Read the interview
Jess Ainlay: Jackie, thanks so much for letting me sit down and talk to you about risk, travel and entrepreneurship! You fit so well right in that space. If we start at the beginning, did you grow up in a home that was welcoming to risk? Were your parents entrepreneurs?
Jacqueline Boone: It was a mix, really. Both sides of my family have entrepreneurs in them, but it was not encouraged. Both my grandfathers grew up on rural farms in Kentucky, and yet they were both the only ones to leave the farm. One actually went into the navy at 17 and was in China and Japan in the ‘30s because he became a pilot. I never met him, but I would have loved to talk to him, since I lived in China for three years. Then my parents were the only ones in their families to leave Louisville, Kentucky. And then there’s me. I went to China. It’s a joke that my kids will announce they’re moving to another planet.
Jess Ainlay: China is a much bigger leap than leaving Kentucky. How did you make that decision?
Jacqueline Boone: I saw at a young age that a clear path was laid out for me. I was born and raised in Atlanta, went to catholic high school, got good grades, did five internships in college. I didn’t just want to do a crazy semester abroad and then stay in Atlanta or move to New York, work up a ladder, make lots of money, have 2.5 children and live near my parents. I’ve always known that path was not for me. I’ve always been deeply curious about the world. I love that Albert Einstein quote, “My only talent is that I'm insatiably curious.”
Jess Ainlay: Curiosity is what created the desire to see the world?
Jacqueline Boone: Yes, as a writer, you always have that excitement about people. There's always a story, everything can become a character, something to write about. I saw A River Runs Through It, my all time favorite movie…
Jess Ainlay: I love that movie.
Jacqueline Boone: That was the impetus to work on a ranch when I moved back from China to Montana. I literally worked on the ranch outside of Missoula on the Blackfoot River, with one of the women who worked on the ranch with Norman Maclean. And I loved it, because I knew from a young age I wanted to live a different life.
Jess Ainlay: Despite the fact that from the outside, people might wonder how you go from life in China to life in Montana based on A River Runs Through It.
Jacqueline Boone: It is a question of how you live the very best life possible while following your mission, your purpose and doing good in the world and giving back and contributing in whatever way you can and whatever way you're here to. Friends and family don’t mean to dash your dream, they might think they are helping, but if you know your mission, they can’t change you. A dream is like a newborn baby. It’s beautiful, magnificent, innocent and even though you want to share it with the world, you can’t. You’re not going to bring a newborn baby into the bright sunlight a hat, without some sunscreen. Don’t let your crazy uncle hold the newborn baby.
In other words, create and cultivate a supportive community and let them see your dreams first.
Jess Ainlay: What came first for you: travel or entrepreneurship?
Jacqueline Boone: I have always taken risks. When I was young I wanted to change schools and go to one of the top schools in Atlanta. It was ambitious, but they supported me. I played sports and worked super hard to skip JV and make it right to the varsity team.
So very young, I knew that you go for a dream, and even if you don’t get what you want, you change your perspective, realign yourself with what you want and achieve your dream no matter what.
I always felt different. I was the tallest, bad really curly hair, acne, and hit puberty pretty young. For a while I didn’t get invited to social events. I went to camp, decided to be totally myself and made a bunch of friends there. This experience really helped me. A girl named Ashley Wells who I will always have a special place in my heart for, put a surprise going away party for me at camp, with everyone saying how much they would miss me. No one had ever done anything like that for me. Not even a mixed tape. I knew everything would be okay.
When I got to freshman year back at school, my best friend and I created an open table policy at lunch where anyone who didn’t have a group could sit with us.
Jess Ainlay: So getting away, out of your normal element, really affected you?
Jacqueline Boone: This was a precursor to travel for me. Being on the outskirts, not fitting in taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It taught me to understand different ways of doing things, which helped so much moving to rural China and not speaking Mandarin and having to connect with 21 classes with 60 kids each that I needed to connect with. Words matter. Not having them is hard.
Jess Ainlay: How long did you live in China?
Jacqueline Boone: Three years.
Jess Ainlay: Why did you go?
Jacqueline Boone: I interned at InStyle magazine the summer before graduating from Boston University, so I was considering a move to New York. But inside I felt like I wanted to do something that mattered. I ended up doing WorldTeach, a Harvard-affiliated nonprofit, where you teach for a year in a developing area.
I taught for a year with WorldTeach, and I didn’t want to be someone who went abroad for a year, lives in one place, comes back and says, “Oh, I know China.” So I went to Hangzhou and Xuzhou, which is the gorgeous former capital of China. It's very bike friendly. It has willows, everything you see in Chinese paintings is in this city. I went there for National Day with a friend, and I didn’t want to go because I was obsessed with going to Shanghai.
And I just remember entering the city and thinking, “Oh, I'm living here. I don’t know how, but I'm going to make it happen.”
I met a guy on a 16-hour train who connected me to the university there, and I moved to Hangzhou.
Jess Ainlay: You have to trust your gut, right?
Jacqueline Boone: Trust, patience and faith are an integral part of a traveling entrepreneur’s life because you already have to trust the fact that you’re not following the traditional path. So my decision to go to China was a heart-based, illogical decision. I’m writing a book now called ‘Heart Language’ that is all about following your heart and tapping into the universal language out there that every traveler knows exists.
Travel more than anything has given me faith and hope for humanity because you realize very quickly as you travel that people aren’t that different.