtB: Although you’ve been all over the world, you still write about your travel discoveries here in your hometown. What Quebec sights or places still amaze you?
MMS: Gosh! I love my city (Montreal) and the province of Quebec. The more I travel, the more I realize we have nothing to worry about on the touristic side. We have such a beautiful offer for visitors, we just have to keep putting the word out there.
My favourite place in Montreal would have to be the Villeray neighborhood where I live. It’s up and coming and has changed so much in the past few years. Right along the Jean-Talon market, head out into the streets on the north side. You’ll hit Castelnau and Villeray streets where coffee shops, ice cream parlours, funky like design shops and other treasures are sure to make great stops. You can even rest in Jarry Park or go for a swim. I just LOVE it and a lot of tourists take photos of the spiral staircases here too!
OtB: What backpack do you currently travel with, and what’s in it? How did you decide what to pack?
MMS: My backpack is an old bag from Trekk (the company doesn’t even exist anymore!). It’s huge, 80 litres, which I would never recommend to anyone, but at the time it seemed so small for all my possessions. I use it really often and never fill it (max 50-60%), but it’s practical when I want to bring back souvenirs! In it, you can find boatloads of Ziploc bags, packing cubes, too many wires for all my tech gear and some clothes!
For my trip, it took me ages to decide what to pack, it’s so hard to choose because I was travelling to many different countries with four different seasons. I ended up going for the essentials I knew I couldn’t find elsewhere and I think I did a pretty good job at limiting everything!
OtB: In what ways has packing light changed your travel experience?
MMS: Limiting your belongings on the road makes such a difference. Although my daypack is always heavy because I need to travel with my computer and DSLR for work, my backpack or suitcase gets lighter every single time I leave home. Easier to lug around, makes me more mobile, and I can run to catch trains if needed! I can also be patient when looking for accommodation as I can walk around longer without my back and shoulders hurting!
OtB: Tell me about a trip you’re planning that you’re really excited about.
MMS: My next trip is to the Magdalen Islands, one of the most beautiful places on earth. I went there for the first time last year and fell in love. I can’t wait to go back!
After that, I’ll be flying to TBEX in Fort Lauderdale, a travel blogger conference and right after, to San Diego. A friend and I will drive the coast from there to Sonoma Valley and San Francisco. I’m stoked, can’t wait to see those views!
All photos in this post courtesy of Moi, mes souliers.