Interview with the Blonde Abroad

October 17, 2013

World, meet Kiersten Rich

C.K: Do you remember the exact moment you told yourself right, this is not how I want to live my life?

K.R: Yes, actually.  I was working in Corporate Wealth Management at a firm in LA and commuting an hour to and from work each day from Santa Monica.  I rented a flat from an Australian couple that ultimately never saw me because I would leave for work before the sun came up and get home just before I needed to crash and get my recommended 4-5 hours of sleep. One night, they asked me over for dinner and, unbeknownst to me, that was the day of my “career” intervention.

They were seriously concerned about how hard I was working and said to me, “Kiersten, this is crazy. This is your ten-year plan? Are you sure this is what you want to do? Most Australians take a gap-year.” I responded blankly as if they were speaking a foreign language, “A what?” Shaking their heads, they then dumbed it down for me; “You should take a break from your career, travel and come back (or don’t) and do something you want to do.” It was the first time I had ever questioned my own career path. So, I quit my job, enjoyed what was left of my summer in LA and moved to Australia.

C.K: Were did your travel adventure begin and what was it that triggered it?

K.R: I guess my leap of faith into travel wasn’t that I simply booked a ticket to Australia. I was bartending at a nightclub in Hollywood to make some cash (after I left my career) and decided I would revisit those big, scary life decisions after the summer. Funny enough, I got an opportunity to move to Indonesia to perform at an amusement park with a group of dancers from LA. I imagined it as something like Indonesia’s version of Glee performers at Disneyland.

I was absolutely thrilled to go and had decided I would go to Australia after my one-month contract in Indonesia. Everything was set to go but, the week before the trip, the whole dance team was called off. My heart was so set on traveling that I took a leap of faith and bought a plane ticket to spend three months traveling around Australia, Southeast Asia and New Zealand.

C.K: And from there, I can see you haven’t stopped one second. How do you manage to afford it?

K.R: I’ve found a routine that works for me. Before I left on my very first trip, I sold what I could, moved everything back home (never thought that day would come) and ultimately simplified my life down to as few expenses as possible so that I could keep on traveling. I’ll typically book a trip and leave for as long as I can afford to; then I come home and work, save and travel again. The cost of living in Southern California is incredibly high, so it’s typically cheaper for me to be traveling.

I don’t take luxurious trips. I usually stay with friends or in $10/night hostels, cook for myself whenever possible and seek out local’s experiences rather than high-priced tourist attractions. The key to long-term travel is having a practical budget and sticking to it. If I can save enough money for airfare and set aside an extra $600-1000 for play money, to me, that’s a month in South America or Southeast Asia.

Now that my blog has grown, I’ve learned a lot about the travel blogging industry (mostly the hard way), so I started my own business. I now work with other bloggers on mentorship, tourism boards on content creation and with travellers on travel planning. In pursuing my dream, I’ve been able to create a business by helping people and doing something that I love. It’s pretty amazing.

C.K: I read on your blog that you have travelled 30ish countries these past couple of years. Has the experience been how you imagined it?

K.R: I thought that I wanted to travel to see beautiful places, to eat delicious food and to have amazing experiences. But, I’ve experienced more by not traveling like a typical tourist. I’ve ultimately learned that travel is about people. The places, the food and the experiences all boil down to the local people; the stories they tell and the culture they share.

Thanks to Facebook and social media, I have stayed in touch with people from around the world that I’ve met in my travels (and through my blog) that I talk to regularly. No matter where I go, I reach out to friends, or friends of friends, or set an intention to befriend locals. Instead of setting off into “the great unknown” with nothing more than a backpack, I now feel at home in the most foreign of places.

C.K: From all the destinations, which has been your favourite and most memorable and why?

K.R: I’m still trying to figure out this one. It’s everyone’s favourite question but it’s so hard for me to pick a favourite. I could definitely say The Yacht Week, but seeing as I get to talk about those experiences in the next question, I’ll choose something else 😉

One of my favourite experiences was spending a month in Bolivia. I think because I was so surprised by it. I had gone there to volunteer with an organization called Biblioworks. We had been fundraising for the first ever book fair in the city of Sucre, and I didn’t have any expectations of the trip other than to help however I was needed.

Between volunteering, I ended up going on some very unique and crazy adventures around the country. My first weekend led me on a cycling adventure down the Death Road in La Paz. And, on my last weekend in Bolivia, I went on a 4x4 tour through some of the beautiful natural habitat I’ve ever seen. We drove through a national park with snow-capped mountains, volcanic geysers and blue lagoons with pink flamingos. The grand adventure ended at the world’s largest salt flats in Uyuni.

My expectations of volunteering in a developing country were clearly exceeded.

Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

C.K: I also saw that you have been on The Yacht Week a couple of times 🙂 What brought you to us?

K.R: I first ended up on The Yacht Week in Croatia by mistake. I had spent a week in Mykonos and some of my friends from San Francisco asked if I wanted to join them for sailing in Croatia. I honestly pictured some sort of sophisticated sailing trip. I decided to get all of my partying out of my system in Mykonos so that when I showed up in Croatia, I would be ready to unwind on a sailboat.

After the first night on this “sailing trip” my mind was officially blown. I definitely had no idea what I had gotten myself into! My week on The Yacht Week ended up being the highlight of my European summer.

I then ended up bringing 8 of my girlfriends down to the British Virgin Islands earlier this year for TYW BVI’s and, again, had the time of my life. It was a completely different experience than Croatia, but it had that special touch that TYW brings to travel.

I put together a YouTube video of my TYW Croatia trip and an article, “Beginner’s Guide to The Yacht Week,” which got a lot of people coming to my blog with questions about Croatia and other routes. I think that, with most people that have been on The Yacht Week (blog or not), people sort of become unofficial ambassadors for TYW. We never stop talking about how incredible the experience was. TYW problems. 

C.K: And what The Yacht Week memories to you take with you?

K.R: What makes TYW so special is the unique social experience it creates. It’s really not about how amazing the parties are or how sexy the Swedish skippers are (although it’s definitely a HUGE bonus); it’s about the people you share the experience with. You sail with groups from all over the world and end up making friends while dressed in crazy costumes on random boats. “It’s nothing like the real world.” Literally.

Another thing that makes TYW so special is that everyone you meet on TYW stays in touch in some way or another. I actually ended up joining some South Africans I met on The Yacht Week in Croatia on another sailing trip in Sardinia this summer. They’ve become really close friends of mine.

C.K: Your new project Juantaroo Dream Job Contest sounds extremely exciting. Congratulations on making it all the way to the finals! What made you take such a big step and immerse yourself in this competition?

K.R: I’ve never actually entered into a travel contest before. You see them all the time, but I was never really attracted to them.  I figured I don’t need to win a contest to travel. I’ve been traveling on my own for two years now. But, Jaunataroo’s contest was a bit different. It’s not a year around the world dream trip. It’s ultimately a job.

The winner will travel for a year around the world as Jauntaroo’s brand ambassador and content creator; they will receive a $100,000 salary and also participate in voluntourism activities.

As a travel blogger, I’ve taken a lot of risks with financial stability. In order to turn blogging into a business, I had to learn A LOT about content creation, social media engagement, the business of blogging, working with tourism boards and travel companies and how to balance a job on the road.  I think my professional experience has had a lot to do with the success of my blog.

As with any job application, alignment in Jauntaroo’s company values with my own values was very important. I started my blog to share my own experiences to inspire people to travel and, more importantly, to give back. The voluntourism aspect of the job is ultimately what inspired me to enter into the contest.

I never dreamed there would be a job opportunity more perfectly suited to my skillset.

C.K: What would it mean for you to win?

K.R: While I already have my dream job, 99% of what I do goes unpaid. It’s my passion for people, storytelling and travel that have kept me so dedicated to blogging. In a perfect world, I would continue sharing my stories forever and never worry about making a dime from my blog.

Winning this contest would allow me to continue what I love doing but on a much larger scale. I’m ready for the challenges and the new opportunities that would come from working with Jauntaroo.

What would I do with $100,000? For starters, pay off my college loans. Every twenty-something year olds dream. I’d also take my family on their first international trip. My parents have never been out of the country.

Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan

Help Kiersten win the competition by voting for her at http://bit.ly/pickkiersten

For more travel stories and inspirations, check out her blog www.TheBlondeAbroad.com