Evona Niewiadomska and I first met within Boston’s startup community years ago.
I was working as a Marketing Director for a social network based in San Francisco, and she was managing a coworking space for entrepreneurs in Boston. I flew to the East Coast frequently, hosting events and Evona was always such a joy to see. Her bubbly spirit and sweet demeanor constantly accompanied by a smile on her face. Years went by, as I started Jetset Times, it was such a lovely surprise to see Evona and her boyfriend Michael Rheaume (co-founder and COO of a kickbutt company SnapKnot) take off on a journey of a lifetime. I secretly screamed with glee seeing their posts from Spain, Croatia, Italy, Poland…and so many more. When Evona revealed Undiscovered Kitchen – a digital farmers market for specialty, artisan foods – I thought it was only fitting that we got her take on how she accomplished it all! From a fearless one way ticket, to building a startup from abroad…I hope her story inspires your next journey to be just as exhilarating and fulfilling. With much love, Wendy
What made you want to drop everything and go travel?
Evona: I’m sure I’m just one of the millions of people that dreams of traveling the world … but in a typical scenario you’re bound up by mental chains of traditional thinking and fears which are reinforced absolutely everywhere and by the people around you, whether they mean it or not. Everything always comes down to money: how you’re going to get it, whether you’ll have enough and inevitably that if you did do something like this, you’d never have enough money or you’d have to spend it all and be broke for the rest of your life.
The reality is, even if you quit your job today to look for your dream job, you’d have approximately 10,000 options BEFORE you ended up on the streets with a cup. But no one talks about the very many real options. If you can’t pay rent, you can live with your parents, crash with friends, work as a server or cashier somewhere if you’re REALLY struggling … there are SO many ways to make money.
But as I said, it’s all about the thinking and people that you surround yourself with. If you surround yourself with world travelers every day, your perspective will be very different and the idea of world travel will become a real reality. I worked at a co-working space for 3.5 years. Every single day I was surrounded by entrepreneurs and business owners from every industry you could imagine, all of whom at one point or another quit their jobs and started making their dreams come true. At first, they were all strangers who did the unthinkable and I was in awe. After time, I formed relationships and friendships with every single person who walked through the space and started to realize they were all normal people. We would talk through their businesses and problems over beers. I found that I could relate and had valuable insight into their worlds. Suddenly they were no longer on a pedestal, they were my peers!
I have wanted to be a full-fledged business owner since I can remember and being around this community showed me that I could. So in a perfect storm, I was ready to pursue two of my biggest dreams in life: to travel and to be an entrepreneur. I took inventory of my skills and thought about how I could market myself in order to earn income, I sold most of my furniture and packed the rest up in a 4 door sedan to store at my mom’s house.
When you bought a one-way ticket, why did you choose Alicante, Spain as your first destination?
Evona: I quit my job and sold my stuff all because I wanted to go do something that I really wanted to do, just because I thought it would be exciting and fun! Everything that followed (and continues to happen) follows the same guidelines. Why not just do something because you think it’s cool, it MAY not work out but you don’t know that. I chose Spain because I had never been to Spain and it sounded like a really cool country. I also wanted to be by the water and near an airport. When you look at Spain on a Google map, it’s really easy to identify the coast and little airplane symbols to narrow it down.
It seems like you experienced many “firsts” during your travels. Which one was the most memorable?
Evona: I have to admit running a marathon for the very first time was the most incredible experience of my life. It was something, much like everything I was doing, that I thought I could NEVER do! I missed running organized 5Ks, 10Ks and Half Marathons in Boston so I was on the hunt for races ANYWHERE that would align with my travels. I couldn’t find anything! Finally the only run I could find was a marathon so I said ‘Ya know what, FINE! I’ll run a marathon!” And that was it!
I downloaded a training schedule and realized I was about 6 weeks behind, but that didn’t matter, I jumped in the very next day. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough and training had its ups and downs but when you’re mentally open to anything, amazing things happen. Blasting music, dancing and singing through the enormous Plitvice National Park in Croatia, taking selfies every kilometer, giving people who I passed high fives and cheering for them. I enjoyed EVERY. SINGLE. SECOND. of my 5 hours and 4 minutes. It was the most incredible and rewarding feeling in the world. I was able to conquer every single voice inside of me that ever doubted I could and crossed the finish line with a release of emotions I’ll never forget.
A startup is very similar to a marathon – you feel excitement, fear, you get lazy, you get motivated, you look for support and dig deep inside yourself. You experience every emotion out there and in both cases, no matter what happens, you JUST HAVE TO KEEP GOING!
What do you say to people who think it’s irresponsible to “drop everything and go”?
To be honest I cannot think of one reason why traveling would be irresponsible. Responsibility, for too many people, means status quo and not making a choice to be happy. That, to me, sounds irresponsible 🙂
So many people want to travel but think it’s too expensive. How were you able to make travel affordable?
Evona: I began traveling knowing that I would work full time as an infographic designer. I was actually SUPER excited at the idea of working for myself and building a business (almost more excited than traveling itself). I would regularly work 10 hour days, taking off the weekends to travel and explore the magical places we were in. At first, I didn’t have any clients but I kept reaching out to those I didn’t know and those I did and kept cranking until I got there! Through my design business, I was able to afford not only travel but also to invest in and build Undiscovered Kitchen, a digital farmers market for artisan foods.
How did the idea of Undiscovered Kitchen come about?
Evona: When I was training for the marathon, I was constantly craving chocolate cookies! I was vegan at the time living on Hvar Island off the coast of Croatia. It was really hard to find the cookie ingredients I was used to. I started thinking about creating a vegan cookie mix (the out-of-the-box kind). I realized that as a startup food entrepreneur, my biggest challenge would be marketing and selling my product since I didn’t know anything about distribution or how to get my product on store shelves. After a month and while chattingabout the idea in Split, Croatia one day, I realized that my “problem” was something I could work on solving for other food entrepreneurs and within seconds light bulbs were going off! I would create a marketplace to empower food startups and help them grow their businesses.
Starting a business in your own country is not an easy thing, let alone starting a business abroad. What was your biggest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
Evona: I actually prefer working abroad more than being back in the States. The time difference is a wonderful thing! I was always able to be 5-6 hours ahead of the U.S. which felt like a real advantage when it came to deadlines and always afforded a very quiet email-free morning, ideal for concentrating (without distractions). These days, distance is not much of an issue. Clients thought it was awesome when they found out where I was and how I got there, sometimes it wouldn’t ever come up in conversation. To this day, I haven’t actually met most of my design clients.
Any easy tips for aspiring travelers who want to buy a one-way ticket but are too afraid to?
Evona: Before leaving, I found out that a lot of people I knew had done something similar. There’s nothing as motivating as hearing people talk about their experiences to put things into perspective. Send an email to everyone you know and see who has traveled or ask them to introduce you to someone they know. My boyfriend and I sat down, had drinks with several couples to talk about their travels, got their tips and advice before hopping on the plane.
If you go off-peak it’s really not expensive. Our first Airbnb in January in Alicante was $400 per month (total) and the food and booze in Alicante was much cheaper than what we were used to. In those first few months, I was able to work on growing my business without feeling too much financial pressure. Side note: Nuria, our Airbnb host in Alicante, became one of our very best friends and traveled with us a few times both in Spain and Italy throughout our Euro-trip.
Know this: you can always go home! No big deal! You have a way out if you need it 🙂
What was the biggest fear you conquered in starting Undiscovered Kitchen abroad?
I’ve always believed that if you are continuously moving forward, you build more and more momentum with each action to get where you want to be. So everyday, I continue to move forward in any way I can!
Any advice for travelers who want to start their own businesses but think it’s too hard?
Evona: Well that’s the beauty of traveling, it puts you in a different state of mind. Once you’ve taken the initial leap, which doesn’t seem that scary and then your life becomes a series of leaps whether or not you’re traveling. You become a different person with a different perspective on what someone would normally think was “too hard”.
Think back to that ONE travel moment you would relive over and over again…
Evona: I would relive the 5 hours and 4 minutes of my marathon if I could. The mental high of conquering something I never, ever, ever, ever, ever thought I could do is the most incredible feeling. The most beautiful place in the world will never compare to what it feels like when you’ve proved to yourself that you CAN do anything.
So…what does being a jetsetter mean to you?
Evona: It means giving flight to your ideas. Whether it’s to travel, quit your job because you hate it (because that’s reason enough), backpack across the US, move across the country because you’ve always wanted to, make changes in your life because they make you happy…no matter what you are, a jetsetter mindset can take you anywhere you want to be.
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