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 in order to grab life at the roots and forge their own way. The brave outliers featured in these 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 go elbow deep to grab life by the roots.
Traveler and writer
Kiersten Rich runs The Blonde Abroad, a lifestyle blog that features travel tips, fashion and photography around the world. Kiersten went from “business suit to bathing suit,” ditching her corporate finance career in 2011 to travel full-time. She’s visited more than 50 countries and creates content for consumer companies and travel brands. In 2016, she wants to grow her audience by producing more videos and posting on Snapchat.
Paste Travel The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality is becoming more popular now. What are your impressions?
Kiersten Rich I definitely feel like this generation — especially my group, which graduated from college during the recession — has to get creative with our futures. I was lucky to get a job after graduation, but within a year, I felt like there was more to life than the 9-to-5. More people are becoming digital nomads so they can focus on developing skills they care about after college, such as music production or graphic design. This new mindset is born out of the advancement in social media and the digital space, where people can create their own business in a way they couldn’t do before.
PT What was the “aha” moment that sparked ongoing travel for you?
KR I had several moments that prompted me not to pursue finance anymore. Out of college, I didn’t know what I was really good at doing or what my calling was. My peers and mentors encouraged me to travel, not necessarily to come home with a plan, but to be open to an idea coming out of the experience. I booked a solo trip to Thailand, which changed my outlook on life regarding cultural differences, opportunities and my own capabilities. That gave me the confidence to move forward, travel by myself and build a business.
PT Why did you decide to create a lifestyle blog and use the name “The Blonde Abroad”?
KR Originally, the blog was a diary of what happened during my travels, and the tagline of that blog was “the journey of the blonde abroad.” Years later, it came full circle with my identity and the idea that it’s OK to be who you are. Am I young professional? Am I budget travel backpacker? None of those labels fit me. I’m blonde. I’ll always be blonde. We base a lot of our identity on what we look like, which is so limiting. We’re so much more than what we look like, and I wanted to make fun of myself to inspire others. That allowed me to be me and create the site as an outlet for that.
PT The “dream job” and “travel blogging” mentality also seems to be booming. What have you seen, and how do you stay connected with your followers?
KR When I first started blogging, it was already saturated. But my perception is that there’s always room to bring something new to the table, and personality plays a big part in the digital space. The most important aspect is connecting with your audience. I’m never shy about talking about my journey to get here and what I’m learning. In return, it’s more like I’m in a community of people who support each other.
PT How does this lifestyle compare to your previous life in California?
KR As I built the business, I sold almost everything and moved back in with my parents. When I come home, I still stay with my family. In the United States, we put a lot of weight into independence and moving out on your own. It’s embarrassing to live with your parents. Of the 50 countries I’ve visited, however, more than 60 percent don’t think you should move out until you’re married. We put this big weight on ourselves here, and it makes no sense. Before, I lived my life based on what other people thought of me and expected of me. Now I live for what’s best for me.
PT What is one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
KR On the surface, it seems so amazing, but not many people understand how much work goes into building this kind of business. I have a team of six people who help me manage the content and our audience. The reality is that it takes years of unpaid digital work to build. Don’t ask if you want this lifestyle — ask if you want this business. If you could dream up a business, would it revolve around an online brand and spending your time on a computer? I know several people who’ve had a profound realization once they dug into the workload of travel blogging.
PT Do you have a favorite travel spot you’d like to share with Paste readers?
KR Some places stick with you. The long-term trips I’ve taken to Bolivia, Peru and Central America made me fall back in love with travel because I became close to the local culture. For me, travel is about smiling at someone else on a bus in China or standing on a glacier in Iceland. Those raw, random moments touch your soul and remind you what little place you take up in the world.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health and business for regional and national publications.