We've all had that thought at some point; that single-minded desire to just up and go, to say goodbye to our homes and careers and lives and pick up somewhere else. To book a one-way ticket out of here and leave. We've all dreamed, wished, wanderlust-ed, obsessively Pinned, and maybe even seriously considered and started planning – but how many of us have actually gone through with it?
Creator of the hugely successful travel blog The Blonde Abroad, Kiersten Rich, is one of the few who has.
Almost four years ago, Kiersten left her prestigious corporate finance job to start pursuing her ultimate dream of traveling the world. Not only did she find herself and her passions along the way, but she authored what would become an award-winning female travel blog, featuring her expertise on travel tips, fashion, festivals and photography from all over the globe.
And on top of all her accomplishments, it's pretty clear that this solo female travel expert and lifestyle blogger is one of those rare finds who is gorgeous, open-minded, and a total free spirit to boot. Suffice to say, Kiersten is our #LivinglyGirlCrush.
We talked to her about what she's learned from her travels, what inspires her to get out of her comfort zone, and how you, too, can go forth and conquer your own goals. Prepare to be inspired.
On your blog, you talk about your reasoning for changing careers and thus taking a completely different direction in your life. Can you elaborate on that for our readers?
I grew up in a small town and I really didn’t kind of ever leave it. So I was 18 years old when I graduated from high school, and I went to community college – again, I wasn’t really reaching outside of my comfort zone.
You know, you’re around the same group of people, you sort of live within this metaphorical box of who you are as a person, and what your interests are, but you’re never inspired or challenged by anything. You think you know you are.
[But] being a young professional [is] what I wanted to do and I was going to be the best at it.
I had worked to support myself through college, so I was always working at law firms and financial planning firms. But when I graduated and moved from San Diego to LA, I went from something that was so familiar in the past 21 years to a big scary city. It was a lot to live up to.
These are the things I was struggling with: Why do I have to give up everything in my early 20’s to pursue a career I’m not even sure I love? (And in fact I know I don’t like.) This sense of financial security – you’re struggling with all of these real life challenges, and relationships, just [wondering] what do I wanna do? Is this my future? It’s scary to think about leaving it.
I didn’t even consider it for months and months and months.
It did weigh on me though. It started becoming this burning interest. Could I just do that? People on the other side of the world, a majority of them do this. Why can’t we as Americans do this?
Read more of Kiersten's story on her blog here.
What's your biggest piece of advice for someone looking to make a similar major life change?
Outside of "Oh, I wanna be a travel blogger," more, "I want to pursue what I’m passionate about…" [When] making a big life change to follow your passion, I have a few tips. One is being open to exploring everything that you’re passionate about and how you can monetize it. You know, there’s that saying, don’t mix pleasure and work; and it’s something I learned too. In the very beginning I was like wow, I love travel, but once it becomes work, am I gonna love it as much?
Identifying what you're really good at and what you love doing, and how you can turn it – those are the 3 key ingredients. Do I love this? Am I good at it? And how to monetize it?
Does it fulfill a need for other people too? That's a really important thing as well; is what I'm doing [profitable] in the sense that this helps somebody or there's a need for it?
What inspires you the most?
For me, travel is always... what's internal. Sometimes you can't even describe this want or desire to go somewhere or do something, because it just feels like ah! I imagine it to to be this way, [and] I just have to go.
It's this innate wanderlust.
Yeah, it's just there. There's no way to even define it; it's just like, "I need to go have this experience." Doesn't even have to be a destination. I need to go be somewhere where there's sun and sand, and I just need to go be... and whatever I find there is the adventure. I can never get rid of that. And that's something, [for] people who love to travel, you'll have that feeling forever. I think when it comes down to what inspires me to blog and share and help people, [it's] from those lessons and from those experiences that I have, and also being able to continuously have those experiences in other parts of the world.
[It comes from] rediscovering my faith in humanity, that trust in other people, that camaraderie with other women. We are drawn to each other and help each other and have such a deep bond regardless of culture or language or where we're from. It's happened to me countless times with many women everywhere I've been in the world. Just that one little fairy comes up to you and it just makes that experience for you.
Overall that lesson in travel, is that sometimes it’s the people that really are why I travel. It’s one of those things where that’s what inspires me to write – because I connect with women, I connect with people all over the world; [and sharing] my experiences with other people help them to have those experiences. So I really just feel like I’m that sort of messenger. Here’s why I did it, here’s how I did it, here’s how you can do it too.
I don’t have goals where I need to travel to every country, because at this point it’s not even really about me. I just get so much gratification from the community that that’s why I still do it. That’s what keeps me doing it. And inspires me to continue writing about it.
You've just gotta reach out of your comfort zone.
Livingly: You've gotta think about it, and plan it, and actively go do it – and not be afraid if you don't have someone to necessarily do it with, which I think is a valid fear for a lot of women, and a lot of travelers in general. But I think it's really cool to have people like you to look up to, that you know, someone who might be afraid to try something new will think, Hey, if she did it, maybe I can too.
Yeah, and I mean for me, I try to at least teach that I am the girl next door; I'm not this super adventurous, super cool [person], like I'm a huge nerd. I talk about my passions for Harry Potter [laughing]. That is me, and I'm not trying to sugarcoat it, and I think when you can be comfortable with who you are, and translate that into your travel experience... You realize when you leave your comfort and go see how people treat you in another place and they embrace the weird and they embrace the goofy, cute side of yourself, [that] you become a more confident person. You can't even help it, you just do.
And over time, the more and more you're like Wow, I actually really love being by myself, because I don't have to be the person that the person I'm traveling with thinks I am. The person I am with them isn't always what I have to be when I'm traveling. It's almost like this release where I can just be who I am – which is a lot of things. I am strong, I am confident, but sometimes I'm not; sometimes I'm bitchy, sometimes I'm happy – and that full spectrum of what makes you you, you can't always be that way around your friends or your family. Well, you can be, but it's the varying degrees of who you are a person... and when you actually get to just be solo, even in your own hometown, it's rare.
Getting thrown into this new environment and just discovering that it's okay to be that way – it's okay to be all of those emotions, and see just how people embrace that. Because of that vulnerability, you make instant friends with people while you're traveling.
At Livingly, our focus is on living life beautifully. What does living beautifully mean to you?
For me, I think it is pretty simple. I think living beautifully is finding that completeness within yourself, where you overcome judgment. The world can be hard, and you can be harder on yourself; but I think living beautifully is finding that completeness, and whatever helps you there. For me that was travel, for me that was finding people that I didn't know were out there. I didn't know that this was a part of who I am as a person now; I didn't know travel would be my future when I was even 20 years old, so that was kind of crazy.
By being complete you become a more self-expressed person, because you actually understand all the bits and pieces that make you who you are, and you're proud of that, confident in that; and you don't have to be perfect.
Being complete doesn't mean being perfect. We could be this crazy jigsaw puzzle of pieces, and each of those is unique. I think that is what is beautiful. We are all unique, and that's what's so cool, but we can also connect with some of the pieces that make us who we are, that we have in common with other people; but then, you also learn from other people, because that's part of the process. We can be complete with ourselves, but also open to this idea of self-growth. I think living beautifully is finding that presence, like, Okay, this is what it is right now; it's not like I need to improve this, or I need to change this.
Accepting the moment for what it is.
And understanding that growth will happen the rest of our lives, but to be open to it. Just that beauty in life is that you can love yourself for all the bits and pieces, and as you continue to grow as a person, you bring new elements into the puzzle, [but] that you're not defined by it.
Definitely. And I think the only way to really grow is to love yourself first, so that you can be open to learning from the experiences and the people that you come across.
I think that in order to really love yourself is to know yourself. And that comes with being open to those experiences, and the hardships. I think most of us can relate that we learn some of our biggest life lessons in the hardest times in our lives. How we react to things. Some of my favorite travel experiences were probably the least glamorous. That one time I had to run to the train, I tripped and I ate it, and I have a scar on my elbow, but I learned from it. And now it's a part of who I am.
There's so many elements that fall into that sort of motto. That's what I've learned in the short time that I've been on this earth, but I hope that I inspire people to figure it out for themselves.