When Jen Heuett left Oregon for New Zealand in 2011, she thought she was taking a year to travel abroad and figure things out. Recently graduated with an unused marketing degree and a thirst for travel, Jen headed down under on a year’s working visa. She didn’t come back for three years.
Spurred on by her love of travel, Jen has since created two businesses focused on getting out and seeing the world. Her most recent venture, Travel + Trust & Wanderlust, is a community focused on supporting and encouraging women to travel solo and reap the many benefits that solo adventures can provide. We spoke with Jen about the new business, her campaign, called the Day of Trust, and what it’s like to have an incurable case of wanderlust.
Tell us a bit about you and how you started traveling.
I grew up in north Idaho in a town of less than 2,000 people. Traveling was definitely not a huge thing there, it was not on a lot of people’s agenda. When I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to leave so I moved to Portland for a couple years before going back to Idaho to finish my degree. Right before I moved to Idaho, one of my friends here in Portland said, “Let’s go on a trip, you’ve never been anywhere internationally. Let’s go!” So my first trip out of the country was at 19 and we went to Rio, of all places. But looking back, I would have it no other way. It was and still is by far my favorite trip that I’ve ever taken. So basically from there, it just snowballed, and I became obsessed with travel. I took a semester at school and backpacked Europe, I took another friend to Costa Rica. I hit 30 countries this May. To a lot of people I know or read about or look up to, 30 is not a lot, not nearly as much as they do, but it’s a starting point and I’m pretty proud of myself for doing it by 30. And that was my goal, 30 countries by 30. Barely snuck it in!
I graduated college and went to Australia for 3 months as a graduation present to myself. I’d graduated during the recession, so when I came back, I struggled for a good two years just waiting tables and doing whatever I could. I know I applied to well over 500 jobs, just trying to make ends meet, trying to use my marketing degree. Then one day I was at one of my jobs and I thought, this is not my life, this is not what I want to do anymore. I missed traveling, I wanted to live abroad, so I thought, how can I do this? I had heard through the grapevine that you can live and work in New Zealand, so I Googled it, but I just didn’t believe that I could get a year working visa. So I called the embassy and I asked them, is this real? Can I do this? And they’re like yeah, and for Americans, the visa is actually free. Done. I’m not even kidding, the next day I looked up flights and I found a one-way for $450 and I booked it and I left a few months later. That was in 2011. That was my very first absolute solo trip. I’d had days when I was alone traveling with friends, where we did our own thing, but this was my first actual solo mission. I was terrified of course, because I was moving across the world, to these two tiny islands and I didn’t know anybody. But I did it and the first day I got there just completely validated everything I knew was going to happen. I had the best first day you could probably possibly have on a solo trip, everything just worked out.
What is it about traveling that keeps you wanting more?
My friend put this really well the other day. She said that travel helps you find these tiny little pieces of yourself that you never knew existed. You have no idea how amazing and independent and confident you can be until you’re by yourself and you have to adapt. And travel makes you adapt. If you travel with friends or by yourself, it doesn’t matter. You’re in a foreign environment, you have to learn the ways of the world. And then when you come back, you are a changed person. And travel I think makes you want to travel even more. Because there’s going to be that one time that you go somewhere and you’re gonna feel like that’s where you were supposed to be. And it’s going to change your life. Why wouldn’t you want that? Why wouldn’t you want to go explore and try to find that? New Zealand will have my heart forever but I will continuously seek to find something to hold my heart like it does. And for that to be part of my life, part of my mission, to me that’s amazing.
Where did the idea for Travel + Trust & Wanderlust come from?
When I got back, I started a business with a friend I met in New Zealand called Travel Hooligan. It’s everything that both of us learned in our three years in New Zealand and Australia. We have this visa available to both countries for Americans to use, why aren’t any Americans using it? We created these really comprehensive guides that have everything you need to know to work and live in New Zealand or Australia to help people get over there. So I did that but I was like, you know, there’s still something missing for me. So about three months ago, I went home to Idaho. My grandma broke her tailbone and she’s 91 and I hadn’t seen her in a while, so I called my work and said I’m not coming in this week. I left the next day and while I was driving I started thinking. I just jumped in the car and drove for six hours without even thinking about it. I’d become this person that was so completely confident in traveling alone that I didn’t even think about it. And I thought, there are so many people, especially women, who would not even do that six and a half hour road trip, who would not even get into the car by themselves. There’s got to be a way to get them to question why they don’t do things on their own, why they don’t travel on their own, or have new experiences like that. While I was back at home, I came up with the idea for this new company and the campaign, the Day of Trust.
It’s mainly through connections, like my business fraternity and then working off of them. If you get the right people, they know the right people. It’s crazy that people actually want to help out. And also on my Facebook and Instagram and stuff, I’ve created ads, not like paid ads, but just pictures of me jumping in the air and saying, want to be an ambassador, what to write for us? And one girl, from down in San Diego, I think she said she found me on Facebook or Instagram and said she wanted to be a part of it. My next big thing is getting people on board for giveaways. I want to start doing them once a week to get more people pledging for the Day of Trust.
What are your goals for TT&W? Where do you want it to go?
It’s a very minimal website right now, I just have the Day of Trust poster up there, and obviously people can pledge. I wanted to create TT&W as a platform. I don’t want it to be a typical travel website where you go look for flights, or accommodation. I want to have articles that involve women giving their advice, and I want them to be an example of women traveling solo, to show those who haven’t done it that it’s possible. I want the website to be more about action, I want this to be a place of discussion, because for me it’s important to understand why women do or don’t travel solo, and to eradicate that problem. I don’t feel like travel should be an accessory to our life, it should be necessity. It’s so important, and especially when you travel by yourself, you come back such a different and empowered person, because you’re doing things on your own, you’re breaking that barrier of yourself. And that’s my intention, that travel breaks that barrier. I don’t want to scare anyone off. I want them to push themselves, obviously, but I want them to have fun. That’s why I came up with the Day of Trust, because it’s fun and it’s different. After the campaign, we’re going to have weekly posts. We’re doing an on the road series, we’re doing a women we love series, doing the badass business women of the month, which is great, because I’ve already had really good feedback from that. Obviously it will be travel-related writing, but in a different way.
You pledge to participate and you take that day, which is October 3rd, to go somewhere new by yourself and experience something new. It’s basically just about going somewhere new. So if that’s 10 minutes from your house, then that’s 10 minutes from your house. If it’s to Mexico, then it’s to Mexico. I think it’s going to show people how much they don’t see around their own location. I live in Portland and there’s a thousand hiking trails I’ve never done, there’s beautiful waterfalls all around here. Obviously I have a lot of examples of it being outdoors, but it doesn’t have to be an outdoor situation. You could go to a museum you’ve never been to or take a dance class, take a gymnastics class, do art, try karaoke. It’s just a matter of trying something new on your own. I’m very guilty of it, getting in our comfortable bubble and not continuing to experience something new. There’s just so much to see and do and experience. When you are in a different environment that you’re not used to, that’s when you grow the most. I want it to be a learning situation, where you feel that fear or that excitement and you confront your feelings, in the moment. Like why am I scared, why am I not scared, why don’t I do this more often? Like I said, it’s a discussion I want people to have, so I’m just trying to bring it to the forefront.
How many people have pledged for the Day of Trust?
I haven’t checked in a while, but I think there’s over 50. I have a huge goal, I want like 10,000. But I mean, I’m trying my hardest to get more people involved and it’s definitely spreading that message and getting the word out there and showing people what they can do. Even 100–if I can get 100 women around the world to pledge to go do something on their own, how amazing is that? I want to do a whole series of interviews and stories highlighting women who did it afterwards. This isn’t over, this isn’t just one day and then done, we go away. It’s like, ok what do we do next? And that’s what my website is for as well, what are we going to show them next?
Were you scared to take the leap of starting a business by yourself? Any advice for other women looking to do the same?
To be honest, I really think traveling solo has helped because I think if I hadn’t done things on my own before [starting my own business] I wouldn’t have done it. My biggest thing was independence. I don’t like being told what to do, or menial jobs. I always just kept thinking there’s gotta be more to this. [I read this book] by Escape the City. It’s this company that basically helps you realize your dreams, like get out of corporate and do what you love. So I read their manifesto and it just gave me that extra little push that I needed.
It’s definitely one of those things where I started this company and am learning day by day what works and what doesn’t. Just going from there, the setbacks, the good times of starting something and figuring it out day by day. As much as you know, it never prepares you for going out there and doing it. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now, just going with the flow and doing what feels right. Since I’m doing this by myself, I’m never going to put myself in a position that I don’t feel comfortable in, or that doesn’t fit the company, because it’s my baby.
My favorite thing about going out on my own is how I’m creating something out of my experiences and my knowledge to help other people. I just love the fact that even if I inspire one person, I’ve done it. And where I’m at right now, when I talk about my company, when I talk about the Day of Trust and get a positive response, that makes me happy because I feel like, this is what I’ve wanted the entire time, start a discussion, sort it out. And it’s just nice to see things develop naturally, and I’m not pushing it and I’m not doing something that I don’t want to be doing. And I truly truly truly am grateful for all the support as well. Even doing this on my own, I’m not really doing this on my own, because I have so many people behind this idea that love it and that want to help and to me that’s huge. That keeps me going when I’m about to freak out. When you have those moments of like, what am I doing? It’d be so much easier to just get a job and go work for somebody else and have a steady paycheck but like, you’ve done that and you were miserable.
I’m still obviously working for other people by writing, I’m not 100% making my own money yet, I’m not even close actually, but that’s part of it right? You get there. I do freelance travel writing online, that’s how I earn money. So I have little jobs here and there that are really up my alley and what I want to be doing, so it just kind of feeds into my website as well, you know, it’s kind of all about travel right now, which I’m loving. I never thought I’d see this day. It’s a really good feeling.
What’s at the top of your bucket list?
I would have to say at the top of my list is Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey or running a marathon.
What book do you think every woman should read in their 20s?
If you could travel to any other era, past or future, what would it be and why?
I would definitely want to travel to the time of the Egyptians. I’ve always been fascinated by their history and culture.
What in your life are you most proud of so far?
I’m most proud of visiting 30 countries by 30 years old. I can’t wait to see more!