About this episode:
Without a drop of medical experience, Cienna Richards booked an impromptu group travel experience that would allow her to study under surgeons in Germany. This trip fueled her love for travel and opened her eyes to the value of group travel for women specifically. Now, she’s the founder of Your Life Travel Club, a group travel organization that coordinates trips for women of all ages.
Follow her adventures on Instagram at @cienna_travels.
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Transcription of episode:
Leah: Welcome to Wander By Proxy, a podcast featuring women’s travel stories that connect them more to themselves and the world around them.
I’m Leah Falyn, and today we’ll hear from Cienna Richards, the founder of Your Life Travel Club, a company that coordinates group travel adventures for women of all ages.
But before her company – not too long ago – she was a 20-year-old advertising student, who saw an ad for a 3-and-a-half-week group travel program that would allow her to take her love for Grey’s Anatomy to a whole new level. Here’s Cienna.
Cienna: I didn’t have that much experience traveling on my own. So I come from, both of my parents are they migrated to America, and so they’re both immigrants that have come from third world countries in the Caribbean and then have come here. And so I have been blessed to be able to go and experience my father’s country, which is Trinidad and Tobago.
When I was around 10 years old. And so my grandma, my grandparents, decided to take myself and my brother there so we can learn about our culture and our history and where we’ve come from. In the process of going to Trinidad, we also were able to visit Canada. And so those were my small international travel experiences with my family.
And then kind of as we decided, you know, as I got older. And I decided I wanted to see the world. I wanted to travel more, but I didn’t really know how. And then one day in 2017 I was scrolling through my Instagram feed as they normally do. It was a college student back then, so I was roughly about 20 years old.
And you know, I just. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I was just scrolling, liking things, commenting on my friend’s posts. And then I come across this ad by this company who I’ve, I’ve never heard of before, and it was so interesting, and they were talking about sending people to, okay, Germany, it’s to different countries to study under surgeons.
And so I just kind of one day look at this ad and said. I can do this. I can totally like travel and you know, see different things and study under surgeons and it would be so cool. And my background was in advertising. That’s what my degree is in. That’s what I have my current degree in. And that’s what I, I decided I was going to go to school for.
And so when I came across this ad, I think for me the biggest thing was I was watching way too much Grey’s anatomy. Like it had a lot of free time, which I don’t know how I was the president of a club on campus. I was involved in four other organizations. I had four internships and a full-time job. All while going to school.
So I don’t know how I had this extra time, but usually around nighttime I would binge watch Grey’s anatomy. And I kept watching it, watching it, and I was like, wow. Like I want to be a surgeon. And I called my parents. I’m like, I think I’m going to school for the wrong thing. I think I need to become a doctor.
And it was really crazy because I was almost done with my degree. I started college when I was 16 years old. And so for me. By the time I was 20 I was on track to get my bachelor’s degree at 20 years old, and so I was pretty much done. My dad was like, I don’t want to pay for school anymore. You’re almost done.
Get your degree. You’re not going back. And I was like, no, but dad, like, I want this. I want to go back to school. I want to become a surgeon. So I didn’t know what I was talking about. Um, that’s not where my life is today, but I think in that moment, just like seeing the actors on Grey’s anatomy, watching how they operate their day to day lives, to me, it was so interesting.
And so I did go back to school. I reapplied once I graduated and went back to school to get another, technically a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science. That I did not finish,
um, because I just wasn’t happy and it just wasn’t for me. But that whole process led me to saying, okay, I’m going to apply for this program to study under surgeons.
And even though they knew that I didn’t have any medical experience at the time, but they understood that I was willing to learn, and it’s something that I wanted to try to find out if I was interested in, they accepted me and some of the program. And that started on my travel experience.
Leah: That’s so cool. So what was your first step and how did they kind of introduce you to this new field?
Cienna: Yeah. So it was really interesting because once I decided that I wanted to go when they, they did a series of interviews with all the applicants and I was chosen, which was, I was so surprised because I didn’t have any expertise.
But once I was chosen to go with them. They had many different countries that you can pick from, like somewhere like Italy or you can go to Greece. I chose Germany. It was their most popular trip that a lot of students were going on, and I went. You have to buy your own plane ticket and everything, and you’d have to pay for their program.
So altogether it was about $10,000 and as a 20-year-old college student who lived off of ramen noodles, I didn’t have $10,000 sitting in my bank account. And so I called my bank and I said. Can I have a loan? It was my first time applying for a loan. Within two minutes. I was accepted for this loan. I don’t know why they did that, but I’m glad they did. I took out this loan and I paid for my airfare. I paid for, you know, the program, my food and everything, and I hopped on a plane and I was so naive. I didn’t really do any research. I was so naive at this time of my life and when I got all this plane and landed in a city that was five hours away from where I needed to be.
It was the most scariest thing for me ever because here I am, I’m in Germany. I have no idea of the name of the city that I actually landed in. It was freaking out. Tears are like rolling down my eyes. There’s no one with me. I have no family, no friends. Like the group I was supposed to meet with the group.
And so because I’m supposed to meet with them, there’s nobody next to me to help me figure out where I’m supposed to go. I don’t speak German. I only hate speaking at that time, you know, English was my primary language, although I do speak Creole because my mother is from Haiti. And so it was just one of those things.
I was, I was so terrified. So rookie travelers, yeah. This is my first time traveling abroad by myself and here I have lost five hours away. So. I go to the information desk in the airport and I’m like crying. I’m like, I don’t know where to go. I don’t know how to get to where I need to be. Please help me.
The lady, she spoke a little bit of English, but it was very broken. And so it was a little hard for me to understand, but I tried so hard and she just kept telling me, you need to take this train and you need this train. So she’s pointing at the train tracks and I remember standing there and I’m like, okay.
And then she’s like, the train leaves in two minutes. I’m looking at the train, looking at her, she’s like, two minutes. And I’m like, I need to run across this airport to this train that leaves in two minutes. They get to the train. I’m like, like running as fast as I can. I have this luggage that’s like half my body weight and I’m like pulling it across this airport.
I finally got to the train I could, I saw the train from where she was pointing out because they have a train station in the airport and so I’m running, running, running to this. Train. The conductor was standing outside of the train, and I’m trying to speak to this conductor, but she only spoke German.
I’m speaking English, she’s confused. I’m confused. And I’m like, can I get on this train? Is this a train that I need? And she’s just like, no, and I’m like, but the lady at the information, so this is a train that I need, this is where I’m going. And the conductor’s like, no, no, no. And then she hops on the train stares at me, and the train leaves.
And then I’m standing there and I tried to get on the train, but it was moving so they didn’t let me on and it was a nightmare. So then I go back to the information to ask, try to find that when the next train is coming, I’m in tears. I don’t understand anything. I call my father who is trying to be so supportive, but I could tell he was freaking out on the inside and I’m like, dad, I made a mistake.
I’m lost. Please help me. And I knew not to call my mother because if I called my mom, she would think as you’d be, she would say, this is why I told you not to go in the first place. I told you, don’t go. Don’t trust these people. She thought that I was getting myself involved in sex trafficking because she had never heard of this company before that I was meeting with.
She was so scared. But my father was very optimistic. I’m trying so hard to support me.
Um, my mother supported me too, but she was very frightful, I think, to let go of her baby. And I called my dad, I’m crying. He’s like, it’s like Sienna, do you not cry? Everything is going to be okay. You are fine. And I’m like, no, everything is not okay.
I don’t know where I am. I’m stuck. I’m in this country, I need help. And my poor dad. Staying as calm as he could possibly be in this moment is trying so hard to calm me down. He’s like, go back to the information desk. I’ll try to talk to them with you. So he’s trying his best for communicating. Finally, this couple behind me, here’s what’s going on, and they speak English.
So it was amazing. And they said, follow me. We’ll take you to the train. The couple guided me to the chain that I need to be on. Not only do they guide me to the train that I needed to be on, they stayed with me the entire time on this train, this husband and wife, until I was able to figure out where to go.
Once I got off at my stop on this train. They guided me through the whole process. I finally got to where I was going, and that was that. But it was a very scary process to even get to where I was, where I was going.
Leah: That is a nightmare, but so nice of that couple. I love it. So you eventually get united with your group where you’re supposed to go, all that jazz. What are these—like workshops? Are they workshops, classes? Like did you get to explore the city?
Cienna: Yeah, definitely. So when I was able to meet up with the group, it was slow, but we had apartment style housing. And it was amazing. It was such a great experience. We had a host that led the group, and so we had to work to, because it was. And like, almost like an internship kind of, but not really.
Because we did have to work. We went to the hospital. It was six o’clock in the morning, so we were there the entire month of December, 2017 and so roughly, um, we got to go home for Christmas, which was amazing. I really liked that cause I got to spend time with my family. But most of December of 2017 we were.
Early mornings, five o’clock in the morning, we would get up, catch the bus, go work in these hospitals and shadow under these different servants. So we all went into our own specific niches, and I was really interested in plastic surgery at the time, and I really wanted to be a gender reassignment surgeon.
That was my, that’s what I felt my calling was. I wanted to help people who feel trapped in there. Trapped in their bodies, be able to transition, and however they wanted to transition in their lives. And so I know that’s a very like, iffy topic a lot of people don’t like to talk about, but that’s what I felt my calling was, was to help other people.
And so I really wanted to see how these types of surgeries or plastic surgery was performed in other countries compared to America. And it was really amazing. My first week there I had, they made me study under, like eye surgery, and so I got to watch all of these different types of intricate surgeries.
I remember what my first one. I was standing there, it was a 20. It was only a 20-minute procedure, which was, was just really great because I didn’t eat breakfast that morning. And so I watched this doctor replace this person’s like retina in their eye and just like how they cut open. It was so gross, but like so amazing.
the same time to cut open with a scalpel, someone’s eyeball and replaced. They’re retina with like a manmade retina instead of like donate it. It wasn’t donated. It was like a manmade, and the doctor had said that he constructed this retina from scratch himself, and so just to learn his process and be able to take notes, and I got to watch him perform multiple types of these surgeries for so many different outpatients in Germany.
Then my second week. I got to study under plastic surgery, which I was so happy because that’s what I really wanted to learn about. My second week there, I stood for a nine-hour surgery. That was really hard, very difficult. Because I’m not trained to, I can’t touch the patients. I might just have to stand in the back, take notes and observe, ask questions.
But it was really, really cool. There was a woman who came in and obviously I won’t really say her name because I don’t know if they practice HIPAA, outside of the United States, but just for privacy. There was a patient that came in and she had went to a bad doctor and got her breasts done. And so when she came in, her boobs were completely stolen, swollen.
She had scars all over her bibs because the surgery that she went underwent with a different doctor was really bad. I think for her, she just wanted a lower cost option and she knew that she wanted her breasts done, but did it no. How to do it safely. And so she wants you a doctor that wasn’t safe, that didn’t practice the safe loss for her and completely almost ruined her body.
So the surgeon that I got to watch for this nine hour process, she, she made a miraculous recovery and she wasn’t in the same type of pain that she was because she had went to this, this doctor previously. And so just being able to watch these types of surgeries. In my world where you know, where I come from, I’ve, I’ve never seen anything like this other than grace anatomy other than television.
And I loved watching on TV. I didn’t realize how complicated in real life it would actually be. Um, and so I kind of went down this path and it was, it was really great for me to see all of these things. And at the end of the day, at the end of every Workday. We were allowed to go explore. So I would go out.
We saw Germany, I toured around with the group and the group and I decided we were going to go to other European countries, and that’s exactly what we did. We visited Italy, Milan, Italy, which was so beautiful. I had the most amazing lasagna and glass of Moscato I’ve ever had in my life. We then got a chance to tour Zurich, Switzerland, which.
If anyone has the opportunity to go to Switzerland, I 100% recommend it. It is probably one of my favorite countries. I love the mountains. I love just being able to see it and the way that the smell, like I’ve seen snow before, but just to see snow in Switzerland, I think it’s a completely different experience than seeing snow in America. It’s just so beautiful.
We got to go to Austria and then on my way back home, I did make a stop in Dublin, Ireland, and I got to experience Ireland and. And in its entirety. Yet it’s just so great. And I love like the Irish breakfast that they have, like just the food, the culture and everything that I’ve been able to experience because of this journey has been so amazing and fabulous.
Leah: That’s awesome. And I love that you as a group kind of decided to take that next step and kind of further your trip.
I feel like anyone would be like, yeah, Grey’s Anatomy did not prepare me for this. What made you kind of realize that you maybe didn’t want to be a surgeon, though? You obviously loved and appreciated the experience, but what did you take away from this program?
Cienna: So what I really took away from everything was. My love for travel, you know, and it was so much, so much more than my love for travel. I have to say, it was more about finding myself, I think at my age, at 20 years old, I didn’t know who I was.
I didn’t know where I wanted to be. I had a partner at the time who was unstable. I was financially unstable, kind of everywhere. I mean. I’m a 20-year-old college student at this time of my life. So my life is a lot different now today, since graduating college and everything. But I found myself while I traveled in a way that I don’t know how to properly explain.
You know, I’m surrounded by. My friends and my family on a day to day basis and surrounded by my classmates who have formed like these intricate group studies with so we can pass our classes, but coming completely out of your comfort zone, going into an area where you know nobody, where you have nothing to fall back on.
If something goes wrong, if I would have spent all of my money. Which I did.
Um, I had no one to say, Hey, I need help. I itch. It’s just me. It was just me. And even though I was surrounded by this group, at the end of the day, they’re still strangers. There’s still people that I didn’t know, and I was able to be anyone that I wanted to be and in my regular life at this time, I was this perfect quote unquote.
Perfect. Girl, I was, you know, honor society. I had all of these accomplishments and all these awards. I was a beauty pageant holder. I was just, I live this perfect, untouched life, but stepping out of my comfort zone, my life isn’t as perfect. I’m not as perfect as. People portray me to be as my family glorifies me, to be.
Instead, I’m just me. And having that pressure taken off of me and being able to say I’m who I am at the end of the day and this is it. Realizing what I wanted out of a partner, and even though I didn’t experience that right away, coming back home to the States because I found my value. I found my love for myself and a deeper understanding for what it is that I really wanted to do with my life.
I was able to appreciate the things that I did have and also cut things off, cut people off, cut things off for me. That was. Prohibiting my growth. And so that meant, of course, coming back home and cutting off my partner and saying, you know, this is not the person that that’s for me. This is not who I want to be with and these are not the types of things that I want out of a partner.
I was able to make a list. I was able to strategize my next steps and come up with. The girl that, or I should say the woman that I am today, and it has been such a huge transformation on me and I’m just, I’m so grateful. I’m grateful for the experience to, to watch these surgeries, to learn these different things that I have been able to learn, but what I’m most grateful for.
Is knowing who I am, knowing what I will and will not put up with, and recognizing my value and myself worth as a woman and as a person.
Leah: What an amazing thing to realize at 20 years old. I love that, that’s a great thing you can just take with you. At such a young age, and then just build off of that—just miles ahead.
That’s awesome. do you still have an interest in surgery or, anything you learned from the program?
Cienna: You know, I don’t anymore. I really did. I think even when I came back home, I was still on the fence about surgery and I said, well, maybe I should pursue surgery, but maybe in a different way, like as a traveling surgeon as opposed to just to limiting myself to staying in a hospital, doing gender reassignment surgery.
Maybe I can get traveling
Even though I didn’t even finish my bachelor’s degree in, in medicine, but I had enough credits. So that I could apply for this Harvard medical school program. And so I got accepted, and it was all an online based program and it was really scary. And in the middle of that program, that’s when I realized for sure, like I think I was holding on to my experience in Germany and I didn’t fully cut that off.
I thought maybe that’s where I needed to be. I thought, you know, my family has worked so hard to come to America to build their kids’ dreams. Maybe it will be a great thing for me to become a doctor. And so that was kind of my thought process was, am I making my family proud? Am I standing up for my family culture?
Because in my culture, in our culture as a CR in a Caribbean household, you are supposed to go to school.
But the truth is all my parents all want for me. All they want for me and my brothers is to have a successful life in our own definition. But that’s not what I thought. I thought my parents want me to become this doctor. They want me to come become the surgeon, and so that’s why I kept applying myself.
Even afterwards. But that wasn’t, that wasn’t exactly what they wanted. And so just being able to learn from them and listen to them and talk to them about, you know, how scared I was to enter this field has allowed me to step into my true purpose and my true identity. And now I have a successful career and I’m, I’m so proud of it.
Leah: That’s amazing. And yet just another fantastic lesson you can just take with you from there and beyond. So what from this program, this group travel program, made you think, Yeah, I could do that?
Cienna: I have always known that my legacy is to make an impact on other people. I believe in people. I love people. I want to support people, strangers, people. I don’t know. That’s just who I am as a person. And so. Knowing that about me. I think that’s what I took away from it, and that’s where I kind of said, Oh, definitely I can do this.
Leah: How do you take that purpose and apply it to Your Life Travel Club, which is your travel group program?
Cienna: Our business is so interesting, our mission and our purpose is to inspire women to travel the world. Whether they do that with me or they do that with another group, travel organization, or they do that on their own, I want every woman to feel empowered.
You know, as women were told, you’re not supposed to travel alone by yourself. You have to travel with a man because it’s not safe because of this. Because of that, you’re going to get kidnapped.
We tell women all of these things that we would never in our lives tell a man, we’re not gonna tell a man, don’t go solo travel.
But. At the end of the day, I want women to feel empowered, and so that’s why I created your life trouble club. I sat down with this vision in mind to create a business that empowers women to travel together as a group.
We are safer in numbers. But most importantly, we are unstoppable in numbers, and when we come together as successful, amazing women, we are so powerful. We can explore the world together. We can learn new things about each other, learning things about ourselves in a day, deeper sense of reality. Then, you know, I think all of those things together is what makes my company where we are.
It’s what puts us on the map. And. My name’s so grateful to have clients that see my vision and that understood and understands they’re worth and their value as people and as women and are just allowing themselves to go out and explore.
Leah: Thank you so much for listening to Wander By Proxy. Checkout Cienna’s group travel company, Your Life Travel Club, – a link will be in the show notes. Don’t forget to subscribe to Wander By Proxy and follow @wanderbyproxypodcast on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all that jazz. Safe travels!