Travel agent turned travel author tells all

Screaming and sickness have played unexpected roles in the life of Jungle Jan.

She’s not as well-known by that moniker now because it’s been some time since Jan Petrar had her Jungle Travel agency in Kamloops.

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First the screaming, done silently in her head as she rode up front next to the pilot in a Boeing 737 one night. It’s a big plane, it was pretty much empty, having dropped off all its passengers and, as Petrar wrote in her first book, Travel, Turbulence and Technology: An Insider Memoir, the pilot had to do a nosedive approach to compensate for the size and lack of a full load of passenger weight.

“All I could see was the land below fast approaching and all I could fee was the sensation that we were plummeting. And then, at what seemed the last possible moment, they straightened the plane and we landed like a feather,” she wrote.

She was screaming in her head, Petrar said — but it also fuelled an interest in the technological side of the travel business.

The sickness side came later, after Petrar had spent years in the travel business. Sitting at home recovering, she created a bucket list that led to her second book, Around the World in 111 Days.

She’ll be talking about both on Saturday, Aug. 11, at 1 p.m. at Chapters Bookstore, 1395 Hillside Dr. in Aberdeen Village.

Boredom and happenstance led to her long career in the travel business, she said. Earlier in her career, she was “issuing licence plates in a small town in Saskatchewan, trying desperately not to cry out of sheer boredom.”

One day, the mail brought with it something from an insurance company advocating adding travel to similar companies. Petrar shared the information with her boss and a travel agency was created alongside the licence plate distribution.

When a new job called her husband to Kamloops, Petrar came along and opened Jungle Travel, immersing herself in her industry to the point where she became president of the B.C. and Yukon chapter of the Alliance of Canadian Travel Associations.

That led to several stories included in the first book, reminiscences of the time Air Canada was trying to take over Canadian Airlines International and the chaos it caused, but also of how advanced her industry was in using technology for bookings — and the role she played in it.

While the first is more an academic book, Petrar’s almost 300 pages on her trip around the world speak to her attitude toward travel itself through unique stories of her experiences.

She said she felt “the world doesn’t need another book telling them what to do in Hong Kong in a day,” so she used her own vision of what she calls a travelist to inform the book’s structure and content.

A travelist, she said, is someone who likes to be safe, doesn’t mind staying in hotels, but who has an attitude toward travel “where their brain stays connected” and they seek out adventures.

For her, that meant not spending a lot of time in the dozens of places she visited, but moving through them, taking in all she could and moving on.

She did it all on cruises, Petrar said, where her adventurous nature and curiosity led to things others might not think about while on a ship.

“How do they tie the ropes?” she said she asked about at one point. “And how do they organize the food service?”

It also led to some scary moments when one of the ships she was aboard was passing through waters known for piracy.

For Petrar, despite the anxiety that created, she marvelled at how she watched one deck’s open railing draped in razor wire as a deterrent and how convoys of military ships came to escort them.

“I was glad to see we have friends,” she said of the escorts.

Petrar said on her return home, it took her a long time to process what she had experienced in those 111 days.

“Whew, what did I just see?” she said she felt.

And she’s up for talking about just that when she takes her place at the bookstore on Aug. 11.

© Kamloops This Week
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