Kiersten Rich: The Blonde Abroad

Like all Californian-at-heart twenty-somethings, she attends Coachella and Burning Man.

Date: May 19, 2017
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Kiersten Rich / The Blonde Abroad
Kiersten Rich / The Blonde Abroad

“My parents never traveled, and I didn’t grow up traveling. But we were hard-core campers.” It’s not quite what you’d expect to hear, given how readily her name is associated with travel today, yet that’s the way things were for Kiersten Rich in her youth. The Volkswagen camper van, tent adventures on the west coast and a father who, until recently, was perfectly content without a passport. She may not be able to relive those times, the blissful naivety that comes with only knowing your own backyard, but she can get tied up in their nostalgic sweep. No detail is buried too deep for her to resurrect.

Rich is better known as the ebullient face behind her travel blog, The Blonde Abroad. She grew up on three acres of land in rural Temecula, a smallish inland burg sixty miles north of San Diego. She was raised alongside chickens, dirt bikes and a horse. There were no neighbors within walking distance, and young Kiersten shared a room with her brother until the age of seven. Today, she’s rarely seen not smiling and calls herself “bikini-obsessed.” Her friends, of which she has many scattered across the world, describe her as quirky, fun-loving and difficult to keep up with. Like all Californian-at-heart twenty-somethings, she attends Coachella and Burning Man.

Rich studied financial planning at San Diego State University, and worked for several firms from the age of eighteen. Her career progressed beyond her finishing school, pushing her to an increased level of immersion in her work. Leaving for the office at 5am and returning after dark was not abnormal. It wasn’t until the Australian couple, from whom she was renting her apartment, showed concern for her that Rich had a true wake-up call. “You’re missing the best years of your life,” they told her. Perhaps taking some time to discover her true calling wasn’t such a bad idea. “In Australia, we do a gap year,” they said, referring to the year of travel wedged before or after college that’s common outside of North America. After all, she was just twenty-one.

At first, Rich was downright opposed to the notion of leaving her blossoming career, then hesitant, then curious. The couple had, unknowingly, planted a seed that could not be unsown. Was she moving in the direction she wanted, or was it all a big charade? As she gained greater clarity into those unfulfilling pieces of her life, Rich couldn’t hide from her own ignorance anymore. “Nobody loves their job,” the people around her assured her. Is that true? And if so, does it need to be? She had to try something new, and a small shift would not suffice. She quit her job with the firm and set out on her first big trip, leaving just weeks after her twenty-second birthday.

Kiersten Rich / The Blonde Abroad
Kiersten Rich / The Blonde Abroad

Six years later, Rich is one of the most prominent travel personalities on the Internet. She interacts constantly with her 400,000 Instagram followers, and has developed a wildly loyal readership through her blog, which she leverages to make travel more accessible to women. “I don’t want to be idolized—I want to inspire people,” she says without pretense. Yet she’s far from immune from the swings that come with being a public-facing personality. Especially in the early days, those three years between her first blog post and the time when she was running a thriving business, a particularly nosy question surfaced regularly: Am I denying reality?

Given that what she was chasing—a life of perpetual travel—was so high-risk, and given that it sat wrapped in a business model—blogging—where success had yet to be proven, let alone formulated, was her pursuit of it simply a pipe dream? The inner voice Rich entertained was the exact voice every entrepreneur and creator faces, the voice who gaslights you so vigorously that you begin to gaslight yourself. Am I crazy for chasing this? Will I pull my head out of the clouds one day and scold myself for acting so rashly? In a way, though, her self-doubt was no different from the uncertainty Rich was facing out in the world every day, uncertainty she regularly tackled with ease. It just presented itself in a different package.

She recounts the story of meeting a man well into his seventies on a tranquil evening in Paris. He had seen her dining alone in a café nearby and asked if she’d like to walk with him along the river. She agreed, so they walked and spoke about his wife, his life and his children. And then they parted ways. Rich says she’ll never remember the man’s name, but she’ll never forget the experience. Without her faith in the good-naturedness of people, she never would’ve given him the chance to prove it to her anew. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? If you’re willing to chase it long enough, she would tell you, the light will always appear. Rich employs faith where others show skepticism, and as a result, she’s living the dream life she set out to achieve.

Still, such reality checks are a necessary part of Rich’s life. Whereas most of us wait to raise our sails until we’re certain that we’re set on the right bearing, Rich goes full speed ahead and corrects course along the way. Life is not meant to be lived slowly. Whatever you have a passion for, the only reasonable time to pursue it is now. You may not have a clear path to attaining it, nor any certainty that it can be attained at all, but you’ll never be content if you don’t at least make the effort. Live at full speed, make adjustments along the way and you’ll get where you want to go with surprising ease.

Kiersten Rich / The Blonde Abroad

“You’ll always find kindness in strangers, anywhere in the world,” Rich says about her unbreakable faith in the world around her. “We’re all so similar.” This is a woman who has been more places than most of us can dream of visiting, yet she sees it all as a single palette of endless grey. There’s no black, no white, no poles upon which we live our lives. Here we are, spinning on the same rock, all together as one. “That’s what travel is all about—the human experience and interactions with people.” The emphasis she places on the word people here, an emphasis that’s impossible to convey in text yet comes across with the utmost clarity in speech, is telling. Rich isn’t just gracing us with platitudes. She genuinely feels this way about the world. Speak with her and it becomes crystal clear that she’s been moved more than a few times by the unprompted compassion of the strangers around her. Those encounters, those walks by the Seine with a fleeting, single-serving friend, are not experiences you forget quickly.

There’s no wondering why Rich has such a penchant for travel today; with every trip she takes, she’s confirming what she knows to be true about the world. No matter we go, we will find what we are looking for. Seek beauty, wonder and happiness, backed with the faith that it will reveal itself, and the world will deliver it to your doorstep.

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