"IT WAS NEVER DONE BEFORE"
An interview with Kelly Lewis, founder and creator of Go Girl Guides, Women's Travel Fest and Damesly.
By: Chau Mui
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 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 or traditional travel guides.
But nothing combined both.
In 2010, Kelly started Go Girl Guides, the world’s first series of travel guidebooks for women. It included everything from dealing with catcalls to women's health to 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 if she had any advice for any burgeoning founders.
Think of a name. Buy the domain. Make the site.
"You're already halfway there once you have the idea down"
It all started in 2010, after a few years of adventures sure to make every living human being jealous. A stint 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. After exploring South America, she thought up the idea of creating a guidebook for women.
"I couldn't believe no one had done it before"
Creating a guidebook for women came out of a shock more than anything. As a travel journalist and blogger (Travelbugjuice.com), Kelly had encountered and befriended female travelers.
"I didn't know anything about publishing, I just found out and learned along the way"
She started doing research into everything from writing a guidebook to publishing to types of paper to full bleeds to distribution etc. Along with a photographer, she made her way down to Thailand and photographed and wrote.
You have to take big risks and hope it all works out
"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 with more along the way. After launching, she went on a cross country book tour, meeting with hundreds of women from ages 12-82 who all had one thing in common. Travel. In 2013, Kelly started the Women's Travel Fest where women and travel could come together to network and support each other.
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.