I was introduced to Jennifer Heuett by Kaia Roman, prior interviewee of MastersofTravel and author of The Joy Plan. She’s based in New Zealand currently, so it was brilliant to be able to meet in person as part of our travels, bringing us serendipitously to the town of Twizel, near Lake Tekapo, one of our favourite destinations on our trip.
Jen is a savvy American girl, who’s taken on the mantra of encouraging other single women to feel more confident in travelling, launching the blog Travel Trust and Wanderlust. She has also used her marketing know how to creative various job opportunities for herself to stay in NZ longer term to work and travel around. When I interviewed her earlier in the year, she was working in a tourism role in Lake Tekapo, but since then the plans she talked about in this piece have come to fruition, and she’s started a company called Altitude Media (www.altitudemedia.co.nz), working with businesses of all sizes who need marketing assistance. I caught up with her to find out more…
Tell us about your work situation, how travel fits in with that and some of your biggest trips…
I started Travel Trust and Wanderlust almost 2 years ago. Iwent on a road trip by myself to help my grandma, who had broken her tailbone. I was fortunate to just be working in a restaurant, so I called them to get my shift covered, jumped in the car, drove 6 hours to Idaho and hung out with my grandma. I couldn't stop thinking about how easy it was for me to just drop things and travel on my own. It sparked an idea. There are loads of women out there that want to travel solo, but have no idea how or what to look for and they are constantly thinking of the fear aspect of travel, rather than the reward.
I talked to my grandma about it, and I found out that she was a solo traveller in the 30's and 40's. She was this amazing, fierce young woman who was so independent. She didn't even get married until she was 27 (which was very old for then). This was a whole side of my grandma I never knew about. It validated that point for me. That no matter what age, or who you are, solo travel has a way to change your life in more of a way than just going somewhere. It can expand your mind, help you to gain confidence, and teach you that it's possible to do things on your own.
I ran with that for a bit. I started my own website and had this idea to have ambassadors. It took blood sweat and tears to contact the women. I did that for 4 months and started writing the posts and getting an idea of how I could empower women to do this. Not just young 20 somethings fresh out of university, but to make it easy for every single woman regardless of age, whether divorced, or have kids to travel solo. I created a day called The Day of Trust: a day to celebrate going somewhere new by yourself and experiencing something new that you've never done before.
The first year I had about 250 women sign up to participate. They were from Thailand, Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, and NZ. It was emotional because these women had taken the time to realise that they need to do things on their own and take back time for themselves. In doing so they saw and did something new, creating a whole new breath of life. I went stand up paddle boarding in a lagoon in northern California where I'd never been. I was terrified at first, because it was murky, and I was the only one at this lagoon, but afterwards I felt amazing, accomplished and confident. It validated my blog and what I want to approach. Wherever I go, I search for new experiences and places and things that give me a bit of adrenaline and make it so that I'm not too comfortable, as when I'm comfortable I don't grow.
I started to ask women to contribute a range of stories. Everything from safety abroad, falling in love abroad, to travelling your own country or city. The submissions I've had have been amazing. I met a girl called Kelsey in Portland who started to help me with the editing aspect, and it was effortless for both of us as we're such huge advocates of solo travel.
I'm trying to take it a little bit further. The solo female travel world is so saturated. It’s all content like ‘10 things I learned from travelling solo’, with lots of lists. I enjoy them, but I want my blog to be more than just a stop for women to read opinions. I want it to be the storytelling aspect, to share their actual stories, and integrate their tips into that aspect. Long form travel stories, the beautiful travel narrative of being somewhere and experiencing it. The smells, the people, the air, their feelings, having their first espresso or gelato.
I have a private facebook group and I've been asking these ladies what their purpose of travelling solo is. I want to change the focus of the blog from these women sharing my blog posts, to actually teaching them, developing it into a travel school focused on knowledge of travelling solo.
I'm feeling a little distant from my blog and I want to bring it back to that story, a woman's story of her travels. I want it to inspire people from those who've never done it, to those who are the most experienced solo traveller. The important thing for me is that these women feel what they're doing is significant and matters.
I want to give back to the community I'm building with this travel school, and produce online female solo travel magazine. There is nothing that specifically tailors a beautiful online curated magazine to the female traveller. I'm hoping to take the stories from the blog, teach these women how to travel and how to blog and then make that into a magazine that is based on the travel narrative.
Tomorrow is my six year anniversary of saying yes to myself and buying a one way ticket and moving to NZ on my own. That was the biggest inspiration for me. I've been travelling since I was 19. My first trip was to Rio with a friend, who showed me the ropes of international travel. I was a terrible traveller. It's funny to look back at what you've learned from each trip…how to pack better and how to spend your money more wisely. As you get older it takes a little more to introduce yourself to new people. I grow more now than I did then so it takes more effort. I backpacked through University, through Europe, Central America and then I went to Australia as a University graduation present to myself.
It was that stereotypical 'what am I doing with my life?’ moment. I had graduated at the start of the recession in the states and had applied for well over 1000 jobs in 3 years. I knew that I wanted to incorporate travel into my life for the rest of my life. I googled where I could live and work and NZ came up. I called the embassy and was told that I could have a working holiday visa and it was free. That was the tipping point. I got the visa the next week. I worked 19 hours a day and left 3 months later.
It's been a whirlwind ever since. I was on the other side of the world completely on my own and I had to make it work. I set 5 goals on the plane over. One was to allow myself to love, and to say yes to new adventures, which was the best advice I've ever taken from myself. I travelled for a bit, met amazing people and grew more in love with NZ than I ever had with people. Everything about this place is special and unique and I liked how it wasn't tainted by the rest of the world. It's behind, but I enjoy that. It was a breath of fresh air to come from a place in the states where everyone was just surviving to a place where you still say hi to your neighbours and they were so welcoming to you.
Why New Zealand in particular?
That trip ended up being 3 years long. I stayed in NZ for two, then moved to Australia for a year. I then went to Bali and volunteered and then moved back to the US for two years. What brought me here was to be honest, depression. I wasn't connecting with the US anymore, I didn't like the same things, I didn't want to be miserable in a job or have a 9 to 5 existence. I started the blog and it made me inspired again to travel and a friend that I'd met in NZ told me that there was a random visa for Americans under 35 who've already had the holiday visa. I got that visa and the next year I came here and applied for the job I have now. I'm an online media and marketing manager at the Tekapo Springs, and the rest of the time I run the blog.
Now I'm waiting for residency, which I got to apply for because I had this job. I should hear back any day now. I'm in the process of going out on my own and doing online media for small businesses, which there is a lot of need for in NZ.
Are you still travelling a lot now you've found home?
I've actually changed my travel to more domestic NZ because I'm in love with the small towns here, with road-tripping and going into the mountains. You can travel 1/2 an hour from here and not see a soul. It's a different way of travelling but I'm starting to appreciate landscape and the outdoors a lot more. I get out of town every other weekend, there's always an adventure somewhere.
What do you hope to when you travel now?
I am really inspired by meeting more locals. I've always tried to do that on trips but now I want to know the stories behind little shops, and wineries rather than just visiting and thinking it's a beautiful place.
What were your friends and families’ reactions when you announced you were going to NZ permanently?
They were a mixed bag. The majority were like 'why the end of the world'? My parents understand that I love it, but they don't really understand because they're not travellers. They don't get that I don't need to have a house payment and kids and the traditional way that they like to live. They're still worried for me, but that's a parental thing. My friends were jealous to be honest because as much as they wanted to do something similar, they allowed fear to take over and say 'I could never do that'.
Actually, they can, it's just their thought process - there are steps to everything. It's just figuring out how to go through those steps, which is the biggest difference between people who do it and don't.
How do you make travel work alongside your job?
I'm really lucky at the moment because my job is tourism operated, I can travel a bit for events and speaking engagements. It’s a close-knit tourism industry, so if I want to go Queenstown and go bunjy jumping I can arrange it. Next week I'm going up to Christchurch twice for a few events. It's nice to live in a tiny town but it's also nice to get out. There are about 360 people here.
What's the best experience you've had while travelling?
I would have to say Rio. It was the first time I'd left the US and I'd picked the most obscure, extravagant and colourful place to go. It opened my eyes, I gained a whole other perspective of humans and it made me really enjoy human connection. I met people from all around the world and I still speak to and travel with many of them.
And the worst? The biggest challenges about travelling on your own?
In some locations they aren't comfortable with women travelling on their own. They either don't see it that often, or their people wouldn't do it on their own. I just went to Fiji for Christmas and I was blown away at how weirded out they were about me travelling on my own. I was constantly asked where my husband was.
The majority of places I've travelled in the last 3 years I've never had an issue. It made for a few uncomfortable situations in Fiji. If I was going to give advice to women it would be to be completely aware of your surroundings. You just don't know what people are about and what's going to happen. I'm always aware of who is around me, where my bag and camera is. Be cautious, not paranoid, just cautious.
Your best tips for others wanting to travel alone?
Put your idea out there more, a lot of women think about it but don't ask others who've done it. Seek advice from others who've been on that road before. Don't aim for a massive trip your first time out. Test the waters, go to the next state or city you've never been to, somewhere you feel safe and see how you go from there, and then one up yourself each time.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves that your first solo trip has to be a big statement, it's more about doing than talking. Just buckle down, take a weekend, go somewhere on your own, and then process it from there.
Any future travelling plans?
I'm trying to get to Toronto in September and Tokyo has been on my list forever. It's so different from what I know and I want to expand that. My goal is to do a road trip on the South Island in NZ, stopping in small towns and helping small businesses with their online presence. They understand that they need to be online, they just don't understand how to go about it. As someone in the industry who wants to pair travel with working I can't think of a better option for me than to do this.
To find out more about Jen, check out her blog at www.traveltrustandwanderlust.com or follow her on Instagram @traveltrustwanderlust