An interview with... Founders of We Are Travel Girls, Vanessa Rivers & Becky Van Dijk
We love that We Are Travel Girls is created by women, for women, and especially that you two turned a shared passion into an opportunity to create something so fantastic together! Do you think joining forces has played to your advantage?
Becky: Absolutely! Not only because we both bring different skills and ideas to the business, but I think girls in our community like that there are two of us behind WATG, and not just one girl. We constantly try to involve these women in our projects, events and trips. For example, Vanessa recently put together a WATG Promo Video for our YouTube channel featuring lots of women from the community. She is much better than I am at editing videos, so having two of us definitely helps us to cover every channel!
Vanessa: I think Becky and I joining forces has definitely contributed to the success of WATG. We both have different skill sets that compliment each other, and we are both extremely hard workers. It’s a huge asset to have someone as passionate and dedicated as you are to bounce ideas off and make business decisions with. I’m married, but I joke around that Becky is my boyfriend because we spend at least half of each day texting and emailing each other! Haha
Dr.Lipp will be my new airplane essential! I love the consistency - it has a long wear without being greasy. I think it is safe to say that I am now addicted to Dr Lipp!
What was it that gave you both the confidence to follow your genuine interests, rather than stick to a safer, more “traditional” career path?
B: I fell into a traditional career path straight out of university, and worked as a private client advisor for a large wealth management firm for over 10 years. In all honesty I am not sure I would have left the safety of my career, especially since I had just been promoted to a rank that only a few women in my business had reached and had a great book of clients, but I met someone from California and he and I decided spur of the moment to quit our jobs to travel to South America!
During my time travelling I desperately tried to come up with a clever business idea to no avail. In the end it was the spur of the moment setting up of the Instagram account @WeAreTravelGirls that led me to create the career in travel I had always dreamed of. What I learned from this is that business ideas don’t just drop out of the sky. Sometimes the best ideas start as a hobby and then turn into your career.
V: I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was little I would make puff paint t-shirts and sell them at school during recess, and I raised guinea pigs to sell to the pet stores! In college I started my own company giving private surf lessons, and after graduation I launched my eco-friendly swimwear line SUMMERLOVE SWIMWEAR. I’ve also always loved traveling so I originally started my travel blog GlitterAndMud.com just to document my travels as a side hobby. But of course I soon had to figure out how to turn it into a business. I had several desk jobs after college, but 9-5 just never suited me. I think being an entrepreneur was in my blood from the start, but my parents also encouraged me to believe in myself and take chances, so I think this is what gave me the confidence to follow my dreams!
Drawing from your own experiences, what key advice would you offer someone else considering a similar career move?
B: I love to see people being entrepreneurs and going out and following their dreams. However, I feel very strongly about encouraging people to spend some time in a corporate role before going alone. Everyone wants to be a digital nomad these days, but there is a lot of merit in working in a structured environment. You will learn a huge amount about how to deal with clients, work in teams, work professionally, present yourself and your ideas and so much more. You will also always have a good CV and invaluable relationships that you can lean on in the future. Working as an entrepreneur is more than a 9-5; its 7 days a week, 24 hours a day – you don’t get to leave work in the office, so I encourage people to really consider if its right for them!
V: This is a tough industry. It can sometimes take years of hard work with no pay before you start making money. You have to be extremely passionate, and love what you do. You also have to work very hard every single day… and never give up!
As much as we’d love to pack up & go whenever we like, sometimes it’s just not possible. What do you do when wanderlust strikes but you need to stay put?
B: Since I currently live in Bali, I am fortunate that in some ways that is like living on vacation! Since I work from home every day at our villa, I am able to sit and watch the nature in my garden, so my wanderlust is fulfilled right there!
V: I am actually dealing with this right now because I am 8 months pregnant with my first child and can no longer fly! When I am longing for a trip but can’t get away I take some time to reminisce on past trips I have taken. I spent last weekend putting together a travel video with footage from some of my favourite trips over the last few years and this put a huge smile on my face, and made me focus on how lucky I am to have been able to travel to all the amazing places I have been, instead of focusing on the fact that I am currently “stuck” in London. I think actively practising gratitude helps with everything in life.
Aside from the places you’ve lived, where in the world do you feel most attached or connected to?
B: New Zealand. It’s the one place where the minute I arrived I truly felt at home, and have always felt I could live there. I haven’t been back for 13 years, so I need to go again soon!
V: I am in love with Italy and would love to live there someday. My family is Italian on my father’s side, (my grandma is from Bari and my grandpa is from Palermo), but I am obsessed with the Amalfi Coast. I think Positano is the most magical town I have ever been to in my life!
Blogging & social media have created an amazing space for women to inspire and empower each other. Who inspires you?
B: I have been really inspired by our We Are Travel Girls interns. Our first intern was Shannon Boselli – we met when she attended our first Bali meet-up. She followed up sending me an email with her CV, why she loved WATG and what she thought she could bring us by being an intern (we weren’t even looking for one at the time!). I was incredibly impressed that she had the initiative to do this. Since the day she came on board she has continued to impress me and give me renewed faith in her generation (I am much older!) with her commitment, her passion for WATG, her ideas and her drive.
V: I’m most inspired by my travel blogger friends @Wildluxe_Misha, @TheBlondeAbroad and of course @BeckyvanDijk. I love watching their travels, and reading their inspirational stories. Misha recently decided to donate 100% of the profits from her travel blog WildLuxe.com to the Tongabezi Orphanage in Zambia. I feel so lucky to personally know amazing women like this, who are passionate and caring, and using their skills to inspire and help others!
Generally speaking, do you think social media has impacted our relationship with others – and ourselves – for better or worse?
B: I find social media a really tough place, I am honestly very surprised that I ended up building a business with social media at the core. Before I started We Are Travel Girls I had never even done a status update on Facebook! I was an extremely private person and very rarely shared any photos or information on social media. So I do find it difficult, as it has taken me completely out of my comfort zone, but at the same time it has helped me to grow my confidence and have a thicker skin. At first I was absolutely devastated and really upset if anyone said anything negative to me on social media, but now I realise that person is just hiding behind a screen, judging an image they see and doesn’t know me. There are good & bad aspects, and if this were the only question in the interview I would go on for a lot longer!
V: I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It gives us the ability to connect and inspire one another, but it also takes away from people having quality, in-person interactions. How many times do you go out to eat and see two people sitting across from each other with their heads down starring at their phones? Becky and I just launched We Are Travel Girls Trips and are kicking off with two retreats in Bali this October/November. We are planning to have a “digital detox” element to the retreat with designated times people are not allowed to be on social media or using their phones, or any technology. We hope this will help people create real, lasting connections.
We love that you’re creating a real community by holding events and launching ‘Travel With Us!’ to physically share the experience, as well as sharing your adventures online. What is it about the idea of bringing people together that excites you the most?
B: Seeing the girls making connections at our events and then meeting up or even travelling together after! We have seen real friendships be created at our events and some of the girls meet up regularly in their cities, and we know of a few girls that have met up for the day when their paths crossed in other countries! Imagine if we can have a network of We Are Travel Girls meeting one another all over the world!
Did you set off with the intention of creating a community, or did that aspect naturally develop over time?
B: No, not really. When I started the Instagram and Vanessa and I subsequently started the website to share women’s travel stories, we were initially planning for it to be a place where we would be promoting other bloggers and women around the world. When we held our first meet-up in London we asked the girls we invited what they wanted from We Are Travel Girls, and the response we heard the most was that they wanted the community aspect and to meet other women offline.
In any business, you should always ask your audience what they want; even if you start out with a different direction its better to evolve and create something people are telling you they want, rather than what you think they need. So we have focused more and more on meet-ups and now our trips, and I think our commitment to the community aspect is what is setting us apart.
What vision do you have for the We Are Travel Girls events?
B: I would love to have ambassadors all over the world hosting meet-ups and events, and showing girls their city. Our Senior Contributor Charlotte Louise recently hosted a Paris brunch and then took the girls on a walking tour showing them her favourite hidden spots. I’d also like to host events with speakers. Inspirational women around the world sharing their travel stories and entrepreneur journeys.
V: I’m really excited for all of our We Are Travel Girls Trips! I don’t think there are enough opportunities for women to do adventures around the world together.
Do you have any rituals or routines for long-haul flights?
V: I try to read as much as I can, and watch movies. I am always working on my computer and never leave myself time to read or watch TV. So this is what I look forward to on long flights, and doing both makes the flight go by super fast for me!
How can you see Dr.Lipp fitting into your travel routine?
B: Dr.Lipp will be my new airplane essential! I always take moisturisers on the plane, and a huge bottle of water as my skin dries so much on long haul flights. My biggest tip for feeling refreshed on arrival is to wash your face regularly through the flight and reapply moisturisers on your face, lips and arms.
V: As I mentioned I’m pregnant, so I was stoked to get to try Dr.Lipp as right now, more than ever, I need to keep my skin moisturised. I’ve been using it as lip balm & nipple balm, and applying it to my elbows, which always seem to be dry, no matter what I do. I love the consistency – it has a long wear without being greasy! I think it’s safe to say that I am now addicted to Dr.Lipp!
Being so involved in social media now, do you find yourselves self-editing more when it comes to what you show of your lives to other people?
V: Yes! I show a lot less of my personal life than I use to. My social media accounts are now all centered around my travel stories and We Are Travel Girls.
B: Absolutely! I started my Instagram showing lots of pictures of my travels, and over time Instagram has evolved to become more about the brand you are looking to present. I hate being in front of the camera (it’s the one time my boyfriend and I argue, he hates taking pictures and I hate being in them!), but it became evident quite quickly that people now want to see you in the picture, and to see a curated and beautiful version of someone’s life. It’s a hard balance to strike, how much to show ‘real-life’ versus Instagram life, especially if you are positioning yourself as a digital influencer and want to work with brands. But I do hope that people realise that they should not compare themselves or their lives to these images; if I were to post my real life on social media, it would be quite boring with me sitting at my computer most of the day!
What has been your most surreal travel experience to date?
Becky: Swimming with whale sharks off the island of Hotbox in Mexico. This is one of the best experiences of my life, and I am so happy to have done it there, where it’s a protected area to snorkel with them.
V: The most surreal travel experience I have had thus far is being invited to stay at Nihiwatu on Sumba Island for 3 nights. I have been an avid surfer since I was 15, so being invited to write about the #1 luxury surf hotel in the world, and getting to surf their private break with only two other people out, was like dying and going to heaven for me!
Spending so much of your time working and on the go, how do you switch off and wind down?
V: I like to read, surf (when I am near the beach), watch movies with my hubby, and have a good glass of wine (or 3!).
What are your best tips for feeling grounded and balanced whilst travelling?
V: Keeping a journal always helps me keep things in perspective, and remember what is important.
Sometimes one of the best parts of traveling is the feeling of finally coming home at the end. Is there anything else that your experiences have given you a renewed appreciation of?
B: Just how utterly fortunate we are to be in the position to travel and see the world with our own eyes, and not just in a book or on a screen. So many people are not in the position to do this for many reasons. It teaches you to be grateful for everything you have that many others don’t.
V: I always appreciate my own bed, cooking meals at home and spending time with family. Travel makes you realise the simple things in life are most important.
If you could make one major move with We Are Travel Girls this year and have it guaranteed to pay off, what would it be?
V: We are taking a big leap of faith and hosting our first We Are Travel Girls Retreats in Bali this fall. We had to book the villa in advance, so this is a major move that we are really hoping will pay off. So far we have a lot of interest, but the true testament of success will not be if we can sell the retreats out. If the women who join us leave Bali inspired and exited, with amazing memories and new friends, and want to join us again on another WATG Trip then we will consider the retreats a huge success!
Check out WeAreTravelGirls.com and the official instagram @WeAreTravelGirls to stay up to date & find out more about events, and follow @BeckyVanDijk & @VanessaRivers to keep up with the girls’ personal adventures.