This column, “Escape Artist,” is a series about folks who have escaped. More importantly, this biweekly column is for those thinking about trading in their 9-to-5, leg-shackled-to-the-desk existences to forge their own way. The brave outliers featured in this collection of interviews are the digital nomads, online entrepreneurs and lifestyle trendsetters who decided it was time to say to hell with the humdrum and grab life by the roots.
Kirsten Alana runs KirstenAlana.com, a travel blog formerly known as Aviators and a Camera, that documents culture and adventure travel through stark, vibrant photography. After a decade as a wedding photographer in Michigan, Kirsten began traveling full-time in her late 20s. She’s worked for brands on every continent but Antarctica and has been featured by National Geographic, BBC Travel and Travel+Leisure.
The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality seems to be popular now. What are your impressions?
Kirsten Alana It does seem like a trend, doesn’t it? Amongst my colleagues, probably more than half are nomadic, or they left a good 9-to-5 to try their hand at being completely self-employed. I think, unfortunately, most people don’t realize how hard it is and how “easy” they had it at their day jobs. For instance, people realize how important health insurance becomes when they no longer have it provided as part of the compensation from a company.
What was the “aha” moment that sparked ongoing travel for you?
KA There wasn’t just one, and it’s still ongoing. Every time people tell me I changed their minds about a destination or told them something they didn’t know about a place, I know I’m doing what I should be doing. My long-term mission with my work isn’t just to spend my life traveling around the world on someone else’s dime to check off countries. I genuinely want to help people better understand one another and be less afraid of what they don’t know.
What inspired you to start blogging, and how did you first build a following?
KA I was already a full-time wedding photographer with a blog before I turned my lens to travel full-time. I simply switched the focus of my blog to share my travels instead of my client’s wedding photos. It didn’t happen overnight, but because I was active on social media when it was still developing, I was in the right place at the right time. In the early days of Instagram, for example, it was rare to find someone with good photos and good stories together in one package. Most people were sharing selfies, blurry images or bad food photos before there was an art to it. I built a following by using all of social media, but especially Instagram, in a way that was different from everyone else.
You’ve consolidated sites in the past few months. How are you renewing your brand?
KA The new one is a hub for all of the media I create. At the same time, the site is more dynamic and has more travel features that reflect who I am and where I’m at now. The old sites reflected who I was before I’d figured out who I really wanted to be as a creative person relative to travel and photography. The new site reflects how my tastes have evolved from being only about travel to encompassing fashion, food, philanthropy, design and storytelling — and how those relate to my love of travel.
Do you have a favorite travel spot you’d like to share with Paste readers?
KA I love any spot, anywhere in the world, where for just one moment it seems the globe is not overpopulated and we’re not ruining the planet. Places such as the Highlands in Scotland, the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya and the National Parks in the U.S. remind me why we should be trying to be better stewards of the earth and of each other. Those places remind me to never stop fighting for a better world.
The “dream job” and “travel blogging” mentality is also becoming more popular. Does the market seem saturated?
KA We’ve reached a saturation point in a sense, but I also believe the cream rises to the top in any industry where there are tons of players. The most talented people with the best intentions will find work if they’re willing to work hard, adapt and not give up—no matter how much competition there is.
What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
KA Have a business plan before you quit your job. There’s a perception that all I do is vacation “for a living.” I could do that if I’d made millions of dollars in another career first and never needed to earn more. Plenty of people want you to do things for free, and you’ll never run out of those offers. However, to actually have a job that pays but is as rewarding as what I do is, you have to approach it as an actual business.
What are you focusing on for the rest of 2016?
KA Philanthropy. I want to spend more time supporting causes that change the world physically. My job has focused on changing people’s minds and hearts, and now I want to help change people’s lives on a physical level. Through my travels, I’ve found that the world is less ugly than people believe when they watch the news. Too often it seems hopeless, but there are problems we can actually fix. I want to help put hope back into the bank of humanity.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health and business for regional and national publications.