"I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT WAS NEVER DONE BEFORE"
An interview with Kelly Lewis, founder and creator of Go Girl Guides, Women's Travel Fest and Damesly.
with audio by Ense
Kelly Lewis is the seriously tatted, serial entrepreneur who's making it easier for women to travel.
It's hard to remember a time when women, clad in billowing, yellow and red dresses against a scenic backdrop like an empty Taj Mahal at sunrise didn't make up the bulk of our Instagram feeds. Back before solo female travel was a thing, there were the few burgeoning travel blogs catered to women and traditional travel guides.
But nothing combined both.
In 2010, Kelly started Go Girl Guides, a published guidebook that detailed travel specifically for women. It included everything from dealing with catcalls to women's health and safety. Since then, she's expanded her travel empire into an all female travel conference in it's fifth year called the Women's Travel Festival, and a boutique tour operator for female professionals called, Damesly.
We talked to Kelly about all the highs, and lows of becoming an entrepreneur and what it means to truly empower women in travel.
"The truth is, you really have to take big risks and hope it all works out"
It all started in 2010, after a period of non stop adventures that made "Eat Love Pray" look square by comparison. After a brief stint living in New Zealand working on Lord of the Ring tours, then sailing across 11 countries, traveling across South America and leaving a relationship behind in Tucson, Arizona, Kelly was simply ready for a change.
Creating a guidebook for women came out of a shock more than anything. "I couldn't believe no one had done it before". So she started doing research into everything from writing a guidebook to publishing to types of paper to full bleeds to distribution etc. "I didn't know anything, I just found out and learned along the way." Along with a photographer, she made her way down to Thailand and photographed and wrote along the way.
Think of a name. Buy the domain. Make the site.
"I fully funded Go Girl Guides with my own money from bartending"
Up until the early 2000's there was virtually no guide or content catered for women, specifically. There were blogs, but they weren't as fastidious or encompassing as they are today. Besides a few pages in the traditional guidebooks, women were left to word of mouth, from other travelers, forums or just the ol' 'just go and figure it out along the way" school of thought.
Kelly took the plunge and invested $60,000 of her own money to fund the publishing of Go Girl Guides. The guidebooks caught on, and now there are 5 guidebooks (Argentina, Mexico, London, NYC, Thailand and a book of essentials for female travelers) in the collection with more along the way. After launching, she went on a cross country book tour, meeting with hundreds of women. The idea then came for a conference where women and travel could come together.
Have a vague idea of what the end product should be and work backwards
"If I hadn't taken a gamble on Go Girl Guides, I never would have started Women's Travel Fest"
The very first Women's Travel Fest took place 5 years ago, all stemming from a series of gambles. Now, with speakers like Samantha Brown, Gloria Atanmo and Pauline Frommer, the festival has brought together and inspired thousands of women across the country. You can join Kelly and hundreds of other inspiring women at the Women's Travel Festival, March 9-11th at the Angel Orensanz Foundation 172 Norfolk Street New York, NY. You can get your tickets HERE.