More than three years ago, Kesi Irvin left on vacation from her New York job in finance. She had one hell of a vacation. It was such a good trip, in fact, it motivated her to leave Wall Street to see the world. After some serious planning and saving, Kesi started chronicling her adventures around the world on Instagram and on her personal blog and couch surfing from country to country.
To Kesi, travel isn’t some impenetrable realm that only the wealthy get to experience. Despite her background in finance, she isn’t traveling in luxury. She relies on smart decisions and travel hacks learned through experience. Like a one-woman Loney Planet guide.
This week, we asked Kesi to drop a little of that hard-earned wisdom on us. She started with talk of how travel is changing (for the better!) and later we pivoted to focus on one of her favorite destinations: Australia. The worldwide vagabond didn’t disappoint, bringing serious knowledge, delivered with wit and humor.
You’re an Ivy-grad who left the world of finance, how did you come to be traveling the world for over three years now?
It was never my plan to be gone for this long. I liked my job in finance, the only thing I did not like was the two-week vacation. How am I supposed to see the world if I only have two weeks of holiday each year? I planned and saved money for two years to embark on an around the world journey for one year. Well, that one year has turned into 3.5+ years. I’m still on the road because I have learned to live a different lifestyle. I am a budget backpacker. I rarely pay for accommodation since I couch surf or stay with my global network of friends.
I’m very good at living within my means, too. I’ll take a 17-hour bus over a flight or sleep in an airport overnight to save money. Long term travel is not luxurious, but it is gratifying. I’m also able to sustain my travels by working as a hostess for The Yacht Week over the summer, which is probably the most fun job in the world.
How did people first react when you transitioned from a more traditional “successful” path in finance to a more uncertain one in travel?
At first, I don’t think my parents believed that I would leave my job to travel the world. Once they realized I was serious, they were a bit worried regarding my safety, but I know they were excited for the opportunity I had ahead of me. Almost all the reactions from my friends are positive. At my five-year college reunion, many people came up to me and told me how they loved following my journey. My path is quite different since most of my peers are starting their own companies, going back to business school, or being promoted in their current roles, while I’m a budget backpacker with no job, no security, little money but a wealth of travel knowledge and stories.
I think people are intrigued by me since I had the option to live a secured life with a high paying job and an apartment in Soho, yet I chose to leave and live a life of adventure with no real plan. Frequently people say “I wish I could do what you do,” but I don’t think people fully understand the sacrifices I make to continue to be on the road. I have no home, I have no bed, I am consistently bouncing around from place to place, yet I do not regret it, because I am living life.
The travel space can seem to be predominately owned by white and wealthy couples, what do you think the impact of that is and do you find that to be changing?
I am the complete opposite of the description. I’m black, have little money, and travel solo. On Instagram, I agree, there are a lot of white luxury influencers. The impact of this image alludes that traveling is expensive and not accessible to all.
And you don’t find that to be the case?
The secret is that traveling doesn’t have to be costly. I spend less money traveling per month than what my rent was in NYC. These “white and wealthy couples” are generally going to places that are becoming over saturated in social media, like the Maldives, Cinque Terre in Italy, and Bali (even though it’s cheap). Yes, these are gorgeous places, but people are now traveling to them just so they can post that perfect Instagram shot, instead of thoroughly enjoying the experience. I think it’s important to get off the beaten path and showcase more travel in places like East Africa or Central America. Social media can uncover new sites, and I do think that the travel space is evolving.
Regarding race, I have seen more people of color in the travel space. Strangely enough, I find more black people traveling on social media versus in real life. Usually, I am the token black girl in my hostel, or even sometimes the city I’m in. It’s encouraging to see the travel space expanding.