Women Who Wander: Kristen Wiggins
Kristen Wiggins is a self-professed Carmen Sandiego with the stamps to back it up. One of our favorite travelistas, we love Kristen because of the audacity with which she pursues her dreams. Motivated by a desire to make travel accessible, Kristen has founded LITTnomads, an international program for people who possess a courageous commitment to travel, personal growth, and professional development. Currently in Malaysia, working her dream job and living her best life, we can't wait to see what Kristen does next. We know she'll take the world by storm - literally. Keep up with Kristen on Twitter + IG @GetKrissed and be sure to support LITTnomads.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where have you been and where are you headed?
Hello to all you marvelous souls! I feel like The Reign XY has some of the dopest readers and I’m really thankful for this opportunity to share with you. I’m Kristen, a sometimes introverted, sometimes adventurous 20-something who will rep Prince George’s County through every corner of the globe I find myself in. A few of my obsessions are Soulection Radio, Nando’s chicken (you need this in your life), and all things entrepreneurial.
So far, I’ve experienced North America, Europe, and Asia. Full list: Caribbean islands, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, French Polynesia, Singapore, Japan, China-ish, and Cambodia.
Where I’m headed: My destination is the top of the world (RIP, Prodigy). Back to Thailand, London for the first time this fall, and Africa 2018, I’m coming for you.
Creator, connector, and Carmen Sandiegoer, you recently moved to Malaysia to pursue your dream of a global life. Talk to us about the journey to get there.
April 2013 -- I was a month away from graduating at UMD, up journaling at 3:30am: “I’ve been obsessing over where I’m going to end up after graduation. Obsessed with moving to another country, with becoming a full time traveler one day. I spend my entire days thinking about living somewhere new, about all the countries I want to spend time in. How do I make this happen?”
The 4 years since then have been a “whatever it takes” journey in making that happen. I moved to Los Angeles and landed an interesting job in the luxury travel space. A year and a half later, packed up and moved to Thailand to work online and pursue the ‘digital nomad’ dream of world-travel blended with online empire-building. That was super fun and eye-opening for 8 months, though I realized I didn’t want to be a freelance website creator, like, at all. So, I came back to the States in May ‘16 and started from scratch.
My career goal has gradually evolved from just trying to become a ‘full time traveler’ to wanting to make a world travel lifestyle more accessible for my peers and my community. And beyond travel alone -- I want to help make the reality of living your dream, whatever that looks like to you, a lot less elusive. There’s so much that goes into it -- navigating your career, learning yourself and your core desires, achieving financial freedom, refusing to settle, exploring with purpose -- it’s deeper than just finding the best flight deals or the top 5 beaches to visit. So my mission has expanded significantly.
I was fortunate enough to earn a dream job based here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that’s incredibly aligned with my goals. I’m so confident I’m on the right path to achieving that ambitious career mission now. It hasn’t been a completely smooth sailing journey, but the highs and lows alike, the adventures along the way have all been worth it.
What fears did you have? What were the major challenges? How did you overcome them?
I didn’t know how to translate my entrepreneurial spirit into a career path when I graduated college. I feared my complete lack of clarity. I just knew I wanted to eventually be a boss -- I used to think that had to mean CEO of a Fortune 500; working my way up the corporate ladder. *Shudders at the thought.*
I had no idea where to even start with my job hunt, a weak idea of what I wanted to be “when I grew up,” and little concrete work experience on my resume. I didn’t have much extracurricular involvement throughout college (unless partying counts) -- ‘overachiever’ I was not. So like a lot of us, I was ready to get that degree, but also terrified of entering the real world.
Both starting a jewelry business and moving to LA lit a spark within and forced me to face fears I had -- of stepping out of my introvert shell, sharpening my professional skills, and basically figuring out how to figure sh*t out. I wanted to live on my own terms, explore my creativity, and see the world -- but how?
Moving to Thailand, of course I feared that it just wouldn’t work. I didn’t have a solid plan. I feared not knowing anyone. I feared that I was making a mistake and setting myself terribly behind financially and career-wise. Still, I was so set on making it happen, I didn’t give myself time to second guess that one way flight.
By the time I moved to Malaysia this year, my confidence had grown, but I had been escaping jobs I didn’t like since college. So, I feared the thought of moving all the way across the world for another job I might end up wanting to escape all over again. On top of that, the threats of not having enough money and not having enough experience were (are?) very real. I don’t let those fears win. I believe every challenge, every perceived roadblock is there on purpose to force me to level up and be an example.
My most important priority is my mission -- my vision, my dream. It won’t allow me to rest on my laurels. I have no other option but to pursue it, no matter what. What’s an obstacle? I don't know how to do anything else.
As someone who inspired me to travel both through seeing your adventures and reading your take on the importance of travel, can you say for the people why you think travel is so important? Particularly for millennial women of color?
On a widespread level, I think travel -- *not tourism* -- would be one of the more simple treatments for a lot of the xenophobia, greed, and close-mindedness that our supposed “united” nation is riddled with (well, ideally). Our country would progress light years faster if we (read: they) had more empathy and understanding, which travel develops in people.
On a more personal level, embracing that feeling that the world is truly your oyster as a young woman of color!?!? Let me get INTO it. This is a different kind of liberating. It’s made me more appreciative of the little things, more daring, more tenacious, more inspired, more thrilled by life and its possibilities. Exploring the world at will is not something my great-grandparents could have even imagined. We weren't supposed to be out here getting our Dora on.
Not even trying to go DJ Khaled here but it's true, *they* really don't want to see us flourishing and establishing ourselves en masse as brilliant, independent, international Black women. But they will catch this global glow. Black excellence baby, let ‘em see.
As Americans, we are of course, incredibly privileged. We have the most powerful passport *in the world* and nothing strong enough in the way of holding us back from experiencing it. We owe it to ourselves, our ancestors, and all who don’t have the option of even leaving their home town, to adopt the responsibility of freeing ourselves. Of broadening our perspectives. Of creating opportunities for others. Of multiplying our privilege for the better.
You’ve been on a lot of solo adventures. How do you prepare for them? How do you feel solo travel differs from group travel? What are its tangible benefits?
Before my first solo trip abroad, I read lots of travel sites and blog posts by women travelers (Alex being my fav). Without their tips, their advice on where to travel by yourself, their reassurance you’re super safe as a solo woman traveler in many places, I would have never taken that leap by myself. I credit them for paving the way and being a source of my courage.
Both moving to LA and traveling solo gave me super-power like confidence I wouldn’t have known I had in me -- I can spin the globe, “Go anywhere in the world and make it my home.” Okay, not literally anywhere. But I've navigated through 6 countries by myself, so I feel like there's not much I can't do!
When I'm solo, I speak to more people, make new acquaintances, and learn so much about myself in the process. Honestly, it makes me feel unstoppable. Plus, I do what I want without needing to wait on anyone. Yes, it can feel intimidating and lonely at times, I would never deny that. At the end of the day, I do really want to be sharing these experiences with the people who will be in my life forever. If I had to choose, group travel with the right people would be my preference. But luckily you don't have to choose, so I’ll always encourage both. I think everyone should try a solo trip at least twice, even if it’s a local getaway. (Here’s how I make friends when dolo).
What advice would you give a millennial WOC who wants to take the leap into living a global life through her career or other mediums? How can someone move to Malaysia or Brazil to pursue themselves like you did?
The fundamental first step is belief. As cliche as it might seem, you have to believe in yourself in whatever you pursue. We all battle self doubt, but at your core you have to believe you'll see your grand vision through. That belief comes from preparedness, and preparedness comes from educating yourself, investing in your growth, working on your inner self, and constantly practicing your hard, tangible skills. Know what value you bring to the table.
Take a systematic approach to attacking your goals. You must strategize. You have to really take time out to think through and write down what you want, along with how you’re structurally going to go about attaining it. “Never how you plan, but keep the vision.” Things rarely ever go exactly as planned, but that doesn’t mean don’t plan. Keep your eye on your bigger picture vision -- your why -- that’s what matters most. If your plans change over time, that’s fine, they should, but always aim to be setting them, following through, and editing them as you go.
You don't have to be perfect (!!!), or the best, you just have to be committed and daring. Be daring. Be ready for sacrifice. Be unafraid. No, be afraid but do it anyway. There’s not one way to do it, but I believe you’ve got to have those basics down, and that foundation will guide you wherever you want to go.
Here are some concrete tactics I can suggest:
- Find good free & low cost content related to your interests and consume, consume, consume. There’s too much weak material out here, so make sure the sources are solid and proven, that people vouch for them with results. Learn until you feel like you could teach it. *Know what kind of skills land the opportunities you’re looking for.*
Once you’re sure what you want to pursue and have reached a ceiling with free content, invest in developing your skill. Whether it’s a physical class or Udemy or a 1-on-1 coach, get serious about it.
Create things! If applicable, build your own experience by creating it yourself. (Creating my own things helped me land my dream job, as opposed to my previous ‘real’ job experience.)
Learn how to craft your narrative. This will do wonders for helping you know what opportunities to look for. Stay true to yourself and know how to flaunt your expertise, experience, and whatever makes you unique. Take the time to learn how to stand out from the majority. You’re special, you just have to know how to communicate that.
Bonus: Focus on *one* thing you really want to do and look for people who have done the same. How did they get there? Find out.
As far as pursuing yourself abroad, look at what opportunities are out there -- check LinkedIn. Google where and what kinds of jobs you’re interested in. Look at international job forums and sites. (I know of a few -- BrainGain.co; PowertoFly; Jobbatical -- and there are many more out there!). Find people who do what you want to do, get their social handles or websites, and kindly reach out to them for an informational interview.
Then, save a few thousand at minimum. Research the places you’d move to. Figure out a way to make plays for yourself. Book the flight. Soar.
Feel free to email me if you’re looking for any more specific advice; my inbox is open. =)
Travel, particularly long-term has its pros and cons. Tell us both how those cons manifest for you and how you handle them?
Sometimes I feel like I sacrifice everything. I can’t even write this without breaking into tears. I'm a sap, thank goodness this isn’t face to face. As much as I enjoy the fruits of long term-travel, I can't help but to often think about what I miss out on in this journey. Job tenure, a healthy savings account, stable relationships, a partner, a plan to own property. I can't get rid of my student loan debt as quickly as I’d like. I can’t spend time with my 91 year old grandma. I can’t help my mom run the business we started together. I’ve missed family reunions, funerals, births, little league games, major holidays...
I think It’s easier to uproot a life you’re not content with -- but I was very happy and in love with life in both Maryland/DC and LA. I have amazing friends who I love fiercely, and sometimes there’s nothing I want more than to be brunching with them, spilling champagne in Vegas with them, just being with them. Catching the lituations only on Snap and missing out all the time sucks.
But what always brings me back is my trust in God, the Universe, Mother Nature (they are one in the same for me). The trust that this privilege and passion I’m blessed with is for a reason. That the mission I’m so compelled to fulfill is leading me in the right direction. I sense I’m on the way to living the exact life I imagine for myself -- I’m so thankful for that.
I know my global pursuits are bigger than me just racking up passport stamps. I’ve taken on this personal responsibility to serve in the way that comes most natural to me. I’m here to impact lives and show people just how possible it is to achieve ‘outrageous’ dreams and to define + find success on your own terms.
When I achieve this, I know the sacrifices will be so worth it.
What can we expect from you moving forward and how can we be of support?
What a sweet question. :)
The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll always be moving toward finding and sustaining freedom, so that I can then pay it forward. I’m working on building something so big it terrifies me. It’s not even quite ready for public mention, but for the first time, here goes. Hopefully it’ll help the universe conspire to send a blessing my way (accountability, feedback, superstar people -- all welcome!).
LITT Nomads is an international program I’m designing for people who possess a courageous commitment to travel, personal growth, and professional development. It brings together a community of ~40 like-minded individuals who, for 6 months, will live in one nomad-friendly tropical city, co-working, becoming immersed in local culture, exploring the region, and learning new skills and habits that will help them grow confident enough to pursue their best life. It kicks off in Thailand, and will hopefully expand to more tropic destinations in years to come.
I would be eternally grateful if you supported by dropping this link in all of your friends’ inboxes! What LITT Nomads needs most right now is a team. It’s a child in need of a wonderful, nurturing village. If you know anyone who dreams of helping people live a ‘LITT’ life, who lives this mission of leveling up while adventuring around the world -- please tell them about this! I’m building a remote team of co-founders, partners, organizers, advisors, content creators, on-the-ground program leads, event coordinators, niche speakers & experts, veteran digital nomads... You name it, we’re looking for you. (Most of the roles do *not* require one to be physically in Thailand, but you’ll eventually receive travel perks!).
Give a heads up to your passionate friends! Gigantic thanks in advance for your support <3.
In the end, how do you want your story depicted? What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I hope that I’m creating a legacy of audacity. I want to be remembered for inspiring and empowering people (especially women & men of color) to have the audacity to enter the world every day thrilled by life’s possibilities, even when you feel like it wants you to lose faith. The audacity to live exactly how you want to live, and become a master at sustaining it. The audacity to maintain your sense of self, no matter how imperfect or unpolished, in a society that’s constantly trying to mold you. The audacity to be unf*ckwithable, break down barriers, soar beyond borders, release inhibitions, be authentic, embrace vulnerability, and unapologetically share your gifts with the world.
Just for kicks:
Favorite place you’ve been?
Barcelona, Spain and Chiang Mai, Thailand
Place you’re most dying to get to?
Anywhere in Africa!
Global citizenship: yes or no?
By my definition, yes.