Kristen Slizgi is the founder of The Luxury Travelist, a travel concierge company specializing in bespoke travel services. A San Diego native, she has been living, working and writing all over the world. Over a few Skype calls we exchanged stories, swapped favorite books, and realized our similar life interests and goals. From Nicaragua to NYC to Bali and all in between, get inspired to get out of your comfort zone and jump into the unknown...
Kristen, take it from the top. You started and run a business called The Luxury Travelist, you’re a freelance writer, and you lived in Nicaragua for three years. How? What? When?
After I graduated college, I did the whole backpacker thing for 8 months. Frantic about the gap in my resume, I went home to San Diego to “start real life.” I was working a 9-5 job and about 5 months into it, my eyes were going to bulge out of head, and they could tell, so I got fired.
I was bawling my eyes out in the car and 5 minutes later realized, this is good, and this is what I needed. I wanted to live abroad, and I needed to get the rug pulled out from underneath me. Immediately I was Googling places all over the world. A place to teach English in Nicaragua said, come next week, we have an open spot you can try for 2 months, and I booked a one way plane ticket. I knew it was dramatic and crazy, but I just went! I did it! It was months of buildup for me even if it seemed extreme to others.
What was calling at you so fiercely, to leave San Diego?
San Diego is my home, all my friends are here. It’s so easy. I have my parents here, a car if I need. I never need to go out of my comfort zone, I never need to meet new people. And that’s not what I wanted.
So you just went to Nicaragua originally for 2 months, but it turned into 2.5 years...
I was teaching 3 times a week, I was 24 years old and I didn’t love it. The other volunteers wre much younger. I was inland in Granada, where the culture was so machismo. I was constantly being harassed and whistled at, so much so that I didn’t even want to leave my apartment to get a mango. I was second guessing my decision big time.
One weekend we traveled to the pacific coast, this chill surf town full of world class surfers from all over the world. It was such a cool vibe. I was chatting with a hotel manager, he had a staff of Nicaraguans and 10 westerners who helped out at the bar, front desk and with yoga. I asked him how people get jobs doing that? And he said that people just come through and it’s on a whim. And then he asked me if I wanted a job for next month.
I thought about it and then said, Okay, what’s a couple more months? Trying 3 months helped ease my anxiety to know I could go home if I didn’t like it. But then 2 years went by and I couldn’t believe it! I rode the wave until I knew I was ready to try something else.
It’s interesting to think about if you knew you were signing up for 2 years versus 3 months at that time, if you would have done it.
The fragmented time frame helps with jumping into the unknown. It felt so important, and I do believe the right doors open at the right time. During moments of doubt, I think about Nicaragua and just how true that is.
I’m a big advocate for riding the wave, especially because I was really living it and watching it unfold for myself in Nicaragua. It was surreal. When I think back to “Kristen in Nicaragua” it reminds me to follow the crumbs. It’s not that life should be easy, but I do think life should be enjoyed in tandem with working hard.
After Nicaragua, you spent a year in New York, which you had mixed feelings about. How was that?
When I moved to NYC, I didn’t have a job. I was doing some part-time work and then got a job at a tequila bar. I went from doing PR and marketing at this hotel in Nicaragua to living in a small, expensive apartment working as a bartender. I remember thinking, how did I get here? But it was fun, it was a fun transition.
I still had this looming fear of not being an adult since the last stint I had living in States. I was 27 and working at a bar? So, I applied for office jobs again in the travel industry.
The day I was supposed to start my job there was a giant pit in my stomach. I had just been to Morocco to visit a friend, and her life there reminded me of how happy I had been in Nicaragua. But I gave the job a shot… and it was such a good opportunity but it still wasn’t for me.
I had one of those cliche movie moments, walking to work where everyone is in fast forward, looking at their phones, and I thought about my walk to work in Nicaragua, on the beach, with cows and people saying hello to each other. We’re all robots, on our phones, on our computers. I was scared to have the same epiphany, I was bummed that I couldn’t be “normal”! Why can’t I live like this and put my head down like everyone else does?
So, I quit that job, lived on Nantucket for the summer, and started pursuing my side business in full, The Luxury Travelist, and pitching and writing travel stories.
As you know, I think it’s pretty fascinating that there’s this seemingly societal divide between those who just sort of hate work but do it and don’t seek a change, versus you and the other people I’ve interviewed who take that plunge. What’s your motivation?
It’s interesting, when I was in Nicaragua, I met so many like minded people. We would ask ourselves, why do people just settle? I was surrounded by people who wanted to explore and live out their dreams.
But back home and in the States, I was always faced with the fact that not everyone is built that way. It’s not like my parents were big travelers, we’re cruise people. I’m not sure why it happens. I think people get stuck and don’t know what to do. That’s why travel to me is so important, it can show you other ways to live. It’s eye opening.
I know I am privileged and fortunate to have the ability to make such choices in my life. I can do what I want and I have a home to return to. Some people can’t and don’t have that freedom of choice.
How does your freelance writing work, and what are you most interested to write about in the future?
I both pitch stories and get invited to write, which is awesome because those trips are all paid for. However, they’re limited in what I can write about. Pitching has more flexibility, I get to choose the idea, the place, there’s a method to the research.
My dream is to be thrown into a refugee camp and stay there for a month and write about stories and people. I love National Geographic and Vice, and would love to write for them one day.
What’s on your travel bucket list?
Definitely more of Africa and I’m dying to go to Papua New Guinea. There’s barely any tourism infrastructure, it’s very untouched. I want to go to places that are like holy shit, this is nothing I’ve ever seen before.
As an avid traveler, what keeps you grounded? How do you find routine?
That’s a big thing for me. I was recently in Bali with a group of friends who were in hardcore travel mode, waking up early and leaving to do stuff. But I like to have a quiet morning, with an hour to myself to drink coffee, and check my emails. So, I’d let them go do their things and then meet up with them. I travel so much that I have gotten to the point where I can watch Netflix while traveling. I was in Bai, watching Stranger Things!
What are your favorite writers, podcasts, general inspirations?
-Elizabeth Gilbert and her podcasts