Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer A. Huber to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for decades including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Parks. The unexpected death of her former husband woke her up to how precious life is and was a catalyst to sharing her experiences with the hope of inspiring and empowering others to shed their fears and travel solo.
Jennifer founded the popular solo female travel blog SoloTravelGirl.com in 2009 because she was traveling alone, not lonely, for business and leisure trips. "Traveling alone, not lonely," became the tagline for her blog. She writes about adventure, outdoors, solo travel and food. She currently works in the tourism industry, writes a weekly Florida outdoor travel column for the Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, Fla.) and monthly travel column for The Parrott Magazine (North Port, Fla.), serves on the boards of directors for the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and Ringling College Library Association, and lives in Southwest Florida with her two cats and dog. Her rescue dog, Radcliff, is often her road trip partner. When not traveling, she's experimenting in the kitchen.
Jennifer was kind enough to answer our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Jennifer: As I write this, I'm 48 and travel has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was less than a year old when I took my first flight and I suspect that's when the travel bug bit me. As a kid, I enjoyed the family road trips from Western New York to visit my grandparents in Sarasota, Fla. As a young adult, I began working in Yellowstone National Park for a park management company during the summers between college semesters and each time I returned, I wanted to explore more of the park and surrounding states. When turned 30, I worked for a Florida tourism office which led me to Europe and beyond which solidified my love of travel. My business travel led to my blogging.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Jennifer: I primarily focus on traveling solo along with culinary, outdoors, and sometimes traveling with a dog. I adopted a shelter dog about 2.5 years ago and he has joined me on several road trips.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Jennifer: I have had so many wonderful experiences but the most recent vacation is my favorite, a trip to Washington, D.C., with my parents. They have never visited the nation's capital and we met up there in Nov. 2018 to attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Since I have visited D.C. many times, including attending three presidential inaugurations, I planned the trip. Everything was a new experience and adventure for them. They still live in Western New York and I live in Southwest Florida so we see each other once or twice a year. Being able to plan this trip and create memorable experiences no one else could recreate for them made this trip very special.
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Jennifer: This may sound odd but the Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba, Canada. Tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes hibernate during the winter and in the spring and fall, when they emerge from hibernation and head into hibernation, you can see thousands of the non-venomous snakes.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Jennifer: My Sony mirrorless camera. iPhones can capture great images but I still like having a camera.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Jennifer: Don't let your fears prevent you from pursuing your dreams.
TA: Where was the most unusual place you've ever stayed?
Jennifer: A guest house in a Kabul, Afghanistan neighborhood in 2006. I joined a group with Global Exchange and all of us, I believe 13 of us, stayed in one home with one bathroom. Water was heated with a wood stove and I recall dumping a bucket full of water into the stove in order to heat it. Four of us women shared a room and thanks to Facebook, we're still in touch. The house had a wall for security along with security guards at night. Power was cut off in the evening as energy was being conserved. During the day, the bustle of the city was buzzing with car horns honking, police blowing whistles, and noise of day-to-day life. At night, there was an eerie silence. In the neighborhood were homes that had been bombed out missing walls and/or roofs. Some had chickens running in and out. The neighbors, particularly the children, were curious about our group and many wanted to practice English or pose for photos. The house itself was not unusual but the setting certainly was.
TA: What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten overseas?
Jennifer: In Thailand I had the pleasure of munching on a toasted silk worm cocoon along with an assortment of insects including crickets and beetles. They're best with a little seasoning and I'm told they're full of protein.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Jennifer: Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at a water drinking fountain to keep hydrated during your flight.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you've ever been given?
Jennifer: Early in my career, I had gotten sick (I believe food poisoning) and was flying from Edinburgh, Scotland to London and I was not in the mood or condition to fly and I contemplated staying in Edinburgh and flying out the next day. But, I had a show to attend in London so I took the flight and asked the flight attendant to place me near the rest room. When I returned, I told my travel agent what had happened and she told me to never not take a flight. A few years ago, I got sick in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil about 2 hours before my flight back to the States. I did not want to fly but the words of my travel agent kept telling me to get on the plane. "You never not take the flight!" I did and spent most of my time in the rest room. It was an uncomfortable flight but being back in my home is comforting.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Jennifer: I believe travelers think they are going to miss out on an overall experience if they don't do everything the travel guidebooks tell them to do. Travelers should remember this is their trip and their experience and they can make it what they want to. Doing too much can lead to exhaustion and if traveling with others, it may cause tension within the group. Remember it is okay not to do everything but it is important to enjoy yourself.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food? (And what are some good things to eat there?)
Jennifer: Vietnam has wonderful food, especially the street food. I took two culinary tours and one of the tips the guides advised in order not to get sick was to eat from a place with a grill thick with grease because that means they are cooking a lot of meat which reduces the possibility of getting sick from food that has been sitting around. Of course, pho is a must along with Goi Cuon (spring rolls), Banh Mi (a baguette sandwich), Com Tam (broken rice), and iced traditional Vietnamese coffee because it has condensed milk and is sweet and refreshing. Saigon Street Eats is one of the culinary sightseeing companies I toured the city with along with Intrepid Travel.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you've ever visited? (Any specific locations people need to see there?)
Jennifer: I have always wanted to visit Vietnam and a couple of years ago I won an airline ticket from Turkish Airlines to fly anywhere in the world. I chose Ho Chi Minh City because it was a bucket list destination and affordable. I only had a few days to spend there but my four hotel nights, airport transfers, and four activities (sightseeing and culinary tours) cost less than $500. The people are beautiful and welcoming, the architecture is intriguing and getting out to the Mekong Delta is gorgeous.
TA: Have you ever met someone while traveling who changed your life? Who were they?
Jennifer: In some way, everyone I have met has influenced my life in some way. Many years ago I sat next to a man who was a missionary in Ethiopia for several years. He encouraged me to try Ethiopian food whenever I get a chance because it's the most delicious food and several years later, I finally tasted the food and it was delicious. I searched for him online to let him know I did eventually try it but sadly, I learned he passed away. On the rare occasions I enjoy Ethiopian meals, I think of him and our chance encounter. Although I'm connected through Facebook with the three other women I roomed with during my trip to Kabul, I'm the closest with one of them, Cordelia. I have met up with her when I have visited New York and she has made my presidential inauguration trips to Washington, D.C., very exciting through her connections and knowledge of politics. She has traveled the world and I enjoy her global perspective which has made me a better traveler.
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Jennifer: Since I am a solo traveler, just about anywhere! Destinations that come to mind include Dublin, Ireland; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Vancouver, British Columbia; Bangkok, Thailand; Washington, D.C. All of these seemed relatively safe, people are friendly, and public transportation is relatively easy to get around.
Have you ever taken a class while visiting a foreign city? If so, can you tell us a bit about the experience? And would you recommend people take that class?
Jennifer: In Rio de Janeiro I took a Brazilian culinary class with Chef Simone Almeida's Cook in Rio. During this four-hour, hands-on, English-language cooking class, my sister and I learned how to make a full meal with appetizers, main entrée with side dishes, and dessert. Most importantly, we learned how to properly make Brazil's national drink, a caipirinha. There's no sitting back and watching others do the work. Chef Simone gets everyone involved whether it's mashing limes for the caipirinha, slicing vegetables or cooking the meal. The small class size, up to five, keeps it intimate and allows a flow of conversation. Not only did we learn the mechanics of making a Brazilian meal, we learned about some of Brazil's history and insight into the culture. At the conclusion of class, everyone is presented with a diploma. If I return to Rio, I would definitely take a class with Chef Simone again.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Jennifer: Crowd the airport boarding gate before their zone is called. If you're at the gate on time, you will get on that flight.
TA: What's one piece of advice you'd give to travelers your age?
Jennifer: Travel boldly!