I sat down to lunch today with the lovely Founder and CEO of Go Girl Travel Network, Beth Santos. I was so excited to meet Beth for the first time a few weeks ago because I had recently signed up for the Women In Travel Summit (WITS) that is being hosted by the Go Girl Travel Network team this March in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 27-29. Today, Beth and I talked shop about the amazing work that her network is doing around the world, and she even gave me some insights about what to expect at WITS this year! I even tried to get some secrets out of her for surprises they have in store... **For more information on Go Girl Travel Network, click here. To sign up for the Women In Travel Summit, click here.
What was your inspiration for starting the Go Girl Travel Network?
“I started Go Girl as a blog when I was living in São Tomé and Príncipe. It is located in a very small country off west coast of Africa. I was volunteering at a school there and was really traveling to see the place. The country is really unique because there is basically no tourism. Really... There is like 1 hotel on the entire island. No English is spoken there either. So when you go, you really travel as a “local” because there is no opportunity to be a tourist.
When I was there, I learned how to ride a motorcycle—like an actual motorcycle—and got licensed to do so. I even got stopped one time and had to show my license for being able to ride one! I started writing about experiences like these because it was so unique. I was a foreigner living as a local and because of that I was subject to expectations living as a woman there, which was very different from where I grew up.
At the time, you would go on Google and search “women in travel.” What you would find were articles like, “What kind of bikini or heels should I have on this trip?” But there are so many other complex issues that women face! Some examples are safety, gender norms and expectations, biology questions, getting around, religion and cultural understanding. I believe that women talk with women and I wanted a place where women could connect with other women on these issues.
While Go Girl did start as a blog, we have now expanded into doing events (we had the first Women In Travel Summit last year), we have a forum where women can connect and trust other women and talk with others who understand, and we stay connected globally through social media.”
Tell me about the WITS and how it came to be.
“WITS is something that we launched last year. We knew we wanted to do some sort of event to bring the women together. The goal is always to have a sense of community. We do weekly Twitter chats every Monday (12PM CST--#girlstravel to join) where women can discuss and talk about travel stuff. For the Twitter chats, we ask 6 questions about a topic and everyone uses the hash tag #girlstravel at same time. We cover topics like staying healthy while traveling and women can ask and get advice. You basically create a 90s style chat room of people from all over the world participating.
In 2012, we started doing events in different cities where women could meet other women. These were women who maybe weren’t traveling at the time, but wanted to eventually and they could learn and grow from each other. The summit itself was the opportunity to bring our growing community together: travel bloggers and entrepreneurs alike. It is a really interesting community. We currently have 11 chapters around the world in 4 countries.
How do you see WITS forming this year?
What we see now from established bloggers is this idea of being a traveler and digital nomad at the same time, which is so important. They rely on technology to use and do everything—for jobs or for personal use. It is a trend that all women in our network see. We wanted to inspire and empower the women in our network to have access to knowledge that would be useful to them. We wanted to provide hands on expertise in areas like social media, programming, Wordpress, and more.
We also love the intimate feel of the summit and like to make sure we are keeping true to that. One way we determine if we are successful is by seeing how many people love to come back and are inspired to do these events again and share with their personal networks. You could just feel the energy last year and see that they were learning and also feeling connected to the other attendees. It is this sense of sisterhood and it feels so connected to one another. We are creating a space where women are able to grow in their space and regularly feel like they meet people just like them. We want to make it as international as possible and not just the direct immediate area that the event is being held. This is why we are picking a different city every year for the summit.”
What is different about this year’s WITS compared to last year’s?
“The biggest thing is that this year we are doing an exciting destination contest to determine the next location of WITS 2016! We will have tourist boards present at the summit and they will all compete to be the host of WITS next year. THIS WEDNESDAY (1/21/2015), we will be announcing the finalists who will be at WITS to compete for the spot in 2016. On Sunday of the event, all of the attendees will be able to vote for where they want the conference to be.
We will be announcing the finalists on the WITS website this week on Wednesday, and it will also be in the newsletter to all of our subscribers. I can’t say where the potential destinations are...but I can give you a hint that all of the finalists are places that are warm!
Some other new things... In our efforts to become more international, we have an ambassador program where we have people outside of the US who can apply and become an ambassador for their country and Go Girl. They get people in their countries to sign up for the network and help build the international presence. At the first summit, there was attendee representation from 25 US states and 8 countries. We weren’t expecting people from outside of the US to come, and so we noticed there is a huge desire for this and people travel from far away to come. If you have a great location, people will spend a year to get people coming and our ambassadors are working hard for that.”
Are there any other new things coming for this year’s WITS?
“We are adding wine to the networking session this year! We also have a Facebook group for attendees to WITS and there are a lot of people that are local to their city that want to show it off. Right now, we are working towards having locally organized tours on Thursday before or Monday after the conference that people can do. We are thinking of adding some cool attendee-led tours. For instance, “Julia’s Favorite Chocolate Shops in Boston,” or, “Laurie’s Favorite Historic Sites.” We want to foster that sense of community again, so it is something we are currently working on.” **If any one is interested in hosting or putting together a local tour during WITS in March, you can reach them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Why should someone join Go Girl Travel Network?
“Overall, I think we are an inspired group of women who love travel. I asked some of our top readers for words to describe our network. Some words they used were empowering, inspiring, connected, sisterhood, travel, and more. It was interesting to see people still value a sense of community—and we really are. The Go Girl Travel Network is an opportunity for women to speak completely candidly with other women, and that goes into the summit itself. We want to continue feeling that wherever we go around the world. Our network can feel like they learned a lot and also feel like they met friends they never knew they had.”
*Photo taken via Beth Santos