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Travels with Tess

Imagine: Leaving your job that you no longer love, with no “Plan B,” to find the life you really want.

Meet Tess Vigeland. She did just that. She took the leap.

Tess Vigeland

Tess quit her successful, two-decade career as a radio journalist for NPR, sold all of her things, wrote a book titled "leap", and moved 8,000 miles away, alone, to a place she had never been.

Why? How? Did it work out for her? Read on and find out more about Tess, why—and how—she untethered herself from her quotidian routine to discover what truly makes her soul soar. And she shares excellent tips on how we can add this zest into our own lives, without moving 8,000 miles away!


Untethered is right! You really took the leap—without a net— and really shook things up! What precipitated this giant move? How did you know the time was “right,” if there even is such a thing, to do this?

I quit a long and successful career in public radio back in 2012, in part because I was restless, and in part because I felt disrespected by the organization to which I’d dedicated 11 years of my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there were also physical signs of stress telling me it was time to go…including abnormal hair loss that wasn’t related to anything medical! You must listen to your body when it’s talking to you.

And one other thing: if you’re asking yourself whether it’s time to move on… it’s time to move on. Or at least to start planning your next steps.

Don’t wait until your situation is untenable and you’re miserable, because then you won’t be thinking clearly enough to make good decisions.

Tess Photography

When you quit, how did you recalibrate and come to terms with the big question: “without your career, who are you?” And what did this shift teach you?

Ohhhh this was a huge issue for me. I didn’t realize until I’d left my career, just how much I identified my self-worth with what I did for a living! I thought I was worthy because of my cool job. I thought I was cool because of my cool job. I’m not sure that’s ever a healthy way to think about life. So it’s been an ongoing challenge ever since then to figure out what makes me awesome outside of what I do for work. It’s meant taking on new interests (for me, photography and scuba diving!).

And it’s taught me not to see work as the most interesting thing about other people. Now, when I’m in a situation where I’m meeting others for the first time, I don’t ask them what they do for a living until much later in a conversation. Try it!

What surprised you the most about reidentifying yourself, not as a radio host and journalist, but as Tess. And how did you tap into the discovery mode of finding what makes you happy?

I think the biggest surprise for me was how difficult the whole process was! Figuring out what makes you special—outside of what you’ve thought made you special for years and years—is tough! But that’s where friends come in. The people who know you best, the people who love you most, don’t know and love you because of what you do for a living. They know and love you for who you are as a person. When I’d get down, and start feeling worthless because I didn’t have my big fancy job, they’d remind me of the kindnesses I’d shown them over the years, and the things I’d done for others (for example, I’d spent several years raising money for an animal shelter). You come to realize that those are what defines you, not the thing that generates your paycheck. 

What are three ways we can access some of this “bigger life” feeling without quitting our jobs, grabbing our passports, and completely changing everything? Can this be done by taking a hop or a skip, instead of the big leap?

Well, don’t discount the amazingness of grabbing your passport and taking off! I know not everybody can, but sometimes you’re just too scared to do it, and if that’s the case, get over that! Travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

But you don’t have to leave the country to gain new perspectives. Are there museums in your own town you haven’t been to? Or parks you haven’t hiked? Go do it! Make the time.

I’d also urge people to pursue new passions. Learn a language. Learn a new skill. All of those will make you feel like your life is even more robust than it was before you tried new things.

Tess photographyAnd make an effort to meet new people. Join a Meetup group. Take a cooking class. Volunteer with a nonprofit. By far the greatest gift of my travels to 20 countries over almost three years was the people I met in 20 different cultures, and the friends I made while living abroad. You can do that at home, too. The more people you get to know, the broader your perspective, and the larger your life.

You have said that one of your favorite ways to acclimate to a new city when travelling is to “let yourself get lost.” Do you think that concept of wandering, observing, and being open to possibilities is at the heart of how you like to live your life?

Absolutely. And that’s a big change for me! I was a planner all my life. I knew exactly what my goals were, how and when I would achieve them, and then I went and did just that. But now? I have some idea of what I’ll be doing in six months…but in two years? Nope. Five? No way! I’m leaving myself open for every opportunity that comes my way. It’s not always easy. Sometimes I’d like to be back on 'A Plan'. But I like the fact that I’m now comfortable being uncomfortable, at least when it comes to my future. I still like comfortable chairs, though!

Where do you want to travel next to make your soul soar?

Just get me a globe and spin it. I’m not kidding. I would go almost anywhere, short of an active war zone. I’ve become pretty fearless in that aspect.

I don’t worry much about safety and risk because I’ve come to believe that 98 percent of the world’s population (if not 99 percent) are good people.

But I do have a top five wish list: Spain and Portugal; diving in the Galapagos off Ecuador; exploring the “Stans” (Uzbekistan / Kazakhstan / Tajikistan / Turkmenistan / Kyrgystan); Kenya or Tanzania for safari; and Egypt. And I have about 122 more after that.

Tess with elephants

You use the expression sabai sabai? Tell us what this means to you.

Ahhhh this is a phrase I learned from a friend in Thailand. There’s no literal translation to English, but it’s along the lines of “relax,” “comfort,” or “contentment.” If I were being cheesy, I’d say it’s “Don’t worry, be happy!” It means things are good, and that you are living peacefully and with grace. Thai society places a high value on happiness and relaxation. If you go on vacation, there’s no guilt! If you take a nap, there’s no guilt! That’s the idea of sabai. Your life is and should be about more than busyness. It’s about enjoyment. I can’t imagine any better way to exist.


Wow, Tess. You inspire us to tune in, trust our guts, and to make the most of this life we’ve been given! Leaps of faith, of courage, of living large and out loud are within all of our grasps. Thank you so much for your trailblazing and your honesty. We cannot wait to follow along on your journey to see where your soul will soar next.


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