With her passion for wildlife adventures, from jungle trekking in Uganda to see mountain gorillas or curling up with lemurs in Madagascar, Jessica Pociask is our type of traveler.
As the owner of WANT Expeditions — Wildlife and Nature Travel, a conservation-oriented, expedition-style adventure travel company — Jessica leads tours to see the most amazing natural phenomena on Earth. Jessica has been to over 70 countries, leading expeditions all over the world, and has visited all 7 continents. She has studied climate change in Antarctica, and she was one of 50 women chosen from the US and Mexico for the Women’s Leadership and International Sustainable Development award by the National Wildlife Federation.
A biologist by trade, Jessica recently spoke on a panel with distinguished conservationists and biologists regarding the impact of tourism on conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival.
And where is Jessica currently? Oh, just leading a tour in Ecuador to see the first new carnivore species found in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years — the olinguito.
Traveling Type: How did you get your start leading wildlife and nature tours?
Jessica Pociask: It’s a long, convoluted story that probably started when I made my first insect collection somewhere around the age of 7. Over the next 20 years, fueled by stories in my grandfather’s collection of National Geographic magazines, I was inspired with the idea of being an explorer and adventurer. I took my first trip abroad when I was 16, and I once traveled with an orchestra through Europe. From there on, I was smitten with traveling, so I began working for various conservation organizations and outdoor outfitters and started traveling abroad independently. READ MORE
Over the last 2 months I’ve managed a couple of fun vacation runs — a variation of a mileage run that involves actually leaving the airport and exploring a city — to Moscow, Paris and Johannesburg. My trip to Moscow was a weeklong vacation, while my runs to Paris and Johannesburg were just extended weekends. A little crazy, I know, but the experiences and sights were well worth the expense and travel time. And besides, or perhaps most importantly, I earned a LOT of miles, ate caviar and saw elephants.
Total Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM): 29,043
Total Redeemable Miles (RDM): 58,086
Flying Time to/from Moscow: 23h 13m
Flying Time to/from Paris and Johannesburg: 37h 40m
This year, I’m hoping to earn 150,000 SkyMiles in order to book a round-trip business-class award ticket to Australia — a ticket that would normally cost approximately $16,000 (yes, you read right). I was inspired to book both of my recent “vacation runs” after I saw posts about cheap tickets on FlyerTalk. Another great site to follow is The Flight Deal, which gathers airfare deals that make the most of your miles and money.
When booking mileage runs, be sure to check your fare class. Some fare classes don’t earn miles or only earn a reduced number of miles. For my trips, I flew Delta T class and KLM/Air France R class, both of which earn full Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM). Both trips also had a low cost per mile (CPM), which is important for a great mileage run. Typically, you want the CPM to be under 5 cents per mile.
Moscow Cost per Mile: $0.0347
Johannesburg Cost per Mile: $0.0420
A mileage run is a trip solely for earning EQM, so oftentimes you never even leave the airport. But in this case, I turned them into vacations.
My trip to Moscow was the first time I used Global Entry, a Customs and Border Patrol program that expedites the immigration process when returning to America, which I was approved for the week before leaving for Russia. Thanks to this program, it literally takes less than 1 minute to clear customs. If you don’t have it, I recommend you apply since it also includes TSA Pre-Check, which gets you through security quicker and with fewer hassles.
Overall, Moscow is a beautiful city with many activities, but in my experience, it is also very expensive. I stayed at the Hotel National, where Lenin stayed while the Kremlin was under construction. It’s also a Starwood property, with which I have Gold elite status, and so I earned 8,852 SPG points thanks to my stay.
While in Moscow, I enjoyed the various sites such as Saint Basil’s Cathedral and a day trip outside the city to Troitse-Sergiev Monastery. If you find yourself in Moscow, be sure to explore the metro system — the various stations are truly beautiful, each with a different design. I also enjoyed proper meals, including a 10-course omakase meal at Nobu Moscow. Don’t worry, I also sampled iconic Russian cuisine such as caviar and borscht.
My trip to Johannesburg was a much shorter and farther excursion, with a 12-hour layover in Paris and about 37 hours in Johannesburg. With such a short amount of time in Paris, I made my way into the city and used a hop-on/hop-off tour bus to see the major sites before I returned to CDG and grabbed some food and Scotch whisky in the Air France Salon to await my flight to Johannesburg.
Once in Johannesburg, I took the Gautrain, Africa’s first rapid rail system, to the Radisson Blu Gautrain hotel, and shortly after, my guide arrived to take me on a tour of Joburg. I liked the sound of Cashan Private Day Tours, which offered custom city tours, and I was able to book a half-day tour with Penny Cashan. Our first stop — and most surprising and enjoyable element of the tour – was the Market on Main, which occurs every Sunday at the Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct, with great food and various art galleries. I had no idea that Joburg has such a thriving art community.
The next and last day in Joburg, I booked a 1-day safari with Felleng Tours to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. This turned out to be a great experience, since we were able to take the time to find 2 of the Big Five– the white rhino and the African elephant — along with many other amazing animals and sights. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures were low, so the animals weren’t hiding in the shade.
Back at O.R. Tambo Airport, I headed to the Air France Salon before deciding to check out other lounges in the airport thanks to my Priority Pass membership, which gives me access to lounges around the world where I do not have elite status. Properly hydrated and nourished, I headed to the gate to catch 2 flights home — just short of 22 hours with a connection in Amsterdam. Now I need to start thinking about my next mileage run.
Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn airline elite status.
These 2 Jaisalmeri camels couldn’t help but stop for a smooch while en route through the Thar Desert in northwestern India. More »
Rhino sightings are exceedingly rare — the total population in Masai Mara National Reserve is thought to total 50. More »
Storm clouds roll in over the Wolwedans’ Dune Lodges at NamibRand Nature Reserve, which is not your usual African safari outfit. More »
The area is home to nearly 25,000 animals, which means you’ll have little trouble spotting the “Big 5” — lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and Cape buffalo. More »