In conversation with… travel blogger Kay Kingsman
Travel blogger Kay Kingsman tells us how she balances working a full-time job, running a travel blog and writing a book and how NOT to do a polar plunge.
Meet Kay Kingsman, the woman behind the US-based travel blog, The Awkward Traveller. Based in the Western USA, Kay has travelled all over the world, including Antarctica. She is passionate about making travel more accessible to historically excluded communities and started a scholarship fund to sponsor passport costs and travel experiences for first-time travellers.
Tell us about yourself.
Hello everyone! My name is Kay! I currently live in the lush greenery of Portland, Oregon USA, though my heart is always at least halfway in California. By day, I am a full-time woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but by night I am a fiction author. And...on my lunch breaks, I run my travel blog The Awkward Traveller, which is a (somewhat) helpful guide to travel through fun storytelling and insightful essays.
Well, and also a lot of really wild stories. I personally didn't grow up travelling or even knowing anyone who did, so it has been such an immense privilege to be in a position now to see more of the world. Through my blog, I hope to make travel more relatable, inclusive, and accessible to those who never necessarily saw themselves as someone who would be able to see the world but still dreamed of it anyway, especially those in historically neglected communities.
Kay works in STEM (Credit: Kay Kingsman)
How do you manage working a full-time job and travelling the world?
I wish I could take the credit for magically finding the recipe for working a full-time job and frequently travelling the world but...honestly, it boils down to my job having a flexible work schedule that is conducive to travel. While I do have a full-time non-remote job (yes, I still go into the office *sad violin*), I work a compressed schedule.
Every week I alternate between four days where I work twelve hours (48 hours a week), and then the next week I work three days of twelve hours (36 hours a week). So yes, I work an average of 42 hours a week, but that also means that every week I get three and four-day weekends – the perfect amount of time for a quick weekend getaway. It also means that when I do use PTO (paid time off), I can take three days off work and I will have a total of 10 days to travel. Since I live in America where the average vacation allowance is only 14 days, stretching my PTO as far as possible is really the trick!
What is the Global Dreamers Foundation?
In a nutshell, the Global Dreamers Foundation is a personal scholarship I set up to sponsor the ‘initiation costs’ of travel, like getting a new passport, luggage/backpacks, and other travel gear. It’s something that may seem trivial to more seasoned travellers, but for a first-timer, it is a daunting list and - most intimidatingly – very expensive upfront and all at the same time.
I started this initiative because my first passport was paid for by someone else, there was no way my family could spare the extra money for the fee, and that prompted a fire that if someone could help me out just a bit for my goal, then I could (and would!) figure out the rest. Now that I am in a position to do so, I want to give that same fire to someone else.
Kay in Greenland (Credit: Kay Kingsman)
Could you tell us about a stand-out moment from your trip to Antarctica?
It's really hard to pick because every second in Antarctica is a standout, but perhaps one of the biggest is the (literal) polar plunge. The expedition crew warned us it would be cold, but they never mentioned how none of us understood the word cold just yet. We soon learned. In a moment of genius, I decided to wear my absolute skimpiest bikini. In my mind, the hotter I felt inside, the less cold I would feel on the outside.
That's how physics worked, right?
I get down to the platform and I'm fist-pumping, cheering myself on, and basically being the greatest hype man the white continent has ever seen. It felt like a Coachella after-party. We were technically in a desert, so it's a close enough analogy. The crew counted down to three and I leapt off the Zodiac platform. In the split second, I was in the air, I realized two things as the photographer's camera flashed.
- My bikini top had slipped.
- I was not a good swimmer.
Hitting the water felt like breaking glass with my face. It was a cold that numbed everything else except for the single thought of GET OUT. I don't even remember if I actually managed to flail my way to the surface, or if my buoyant body floated up of its own accord. What I do remember is my eyes catching a glance downwards. I saw my legs...and then nothing. Complete blackness. I vowed to never open my eyes again underwater.
My head broke the surface and the adrenaline coursing through my body lifted me up and onto the Zodiac. The crew later informed us that a whale had been curiously watching us deep below.
Kay has visited Antarctica (Credit: Kay Kingsman)
Have you visited any of our sites? Do think heritage is important? And does it matter during a climate crisis?
Yes! On my Antarctic voyage, we visited Port Lockroy, which was exciting because it was the only site we visited with a museum that gave us visitors a little more insight into what it would have been like to live and work in Antarctica in the past.
I'm a fiction author, so to me, life (including its highs and lows) is a big story. If there is no story, then there is no life. So heritage in all of its truths is extremely important to me because heritage is history and history is life's story. The more we know about something, the more meaning it has to us. I am not a climate specialist.
I do not have all of the facts, statistics and data, but I do know that Earth is in a climate crisis. We are in a climate crisis. The more that we collectively listen, learn, and respond to the people who are climate scientists and researchers, the greater we can be (correctly) informed on how to move forward. Heritage sites and initiatives in Antarctica, whether you are able to visit and participate in person or not, are a factor in retaining and promoting the urgency of the climate crisis.
Do you still have a dream destination you haven't visited?
Yanno, I've never been one for dream destinations. For better (and definitely for worse as well), whenever I have a destination I suddenly want to travel to, for whatever reason, I get tunnel vision and will do whatever it takes to make that destination my next trip. Part of it is that I live a little too consistently in the present and it is difficult to dream of goals for the future.
Saving the Maldives for a honeymoon sounds wonderful, but what if I never get married? What if I die? What if it is no longer a travel destination because of the rapidly increasing water levels and ocean warming due to climate change? So instead of the what-ifs, I book for now.
For example, when I found out the Sloppy Joe sandwich was invented in Cuba, I dropped everything and made my way over to the island. I tasted really good ramen at a place near my house and the next thing I knew I was on a flight to Japan. Sometimes I'm just really craving poutine so I drive over to Canada....okay, now that I'm saying it out loud, I travel a lot for food hahaha. So I guess I'll ask my stomach what it craves and that will be my next dream destination haha.
Kay travels whenever she can (Credit: Kay Kingsman)
If you were working at Port Lockroy for the season, what luxury item would you take?
If you've been to Port Lockroy, then you can probably guess where this is headed, but some kind of air and odour purifiers hahaha. But aside from that, I would take my Nintendo Switch and a whole lotta candy. It would just be me, the Antarctic wildlife, and Mario Sunshine haha.
What's next for you?
Since my editor might be reading this, the next thing for me would be finishing the second draft of my next novel! It's a story I'm super excited about and something that hopefully everyone else will enjoy reading as well. It will explore themes of heroism in the face of uncertainty, the fallacy of trusting past memories and...okay...is my editor still reading? Okay, ACTUALLY what's next for me is that I will be neglecting all of my obligations to revisit one of my favourite countries in the world - Japan!
Finally, what’s your favourite species of penguin?
Oh HANDS DOWN the Adelie penguin. All penguins are cute, sure, but have you SEEN an Adélie? They have such sleek little suits like they’re going to an awards ceremony, not one feather out of place. And they’re so fun and feisty!! Big respect for them standing on their turf and speaking their mind (with the cutest squawk I might add).
Adélie Penguins (Credit: Dominic Hall/Shutterstock)
Stay in touch with Kay
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