Meet Kelly Lewis, the founder of Go! Girl Guides and the Women's Travel Fest. You go, girl!
Founder, Go! Girl Guides and the Women's Travel Fest
Where did you grow up? What did you want to do/be when you were a kid?
I grew up in beautiful Kailua, Hawaii. Since I was a little girl, all I've ever wanted to do was write. I was writing poetry since I was 7, it was always my way of processing things. And, I knew I wanted to travel the world. Growing up on an island, I was so curious as to what else the world had to offer. My family never really traveled much, and it was something I desperately wanted. Not surprisingly, I ended up a travel writer!
Who has been the most inspiring person in your professional life?
I continued to be so in awe and inspired by women in travel. Women like Samantha Brown, who showed me the world via my TV screen when I was a little girl (she was our keynote at the first-ever Women's Travel Fest and it was such an honor to meet her!). And women like Pauline Frommer, Paula Froelich (editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Travel) and Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. The latter two will be at the 2015 Women's Travel Fest in San Francisco, which I am so looking forward to. I'm incredibly honored to know these women, and they inspire me daily.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I went to the University of Arizona as a journalism student, and got a job at the student newspaper, The Arizona Daily Wildcat. It was a huge deal for me, and I loved my time there. I started as a news and arts reporter, and eventually became the News Editor, and from there I stared entertainment writing via an internship with our local paper, the Arizona Daily Star.
From there, I slowly but surely stared travel writing, first with a blog I started on my travels. And then with Go! Girl Guides.
How did the idea for the Go! Girl Guides arise? How do they differ from traditional travel guides?
It sounds so cheesy to say, but the idea for Go! Girl Guides actually came to me in a dream. In the dream, I was looking at a guidebook for women, kicking myself saying "Why didn't you think of this? This is totally your calling!" At the time I was working as an editor for a tradeshow publication, and the next day it hit me at my desk like a ton of bricks. I feel like I actually fell over in my chair. I started researching, saw it hadn't been done, and two months later I was in Thailand working on our first guide.
Our guides are different than anything else out there. For one, they focus on women's health and safety in different countries. We talk about things like where to buy tampons, how to get emergency contraception and the legal laws for pregnancy termination in different places. We also list women's clinics throughout the country, and interview local OBGYNs. But more than that, we offer real, practical, woman-to-woman advice. If a bus station is sketchy, we tell you. If a place has no ATMs, we tell you. It's very much advice that I would want my sister or best friend to know before traveling some place. We also offer free or low-cost volunteer information in each destination, as our guides are focused on budget travel: getting the best bang for your buck, while still remaining safe.
Why is it important that young women travel?
Traveling just helps you to grow in so many ways. You learn more about yourself, more about the world around you, more about other people. We here at Go! Girl Guides firmly believe that the world is mostly safe and that people are mostly good, and every time I travel, my faith in humanity is restored. Plus, it's empowering. After you've pushed yourself, and managed conquer obstacles while traveling, everything else in life seems easier.
All I want in life is to help other women travel the world. If I can inspire one person to get out there, then I've done my job.
What has travel taught you about work?
New careers can come when you least expect them! I thank travel for everything. It became my passion, which became my work. And there's nothing better!
Where have you encountered the best working culture around the world, and what did you like about it?
I love the working culture in Asia, because there more than anywhere, you see women at the helm. Women running restaurants, running small businesses, running tour companies. It's refreshing!
Please explain the concept behind the Women's Travel Fest... How did you have the idea, and how did you pull it off?
So, I am currently based in New York City, and when I moved here from Tucson, I did a big cross-country book tour where I was talking to women about traveling and how empowering it is. Those talks energized me-- I was speaking to grandmothers and their granddaughters, teachers, writers, all women interested in traveling. I knew then that I wanted to do this on a bigger level. When I arrived in NYC, I met some incredible women, including my business partner Mickela Mallozzi of Bare Feet, and everything just started. It's a challenge doing large-scale events like this (last year's event sold out to over 350 women), but I'm so blessed to be able to do it.
The event is unlike anything else out there. It's really a celebration of travel. It's a consumer event, so we talk about shedding fears, getting out there, experiencing the world, and why it's so important. Our mission is to inspire, empower and help women make newfound travel connections.
I'm beyond excited for the 2015 event in San Francisco-- one of my favorite cities!
What are the greatest challenges you've faced in your career thus far?
Like many small business owners, I stress constantly about finances, and about expanding my bottom line. I'm used to working hard-- the first two years that Go! Girl Guides started I was financing it through bartending-- and I constantly have to remind myself to take time off to care for my soul, and not feel guilty about that. It's a struggle! My business is my baby, and I feel like when I'm not feeding it, it's not growing.
Do you still have time to travel? If so, how?!
Yes! It's a priority of mine. How do I have the time? I don't even know! But somehow I make it work. These days my travels are more work than anything else, but I still try to squeeze a little fun out of it!
Where are you off to next?
I've just returned from DC, where I was honored to be included as one of the '100 Most Influential People in Travel' for the White House Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. It was incredible! I'm going to be staying stateside until the Women's Travel Fest (Feb. 27-March 1) and then I've got plans to head to Istanbul!
If you could live any where in the world, where would you choose?
Belize. I love Central/ South American culture, and I really miss being near the ocean!
What advice would you give to girls hoping to publish their own books?
Guuuurl, get ready. Publishing is a tough industry to navigate, because there are so many things to know. Everything from deciding what paper stock to use to finding a distributor and getting your books into bookstores. If you're interested in learning more about publishing, I would recommend attending conferences and trade shows, and seeking out mentors to help you navigate the field. I sort of did it all backwards at first!
What advice would you give to girls hoping to host their own events?
Do it. Just do it, and figure out the details later. Things fall into place when you need them to, and if you're passionate about what you're doing, it will work out in the end. Create a website, a basic schedule, and fill in the details as you go.
What's the best piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?!
To get the life you want, sometimes you've got to abandon the life you have. I hung onto my day job until the last possible minute. And that afforded me more financial stability, but it hindered how much I could contribute to my business. I wish someone had told me that it's okay to throw it all into the fire, and fight for the life you really want.
Get it girl!