Featured Explorer: Keith Jenkins | Airheart

Featured Explorer: Keith Jenkins

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Feeling like he was on the edge of burnout in 2008, Keith Jenkins decided to leave his banking job to travel solo. His plan was to travel around the world for 5-6 months, then return home to pick up his career again at a new company. During his solo adventure, Keith traveled to Hong Kong, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and more.

Halfway through the trip, the major Global Financial Crisis happened. He tried not to worry too much about the crisis as he finished his travels, but upon returning home to Amsterdam, Keith realized that he was not going back to his banking career soon. 

During his travels, he started a hobby blog where his friends and family kept up with his trip and the experiences he had along the way. He decided to focus full-time on travel writing and his blog, which he named Velvet Escape. For the last 14 years, Keith has written about luxury travel, but, as you’ll read in this interview, luxury travel goes beyond the definition many may think of.

Velvet Escape has since become an award-winning travel blog and has been featured in major publications such as The New York Times, BBC Travel, Lonely Planet, and National Geographic Traveler, to name a few. 

Keith is also the Founder and CEO of iambassador, a multi-award-winning digital marketing agency that works with professional travel content creators and influencers. He founded the agency in 2011 and has worked with global brands and tourism agencies worldwide.

We talked to Keith about luxury travel, the power of traveling solo, advice for a career in writing, and what travels he is looking forward to next.

What were some of the challenging aspects of transitioning the blog you started as a hobby into your full-time focus?

The first thing I did after deciding that I wanted to be a professional travel blogger was create a business plan. It contained the vision for my blog, my objectives, monetization ideas and how to develop them, and a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. I kept this document on my computer’s desktop so that I could read it every so often and adjust it over time.

The main challenges were increasing brand awareness and traffic and growing my income. My business plan was my guide. I tried to be creative in how I created content and in the ways I marketed the blog, while constantly keeping an eye on the vision and objectives. Increasing brand awareness and traffic led to more business opportunities and income. Again, the business plan guided me through the process of choosing the right opportunities for me and my blog. 

Another challenge was the technical aspect, such as maintaining the back-end of the blog and learning about SEO. These I learned as I went along. In addition, picking up tips and tricks from fellow bloggers sure helped.

You write about luxury travel but have mentioned that, to you, luxury travel is beyond “five-star experiences and traveling like a millionaire.” Can you talk to us about how you define luxury travel and how it shapes the way you travel and write about your experiences?

To me, luxury travel is more than just about staying at five-star hotels, traveling in first-class, or fine dining. It also encompasses unique experiences which make travel more meaningful and memorable. When I travel, I may stay at a luxury hotel or resort, but more importantly, I love seeking out immersive experiences that allow me to truly appreciate local cultures and nature. I often write about exploring a place and going off the beaten path to discover something surprising or unique. This is the way I like to travel, and I must say, it’s brought me many wondrous experiences that add depth and a certain richness to my travels.

How has your blog transformed over time?

In terms of its appearance, in the past 14 years, the blog has gone through four makeovers to keep it fresh and relevant. The last one, in late-2019, was the most rigorous. Things haven’t changed much in terms of content – the focus is always on experiences I enjoy, which reflect my interests in art/design, history, nature, architecture, food/wines, and aviation.

Solo travel has seemed like a very transformative experience for you throughout your life. What has this type of travel taught you about yourself? Do you have advice for travelers looking to take a leap and venture on a solo trip?

Traveling solo around the world for almost six months in 2008 was certainly a transformative experience. I’d traveled alone on numerous occasions prior to 2008 but never longer than a week. I vividly remember how inspired, empowered, and confident I felt when I returned from that six-month trip. That trip taught me so much: I learned to be self-reliant and adaptable and how to confront my fears and enjoy my own company. I even picked up several new skills along the way, particularly in planning and organizing my travels and budget.

Ever since, I have always tried to plan one solo trip every year or whenever I feel stuck. These trips allow me to recharge, reflect and gain new inspiring or eye-opening experiences. I always encourage people to take that step and venture on a solo trip. Some hesitate because of various reasons, from safety issues to language barriers and eating alone. My advice is to simply leave those hesitations or fears behind and go for it. Start ‘small’ such as a solo weekend break before attempting longer trips (in foreign countries).

Can you share some of your favorite travel experiences or the most vivid travel memories you have had?

That’s a tough one as there are so many! Some of my most memorable travel experiences include floating in a frozen lake in Lapland and spending the night in the Snow Hotel; sitting on the deck of an overwater villa and gaping at the incredible colors of the Bora Bora lagoon; witnessing an amazing nocturnal hunting scene involving seals, gulls and flying fish in the Galapagos Islands; spending an afternoon with a Lambrusco wine-maker in Emilia-Romagna and being totally enthralled by his stories; and cruising through Alaska’s Inside Passage.

You’ve visited over 80 countries - what destinations are at the top of your list that you haven’t traveled to yet?

Three countries that are at the top of my list are Peru, Colombia, and Madagascar. I would love to visit Sweden, one of the few countries in Europe I have yet to visit.

What advice would you share for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps and begin travel writing?

Have a plan, stick to your interests and what you know best, and write from the heart. Do this, and you’ll soon find your unique ‘voice.’ There’s a lot to learn, from creative story-telling to technical aspects, so pick up as much as you can from the internet, YouTube, fellow writers, and conferences (a great opportunity to meet and get to know like-minded creatives). It’s also tough to stand out in this world of travel writers and influencers, so it’s important to have a consistent ‘voice,’ stay focused, and persevere.

Do you have any other projects or upcoming travels that you want to share?

I have quite a bit of travel coming up in the next few months, starting with a trip to Puglia in southern Italy, followed by Malaysia (to see my family and friends again after two years), Germany, France, and at some point, Italy and Spain. It’s anyone’s guess what the last quarter of the year will bring.

To learn more about Keith and keep up-to-date with his travels, visit his website.

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