As a digital influencer, content creator and model, Viv Li has worked with many established brands from North America, Asia and Australia on some very successful promotions and campaigns. She also has 7 years of experience in corporate marketing, public relations and media relations in Canada. Viv has a 80k dedicated following on Instagram, growing at the rate of 13k per month and expanding faster as it grows. She has modeled in commercials and magazines extensively whilst she was living internationally and globe trotting. She has been to 56 Countries and all 7 continents of the world.
Our founder, Mike Navarini connected with her recently and learned more about her fascinating story!
“I believe it’s better to be endangered and free than captive and comfortable” – Viv Li
Follow Viv’s world travels on her Instagram @viv_li
Read Mike’s chat with her below!
Viv: Hey Mike!
Mike: Hey Viv, thanks for joining me to do this interview! What time zone are you in?
Viv: Auckland, NZ. U are from Cali right??
Mike: Yea! San Francisco Bay Area
Viv: I’m Canadian, but grew up in SF/The bay
Mike: Cool. Yea I live between the East Bay and San Francisco. How long did you spend here in SF?
Viv:Altogether, about 5-6 years in the U.S.
Mike:Cool. And now? Where are you based?
Viv:I guess Auckland for now but it’s a constant change for me, you just never know.
Mike:So you’re constantly on the road with no home base?
Viv: I was based in Vancouver for a bit over 6years. Now I have many cities which I call home; Toronto, Vancouver, ChongQing (China)and of course, Auckland.
Mike: I see. So, you were born in Canada?
Viv: No, I was born in ChongQing, China and went to the US when I was around 9 or 10 years old and ever since I have lived in North America.
Mike: Ah I see. So, you love to travel I see! How do you make a living? I am sure many of your 60,000 Instagram followers wonder if you have family support or a rich sugar daddy lol.
Viv: LOL! None of that, actually. I was working as the head of marketing for a large Canadian commercial real estate firm for 6 years prior to moving to NZ. While I worked, I traveled as much as I could and eventually I just couldn’t take the corporate lifestyle any more. I quit last year and just started to travel full-time. I fund my travel off my investments and remote contract work with design agencies, sponsorships and modeling. I know some people may assume that I have some kind of support — that’s why I can do what I do –but the truth is, my lifestyle is driven by my passion to travel the world and sheer hard work! .
Mike: That’s awesome. I can tell you are a self-made woman!
Viv: How can u tell lol.
Mike: The way you run your IG account shows you have skills and a head on your shoulders. You have an artistic eye and a penchant for branding.
Viv: Thanks. I think what you’re doing is awesome. So, what u do for a living then? Your website is a passion project right?
Mike:Yes, Travel Veteran is a passion project. My goal is to inspire people to travel and help them do it by finding great deals and teaching them how to travel on a budget.So, before Aukland, where were you last?
Viv: Before Auckland I was in Canada & USA for a bit. This year alone I have been to 5 continents. I started my year from China to the Philippines to New Zealand to China to India to Nepal to Cambodia to China to Korea to New Zealand to across Canada to Ireland to Spain to Irsael to Greece to Italy to Morocco to Slovenia to Denmark to Greenland to Denmark to Vietnam to Thailand to New Zealand back to Canada then to Australia. Whew! I think I missed a whole bunch in between too. I have been on over 50 flights this year I think.
Mike: That’s a lot of flying lol! In CA/US, you were traveling or more just visiting your home base of family/friends?
Viv: Canada, USA, China and New Zealand are my homes.
Mike: Why are they your “home bases.” Does your family live in those locations?
Viv: I have people who are dearest to me in those four countries, yes.Each place has helped shape me to become the person that I am today. In addition, I have homes therebut for most of the countries I traveled to, I have local friends who I stay with. I make a point to visit them, even all the way from Greenland in the North Pole lol.
Mike: Have you really been to the North Pole??
Viv: Arctic Circle, not really North Pole lol. Arctic and Antarctica, and all the other continents.
Mike: Impressive. So, out of ALL of those places you’ve mentioned what are some of your favorites, and why?
Viv: I think all places have their own unique beauty and it’s hard to pin point what’s my favorite but out of all the countries I ever been to (55 countries) Canada is the best place on earth hands down! I have so much love for my country.
Mike: Haha! “hands down” I like that. Love for your country meaning, you’re patriotic? Or, you just really, objectively, like Canada?
Viv: I love Canada in every way. The way people are able to live there, there is a considerably small gap between the rich and poor compared to the rest of the world, the equality we have, the help government provides for its people in particularly for the middle class, the diversity and authentic cultures are appreciated, not to mention the natural beauty of the Canadian landscape is incomparable.. And the people — Canadians are known to be the nicest, kindest, friendliest people around. I mean there are exceptions, but in general Canadians are just so nice. I am sure I have missed a ton of things that I love about Canada.. Oh, Canadian passport is probably one of easiest one to use around the world that helps too haha. Honestly I can go on and on and on!
Mike: What would you say are the main differences between Canada and the States?
Viv:Canada is definitely a more peaceful country.
Mike:They are involved in less wars for sure.
Viv: So Mike, what do u do for a living?
Mike: I’m an internet entrepreneur. My main business is an ad agency, Jumpclick.com. Its pretty fun. I’ve got a bunch of side projects as well. One is, insta-paint.com, another is Namerific.com, among others.
Viv: Lots going on for you.
Mike:So, how do you stay healthy on the road? Do you keep a special diet or workout?
Viv: It’s hard to keep a consistent diet on the road, but I eat a lot of spicy food and drink a ton of green tea which helps keep my metabolism up. I do interval training whenever I can to try to keep my body in shape and get my daily exercise.
Mike:A big part of traveling for me is eating… I love eating ethnic food and trying local specialties. On a recent trip I think I gained about 5-7 pounds which I had to burn off in the gym when I got back to the Bay Area lol. Do you try lots of foods or just avoid altogether?
Viv:Oh yes for sure — I love food!! I eat more than people can imagine. I try all kinds of food. I’m a super foodie and fattie.
Mike:Haha! Definitely not a fattie. So I’m sure, everyone reading this who have seen your modeling photos are wondering — how you do it? What’s your secret sauce? Is it really the green tea?
Viv: I honestly think it’s genetics and spicy food. I eat really spicy and I don’t eat much meat.
Mike:I notice when I travel to Thailand (where the food is crazy spicy) I do lose weight, and my abs turn from 6 pack to 12 pack.
Viv: I don’t think spice can do magic but sure
Mike: As for your workouts, you said you do interval training. Do you find classes to do this or you have your own routine you do at hotel gyms etc.
Viv: I find work-outs that work for me online that I can do anywhere, that dont require a gym.
Mike: Cool. As for booking flights… what sites do you use the most? Are you more of a points person or do you just pay cash to book?
Viv: I just book flights wherever it’s convenient And I think I need to get better at collecting points but because I never travel out of one country, it’s hard to collect any points…
Mike: Yea, you probably take many different airlines.
Viv: Yes all different airlines.Its just transportation point A to B — I don’t really pay much attention to that really lol.
Mike:This is quite true! I guess I enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Viv: When I am tired I can sleep anywhere and I am always trying to work whenever I am free so I am always on my computer anyways so I am either sleeping or on my laptop when flying. I don’t pay much attention to much else on the plane.
Mike:Yea. For me, I’m the same. I try to work wherever I am, but if there is no wifi… I can’t do much so I’m limited to reading. And I can’t sleep in economy… ever haha.
Unless I have an entire row
Viv:I am super easy! I can sleep on the ground if need be. I have just laid on the ground at airports before when I am really tired, I am not a princess or glamorous as I may seem lol.
Mike: I have traveled with a backpacking air mat — super thin and light — useful for crashing anywhere 🙂 Yea I think the readers will really be surprised at how down to earth you are. A good place I have found to sleep at airports is the “meditation” room (although its been years since I’ve slept in an airport).Well, I’m surprised you say this as your photos make it seem you live lavishly and stay at really nice places.
Viv: I think material things are nice but they don’t take priority as they are only things, I prefer experiences hence why I quit my job to just travel the world!
Mike: I do agree with you 100%. Experiences > material goods.
Viv:I would say in comparison to some I have had the privilege to experience some of the so-called finer things in life. But, I can appreciate the different experiences, from 5 star hotels to harsh conditioned orphanages, from Michelin star restaurants to local street stalls, from $1 t-shirt to designer clothes. I enjoy having a taste of a bit of everything.
Mike: Great way to put it. I’m the same way. Don’t need it fancy all the time but periodically it’s nice to enjoy it. If you had the best constantly it would lose its appeal.Have you been to countries that most avoid like, North Korea, Iran, etc?These are countries I want to visit but I’ve always been concerned about my safety traveling to these places. What’s the most dangerous country you’ve been to?
Viv:Dangerous country…I think there’s always areas in countries that are dangerous but you can navigate through with common sense in most cases. Mmm I always wanted to go to North Korea but haven’t got the chance to. When I went to Morocco, I pretty much got robbed and ripped off everyday though.
Mike: Wow really, Morocco…. Like literally robbed? Or just people trying to overcharge you?
Viv: I think poorest country I been was Nepal, literally no hot water anywhere, and 13 hours of electricity cut everyday that was quite something to get used to.
Mike: Wow, it’s not even that bad in the Philippines… they just have brownouts.
Viv: When I was staying at the orphanage I didn’t shower for almost two weeks because it was too cold to shower with cold water. I know gross lol. But when you are put into certain situations, you realize we really don’t need as much that we think we need.
Mike:Well, I bet now every time you shower you feel lucky… haha. Agreed. So, onto a new topic — what languages do you speak?
Viv: Funny thing is when you lose the expectation of what you should have, you feel the most free. I speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
Mike:Our convo about traveling has gone quite deep! Awesome, you speak very useful languages… I’ve been trying to learn Mandarin for a little while. I love Cantonese as well especially since I go to HKoften.
Viv: Yes I feel English, Chinese and Spanish are the most useful languages
Mike: That’s the important stuff anyways. I’m actually planning to build an app to help people learn languages with almost no effort or time commitment. I’ll tell you about it another time. So, your lifestyle… most people in the world would love to have it… What tips would you have for the readers to be able to do what you do.
Viv: There is real no secret to what I do what I do, everything is about give and take in life.
Mike: Well, many people have jobs that keep them tied down to one location except for a short vacation once a year.
Viv: Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy and easy life, to look perfect and make money and be popular and travel the world etc, etc. But, it is all about what are you feeling to sacrifice, what you can endure, what are you willing to do, what you are willing to give in exchange, give and take. Few people choose to do that, because they are just not willing to do what it takes to have a so called “nomad life” because you have to give up more than you can imagine when you actually do it.
Mike:Nomad life basically requires you to become an entrepreneur, no?
Viv: Not necessarily. Most things in life are better in ones imagination rather than in reality because in reality every single thing, every choice you make requires the give in order to take, there will always but part of unwanted in what’s desired.
Mike: What would you say are the main things you’ve had to “give up” to be a nomad. And what have you benefitted?
Viv: I am developing my own label and trying to do more mobile businesses but I worked as a marketing director and doubling as the creative director at my own design studio I chose to work my ass off in order to invest and to start developing my own business and to travel and do thing I want to do. For me it was the delayed gratification necessary to accumulate wealth. Like I said I didn’t have the luxury of a sugar daddy lol — which most people just so naturally assume. Maybe the main things I had to give up are the safety net, the certainty and the stability for what you ask… perhaps just sense of freedom. We often think it is hard to acquire wealth and society’s idea of success, yet I think it’s harder going back to the basics. Less is often more, less desires, more personal freedom. So I am willing to give up more to get back to less for more personal freedom. My friend’s recent glamorous visit to Marrakech reminded me of my less than glam visit there, quite the contrary.
Here is a photo I took in Marrakech. Note this man was gonna throw a rock at me.
I was just trying to capture a photo of the real Marrakech.
Mike: Wowwww. What was happening before the pic was taken?
Viv: Nothing, I was just walking around taking in the environment. I remembered at the Nepal airport, I did not see any females by themselvesso leaving Nepal that evening I was the only female at the airport by myself. A few other ladies were with their male partners… That goes to show something.
Mike:Since you’ve experienced many cultures around the world, what do you think are the main things that bring us together as a human race? What divides us?
Viv: That’s such a hard yet easy question. The main thing that bring us together as a human race is without a doubt LOVE. Love above all is what makes life worth living.
There are so many things that divide us,such as our self interests, greed, hate, envy …too many.
Mike: Tell me about some of the funniest or craziest things you’ve seen or experienced on your travels. Then, tell me about your travel goals / bucketlist… where to next and do you even have a bucket list of things to do/see?
Viv: Mmm not sure of the funniest things but there are a ton of crazy things I guess haha.
– The size of the amusement parks in Orlando!
– The Zoos in Thailand! They really have a lot of crazy weird stuff going on… They use pig moms to nurse and feed baby tigers. They put tiger patterned clothes on baby pigs and put them with tiger moms, and they put dogs with tigers together. It’s titled “happy family, pig races, little girls playing with crocodiles”
– Oh and their adult shows oh damn nothing I have or will ever see ever in my life anywhere, even Amsterdam can NOT compare at all. I mean they do everything that you can imagine. That was funny and traumatizing at the same time for me.
– The Lady boy shows and their animal shows , are all so extreme and crazy, nothing you will ever see else where… not even in China
– The last untouched natural beauty of Antarctica
– The experience of crossing the Drake Passing to get to Antarctica, the waves are so high it reaches several feet above the ship. I got so sick on the way there and my vision started to blur. For couple of days I thought I lost my vision, but thank God it was the side effects of the motion sickness medication. Imagine you are on a research vessel middle of nowhere (well literally at the end of the world) and not able to see a doctor and losing your vision, that is kind of scary.
– The most stunning colony of penguins in Antarctica, so surreal to be surrounded by these little guys all over and I don’t think I have ever seem that many birds at once let along penguins.
– The townships in South Africa and the contrast between the wealthy and the poor..
– The slums of India
– The living conditions in Nepal
– The fire-red midnight sunset in Greenland
My travel goal is to see and experience as much of the world as possible; to take in and absorb the diversity of as many cultures and to explore different ways of living in our world while taking myself out of my comfort zone time and time again.
I don’t have a bucket list and I go wherever life takes me! I would love to travel to anywhere I haven’t been and I still have a lot to go. Although I would love to visit every single country in this world, . As long as I have tried andas long as I have experienced whileloving to the fullest, it is a life worth living.
Mike: Great insight and answers! Can you list all the countries you’ve been to?
Viv:Here I keep track on an app lol
Mike: Been? Is that an app?
Viv: Yeah it’s a really simple app but I like it. There are so many tiny countries in the world lol. 55 countries is merely only 22% of the world lol.
Mike: Wow really. I’ve only been to 40 something.
Viv: U should get Been app too, to keep track haha. So Mike, how old r u?
Mike: Old lol. 32.
Viv: Argh that’s not old lol. You have done a lot in your 30 years!
Mike: Never enough! Unfortunately I work a lot and don’t get to play 247 😉 On to my next question. Do you have siblings?
Viv: Well I m assuming u played a lot though, considering you have been to 40 somewhat countries at 30 lol. No just me myself and I lol. My close friends are like my family to me.
Mike: I think my problem is I go back to a lot of the same places when I travel. Like, I’ve been to Italy like 9 times. Thailand 5 times etc. I wanna start going to new places.
Viv: That means u played a ton!!! Lol
Mike: Haha, well yea I mean, my extended family is in Italy so I visit them. But yea I have friends in Hong Kong, etc. So I go to HK a lot. I also have support staff in the Philippines so I’ve gone there a bunch of times to train them.
Viv: But my parents are divorced, so they can have other children. My mom re-married like 5 times, but not in China. Yeah, I visited HK more than I can count too and Taiwan twice as much haha.
Mike: Yea I love Taiwan. Been there a lot too.
Viv: And the USA of course lol. I don’t love Taiwan I just had to go lol.
Mike: I love visiting those countries because the food is so good. Taiwan has great food 😉
Viv:I loveeeee the food here in Auckland OMG. I’m gonna send u a bunch of food photos maybe you can put it in a grid together lol. I live to eat, I go around the world to eat.
Mike: What kind of food? I would guess its similar to Australia and the food in Australia is nothing to write home about in my opinion. Haha, join the club – I’m all about the food! Food is a huge incentive for my travels.
Viv: But honestly Auckland food so bomb I die. I gained so much weight because food here is so good. Its authentic with a creative touch. The cafes here are so bomb, and there’s all the good noodles and cake places here, too.
Mike: Ok now you are making me hungry you have to stop LOL
Viv: SF has a lot of good food too! Japanese options lacking in SF though.I love SF and consider it one of my home cities, too.
Mike: Oh really, yea you are welcome back anytime. The food in SF is “okay” in my opinion. There are hidden gems here and there.
Viv:Haha, yeah I been back a few times since I moved away.
Mike: But, we do have a good variety of options… like you can have any type of food you want here from almost any culture.
Viv: Yeah but SF food can’t compare to Vancouver. Vancouveris good but not as good as Auckland. I’m very surprised with Auckland lol.
Mike: Wow really good to know. I heard southern New Zealand is amazing, you should go there.
Viv: I haven’t been yet but it’s on my list lol. There are so many places to go explore
I feel like the 200more countries I have left to go r all very difficult to go to places left lol. Countries you never heard of or off the beaten path lol. The 55 countries I’ve been to cover most of the visited countries and some less traveled.
Mike: So a couple final questions…. what are your plans the next 5 years?
Viv: I want to have my own family if I can but career wise I hope to have an established online business cause I just cant see myself working corporate any longer…continue to travel while I work and expend my business and brand. Constantly trying to improve myself in every aspect and continues to learn and grow. And the rest is not up to me, I will go where life takes me.
Mike: Lastly… name some places and experiences you have yet to see?
Like some places you really want to go to but have been out of reach so far.
Viv: See the great pyramids of Egypt, hike to Machu Pichu in Peru, free dive with the shark whale in Cebu, see the northern light at the great north of Canada…one day I hope to go on a space ship to admire the beauty of earth from space haha. Just about anything I haven’t done I would want to try.
Mike:Everything you named has been on my list. Except I’m doing the Northern Lights in November in Iceland. Canada would be cool for that too though.
Viv: Haha great minds think alike. Oh nice!! Iceland seems like the place to go these days everyone heading there. They marketed their tourism really well. I also want to go to Iceland but I just went to Greenland and it’s further up so I’ll leave Iceland for another time I guess. Oh I also want to go to Palau for the jelly fish lake. Where else do u want to go and do?
Mike: Yea I think the reason for the increase in tourism is Wow Air…they have amazing prices. Hmm so many places lol…
Nepal to visit my employee in Kathmandu
Hike the Himalayas
More spots in South America
More places in Canada
Antarctica… now that you mentioned it haha
Manaus Brazil (already been but want togo again)
Snorkel Cenotes in Mexico
Viv:I want to go to all those places u mentioned, too!!
Mike: Life is short so much to see!
Viv: Yes we need time and money! But when we trade time for money we don’t have much time. Less than what little we were given. Why do u wona travel so much?
Mike: I don’t trade time for money haha. Or, I try not to. Prefer to buy time with money lol.
Viv: Lol money can never buy time
Mike: Because I want to live life to the fullest. CARPE DIEM lol. I think the most important thing in life is relationships. And it’s important to develop many good ones with our brothers and sisters from around the globe!
Well, you can … kinda…Example, paying an employee to do a task for you
Gives you free time to do something else.
What makes me happy is friendships, earned success, reaching my goals with hard work. Anyways, we’ve gone through so many different topics in this interview! Crazy.
Viv: I know!
Mike: Well, I think we’ve given our readers a ton of great information about you and your travel philosophy. Hopefully we can do this again soon and cover even more ground!
Viv: Haha! Yes we have talked about almost everything it seems lol
Mike: Well, thanks again for your time Viv, and I hope we can talk again soon. I’ll definitely be watching your IG feed to see where you go to next!
Viv: Thanks Mike! Thanks for having me.