Jackson Groves has been travelling non-stop for four years. On the road he started his own adventure travel blog, Journey Era, documenting the best of all the places he’s travelled around the globe.
Jono: Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Tell us about the motorcycle accident that happened when you headed off to Bali to write your first story.
Jackson: I was halfway through my Digital Communications degree and really needed a holiday, so I decided to do a solo trip to Bali. Though blogging was a thing back then, it wasn’t quite as big as it is now, so I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I’d planned to rent a motorbike, ride around the island with my little notebook and come out the other end with a story.
I hadn’t even done my first full day of riding before I got cut off on the road and smashed three teeth out of my mouth. It actually didn’t hurt too much but there was a lot of blood and it sure made for an interesting 24 hours. I cut my losses and flew back home to Australia two days later. Some story huh?
How did you come up with the name of your blog?
When you start looking for a name, unless you have something in mind, you’re looking for keywords such as; travel, journey, nomad. You’ll see them all throughout travel blogs, but I didn’t want to have something too cliche.
So basically, it was coming up with a name that incorporates one of these words and gives you wiggle room to expand and evolve. This is actually a pretty difficult task and gets harder every year as more people register travel blogs. I ended up with The Journey Era.
What was your experience like teaching yourself how to blog?
Looking back on what I did, compared to what I would imagine somebody doing today, it’s just such a different experience. I was in university in Hawaii and I didn’t know anything about blogging at all.
The easy part for me was creating blog posts but the technical side of creating a website can be quite overwhelming and stops many people in their tracks. I was really lucky to have a friend who I’d meet at Starbucks weekly and get help with coding and other website related jobs.
I helped him out with a few photography projects in return, but I’m grateful to have had someone who took an interest in what I was doing and helped me out without charging me through the roof. It took about 10 weeks before I’d even ticked off enough things to start the blog.
How long have you been living on the road now?
I left Australia in 2012 on a soccer scholarship to Oregon. After playing and studying there for two years, my coach did a reshuffle and transferred me to Hawaii, where I graduated. Since then I’ve been travelling around the globe non-stop.
I’ve had to make a couple of pit stops back in Adelaide, once for double hip surgery and now again for the pandemic. So I’ve been back in Australia for a couple of months now but other than that, I’ve been living on the road.
What do people not know about living on the road as a digital nomad?
The one obvious thing is the stability of all the little things that happen during a day. For example, it can be really tiring setting up all of your gear or doing your washing, whereas when you’re home, those things are just in cruise control.
I think that can slowly overwhelm people when they become a digital nomad. They can do it for the first couple of weeks, but eventually, it tires them out and you’ll see a lot of people burn out for those reasons.
On top of that, when you’re self-employed and running a business, the amount of effort and time you put in correlates directly to your financial return. So it’s a shock to some when they realise they actually might have to work harder than they would in a nine to five.
It’s those people that are able to manage a life that’s in constant change and still remain hyper-productive that can handle the lifestyle.
How did you teach yourself the skills needed to live as a digital nomad?
Seeking out and meeting other people that’ve been living that lifestyle was very important. Looking at how they managed their lives and how they’ve been able to achieve longevity in the digital nomad lifestyle was invaluable.
It’s interesting to see people that are living like this in Bali because there’s an interesting cross section of people there. There’s a big difference in the way those that are going to last a month and those that have been there for years operate.
Throughout your journey, you’ve always thought about giving back. How did the Adventure Bag crew begin?
I was doing a lot of solo hikes while I was in Panama and had a lot of time to think about how much trash I was witnessing on the trails.
Usually, I do most of my documentation on the way up to the summit, so I figured once I’ve taken all my photos and have all the information I need to write my blog post, I’ll fill a bag with trash on the way down.
I called this the adventure bag because I’d collect one on every adventure I went on. I then started posting on my Instagram story saying if anyone did the same, I’d reshare their photo on my story.
I think four or five people did it on the first couple days and it slowly got bigger from there.
Not long after, I organised a big meetup in Panama, where people actually came from all over to El Valle de Anton. We actually got so many people that we booked out an entire hostel and even had people camped in the parking lot. The next day, we did a sunrise and afternoon hike and collected huge bags of trash.
We ended up doing 12 of these meetups over the next year and I made an Instagram page for the adventure bag crew, where people could send in their photos and stories, and we’d share them hoping that the more people would join the movement.
Hopefully, it’ll inspire people to start thinking about their own initiatives that can help better the world.
Let’s switch over to photography. What do you currently have in your bag that you take with you?
At the moment I have an Atlas pack, which I think is the best camera bag for hikers. Normally it’s either a hiking bag or a camera bag, but Atlas has made the perfect combo.
Inside I have a DJI Mavic 2 drone, a Sony A7Riii with the 24-105mm f/4 lens. I really love that lens for hiking, especially adventures, because you don’t want to be changing lenses too often to get a certain shot.
I’ll have my camera clipped on with a Peak Design clip on my strap to have it accessible because taking your bag off and stopping ruins the vibe of the trail.
I also carry a 16-35mm f/4 and have recently been carrying a 100-400mm lens which is super heavy, but it’s fun to have, especially in places like Switzerland or even Papua New Guinea where there are diverse mountain landscapes which you can compress at 400mm.
You’ve got an affinity for jumping off high things. Funnily enough, the one that came to mind was when you were in Jodhpur and sent it off a stepwell.
I really try to see all of the spots when I’m travelling through a town, so when I went to Jodhpur, I heard about this stepwell and I wanted to pay it a visit. Since it wasn’t on any maps, it took us a while to find it, but after we found it and snapped some photos of the steps, a kid literally flew over my head and landed in the water.
We watched them for a little while and they even jumped off the top of the entire complex, which ended up being 13 or 14 metres high!
After standing and watching for a while, one of them told me to jump in as well. So after I had jumped a few times from the lower step, I went from the top. I never invented any of the jumps there and I was only following the local kids, which is always the smartest thing to do.
I didn’t know at the time but you’re not actually allowed to jump in there and the police eventually came with batons. They weren’t too serious, but they were chasing the kids and everyone just dispersed.
I’m guessing that there wasn’t anyone with a baton chasing you around out in the Northern Territory when you jumped that cliff at Glen Helen Gorge?
No, not at all!
At Glen Helen Gorge, I had to climb up the side of a pretty steep cliff which meant when I got out to the edge, there was no turning back. So I made sure the cameras were ready to rock, took a deep breath, and took the leap. As the water was completely flat, the entry into the water hit me pretty solid.
It’s one of the highest jumps I’ve ever done and had to be somewhere around the 20 metre mark.
Cliff Jumping at Glen Helen Gorge with Jackson GrovesPLAY VIDEO
Is there somewhere you really love exploring near home in South Australia?
There’s a cliff jumping spot down in Second Valley that I absolutely love. I’ve always thought if I can just jump this at least once a year, it’ll keep me young and keep my adventurous spirit going. Unfortunately, because I’ve come back in the winter this year, it’s freezing now so I haven’t got round to it yet.
It’s a really high jump that’s close to the 20 metre mark where you drop down into a little chasm that leads into a cave you can swim in. I don’t want to be one of those people who grow too old for things like this, so I should get down there soon!