Kenna Williams-The Magnificently Resilient & Exquisite Travel Ninja

by Roni

It has been a very long time since I’ve featured an amazing traveler, and I’m so pleased to showcase Kenna, who is one of the nicest and down-to-earth people I have ever met. I truly hope you enjoy her feature, as she is honest in all of her answers and truly shows that even when we have extreme trauma, we can still find joy and thrive in our lives.

Cairo, Egypt

You seem to travel often, how many trips would you say you take in a year?  Now that is a great question! I travel a lot and normally go somewhere at least once or twice a month if not more. Looking at 2017, I would say I have taken perhaps 25-35 trips if not more. I have lost count!

This is in Portobelo, Panama which is a region where the Afro-Panamanians can be found

How did you get interested in travel?  I have been interested in traveling for a long time. Probably since birth! During my childhood, my parents would pile up my brothers and I into the car and we’d drive to my grandparents house in Mississippi. We’d also ride in my Uncle Joe’s van up and down the highways in the southern states (I’m originally from Memphis). In college, I would fly to New York, DC, California and other states just to get away even if just for the weekend. When I started my professional career, I had the opportunity to travel overseas for work. My first trip was to the Marshall Islands and that sparked life in me. It was always there but I had not had the chance to go overseas although I had a passport.

Muhammad Ali Mosque in the Citadel area of Cairo, Egypt.

You work full time. What do you do and how much vacation time do you get?  My official job title is Lead Test Manager. I have an Aerospace Engineering degree but I spend most of my days doing more project management type of work. Not like when I started 17 years ago as a Flight Test Engineer. Those were the good days. I have been working at the same company for 17 years so my vacation time is rather nice. I have a little over 5 weeks of vacation a year plus I am off every other Friday. That helps me with having time for vacation as I fly out a lot of Thursdays and fly back Monday morning in time for work!

Statue of Nelson Mandela and I at Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg

You never travel without travel insurance, why is that so important to you? Travel insurance is sooooo important me. So important that I actually have an annual policy so I don’t worry about it. A lot of people think travel insurance is what I call trip protection i.e. if you have to cancel, etc. I look at travel insurance for if something happens to me, can I get medical care or even flown back home if I am injured.

As you know, I was involved in a tragic accident almost 3 years ago and of all of the trips I have ever taken, that was the one trip I forgot to buy insurance. Every trip I have had since then, I have had insurance and I am a big proponent of having it. Although many credit cards will give you some coverage, it might not be enough.

How did not having travel insurance affect your ability to get help in Panama? Did you have to pay for your care out of pocket? 

Because of my injuries in Panama, I was airlifted by what I believe was the local military to a public hospital called Santo Thomas (the accident location was about 2 hours by road from Panama City). The public hospital in Panama does not have the same amenities as public hospitals in the states but they do provide care at a lower cost versus that of a private hospital. I was in a room with what seemed like 5 or 6 other people.
As far as getting care in Panama, the US Embassy was involved and they came to my hospital daily to check on me. Javier Wallace who is one of my friends who lives in Panama came to my bedside daily with food, water, prayers (I joke that the man prays like Jesus!) and literally just there to make sure I was still cognizant (I’ll admit, I was probably going insane). Javier along with several members of Nomadness made sure all of us who were hospitalized were taken care of.
Because I didn’t have travel insurance on this particular trip, I had to pay out of pocket for my medical care. Fortunately I had a credit card and I was able to charge the entire bill on my card. I give thanks to the Nomadness Travel Tribe for raising money to help all of our get back to the states and pay for our medical bills. My bill was tiny compared to others who had bills over $20K.
If you don’t mind me asking about your friends who died, was it difficult for their families to take care of getting them back to the states? Did their death change the way you travel? Meaning, do you now do anything differently than you did before that trip? 
Two of my friends died in that accident, Nneka Fritz and Nigel Christopher better known as DJ Big Dose. I had known Nneka for probably a year or so and she had attended one of my infamous taco parties. Nigel was like my brother always giving me advice about men (lol he was always right!) and we both were always trying to lose weight (the man brought his nutrabullet blender on this particular trip!).
Getting the remains back to the states from what I understand was a difficult process because point blank, it requires a lot of money plus someone has to view the bodies, sign documents and I stress… IT COSTS MONEY! Here again where I thank Nomadness for raising funds to pay to bring our angels bodies back to the states to be with their families. I believe it was $10K each to bring them back. This is something travel insurance would cover.
My friends deaths certainly changed a lot of things for me. I was already used to doing what I want that I actually INCREASED doing this. I don’t care what people think about my lifestyle, my travel habits, me in general or whatever. Once you go through one of those “I almost died” experiences, your life instantly changes. You are literally no longer the same person anymore. I even say at this point of my life that I am Panamanian and I actually go “home” to Panama yearly since this accident as I feel my life basically restarted there.

 

group of people that’s a #DubaiBlackOut crew meet up in Philadelphia. I try to meet people before my trips so they know I’m a real person not just someone taking their money.

Where did you travel in 2017? 2017 Travels…. Let me see if I can remember this and break it down by months.

January- San Diego and Philadelphia
February-Memphis, South Africa, Houston
March-Mexico, Iceland, The Netherlands
April-Costa Rica, Memphis, Anchorage
May-Memphis and Houston
June-Atlanta
July-Houston
August-Panama
September-Seattle, Canada (Toronto and Vancouver) and Nicaragua
October-Fiji, UAE (Dubai), Egypt and Houston
November-Houston
December-Mexico, Houston (twice) and Memphis

I am glad you didn’t ask me about 2016.. lol!

Earlier this year you did something epic that no one else has ever done. What did you do and how did you get it done?  Something epic.. we’ll I did cook a few months ago and that was pretty epic! Just kidding. In October, I conducted my 4th group trip to Dubai called the #DubaiBlackOut which was a massive trip with approximately 500 participants.

I have been going to Dubai every Halloween since 2014 and this trip started in 2014 with a small group of friends. It started with about 25 of us. In 2015 it grew to 80, 2016 we were at 250 and 2017 at 500 people! I am probably a bit crazy for agreeing to take this on but my passion is seeing people travel, experience new cultures and go places they probably thought they could never go.

As far as how I got it done, I really do not know! I have a particular way I approach group trips and most people either like my style or they don’t. I am always on time for everything and don’t operate anything late. I have a reputation for giving people what they paid for and somehow it seems to work. I am so thankful for people who trust me year after year to put this trip on for them to enjoy!

Iceland

Why is travel so important to you? Travel is really a part of my life. There is no way I could be happy without traveling. My grandmother told me to never let anyone push me around and to keep on traveling. Odd as it is, that is what I have done is to continue to travel no matter what. I’m a Sagittarius so we crave adventure so traveling is essentially in my blood stream!

Tulum, Mexico

You have had many traumatic experiences over the past few years, how has travel helped you deal with your grief? These past few years have been a real doozy! Starting in December 2014 with my grandmother passing away followed up with my tragic accident in Panama in January 2015 were my vehicle went over a cliff and two friends died and I was severely injured. That was followed up in February 2015 my mom announcing her cancer had returned. February 2016 my oldest brother who was like my twin passed away at 41 and the following month in March my father passed away.

Lisbon, Portugal

Looking at this, I have truly been through a lot of experiences but somehow my spirit is not broken. I feel resilient no matter what is put in front of me. My grandmother as I earlier said told me to keep traveling. Right after the deaths of my brother and father, I took off a couple of months and flew all over the world away from everyone. I use that time to write, grieve and just breathe.

I spent the bulk of my time in Asia in several countries plus some time in some African countries. That time I was gone I cried daily but reminded myself there is still joy in this world. I made proclamations and vowed to continue living no matter what happens to me or my closest loved ones.

San Blas Islands in Panama

There are people reading this who are dealing with extreme loss and they can’t even think about traveling. What would you say to them? I would encourage anyone to travel to help aid in the healing process. I am not really a crier… I am more of someone who likes to laugh, dance, be the life of the party, etc. So when I took my 2 month journey, I literally grieved every day.

I cried… I relished in my experiences and the people that I met along my journey. Although some of my destinations were prime locations (hey!! I was in Maldives, Seychelles and other exciting places), I did not care where I was. I used my time to speak to my spirit and heal the pain of the loss.

Chennai, India

One thing I did on my trip was I took my brother’s tie with me and I took pictures of it at every destination. On the beaches in Maldives, I held out my brother’s tie and it was flapping in the wind so hard that I just busted out laughing as I took it as a sign that my brother is ok.

This is the remote island of Modrinki in Fiji where Cast Away was filmed.

For your readers who have suffered relationship loss, job loss or any other loss, I would like them to know that they can regain these particular things and perhaps even better than what they have had before. Manifest it into your life and watch it flourish.

How do you manage to date when you are gone so much?  I am in a relationship with a man that lives a 3 hour plane ride away from me so it’s easy for us to date. We are both busy professionals but we make time for each other.

Francis and I on a bench outsude of Cape Town, South Africa

He lives in Texas and I am here in California so we fly back and forth between the states to see each other often. We have “clauses” where we try to be together on special days i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and birthdays and this seems to work. Some of my trips is us meeting up in different cities whether we meet up in Memphis to visit my mother or we hang out in San Diego which is only a 3 hour drive from me.

We also do international travel together from South Africa, Belize and other places. Long distance relationships probably offer more flexibility but a lot of people aren’t really interested in putting in the work that they require.

How has travel impacted your relationship? Probably no real impact to us for the reasons stated above. We’re long distance but fortunately there is whatsapp, Skype, text messaging, etc. so we are always connected. The only impact that I can think of is solo travel. I do a large amount of solo traveling and some of my destinations scare the heck out of him but he’s extremely supportive of my wanderlust!

Tulum Ruins in Mexico

What would you say to someone who wants to travel but is afraid? Ask yourself what are you afraid of? I am probably more afraid of walking out of my front door than I would be in some other country. Challenge your fear. Is it real or what someone else has told you to be afraid of. I would tell that person to forge ahead and travel. Start somewhere small if you want. Start in Canada which isn’t that far away if you are in the states. Once you taste seeing something other than your own environment, you will become unstoppable and will want to see it all!

 

What do you think of Kenna’s feature? Let us know in the comments! 

 

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5 comments

Renia December 29, 2017 - 5:35 pm

Love the article!!!! Kenna is “one of a kind” and its my privilege to know her. Love her to pieces!!! Not only and inspirational, but a REAL and true role model. My SHERO!!!!!

Reply
Jawan December 29, 2017 - 11:32 pm

Great Article. Kenna is really the “Travel Supreme”. To know her is to love her!! Can’t wait to join her on some more trips.

Reply
Sue December 30, 2017 - 3:58 am

Kenna is such an inspiration. So honored to know her!!!

Reply
Nina | Lemons and Luggage September 9, 2019 - 6:30 pm

Wow, what a woman! She has experienced so much hardship but continues to live her life to the fullest!

Reply
Roni September 11, 2019 - 7:12 pm

Totally agree. Such a remarkable attitude and a generous and kind spirit.

Reply