And She Travels: Justina Faye of The Personal Geographic - Green Suitcase Travel

What to say about Justina Faye? For starters, she’s a total badass! She traverses through the world with the same grace she scales giant rock walls. She’s spunky and her heart is open to tackling the impossible! And she has the cutest dog ever, Nazko. It’s no surprise then that we wanted to interview her for “And She Travels”. Justina recently returned from an amazing project in Vietnam and was kind enough to share her thoughts on the experience and her travels.

Tell us about yourself! When did you start traveling and when did you decide to create your blog? 

I’ve been passionate about traveling for as long as I can remember! When I was a little girl, my mom asked me the old age question of what I wanted to be when I grew up, to which I replied strongly with, “a traveler!”. Of course back then before the social media era, my mom just sort of chuckled and said, “that’s not a job.”Years later I went on my first trip sans parents, to Mexico to learn Spanish. That trip really became a turning point in my life. The thing is, most people love traveling anyways. Who wouldn’t love sipping cocktails on a beach? Or peruse through markets made up entirely of local handicrafts? But for some of us, it’s not the main reason why we travel. I travel for the uncertainties and discomforts that come along with it. When I am able to immerse myself in the cultural experience and discover similarities and differences, that give me glimpses into the human condition, then I feel the most fulfilled. I started the Personal Geographic in 2011 first as a means to voice my thoughts and feelings. I look back now and see my first blog post as that confused freshman that’s just looking for some sense of direction. Over the years, I have refined it, and now I use it as a platform to reach out to people seeking experiences through the art of words, hopefully inspiring them along the way.

I love that the Personal Geographic is a mixture of travel, climbing, and life lessons. Rock climbing and travel. Both provide plenty of lessons in and of themselves. Can you share a story from the wall, where you took the lesson you learned and applied it to your daily life? 

There are a lot of things you can take from climbing and apply it to your daily life. Like any other “extreme”sport, climbing can cause fear, which leads to immobility. There had been times when I am on the wall, shaking and too petrified to continue, and I had to stop and ask myself, “how badly do I want this?” Inevitably, there are moments where the answer is, “not that much”, and I’ll find myself jumping off or climbing back down. There is no shame in that. I think the biggest problem comes when your own expectations are not met with reality, and you take it too hard. I am guilty of that, and I know others who are as well, but in climbing, there is no sense in doing that. Much like life, there are moments where you hesitate to take chances. Being able to breathe through the waves of fear and anxiety, and to approach it another day, is what makes people successful. Getting over tough barriers either in a sport or at work isn’t a task you can accomplish in a day, it requires consistency and determination!

You were in Vietnam this past month volunteering in Sapa. What was your experience like? 

Volunteering in Lao Chai, Sapa was an eye opening experience. We spent five days working directly with the homestay owners who were predominantly Hmong women. “Working” really is just a loose term. We were there mainly to facilitate important discussions centered on the tourism developments in their village. One the first day of training, I immediately saw how bright, personable, and hospitable the people were. Almost all demonstrated a genuine interest in improving their communities. It was a real inspiration, especially when you have women in their early to mid-twenties with husbands and children, running successful guiding tours and homestay businesses. As a volunteer with the CBT Vietnam project, which has been working with these women for over 10 years, I was fortunate to have been able to see the Lao Chai village through the Hmong’s eyes, rather than just as a tourist. In that, I think I received a truly authentic experience.

One of the ongoing dialogues we have at Green Suitcase is about Voluntourism and how it can be harmful, rather than helpful often. What are your thoughts on that having gone on this trip recently? 

Ensuring that we are respectful and not encroaching on the wants and beliefs of the local communities in Lao Chai was really the first step. One of the problems with voluntourism is that it capitalizes on the desires of volunteers, without examining the overall social, economic, and environmental layout of the host country. When you have groups of tourists come in and change a community and leaving without any other consideration, it really negatively impacts those communities. The project that I volunteered with, CBT Vietnam, has been in the Sapa communities for over a decade and has been (humbly) continuously funded by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). Because the project is focused on providing training in community-based tourism, and not on providing opportunities for travelers, I believe it really helps to guarantee that there are no ulterior motives from team members. That being said, I do believe that there are many volunteer organizations out there that are committed to providing solutions to people that need it, and are not there to provide yet another feel-good travel experience.

How do you envision the future of the travel industry leading the sustainability movement? 

I definitely believe that the future of the travel industry will be in eco-tourism, “eco-tourism” being the umbrella term for all things related to responsible travel. With the growing awareness of climate change and an overall broader worldview on social issues around the world, I am quite optimistic it will become a reality. Tourism itself is not a very sustainable industry to begin with. One of the biggest driving factors is pollution, and it is something that’s very difficult for travelers to get around. On top of that, when you arrive to your destination, how do you decide where to stay, what to see, and where to go? Those are difficult decisions to make, especially when you travel to places that don’t offer many choices. In the travel industry, I think the biggest hurdle to jump through is in the transportation sector. If airlines and cruise ships become more energy efficient, it would be a huge leap towards sustainable travel. Other tourism operators are already trying to push for sustainable travel by offering voluntourism. Although I have not yet volunteered with them, G Adventures and Moving Worlds are two that I know of that are at the forefront of innovative voluntourism. As a young environmentally conscious woman with big travel dreams, it’s a very exciting time!

This series is all about women, making a positive impact in travel. Who are some ladies in your life that have given you the push to live your life in this way? 

Jane Goodall! Her life’s work has been about the welfare of chimpanzees, and ever since I learned about her, she has been an inspiration for me. Women in academia who constantly push the envelope and address social issues in the global community, really encourage me to pursue initiatives in my own community. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do any of it if it weren’t for the special women in my life, particularly my mother and my grandmother. They have been a big influence in my life, especially when it comes to being selfless and helping those who need it.

Picture this, it’s 5 years from now, where do you see The Personal Geographic? Sky’s the limit! 

Five years from now, I’m hoping that the Personal Geographic has become a trusted travel source where readers can connect with each other, laugh at my stories, learn about destinations, and experience the culture vicariously. While it’s not grandiose, I do have big dreams of the blog becoming well known around the world!

And now for a few of your travel favorites…..

I saw your Day Zero Bucket list and WOW! You have quite a few places you’d like to climb next. Which are you most excited about? 

This can go on forever! It’s been a few years since I’ve started climbing so now. The biggest goal is to climb V6, which is a relatively difficult grade. That being said, there are professionals out there climbing v13s!! I’m a recreational climber so I’ll be happy with a v6 under my belt. As for everything else on my bucket list, I have to say that I am most excited about going to the Amazon! I have no idea when it’ll happen, but it’s been a big dream of mine since I started playing “the Amazon Trail” game on the PC!

Name one thing you’ve done in your travels that changed your life or worldview. 

This is a very specific thing but what I found most intriguing was how the little kids in Sapa all took care of each other. During the day, when the parents were either tending the fields or selling in the markets, the children played amongst themselves. It shocked me to see 5-year- old children carrying babies on their backs. At first, it saddened me, but when I saw how happy they were with so little, it really made me reassess my life back at home. In contrast, most Canadian 5-year-olds are still very dependent on their parents. While I don’t plan on ever leaving my (future) young children home alone, I now firmly believe that they will be capable of so much more.

Where’s your next dream destination? 

My next dream destination, albeit not on my list, is Morocco! I am just dying to eat some real, authentic Moroccan food and explore the city and it’s alluring architecture!

Tell us about Nazko! 

Since my boyfriend and I started dating, we both knew that we would eventually add a furry addition to our little family. When our conversations of adopting got serious, we started doing some research. While we were open to the type of breed, our requirement was that it had to be a bigger dog that we could take with us on adventures and that it had to be great with children. The first few dogs we met were absolute sweethearts in their own right but possessed certain traits that we just couldn’t handle. Because we live in a neighborhood with many, many families, we couldn’t afford to adopt a dog that had any history of aggression or reactivity. After meeting with several more dogs that weren’t compatible with us, we wondered if maybe ‘our’ dog just wasn’t out there yet. But we persisted and days later, and we found ourselves in a town an hour outside of the city. It was at that shelter where we met our beautiful 2-year- old Siberian Husky/Great Pyrenees cross named Nazko. According to the shelter, he was found in a dump in Nazko, BC. Needless to say, we fell in love with him right away, signed the paperwork, and within an hour, he was on his way home with us! It has now been 6 months, and I love this goofball more every day! To those considering adopting a shelter dog, choose the right one for you and you will not regret it!

Want to learn more about Justina and her work? Visit The Personal Geographic for more information and to follow her on social media.