Do It While You're Young: An Interview with the Founders
We can't get enough of these two amazing young globetrotters who between them have covered more than sixty countries: KristinaWegscheider and Jerri Stephenson, founders of Do It While You're Young - a leading website for young women ages 15-35 interested in traveling, studying, working and volunteering abroad. It's easy to see how they created such an amazing community and why Tripping is proud to be partnered with them!
You are both from the U.S., but you met while abroad. Tell us about the first time you met.
Jerri and I met while doing a two-week study abroad program in Australia in 2002 organized by the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad. We had a great time together and kept in touch afterwards. We visited each other several times after and came up with the idea for DIWYY in 2005, although we didn't formally launch our site until 2009. –Kristina
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The first time I remember actually hanging out with Kristina was on New Year's Eve. We were in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest and celebrating the new year at the only bar for miles and miles. I remember both of us dancing on the bars and our main goal that night was for us each to find a cute Australian boy to kiss at midnight. I think Kristina succeeded, but I didn't. After that, we had the bright idea to go out and look for crocodile on the beach in the dark.
We started to do it, but then got scared so we decided to look for something less scary, like didgeridoo. The study abroad program we were on was a Biology course and Kristina and I were the only non-Biology majors. We were not as interested in the flora and fauna of Australia as the rest in our group. So we decided we'd look for something that couldn't sting or bite us. We spent the rest of our time in Australia searching for didgeridoos. It became a joke we still laugh about. We were so silly. We still are. - Jerri
How did you decide to start DIWYY? What was your inspiration?
It actually started as a joke. We would tell people about our love of travel and the awesome destinations we had each been too and the common response we got was “I wish I would have done it when I was your age." We took a spin on that phrase and created DIWYY as a way to inspire and motivate young women to travel. –Kristina
Kristina and I started discussing how much we had each been traveling and how people always told us how cool it was we were doing it. I think it surprised both of us that people thought it was so unique that we traveled so much. We knew how easy it was to travel and decided we wanted to share that with others and what better way to do it than in a book? We finally decided to have a working holiday in South Beach Miami to brainstorm. We camped out at the Starbucks on the beach where we came up with the name and the idea. -Jerri
Has your vision for DIWYY remained the same since the beginning, or has it evolved? If so, how?
In the beginning, we were just publishing blog post that were written by us but then we created our guest writer program to allow DIWYY to feature first-hand accounts from more young women who had different travel experiences than our own. –Kristina
The way I look at it, It's always been the same although we have done some things that we never planned on doing in the beginning, like starting a website! When we first got started travel blogs were not as popular or easy to start as they are now. We always had it in our mind that we wanted to be like a Lonely Planet for just girls, but then to just keep up with the market we had to start a website. The website has grown more than we ever expected. -Jerri
Jerri, after university you moved to Spain. But then you found yourself working as a hotel office manager on the island of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. How did that come about? Had you always wanted to travel there?
I did live in Barcelona in the Summer after graduating from college, studying Spanish and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. While in Spain, I reluctantly took a job in Dallas and was convinced that I was going to stop my travels and finally settle down into a real job and a real “adult" life. I was introduced to some family friends, a couple, who owned a beach front hotel in the Caribbean. They were travel lovers like me and while we talked they offered me a job working in the office at the hotel. I thought they were joking.
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About a week later, my aunt and uncle told me that their friends were serious about hiring me. I still said no. I had never had any interest in going to the Caribbean. After some soul searching and some reading of escapeartist.com, I called up the hotel owners and accepted the job. Within three days, I had moved out of my apartment in Dallas, put all my things in storage except for one bag full of clothes and shoes, bought a one way ticket to Sint Maarten and found myself walking down a beach overlooking the boats anchored offshore in the Caribbean waters. It was the best decision I ever made! - Jerri
Kristina, your favorite destination out of 53 countries and 7 continents you have visited is Antarctica. What do you love most about it, and did you expect to fall in love with it before setting foot there?
I loved that Antarctica was so different from any other place I had been. The landscape and wildlife were so impressive. I was very excited to travel there but didn't know what to expect so every moment was truly magical. -Kristina
Jerri, you worked aboard private mega yachts in the Caribbean and along the East Coast for 3 years. The job must have had its not-so-glamorous moments, but tell us about the exciting aspects. You must have had some incredible experiences.
It definitely had not-so-glamorous moments! I found out on my first day that I get violently seasick, but I didn't let that stop me! Some of my favorite moments while working on boats are really simple. I loved watching the dolphins when they would come play in the bow waves. I loved seeing whale pods going on for miles and miles. My favorite thing though was arriving at new ports. Especially ones that most people never get to see. St. Barts is my absolute favorite Caribbean island. One particular trip, I found myself riding sea-doos with a yacht owner's 8 year old daughter in the waters right off of St. Barts. It was so weird, but so much fun. The whole time I was thinking that I couldn't believe this was my life. - Jerri
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If you were only allowed to bring 3 items on your next trip besides basic clothing items and toiletries what would they be and why?
My laptop because I have to keep DIWYY updated, my surf board because I most definitely am going to a beach on my next trip and my camera. In the past, I never took pictures of my travels but I've realized that I need to be reminded of the memories. -Jerri
My three travel essentials would be a digital camera to capture memories, a box of Luna Bars for those days when meals can be scarce (or too expensive!) and my u-shaped fleece neck pillow because it allows me to sleep almost anywhere. -Kristina
What was the most memorable instance of cultural exchange during your travels for each of you?
My family and I visited Chile and Easter Island back in 2003 and at the airport in Dallas, my brother befriended a Chilean boy who was around our age. Our flight was delayed so we all ended up talking to him and he gave us his contact info for when we returned to Santiago at the end of our vacation. We called him up and his family hosted mine for dinner. Coincidentally, this young man also had two siblings so the six of us all went out while my mom and his parents stayed home. It was a wonderful experience to see a less touristy side of Chile and be welcomed by complete strangers. -Kristina
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Oh that's easily my time in South Africa. We were driving through the Transkei area, also known as the area where Nelson Mandela is from, and met some ladies who needed a ride into town. They were teachers picking up rides home after a day at school. They were talking about how their school gets held up by masked gunmen just about every week. I was surprised how calmly they shared that with me and asked them why they were so calm. They said that's just the way things were. When I told the ladies that I was from the States, they lit up! Oprah had just been to their village and they had the chance to meet her. They asked me if I knew her since she was also from the States. No, I didn't know her, but they did. That was cool. Also, one of them said she was Nelson Mandela's sister, although I read he had a lot of sisters. -Jerri
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Have either of you met any celebrities on your travels? If not, with which celebrity would you like to cross paths and where?
I met quite a few working on yachts and when I was a personal assistant in LA, but I can't really tell you who. They make you sign non-disclosure agreements! -Jerri
So far, I have been on a plane with Heidi Klum (Paris-New York) and Ciara (Rio de Janeiro-Atlanta). I was in Business Class for the Brazil flight so she was only a few seats over! -Kristina
Picture yourself decades from now; if you had to sum up your life's work in one sentence, what would it be?
I saw and did it when I was young and am probably still traveling the world! –Kristina
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. - Jerri
Thank you Kristina and Jerri for the fascinating interview! Connect with Kristina and Jerri and fellow DIWYY fans via the DIWYY Tripping Network.