Meet Jillian Palucis, a Philadelphia-based, independent world traveler, buying one way tickets from PHL —> all over the globe, fueled by her grit, grace and personal credo of “I’m not not going.”
I first met Jillian Palucis in the kitchen of a three-story South Philly row home she was sharing with friends while completing her senior year of Temple University’s biochemistry program. Her housemates were in various stages of the early-to-mid 20’s Philadelphian life – styling models at Urban Outfitters, slinging Porterhouses at the Union League, biking Broad Street; their futures and city hall looming on the horizon. This was the late 2000’s, when first wave millennials were crossing graduation stages, receiving diplomas and discovering their American dreams that looked very different. The Phillies were winning, rents were low, PBR was $2.00. It was the perfect time to be down for an adventure.
Jillian wore her hair in a slick black bob and her demeanor was a relaxed confidence that comes from someone enjoying the room they are currently in, with a dedicated focus on the rooms of their future. You just knew she was going places. She was typing her finals and vetting medical school programs. But first, a celebratory trip to commemorate graduation.
In 2008, Jillian and two of her closest girlfriends, fellow TU grads who she’d known since the days of her youth in Bucks County, booked flights to Southeast Asia. What started as a temporary vacation sparked a permanent change in her lifestyle. As they submerged themselves in new culture, she felt alive. “My friends were ready to come home and I just was not. I’d eat rice and pad Thai for the rest of my life if I could just…stay.”
She sat on the flight back to Philadelphia knowing she wanted to spend her time seeing more of this world, and soon. Had she decided to wait – until she obtained her MD, until friends’ schedules were free, until she owned a home… “I don’t what I would’ve lost in the process. I didn’t want to wait any more for any of it.”
She came back to South Philly and put her energy into connecting with Philadelphians and tourists bonding over margaritas and steaks at Stephen Starr restaurants, working at Barclay Prime and later Alma De Cuba. “Starr Restaurant Group (SRG) is a very good company to work for…the company has expanded so much,” she says of her experience with SRG. For two years she focused on her plan to travel deeper and held herself to a budget, passing over new Nikes and $7.00 IPAs, enabling her to bank $8,000 in her travel fund in under two years. Four months before she was scheduled to leave on a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, a deer jumped out while she was driving on 95. They collided, Jillian’s car bounced back and forth across the highway. No one was hurt and insurance gave her a payout for her car, which nearly doubled her travel fund. The experience rattled her, but intensified her belief to board planes and take action on your dreams while you can.
February 2010 she left for her South America trip. “I arrived in Buenos Aires and I had no idea how long I was going to stay. I had all these new experience fears. I had studied Spanish in school but…” she smiles, fondly remembering herself five years ago, a girl embarking on a dream to see the world; a gringo in Argentina, a stranger in a strange land.
“I walked around for hours trying to find an ATM. I ended up meeting some really great people at the hostel. I stayed in Buenos Aires for three weeks and then I traveled with friends and just took one step at a time, destination wise. Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, through the Andes, Bolivia, Peru…I stayed in Peru. I took Spanish classes. Communication really enhances the experience.”
When asked what prompted her to make that first solo trip, she’s candid:
“I think for a while I wanted to do it, and I was afraid. I was waiting for someone to come with me. And I realized I’ll never go anywhere if I wait for someone to get on the train. Plus, if you go solo, you own your own experience. And when you’re alone, you connect with so many people.”
It’s no coincidence her Instagram reads like a National Geographic feed, an organization she wants to connect with because “they are a company whose had integrity since day one.” About that Instagram handle (and website by the same name, www.imnotnotgoing.com) and the use of the positive double negative to summarize the millennial woman’s answer to “why? Why travel the world? Why move to a new city? Why start your own business?”
I’m not not going.
We are a generation that’s not not going to do what they want.
“Not doing it just because no one is coming with me or because…whatever. Or because the news says traveling alone in India is a scary, terrible thing and you shouldn’t do it. Well, I’m not not doing it.”
When we met last month in a Starbucks in Bucks County for this interview, posters of coffee fields hung behind her as she tells me about her time spent in Kona, Hawaii. To complement her energetic nature, she has a thing for coffee. Her website has a series devoted to beans and brews, which she may one day parlay into a role as a fair trade liaison.
Her eyes, like black pupils circled with silver blue stars, light up as she talks about her travels, about the people she meets, the things she sees. She’s modest, as if all the stamps in her passport (she’s on to her second book by now, she reveals, only after I ask) aren’t about her, but she’s a portal for others to see the world. When she talks about a Colombian grandmother who helped her at a bus stop, I can see it all from the brown leather chair of the suburban Starbucks. Though she gains personal growth and understanding and keeps a journal, listening to her speak of her travels is like listening to someone speak about the world, not about herself. “Travel really dissolves ignorance, you can connect with people” she says. And connect she does. “It’s easy to be exhausted by humanity, but when I travel, I remember how kind people can be. People are kind here, but you can forget that when you are in your everyday hustle, you know? Being reminded of how kind people are, we are fundamentally the same, we are all afraid of the same things.”
Jillian has spent the majority of the past five years traveling foreign countries. She dips back to Philadelphia for a few weeks, for the holidays and to see her family (who is supportive of her travels, she says. “They came around because they knew I was enjoying my life.”) and local friends. She revels in the comforts of home and often makes a temporary home for herself while traveling. Backpacking has its place in her adventures, but she enjoys “working in a community” as it “gives you another layer of depth. And it’s nice to get coffee from the same place every morning, and go to the market.” She has looked into resources like Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOOF) or Workaway, but says of some travel work programs “once I got there and saw the balance of work vs. life, I decided to choose life.” When securing work and volunteer opportunities while traveling, her criteria are curated to the most important basics: “whatever makes me good money and surrounds me with lovely people and beautiful scenery.”
Her transient life gives her a unique skill set. Talking to Jillian makes it obvious she’s spent the past seven years building a global network in her head. She knows things like the tourist tax guidelines in Thailand. The Argentinean train layout. How to extract the agave from the plant, a skill she picked up on a Mexican tequila farm. She knows where to get a typhoid vaccination for a bargain. She owns a SteriPEN to purify water in under a minute. Her vocabulary is peppered with locations I haven’t used since fifth grade geography. She can tell you the best tacos in Sayulita and rhubarb tart in Australia. She knows the paperwork necessary to get a work visa in New Zealand.
When I ask her what she wants to tell women, regardless of their lifestyle, who desire travel, she says, “do it because you want to do it. When I was visiting the Taj Majal, I met a family with four children under the age of twelve. They were touring India. Its the best education. I think a lot of women are afraid to travel alone and I get that. Trust your instincts. Use the same sense in Bangkok that you would walking home in Philadelphia.” She discusses her thoughts on solo female traveling here on her blog.
She is celebrating her 30th birthday this year, and would like to see Mongolia, China, and Russia soon. “I don’t know if I’ll always want to backpack for six months through India. I don’t know if I always want to do it with the same intensity.” But she smiles and confirms that travel will always be a part of her life now. “A lot of people who backpack are doing a gap year right after college, like 23 year olds. But there are women my age, or in their early 60’s, who are traveling. When I was in Patagonia I met this 70-something woman at the end of a three hour hike. I was winded and exhausted when I got to the top of that mountain, and there she was, in her 70’s…”
I talked to Jillian via text a few days later, before she jets off to her next adventure; living in Yosemite for a long summer, working in the park, hiking and exploring and photographing our country’s mountains. I asked why she does this? She replies: “When I travel, I feel a profoundly alive. I felt this so deeply on my first trip abroad. All of the firsts, the unknowns, the strangers enchanted me. Because life is so uncertain, and nothing is guaranteed, I didn’t want to wait to live my passion. I can elaborate if needed but that kinda sums it up…or you can simply write ‘yolo y’all’”
By now, she’s in Yosemite. I’m going to visit her while she is there, camp under the sky and see a part of the country I’ve never seen before. Sure, summer is busy and that’s even more vacation time to take at work, and I could put that money towards a down payment for a house…but I’m not waiting for things to be perfect before I do what I want to do. I’m not missing out on a chance to see a new place. I’m not not going.
All photos via I’m Not Not Going