Since quitting her investment banking job in Newport Beach, California—a career that was earning her six figures a year—Kristin Addis has been backpacking the globe. In 2012, she bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and, five years later, she’s a full-time travel blogger at Be My Travel Muse and author of two books, Conquering Mountains: How to Solo Travel the World Fearlessly and A Thousand New Beginnings: Tales of Solo Female Travel Through Southeast Asia.
Simply, she decided she didn't want to live the cubicle life anymore. And, after reading up on travel blogs, she realized that the travelers she followed weren't "trust fund babies." So aftter saving up, she kickstarted a cumulative year-and-a-half of adventure in Southeast Asia.
Flash forward and Addis has traversed even more corners of the globe. She's been bungee jumping in South Africa and paragliding in Nepal. She's been sandboarding in Namibia and she spent a week scuba diving in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. Because of her success on the road thus far, Be My Travel Muse sells over $25,000 USD worth of products and services per month via affiliate links, and Addis has welcomed 1.5 million readers in the last year. She's gained about 200,000 social media followers, and just recently hopped on the YouTube bandwagon to share videos, too.
She’s made a name for herself as the expert on solo female travel and, therefore, she's been able to earn the same income today that she was making when she’d left. We caught up with her to ask how she quit her job to travel the world while keeping financially afloat.
Do you want to tell me about our latest projects?
Kristin Addis: My biggest focus right now are the tours I started. It’s a new part of the business that I’m offering now and it’s focused on adventure travel, but I’m making it more accessible for people who don’t just want to dive in headfirst and do it on their own right away. They’re Be My Travel Muse-branded tours, and I teamed up with a guy in D.C. who has been leading tours for eight years and is a certified wilderness guide, so he’s working on the logistics and making sure everything runs smoothly and I’m sending him all of the ideas I have for the trips that I’m getting off of Instagram — that’s usually what motivates where I end up going, and it never steers me wrong!
I know you made the decision to save before leaving your job to travel—how did you decide how much felt comfortable to take that leap.
KA: I had about $20,000 in cash, and it’s just what I had because I had a lucrative job in finance and I’m not really a big spender so I didn’t have anything I wanted to buy really. I was thinking about saving to put a down payment on house, but I obviously decided not to do that.
As long as you have a buffer to survive for two to three months when you come home, whatever that might cost you depending on your individual situation — I feel like that’s a smart amount.
Can you tell me a bit about how you saved your money and any advice you have for putting money aside?
KA: I had a lucrative job, but all my furniture was secondhand — that’s still the case. I just didn’t go out to expensive restaurants; I didn’t order expensive drinks out. I’d have people come over to my place and I would host something there; so most of the activities I did were really cheap, but still social. So I always suggest that people first cut things like going to restaurants or going out to bars or movies or whatever — you don’t have to stop being social; you just have to change how you’re social.
Can you explain your decision to travel to Southeast Asia first, where you knew your dollar would last longer?
KA: I’ve actually written about why I think Southeast Asia is so good for first-time travelers, but also solo travelers. One of the biggest things is, as an American, you go over there and, suddenly, your money is worth two or three times what it would be at home. I could eat street food there that’s still healthy and safe, as long as you go to the places where they cook in front of you. You could spend $1 on dinner… In Cambodia, I only spent $1,000 on a whole month, and I think that’s a third of what I spent in California, maybe even less.
You were traveling on a shoestring, though it’s not so much the case anymore—what were some of the ways you managed to travel around the globe back then?
KA: I always took the local transport, and I find that it’s more interesting. Maybe it doesn’t have air conditioning but, for me, I was willing to be hot. I also stayed in hostel dorms and cheap accommodations, too — that was a big one.
How have your travel experiences changed since growing your blog into a business?
KA: Now I don’t stick only to Southeast Asia. I don’t not do something because of the cost involved anymore. I go to Iceland and I’ve spent six months in Africa, which is not that cheap. There’s always a way to make it cheaper. I’m not a super luxury traveler either; I think it removes a lot of the authenticity. But I’m just not limited with where I go anymore, though I’m still happy to stay in a hotel or in a tent out in the wilderness.
Can you tell us how else you manage to monetize the site? I know you’re offering tours and have two books out, but what other ways have you managed to pull this off?
KA: At first, I did freelance writing, and I wasn’t making anything off the blog, but it was a really great way for me to get other work. Then I started to use affiliate links — Amazon is my biggest one. Writing the books has been helpful. In time, I started to get more work for my photography, so I’ve had companies and destinations approach me to come take photos and promote them on my Instagram. So it’s just a mix of a lot of things right now, and the tours are the newest addition.
Would you talk a little about your books and what advice we’d find in them?
KA: Conquering Mountains is the guidebook for female solo travelers. It’s got everything I know about how to save up, deal with the fears that come along with [traveling solo], get everything in order in your life so you can go for whatever the amount of time it’s going to be—if it’s going to be indefinite, then the advice in there is definitely helpful as far as selling everything you have and dealing with mail. There’s going to be another version coming out soon, and I’ve added a whole section about how to find cheap flights, how to earn and make money on the road, how to travel for free, how to stay safe, how to pack and everything you need to know. I wanted to make the best possible resource, and it also has case studies and advice from other solo female travelers, so it’s not just me.
A Thousand New Beginnings has excerpts from the blog and, also, there’s a bunch of stuff on there that I never published that’s more personal about things like a relationship I was in and what it was like to take off on this journey five years ago.
How have those books contributed to your income?
KA: The books were important not just for the financial aspect, but because they made me an authority. After I came out with Conquering Mountains, that’s when I really established myself as the expert on solo female travel. Then Buzzfeed came out with an article featuring my advice, which was really helpful, and then DailyMail followed and The Washington Post. I can’t even really measure how much they’ve made me because they’ve resulted in all this exposure, as well.
What were your other sources of income? I know you mentioned freelancing. Were there other odd jobs you took along the way?
KA: I was freelancing and I also worked for another blogger for a while so, if he had a campaign coming up, he’d send me in his place. For example, I did one for various Christmas markets in Germany three years ago. So I didn’t do that under my brand, but I did it under his brand… I was ecstatic to be getting paid to travel.
What are things you wish you knew or did before diving into travel full time, with regards to your finances?
KA: One thing I think could have been good would be to have been a virtual assistant for another blogger, so then I could have learned the ropes. That’s one thing I’d say to people who are starting out.
I think I did a really good job at keeping it cheap and keeping my budget in check. I took really meticulous records of what I was spending and on what. I think, coming from finance, it’s just how I’m wired.
How do you define success, and at what point did you feel successful with what you’re doing now?
KA: That’s hard because I’m never really satisfied — even though why shouldn’t I be happy with everything I have? I’m so grateful. I’m so lucky. And I’m really happy that it worked out, because [travel writing] has always been a saturated market and people have come and gone, but I’ve been able to stay.
I realized it was working when I was actually starting to make some money and not just taking money out of my savings. When I finally realized, okay, this is doable and I don’t have to go back to working for someone else.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for anyone thinking about leaving their job but perhaps apprehensive about funding it?
KA: I would say leave a buffer so you at least know you’re not going to end up living in a cardboard box. And go somewhere cheap to start.