With a job title of ‘International Tour Leader and Travel Writer,’ Canadian Rachel Kristensen does for a living what most of us could only dream up for a holiday. Besides her round the world adventures, Rachel also writes for numerous publications, keeps up a hugely successful blog and updates a stunning Instagram account for her 32,000 followers. We managed to catch her in between her trips away to find out what it’s like to have created such a dream job.
When did you start travelling and what made you decide initially to explore beyond your home town?
When I was 17, I moved to Field, BC a town of 300 people in the middle of the CanadianRockies for a summer season after applying for a random job with the government of Canada. I came from a small town, suffered from teenage boredom and dreaded the repetition of going to the same places, seeing the same faces and having the same conversations I’d had for the previous few years for another whole summer. When I arrived to my new home, I was introduced to landscapes I’d never forget and ideas I’d never encountered. After that trip, I knew as soon as I graduated I was going to run from that small town as fast as I could and start exploring the world.
Where was your first solo adventure?
The idea of travelling solo did not sit well with my family when I was 18, so my first large
international trip was booked to go with a friend of my sisters. It was both amazing as it gave me the courage to take the first step but also a slight disaster as our interests were polar opposite. A third of the way of our three month trip, we parted ways and I ended up travelling Australia and SE Asia on my own, which are easily two of the easiest countries to explore solo. Travelling solo was one of the best decisions I have ever made as it gave me freedom and flexibility to discover what I really wanted to do.
Your job does sound like the ultimate dream! Did you ever imagine you would be doing this as a job, and is it always as wonderful as it sounds?
I’m often astounded that someone pays me to work as both an international tour leader or a travel writer. To say it’s a dream job is a bit of an understatement. Usually, it is as good as it sounds – but the times when someone falls off a bridge or gets deported, or when sewer lines burst in our hole in the wall dinner spot, the 48 hour commutes to work begin, when figurative or literal shit hits the fan – it’s not always as wonderful.
But essentially, I get paid to be on a permanent holiday for bucket list destinations and get to be surrounded by extremely intelligent folk while continually learn about cultures of the world.
The good massively outweighs the bad.
Blogging/tour guiding/photographing must occupy a lot of your time when you are travelling – do you always manage to fit in time for yourself as well?
In all honesty, I have a pretty bleak social life with basically no routine or much time for myself while working on tour. But I balance out with quite a few personal trips a year, like the 100 day Vancouver to Alaska cycle trip with kayaks I have coming up this summer.
You have taken some pretty impressive photos over the course of your travels – can you pick three that you’re proud of and tell us about them?
1. Waterfowl Lake
I have a twisted idea of a good time in some people’s opinion. Last year my fella and I
decided to cycle towing our kayaks from Vancouver to the Rockies, nearly 2500km over five
mountain ranges. To say it was a challenge was an understatement. But moments like this
one made all the hard days worth it. The shot was taken with the GoPro set up on a timer
and mounted on my hat and it was one of those moments that was unbelievably serene and beautiful that translated perfectly into a photo.
2. Death Valley
Sometimes trips go well and sometimes they go pretty bad. We really underestimated the
route and overestimated my skill when we attempted to bikepack from San Diego to Las
Vegas via the California deserts. We had to change plans, stick to roads and significantly
alter our trip plan – but it was moments like this, cycling down into Death Valley that made me remember that even if it doesn’t go to plan, doesn’t mean the trip can’t be amazing.
3. Granite Falls
I didn’t know it at the time, but I took this photo minutes before my fella asked me to marry him. We’d been being lazy in our hammock for the previous few hours, having a few beers and he couldn’t figure out how to get me out of the hammock and how to get in the ‘down on one knee’ bit. Luckily for him, the sunset got pretty amazing and I hopped out to take a photo. When I returned back at our hammock he was in position to ask the big Q.
Where have you not been yet that you would love to go?
So many places! I doubt my wanderlust will ever be totally fulfilled. As I’m getting more and more into adventure sports my ‘to do’ list for the next year or two is Iceland, Greenland, and New Zealand. However, for cultural destinations, I’d love to see Iran, Morocco, or Tibet soon too.
You mention on your blog that you like to live life on the edge. Have there ever been any hairy moments over the years when you’ve gone a little too close?
Unfortunately, yes. There was that time we nearly got hit by lightning while hanging around on a 4000m granite peak. The time we dangled a little too close to a crevasse at 6000m in the Andes. The time we battled 60km/hr winds while kayaking through wind tunnel canyons. The time I flew off the back of a motorcycle travelling 80km down the road in India. And. So. Much. More. I don’t seek danger, but at least I know I can survive when shit inevitably hits the fan.
As all travellers know, there have to be some rough times in between the adventures. What’s the least enjoyable job you’ve had to do in between travels?
I’ve had a pretty wide range of jobs and some I have taken strictly because of the opportunities to travel with that job, even though the job itself was terrible. Notably, working in a call centre in the UK for 5 pound an hour and not understanding a thing the people on the other end of the phone were saying. Another, hawking a credit card while living onboard a cruise ship despite never owning a credit card beforehand and having no idea how they worked. But, they both allowed me to see new parts of the world, so win some / lose some.
When you go to a new destination how much is planned and how much is spontaneous? How do you decide what to do with the time you have?
If it is for work say tour leading or travel blogging, it’s pretty planned out in terms of activities and where I’ll stay. Variables might be who becomes my local guide or what restaurants I go to or what detours I take. If I’m on my own, nothing is booked other then my flights into the country if I can make it that way allowing me to figure it out as I go along.
Since you asked your followers this on a recent Instagram post, we’ll pitch it back to you – If you could go anywhere in the world for one month, where would you go, what would you do and who would you take with you?
I’d go to the mountains and hike, bike or kayak for a month solid with my fella, Kieran.
Adventure holidays win every time.
Anything to add for aspiring adventurers?
I’m fortunate enough to travel often, but for those out there who don’t have the time or resources (even though travel is usually not as expensive as one thinks it is) I think micro adventures are the best. Some of my most memorable trips have been 30min from my home (granted home is Vancouver which is easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world). Find an activity and a nearby park, and just go explore anywhere and everywhere you can.
Feeling inspired to travel? Check out some of the expeditions and trips leaving soon from www.odysseon.com.