The travel community is filled with incredibly interesting people. Kirsten Alana (of Kirsten Alana Travels) is one of those travelers who found a way to add travel into her life. Now enjoying life from a base of a New York City apartment, travel continues to play a focal role in Kirsten’s life. Her photographs, blog posts, and consulting advice are ever present in the travel world of social media. Here, Kirsten shares her story of how the gift of travel adds to her world.
1.When did you get started traveling? Professionally it was in 2008/9, first as a destination-wedding photographer and then as a travel photographer. My first international trip was when I was 11 or 12 with my mother, to England. I still remember the feel of that blank passport with so many pages waiting to be filled.
2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? I had gone through a divorce and living alone in a small rental house in an even smaller town in the Midwest was making me feel as if my life was over preemptively. I think I believed that if I was going to be alone, it was far better to travel and be nomadic, than to waste away in a small town with nothing to ever widen my worldview beyond my own pain. It turned out, that instinct was one of the best I’ve ever had.
3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? Well I’m not nomadic at this time. Now I take a trip every other month or once a month and in between have a full life in New York City where I share an apartment. There are still a lot of nay-sayers just as there were when I was nomadic. I’m convinced now that there will always be someone who disagrees with the way I live my life because I am not a person that’s capable of a very traditional situation (something like a 9 to 5 job or a mortgage). What matters most is that I can live with my choices and that on some level I am helping someone. Since I get messages every week from people that say I am inspiring them to believe life can be better than it is, I think I am doing the right thing. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy but I keep going because nothing good is ever truly easy. It’s what set of hardships work the best for me, and this is my set.
4.How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/traveling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? Unfortunately, I didn’t save. And it didn’t take long at all, less than a year between when I decided I was going to be nomadic and when I actually left my belongings behind. Not having planned more in advance has been the most difficult part of the life I live. I don’t have savings, I don’t use credit cards and I’m often trying to get out of sticky situations that wouldn’t occur if I did have a trust fund or a large reserve. But the easiest way to explain it is that I don’t value material possessions or security to the same degree others do. I value experiences. So, I structure my work life to make sure that travel is always a part of what I do, often paid for by others in exchange for services and goods that I provide. And what little I can save from my work, usually goes straight toward trips with a loved one such as my boyfriend or a family member.
5.How do you choose your destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? Are there any specific resources you recommend? I typically go where there is work, of a photography, writing or social media nature. I also turn down a lot of work when it includes a destination I am not interested in. Now that I am no longer nomadic, my trips are usually a weekend or maybe a week. I prefer hotels and apartments (the latter when I want to truly live like a local). I love Triptease for finding hotels I’m interested in, HotelTonight or Expedia for booking and other travel blogs for the inspiration behind places I’d want to stay in an apartment. My favorite apartment situations are a toss up between one in Paris that I booked through HouseTrip and the Eric Vökel apartments in Barcelona.
6.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? Let’s just say that I have never made more than minimum wage since I began working in travel. But I don’t buy new clothes, drink Starbucks lattes or go to concerts.
7.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? I don’t save for retirement, which is not something I’d advise anyone else to do but that’s just my personal choice. I make money on the road by working while I am traveling. That could be writing, or participating in a social media campaign or even just consulting with others on best practices for social media, photography, travel planning, etc.
8.How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? I’ve not yet visited a country where I needed to get a visa any farther in advance than immigration/airport. I always check in advance of my trip, and visit with the correct amount of cash to secure said visa. If I was interested in visiting a country with a more strict visa requirement, I’d follow the rules as everyone else does. That’s one thing I won’t take a risk with. As far as the other details, they were quite a challenge when I was nomadic but they usually worked out somehow because almost everything can be done with Skype, email or a fax machine these days. And I used a NYC P.O. box or a family member’s address as proof of my US citizenship when I was abroad.
9.If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? I’ve settled in NYC for now and am living with my boyfriend. We’ll see how long that lasts though since after our last trip (to California) even he has the desire to seek greener pastures for a while. I don’t make plans that far in advance, so we’ll just see where the wind takes us. Wherever that is, I’m open to it.
10.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/travel-heavy lifestyle? It’s not for everyone, so don’t force it just because it seems like something that a lot of people are doing these days. At the same time, if you’re in a job (or situation of any kind that) you hate and all you can think about is getting up and going, then listen to that inner voice and make the plans that you need to (however much planning or lack of, that you require to be happy personally) in order to travel. Then, when you have your plans in place, just GO. Don’t wait. Don’t debate. The biggest reason that I don’t plan for retirement is that I am not certain I’ll live that long. I don’t want to spend my life planning for what if, when I can live for right now.
To find out more about Kirsten, her travels, photography and insights…check out her website.