Jessie Li (@4evajessie)
Describe who you are and what you do.
The best description I can come up with in just a few words I’d say is “banker girl gone blogger”. Leaving the 80-hour-work-week banking job turned out to be one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Growing up in Australia, I’d always thought finance was my thing; just like all the other Asian kids, I was pretty good with numbers; and working for an investment bank was all I’d yearned for when I was in high school. Over the years, I’ve slowly discovered that my passion actually lies in between fashion and travel, and thanks to Kevin and Mike (the founders of Instagram), I started on Instagram just for fun during my travel days – and my audience grew from there! I’m now a full-time fashion and travel blogger based in Hong Kong. As glamorous as it seems, there’s so much sweat and tears that go into it. But at the end of the day, I’m so passionate about what I do and it makes it all worth it.
What has been your most memorable or unique travel experience?
That definitely goes to North Korea. I went there for a marathon during 2016, which was only the third year the country had opened up for international participants. Just like how it was described in magazines and shown on TV, the whole country is one big living sample of propaganda. We weren’t allowed to bring any books, magazines or other media materials into the country, and each of us got checked inside out at the immigration counter after we landed at 4am. The whole country has only one TV channel, and there’s no internet or access to any phone lines for the locals. I was disconnected from the rest of the world during my entire trip in North Korea, and everywhere we went was pre-approved and monitored by the government. We weren’t allowed to wander off by ourselves or even stay behind in the hotels to rest up; we had to participate in all the activities and city tours that were planned for us. We started off our marathon in the May Day Stadium, which has a capacity of 150,000 people. On the day of the marathon, the stadium was filled with locals as our audience, with no surprises – they all have the same haircut and are dressed in almost the same colour, with a constant smile on their face. We just would never know the truth behind those smiles.
Any tips or secrets for taking a great travel photo?
Having a good camera with the right lens is definitely crucial. Sometimes iPhones and non-full-frame cameras just won’t do the job. I’m currently using a Canon 6D Mark II; it’s lighter than the 5D Mark IV and it does a very good job of shooting portraits and landscape photos when you use the right lens. I normally use a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L for portrait shots. This is a prime lens, which means you can’t zoom; however, it blurs out the background a lot in order to emphasise the subject and is often used for fashion portraits. For landscape captures, I prefer a wider lens like the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L. It can capture more of the scenery and you can zoom in. I would also recommend taking the photos in raw, which allows the photos to be edited in Photoshop or Lightroom with much better quality.
What advice do you have for people who want to travel but feel financially stuck?
Planning ahead is essential. When you know where you want to travel, you can estimate the costs ahead of time and make a medium- to-long-term savings plan for it. One other point of advice is to try to join volunteering programmes, so your travel costs will be covered and you can give back to society – two birds, one stone.
What are your secrets for packing light? Or heavy?
I love travelling light. If it’s not a blogging trip, I can easily do a long weekend getaway with just a carry-on. One useful tip is to have all your skincare products in travel sizes. The samples the cosmetics department hands out are handy for this purpose, and if you don’t have particular products in travel sizes, you can always get some travel-size containers from stores like Muji or Japan City and fill them up with full-size products.
Is there an activity you always do when you go somewhere?
I love exercising and practicing meditation. Wherever I travel, I always allow some time in the morning for hitting the gym and meditating to clear some head space. I often feel pumped and energised after my morning exercise, so I can be fully prepared for a whole day of my travel schedule.
What’s your typical airport attire?
Comfortable clothes. Since I always have very intensive schedules during my travel day, taking a flight is where I recharge myself. I’m the kind of person who can sleep from before take-off until landing. Wearing comfortable clothes helps with my sleep during my flight.
What’s the longest you’ve spent without internet access?
Ten days! I was island-hopping in Fiji and most of the small islands there back in 2007 didn’t have internet, nor TV or phone lines, and I spent four days in the middle of the ocean on a boat. It was totally disconnected from the rest of the world and that was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever had. Not being able to access the Wi-Fi allowed me to become more present. I was more engaging with the people around me and everything I do. It’s always good to unplug from social media and the rest of the world from time to time. Every year, I try to dedicate a few days for a social media cleanse; normally I do it around Christmas and the New Year.
How many countries have you been to? Can you list them?
I roughly knew that my number was around 60, but I took the time to sit down and count them. So I’m actually going to list them one by one here, so the next time someone asks me the same question, I’ll know what to say! Here we go: Argentina, Australia (well, that’s my home country, not sure if that counts), Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, South Korea, North Korea, Lichtenstein, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Vietnam. So that’s 58 countries in total! I’m hoping to tick off two to three more this year in Africa.
If there’s one thing travelling has taught you, what is it?
Plan ahead. Even when I have last-minute trips, I always plan ahead. Don’t you hate it when you arrive at your destination and you realise that you forgot to pack item one, two and three? I have an essential travel packing checklist in my phone and I add items to the list when I think of something. So before I close my suitcase, I make sure that I go through the list again so I have everything I need.
This feature originally appeared in the July/August print issue of #legend