Getting to know… Keith Jenkins, Velvet Escape

I was like, wow, who’s this boy with the sparkling eyes, glowing skin and infectious smile?

“Oh, that’s Keith!” said my friend Nigel. “Velvet Escape, you know…”

I was like, ahhh…that’s the face behind the famous blog…


Keith Jenkins, 38 years of age but not looking a day over 21. Fresh faced, friendly, and oh-so-fun to be with. Of Eurasian heritage and Malaysian by birth, Keith has been residing in Amsterdam, Netherlands for a good 20 years. Being a full time travel blogger doesn’t always allow you the luxury of holidays (note the irony in that) and he was delighted to be back in KL to reunite with friends and family.


 

Although his tastebuds may crave beef carpaccio on a bed of rocket salad in restaurants, the Malaysian in him is still strong and he enjoys tucking into a bowl of Maggi Mee at home.

The reason I decided to ‘Get to know’ Keith a little better, and to share that with you, is because I find his journey to where he is today so interesting. After a decade a successful career as a relationship management specialist in corporate banking; as an analyst in investment banking; and an investment specialist in the asset management world, he found he needed more.  A little time off turned into the end of his chosen career, as the financial world collapsed around him.

“Not one to allow circumstances to get me down for long, I have created an entirely new career for myself, following my passions for travel and writing in a way that I’d never realised was possible before. ‘Velvet’ is the context I’ve chosen for my new ventures:  soft, plush, rich …some would say sexy.  When you run your hand over velvet you know there is a certain depth and richness to it; you know you are alive.”

Well, he does radiate a passion for life and adventure, and that truly is evident in his very successful blog.

Let’s get to know Keith better, shall we?

ME: How long have you been a ‘blogger’?

I launched my Velvet Escape travel blog on 30th December 2008 but I started blogging frequently from around March 2009.

ME: What made you switch to full time blogging?

I negotiated a deal to leave the bank in the summer of 2008. The first thing I did was plan something I’d always wanted to do: a round-the-world trip. I bought a business class RTW ticket (a little indulgence to celebrate my new ‘freedom’), packed my bags and left for a 5-month trip. Headhunters were contacting me every other day with jobs so I figured I would just go enjoy myself, then return to Europe and choose one of the offers.

However, everything changed when Lehman Brothers fell in September 2008. The calls with job offers literally stopped overnight. By the time I returned home in December, the world was in crisis and there were no jobs.

I decided to ride out the storm by doing something close to my heart: writing about my travels. I already had my dotcom website but I wanted a more dynamic platform. That’s when I got the idea to start blogging. I added a blog to my dotcom website www.velvetescape.com/blog and started writing about anything that took my fancy.

The blog took off within several months after various high-profile names in travel such as Lonely Planet, Brilliant Tips, Where I’ve Been and NatGeo Traveler discovered and started promoting my blog via Twitter.

By the time the job offers in banking started trickling in in September 2009, I was a full-time blogger and I wasn’t looking back!

ME: Tell me about your blog… what are the topics you focus on?

In an interview with Evelyn a.k.a Journeywoman, I defined a ‘Velvet Escape’ as getting away from our daily routines & exploring, being adventurous, reflecting & doing it in style. Evelyn asked me why I chose ‘velvet’. My reply: “Because of its texture: soft, plush… some would say sexy. You run your hand over it & you know there’s depth/richness to it”.

In a nutshell, a Velvet Escape is more than a luxury escape or a getaway. It’s about using our five senses to enrich our travel experiences, and the impact of the experiences on our personal development. It’s about using travel as a learning tool to become well-rounded, more balanced individuals.

I specialise in highlighting destinations but I regularly cover topics such as food, solo travel and inspirational stories. I also love taking photos and use pictures profusely throughout my blog. I have many photo essay series; one of my favourites is the very popular Plane Views series – these are basically photos I’ve taken from planes on my flights around the world. My readers love it!

ME: How do you choose your ‘holiday’ destinations?

I have a list. When I go depends on many factors like the time of year, expense, my schedule, etc… As a travel blogger, I’m often invited to visit countries around the world and write about my experiences. I must add that these aren’t ‘holidays’; it’s work. For a real holiday, I stick to places I’m very familiar with, like KL or Bali. J

ME: How many countries have you visited to date? Which was the most memorable, and why?

I’ve been to 66 countries and territories. I must say that Chile has been the most memorable. The extremes were amazing: from the dry, inhospitable Atacama desert in the north to the verdant hills in the centre and the barren iciness of Patagonia in the south. The nature and landscapes were truly spectacular. Add to that some of the most divine wines in the Southern Hemisphere and amazing food, and you have the perfect ingredients for a typical Velvet Escape!

ME: What are the 3 things (and why) that you never leave home without on your travels?

  1. My iPod Touch – for my music and easy internet access.
  2. My phone – ok my next phone will be an iPhone so I can combine 1 & 2!
  3. My camera – to take tonnes of pictures!

ME: What’s the scariest experience you’ve had on your travels?

I had a pretty harrowing experience driving up through the Swartberg Pass in South Africa several years ago. I was very careful as the road was quite uneven and the steep drop of several hundred meters on my right wasn’t exactly comforting. I slowed down to take in the view and my friend and I had our windows open. I stayed close to the cliff wall on the left which meant the car often brushed up against the prickly bushes which grew along the roadside. I was driving at a snail’s pace so I could enjoy the view when I suddenly noticed something move in a bush we were about to pass. The bush was about to brush up against my door when I realised what it was: a snake curled up in the bush. The last thing I wanted was for a snake to drop into my lap so I made a quick swerve to the right. My friend, who was in the passenger seat, started yelling as I swerved. The car jerked to the right as I tried desperately to get the car back onto the middle of the road. With a bit of luck, we were back on the road a few seconds later. I hit the brake and broke out into a cold sweat. I’d been inches away from running the car off the cliff!!

ME: What is the most interesting dish you’ve tried/and where?

It wasn’t really a dish but it was a quirky experience. I was on a short trek around Whitsunday island (Australia) when our guide stopped at a tree. He picked up a little green ant and started to explain the medicinal qualities of the ant’s butt. The Aboriginals use it, amongst others, as an aphrodisiac. The guide asked if anyone wanted to give the ant’s butt a lick and everyone took a step back.

I guess I was in an adventurous mood and volunteered. The concentrated lime taste was quite extraordinary. And, no, that quick lick did not do any wonders to my libido!

ME: What is the most disgusting dish you’ve tried/and where?

Bulls testicles. I saw them for the first time at a grill house or churrascaria in Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil). I steered clear of them and chose the tenderloins. When I returned to my table, a gentleman in my group had a testicle on his plate. He saw me eying it and asked me if I’d ever tried it. I shook my head.

He then smiled, said I should, cut a portion of the testicle and handed it to me.

ME: Ewwwww!

I didn’t have the time to say ‘no thanks’! The sight of his knife slicing through the testicle made me squirm very uncomfortably in my chair. I looked at it on my plate and tried to convince myself it was a meatball. I put my fork into it (ouch!) and raised it to my mouth. I munched on it twice and swallowed it quickly. The only thing I remember was a salty juice, which I swiftly washed down with a big gulp of cerveja!

ME: How long do you see yourself doing this for?

Good question. For as long as it continues to fascinate me, I guess.

ME: Do you ever have days when you just don’t want to travel/write?

Absolutely! If I don’t feel like writing, I focus on other things, like marketing the blog or I go for a walk (that always helps!). I don’t think I’ve experienced a day when I didn’t feel like travelling! J

ME: Why do you think people should read your blog?

The Velvet Escape blog aspires to take its readers on a journey to some of the most magical places around the world, introduce them to extraordinary cuisines and bring them face-to-face with people and places that truly inspire. Brilliant Tips, one of the largest travel blogs in the US, once featured the Velvet Escape blog and had this to say:

“Velvet Escape. To me, these words evoke a feeling of liberating oneself from the usual routine and venturing off to a calmer place. You could be on the harrowing streets of Hong Kong and still feel this sense of peace simply because you are leaping out of the daily grind.

Reading the Velvet Escape Blog transports the reader to unique places and inspires the travel bug.

…as you read through the blog posts, you get to know the type of person and traveler that Keith is and, as a result, you feel like this well written online guide has been tailored just for you.”

ME: Tell me about your e-book, Travelations – the trip that opened my eyes.

My ebook ‘Travelations – The Trip That Opened My Eyes’ is about the things I learned during my round-the-world trip in 2008 and how I used the opportunities presented by this unique journey to grow as a person. My purpose with this ebook is to inspire people to experience travel as a means to challenge and discover ourselves, as well as to build confidence.

ME: Cool! How can we get a hold of it?

My free Travelations ebook can be accessed via this link.

ME:  What are your plans for the next year?

There’ll definitely be more travel involved. Canada and Alaska are on the cards. I’m planning a book(s), speaking engagements and some exciting new stuff for the Velvet Escape blog. J I’ll keep you posted via my Velvet Escape FB page!

ME: And lastly, what is your motto/mantra that you live and breathe by?

Stay true to yourself.

ME: Thanks Keith! You’re a supa-star! Hope to see you back in KL soon. Any last words?

In addition to being a full-time travel blogger, I also co-founded the Global Bloggers Network, a community that helps individual and corporate travel bloggers grow and monetize their blogs.

Join me on my Velvet Escapes on: http://velvetescape.com/blog

Check out my new travel photoblog on The Happy Explorer: http://www.thehappyexplorer.com

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/velvetescape

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