Making It Work: Interview with Kristin Lajeunesse Of Will Travel For Vegan Food (Part 1)

Ah, Kickstarter! I’ve found so many cool vegan projects through that site. Just a week ago I stumbled upon Will Travel for Vegan Food, started by the lovely Kristin Lajeunesse. A social media, lifestyle design, ass-kicking, world-saving super-girl, she truly believes that no matter what the odds, if you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen. Kristin and I spoke at length about her rise to awesomeness last week, as well as what spurred her to get serious about the upcoming cross-country road trip. Stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days!

TNTSU: So we can get this out the way – how do you pronounced your last name? I don’t want to mispronounce it! Is it French?

Kristin Lajeunesse: Sure, it’s lah-juh-ness. It is French and it means “the youth.”

I know that you run your own social media site, KristinLajeunesse.com, in addition to Will Travel For Vegan Food (WTF Vegan Food). Was that sort of your identity, as a social media guru, before WTF Vegan Food?

I’ve had them merged together for a while because I started getting into social media professionally while I was working with a company called Vegan Mainstream – they’re a marketing company that focuses on helping vegan and vegetarian businesses. After grad school I started working with Vegan Mainstream, and my focus with them was really to be their social media manager; not only work on accounts that Vegan Mainstream manages but also to be kind of the consultant for our clients when it comes to social media.

In January I started KristinLajeunesse.com in an effort to do some of my own work independently from Vegan Mainstream because I don’t mind working with other companies. So [I thought,] “ I might as well put my name out there as a social media guru in general” [while] not only focusing on the vegan stuff, but just helping small business  owners and entrepreneurs in general.

How did Rose Pedals Vegan Weddings come about, then?

After grad school I worked for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) for a year and a half, and also started working for Vegan Mainstream nights and weekends. [But when] I decided that I wanted to try this mobile lifestyle and start planning this trip, I’m like “okay, I can’t have a standard nine to five office job.”

So I talked with my boss at Vegan Mainstream, we upped my hours there, I left the nine to five job, and then when I started [working at] Vegan Mainstream on a more regular basis I also founded the Rose Pedals site because I wanted to create some kind of passive income for myself on the side.

Between Rose Pedals, WTF Vegan Food, Vegan Mainstream, and your own site, how do you manage it all? That’s a lot of Twitter and Facebook accounts, plus the blog for each one!

Yeah, it’s a lot, and I have to say that I really love every of minute, to be honest with you. It’s all stuff I’m really passionate about and as time goes on, I might need to let things go or pair things down. But while I can, and while I have the time and the energy, I’m just going to put a bunch of stuff out there, see what sticks, and keep going – just do whatever I can to keep going.

With the Rose Pedals thing I actually have a part-time employee that manages the blog and the social media so I’m almost entirely hands-off with that. I pretty much handle the money, so [when] someone wants to pay for a vendor listing, or advertisement, I handle all of that, and I update the website for those listings, but she does everything else.

As I get these other projects going, the idea is to get help along the way and have someone, like Sarah, who’s helping me with the Rose Pedals site, so that those [sites] can keep going while I continue to work on other projects.

I remember when it started this year; Rose Pedals has really grown by leaps and bounds. Why Vegan weddings as opposed to vegan-something-else?

The reason that [Rose Pedals] came about…at that time I was looking for a business idea; a way to make money online. I thought “what is one area that really hasn’t been tapped yet?” That hasn’t been covered or delved into, and I thought, well, people that want to get married – vegans that want to get married, vegetarians who want to have a cruelty-free wedding, etc.

VegNews does a great annual weddings feature in their magazine, which I really love, but felt there really isn’t one place that people can go to, any time of the day, year round, to find resources. So that’s where the idea [came from] and once I thought of this cutesy name (Rose Pedals), I thought, this is too cute, I have to do it. But I have always had an interest in event planning, and in high school I used to come home after school and watch Perfect Proposal and I would cry when people would have emotional engagement. (laughs) I’m not terribly concerned about [getting married], but I really love the idea of providing a resource that didn’t already exist.

You love food, you love travel – but making a year-long road trip out of that is no small feat. In the context of a mobile lifestyle, lifestyle design, et cetera – what pushed you over the edge to decide this was the right choice?

I think it’s probably a combination of things, because for a few years I had been talking to friends and mentioning “oh, I’d love to travel, I’d love to see other parts of the world and see different things.” After a while I just heard myself saying it, and it felt like I was becoming like everyone else who would just say, “oh, but I have this thing” or “oh, but I have this job.”

It felt like I was falling into that. I thought, “I don’t want to just say it, I want to do it! So what can I do?” I started looking online, you know, there are dozens of nomadic-lifestyle-design bloggers out there, and I somehow got my hands on two different books that really changed my life: Crush It by Gary Vanyerchuk, and The Four Hour Work-Week by Tim Ferriss.

I knew Ferriss was going to be in there!

(laughs) Of course, of course. And the funny thing is I didn’t really know about him until last year, and he has been popping up for a while, I just hadn’t heard of the book or anything. I ended up reading those books back-to-back in one week, and [said] “oh my goodness, I have got to do something. I cannot sit here. I need to follow my dreams and my passions. I don’t want to be just another person who says ‘I wish I could but I can’t.’

So after that I started just reading, reading, reading everything I could online about creating a mobile lifestyle, making money online, and moving everything; essentially moving my entire lifestyle from the standard desk job [and] having to be in an office to get the work done to doing stuff from my computer. I probably spent like eight months just reading a bunch of stuff.

Some people who I talked to about it were like, “didn’t you feel like that was time was wasted?” And I was like, “no, because I wouldn’t have gotten here it if wasn’t for that point in time.” So [while] doing all this reading, I jokingly posted on my personal Facebook wall, “I’d love to eat at all the vegan restaurants in the country; wouldn’t that be awesome?” Just as like a road-trip or something. I got this flood of responses from people who were like, “you should  do it!” or “I would love to do it. Take me with you!” and like all this stuff started coming in. It was kind of at that moment that I was like “I can really do this.” I’d been thinking about creating a mobile lifestyle as it is, and why not just move my work and my life to “on the road.” I could continue to manage these blogs and websites and do the social media work that I’m doing – I’ll just do it from my computer in a car, instead of in my apartment. And while I’m on the road I can focus to going to vegan restaurants and I’ll have accomplished the food and the travel and work kind of all in one!

Then I started really conceptualizing the idea – I talked to my parents about it, I was telling all my friends about it – and I don’t think it was until I decided on a name, “Will Travel For Vegan Food” and started the website that I thought “this is it, I’m really going do it.” The more that I just kept talking about it, the more it became real. The more I realized this is actually happening. (laughs)

I did an interview with Markus of Living on Impulse about this whole idea of lifestyle design and what’s appealing to me about it is that there’s a very critical element of will to it, where you really have to will yourself to do the things you want to do rather than fall back on any number of excuses that we all have.

But I also think these lifestyles all kind of start from some position of capital or privilege or college education. The books like Four Hour Work Week make some assumptions about the person reading it – if you gave it to some average poor person in America, I don’t think the chances are great that it’s going to turn their life around or make them Tim Ferriss-esque. Does that make sense? What does it take to get from point A to point B?

I feel like there’s so many elements to that question because, I mean, going back to your example, if we gave the book to some poor person on the side of the road, could they really change their life – and honestly I think, I truly believe, that no matter what position you’re in – you find that if you want it bad enough, if you really really do, you find a way to make it work no matter what.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who believed they’ve started from nothing. [People who] went from not having any money saved up and just going to a library in their local community to start a website online in order to start reaching out to people. They ended up making a few bucks consulting or something and had enough money to buy their own computer and that enabled them to work more and develop digital products and then that lead to more…kind of this flow.

I truly believe no matter what situation you’re in, if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to make it work no matter what. I really think that that’s what helps me keep moving. I tend to only follow things that truly move me, I have a hard time working projects that I’m not passionate about, which I think is why I have so many things going on now because there are so many things I’m passionate about. I want to explore them all!

I guess  you could say that I was in a privileged position because I had a steady nine to five job before I left [but] I left it on my own, I didn’t get fired which unfortunately is not the case for everyone.

Not everyone gets to choose when they start a new job or career path. On that note, however, there are so many successful bloggers and online business owners that attribute their success to getting let go. They knew they couldn’t do it on their own – leave the security of their job – and the push was enough to get them on the path they are on now. [That] turns out to be a happier path for these particular individuals.

I’m not trying to condemn where you came from; I think everyone who does this is very lucky and fortunate, and I think it’s awesome. But I agree, I think it’s easier for someone who has a job, or a computer, or access to a computer, than someone who doesn’t. It takes a certain kind of mindset, even if you have will or desire.

I think you’re right, but I think with the number of resources available today, like…I just feel like there are so many opportunities out there for people and it’s not strictly only if you have access to a computer. There are things you can do, there are strategies that are offline, there are other things you can do to really make it work.

I think you’re right; it has a lot to with mindset. When I read these [books] it clicked. I felt like I found a community that felt right to me [and it] might not feel right to everyone. I’ve talked to people who say “I couldn’t do that because I prefer to have…to know…what my day to day thing is going to be. I’d prefer to have that security.” And in my mind I think, “I love not knowing what this next day is going to bring!” I love the idea of kind of just going with it and making it work because I know it’s going to, because it has to, because I want it to.

Even though Kristin’s Kickstarter project is fully funded (yay!) you can still help her out with this epic road-trip by backing the project past its initial ask. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we discuss the logistics of the trip, traveling to Hawaii, and get input from her travel partner Ethan. Many thanks Kristin for her time and energy on this, as well as Google Voice for its awesome call recording feature!

Photo credits: Jennifer Simmons