Jessica Duke

Adventures Finding America’s Best Kept Secrets

June 2023 IssueJessicaDukes0623

by Edwina Hoyle
Photography (top) by Cassidy Dunn Photography

Jessica Duke had a longtime career as a staff nurse at a hospital, until things changed five years ago.

Born and bred in Beaufort, SC, Jessica earned an associate degree in nursing at Technical College of the Lowcountry, a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in hospital care administration.

After years of working in a brick-and-mortar hospital setting, Jessica is now able to help larger groups of people, opposed to individual patients, in a constantly changing environment.

Taking a job with a global health systems company, Jessica travels around the country as a consultant and problem solver. She analyzes hospital systems, looks for ways to fix problems, and provides innovative solutions. Roughly half of each month is spent on the road. In 2022, she worked in 30 different locations across the country.

When she accepted this new job, the company sent her an airline ticket to Chicago for training and orientation. Jessica said she was anxious because she hadn’t traveled much and worried about navigating the airport, getting an Uber, and traveling alone.

When she was a child, her family did typical Disney trips, but they always drove. Her parents were antique dealers, so the family also went on buying trips to North Carolina. All of their travels were in a car within an 8-hour radius of home. The big exception was an unexpected opportunity when she was 17 years old. At the last minute, a friend asked Jessica to go to Europe with a group of friends and backpack through five countries for about two months. Contacts abroad had already been made, and Jessica was surprised when her mother said “yes.”

“I really didn’t know what I was doing. It was before the Euro, the exchange rates were challenging, and at 17, I didn’t have the best spending habits. There were no cellphones, so communication was limited. We stayed in youth hostels in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, England, and Scotland. My biggest takeaway is that the world is so much bigger than Beaufort.”

Nowadays, she is known as the “social director” for her work team (usually 3-4 people) as they travel across the U.S. “I’m one of those people who will take a risk, and I’m totally up for adventure. But my fear can never show,” Jessica said.

“I’ve always been a foodie, so I started researching for the team. Food is a way to immerse yourself into a culture. It all starts with food, then I search for calendars of events to see what sparks my interest. I look for the best kept secrets and the must-dos. Pre-trip research makes it all happen.” Jessica also asks locals where they eat and what her team shouldn’t miss seeing in the area. She makes the dinner reservations, schedules their Ubers, and leads the team on their off-duty adventures.

Jessica has traveled to 32 states, and as a foodie, takes food and restaurant site pictures to post online. Smiling, she said, “Friends and family look forward to my posts. It’s like they live vicariously through the pictures. Phones enable us to create digital diaries, so why not do it?”

So, what does an adventure with Jessica look like? One time she and her team were in Memphis, so naturally they went to Graceland and spent time in Elvis Presley’s home. From there they drove to Mississippi and then St. Louis. They ended up at Johnny Cash’s boyhood home. In Clarksdale, Mississippi, they experienced the Crossroads of the Blues, learning that Morgan Freeman has a blues nightclub there. Who knew? Jessica said Clarksdale has the best BBQ she’s ever tasted, and every April there is a Blues Festival, adding that the next town over is the home of fried pickles.

Jessica swears that the best collard greens are in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the best beignets can be found in Mobile, Alabama. Her favorite adventure was a trip to Mamou, Louisiana, where she celebrated Courir de Mardi Gras which translates to “Run of the Mardi Gras.” Jessica shared, “The premise is to make gumbo. The locals go door to door asking for various ingredients. They wear elaborate, homemade costumes, and the last stop is a farm where they ask for a chicken. The farmer throws out a chicken and they chase it into town. There is music and food. It was a completely different perspective about Mardi Gras, and there were no beads.”

Up Close:

• On a 2020 trip to Las Vegas, Jessica walked through Caesar’s Palace with her boss. They were discussing business and their heads were down. She almost physically bumped into RuPaul, who was in town for the opening night of “Drag Race”. RuPaul is an American drag queen, television personality, actor, musician and model. Jessica regrets not speaking to him.

• Throughout her high school years, Jessica participated in stage theater which gave her confidence. She would have loved a career in theater but instead chose a more stable nursing career.

• Jessica enjoys photography and edits her pictures. She also likes spending time with friends and family and decorating her home.

• Jessica is able to travel for her job because of her great support system—her mother. Without her, Jessica said she couldn’t do it. She has two children: a 15-year-old son and a 22-year-old daughter.