The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Jessica Festa, Backpacker, Offbeat Traveler & Locavore

Place of birth: Long Island, New York, USA
Passport: USA — but I’m planning on starting the papers for my Italian passport soon (my grandparents were born there).
Overseas history: Australia (Sydney): 2008. I’ve also backpacked through western Europe (for partying and food!), South America (for surreal landscapes and hiking trails), and Southeast Asia/China and Ghana (for volunteer projects).
Occupation: Freelance travel writer. I have my own site and also write for Gadling, Viator and Matador, among others.
Cyberspace coordinates: Jessie on a Journey — Taking you beyond the guidebook (travel-zine); @JessonaJourney (Twitter handle); Jessie on a Journey (FB page for backpacking community); and Jessie on a Journey (Pinterest).

What made you leave the United States for the Land of Oz?
I chose Australia for studying abroad because I wanted to be able to communicate in English — it was my first time going abroad alone.

On your site you describe yourself as a “natural backpacker.” How did you find living in one country?
It’s so different living somewhere than just traveling to it. When you have a part-time job, class schedule, gym membership, local hangout, go-to grocery store, etc, you really begin to feel a strong connection to a place. Sydney is such a great city. That said, I did not give up my backpacking habit entirely. I also traveled a lot through Australia when studying!

Tell me about the moment on your travels when you felt the most displaced.
I had many moments like that when I did a homestay for a month in Ghana, in West Africa. I was doing orphanage work, and absolutely loved the experience — but the culture is just completely different. Especially in city areas, it’s very loud and chaotic, and people will shout at you and grab your skin to feel if it’s real. They don’t get many tourists, so they’re just curious and wanting to get to know you — but sometimes it got a little too intense.

When have you felt the most comfortable?
In Sydney. I actually called my family crying the night before my flight back to New York, saying I had a new home and would not be returning. I had this camaraderie with my neighbors and so many connections to the community, I really felt like a local.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
My collection of paintings, jewelry and handcrafted items:

  • Ghanaian artwork and wooden masks
  • Handmade jewelry from Sydney and Bolivia
  • A handwoven purse from Peru
  • Alpaca socks from Ecuador
  • Banksy artwork from the UK
  • Masapán (bread dough art) from Calderón, Ecuador
  • A hand-sewn water-bottle holder from Thailand

You are also invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on the menu?

Appetizer: Locro, a thick soup with potatoes, avocado, cheese and vegetables from the Andes.
Main: A pesto pasta with some kind of meat mixed in from the Cinque Terre in Italy.
Dessert: Salzburger Nockerl, a sweet soufflé from Austria.
Drink: Malbec wine from Argentina.

I wonder if you could also add a word or expression from one or more of the countries you’ve visited to the Displaced Nation’s argot.
“No worries” from Australia. Such a great phrase for life. I have it tattooed on my foot!

This week you received a “Food Alice” from the Displaced Nation for your post about the first time you tried cuy, or guinea pig, in Ecuador — you said your dinner reminded you of your pet guinea pig, Joey, named after a school crush. So, does food play a big role in your travels?
For me it’s about trying new things. It doesn’t need to be in the fanciest restaurant or prepared by a Michelin chef, just something truly local. For example, in South America while many of the other backpackers went to guidebook-rated restaurants, I always opted for the tiny, simple, dimly-lit local hangouts. I ate 2- and 3-course meals for a $1, and the food was fresh and local. It was exactly what everyday people in the community were having, and that was important to me.

If you were to design a world tour based on food, what would be your top five recommendations?
1) Mendoza, Argentina — try asado (barbecued meat) with a glass of Malbec.
2) Cinque Terre, Italy — try the pesto pasta that I served to you in my meal!
3) Naples, Italy — try the pizza.
4) Cuzco, Peru — try the cuy (guinea pig) or, if you’re too squeamish, the lomo saltado: strips of marinated steak served over white rice and with French fries.
5) Munich, Germany — try the brätwurst. It is like no other sausage I’ve ever tasted, and tastes so much better in Germany!

To be honest, I’m not so sure about going to Cuzco for cuy.
Really? I love it. I’m planning to go back, and possibly move, to Peru or Ecuador in March. I’m already looking forward to getting my fill of cuy again!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Jessica Festa into The Displaced Nation? At least she’s not planning to serve us guinea pig for dinner — that’s a mercy! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Jessie — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, which will most likely be on food. (No, we haven’t finished gorging ourselves yet!)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

img: Jessie Festa enjoying one of the biggest and best empanadas in all of Peru, at the Point Hostels in Máncora (May 2012).

2 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Jessica Festa, Backpacker, Offbeat Traveler & Locavore

  1. Tony James Slater September 28, 2012 at 12:44 am

    Yay! Anyone who can brave the cuy – with their long incisors bared in a death-screech – is alright by me! I also love that you manage to survive by freelance travel writing, something I’ve always dreamed of but have never made happen. Then again, it sounds like you’ve done a lot more traveling! I also loved Sydney, though I’ve found a home (eventually) in Perth – similar but smaller, and slightly less hectic – though the gym membership (and everything else) costs substantially more!
    I hope you do get back to South America – I certainly intend to, as it’s such an incredible and varied continent. Lots to visit – sometimes seems like there isn’t enough time…

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