Lulu Escapes meets We Are Travel Girls' founders: Becky & Vanessa
I'm delighted to have the opportunity to introduce you to Becky van Dijk and Vanessa Rivers, the founders of the popular female travel site We Are Travel Girls. Born in England, Becky had a successful career in finance, but soon her feet were restless. Becky has explored over 50 countries and is currently living in Bali. Vanessa is a California surfer girl, who has visited over 35 countries and currently lives in London.
This interview will give you a real insight into all the hard work and effort Becky and Vanessa have put into We Are Travel Girls whilst at the same time managing their own travel blogs. It will give you a chance to know more behind each of their profiles and you'll also get to find out first-hand about their future projects which I'm sure you'll want to be a part of.
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How did the idea of We Are Travel Girls, aka WATG, come about?
Becky: Last year Vanessa and I met on a swimwear design course and one piece of advice she gave me (since she already had her own line) was that around a ⅓ or traffic to her site came from her travel blog GlitterandMud.com and if I wanted to launch a bikini line I should think about starting one. So I set about working on a website and an Instagram. I was working really hard on the IG account, trying to look for ways to stand out or get my pictures reposted amongst a sea of other travel bloggers, when it struck me, if I was trying to gain popularity so were many other girls and why not start my own page to feature travel girls pictures instead.
There wasn’t too much of a plan at this point, except to evolve it into a community where I could meet other like-minded women travellers and eventually share their writing as well as their images. The page grew in popularity quite quickly largely I think due to the amount of time spent on it.
The next step was to create a website to showcase more than just these women's pictures. At this point Vanessa joined me to co-found the company and create the site. We wanted the site to feature some of the best travel bloggers and photographers from around the world, as well as everyday travellers who have great travel tips, but don’t have their own blog. We launched the site in June 2016, and have already published travel stories from over 50 women, with many girls (like yourself Lulu Escapes) contributing more than one story!
Publishing 5 days a week, the WATG site is a now a place where you can find great travel inspiration, as well as finding new travel women's blogs to follow.
Was it a struggle to start and build WATG taking into account other notable female travel communities?
Becky: Actually, no. With 500 million active Instagram users a month there are plenty of followers to go around! When I started I wasn’t really aware of the other female travel accounts, just the big accounts like Globe Wanderer, etc. Once I started the account, I quickly became aware of all the other great women feature accounts because so many girls were tagging all these accounts along with ours.
Unfortunately, very early on, I received some unexpected negativity about starting our page. I believe Instagram (and other social media) should be a platform to support and inspire one another, so to counter that experience I decided to reach out to all the female feature accounts I knew about at the time creating a group to introduce myself, offer support and a place where we could all communicate and potentially collaborate. A few of us including Girls Love Travel, Globelle Travels, Sidewalker Daily, The Travel Women, Ladies Gone Global chat regularly and we also invited Deb, the founder of Globelle Travels, to our launch event in London!
Whilst the main part of each of these female communities is to feature beautiful shots of women abroad, each account has a different angle or goal for their business. For us, we're also showcasing women’s blogs, hosting travel girls getaways and expanding into other areas. So rather than a competition we see it as an opportunity to support one another’s endeavours, which is really what any female community should be about at the core, so we try to weave this through everything that we do.
How do you share all the work between you?
Becky: Luckily we found that we both have the same work ethic. I.e. we get up at dawn, open the laptop and pretty much sit there until bedtime (although Vanessa is better than I am at taking a break to do some exercise!). But since we live in separate countries, Vanessa in London and me in Bali, we do actually have a very clear understanding of what each other is working on. We both take this company seriously and want it to succeed, so we have a business plan with our goals, growth expectations and responsibilities which we measure ourselves against and are accountable to. On a day to day basis we basically spend half the day messaging with one another, going on FaceTime and we have a shared document which details everything we are working on including our editing and publishing schedule for the site.
What’s the secret for you to reach and maintain a qualitative audience through WATG?
We think the idea of We Are Travel Girls being a community and something that girls can be part of and get involved in helps us reach a qualitative audience. We feel like a large proportion of our readership is the girls that also want to join meet-ups, write for us and be featured on our accounts. WATG is written by women for women, so we hope the stories we publish speak to our audience. The next step will be to build WATG popularity outside of this group.
Is the success of WATG more than you expected?
Becky: It’s difficult to answer because how do we define success? Most would measure this in a quantitative way, i.e. how much money have we made, and, to be truthful, to date we've stayed true to our long term goals and have not randomly accepted sponsored posts to make short term profit. So the next measure would be how many followers we have, or likes and engagement. Again, I don’t think this necessarily demonstrates success. To me my most excited moments have been when I see two girls in our Facebook group share a photo and say they met through WATG, or when our interns approached us and really wanted to work for We Are Travel Girls.
Is the number of followers a successful metric for you? Are you hoping to achieve the 1 million followers target soon?
Becky: I'm going to immediately contradict myself here and say yes! Ha. I worked in finance for several years and was measured on a performance basis daily, plus I started in an analyst role so I am definitely numbers based. I wouldn’t say our numbers are the only definition of success, as on some platforms it’s quality over quantity, but at the same time Vanessa and I do track our growth across every possible metric and checking our web statistics is one of my favourite activities! And yes, I think 1 million followers would be pretty awesome!
What are the main steps you took to reach where you are today?
Becky: Hard work and a little courage. With reference to We Are Travel Girls these are the two main things that have got us to where we are today. For me resigning from my job, leaving London and a steady paycheck to move overseas and work on an idea that wasn’t yielding us anything financially needed some courage (and still does honestly!) but in some ways also seemed like quite an easy step for me. I knew if we wanted to move this forward I needed to put every ounce of energy and time into it so I took the risk.
The second thing, is what everyone tells you with any start-up business. Hard work. That’s it. You need to be willing to invest time (and money) into something if you want it to succeed. And I honestly pour every minute of my time into building this community and platform.
Vanessa: I had been blogging for over four years when Becky and I decided to launch WeAreTravelGirls.com. It took me years of trial and error to get to a level where I felt confident in my blogging ability, and my ability to be able to curate and edit a successful travel blog comprised of other writer's work. It also took meeting the right person to partner with. Running a site like We Are Travel Girls is a huge amount of work, but Becky and I work very well together. And we both work very hard every single day building this company, so that's why I think we have a shot at making We Are Travel Girls one of the most popular female travel sites in the world, someday. We have a long way to go to get there, but this is certainly one of the goals.
You also have to be willing to put work over fun most of the time! I just spent two weeks with Becky in Bali and honestly we spent most days at her villa working away on our computers. But this is what we love. And that’s an important step - maybe the most important step. You have to find something that you're madly passionate about, that you wake up thinking about, and go to bed dreaming about, otherwise you'll get burnt out.
What do you enjoy the most? What’s the hardest aspect?
Becky: I’ll start with the negative and lead to the positive! The hardest thing for me is people’s expectations. We're a site promoting women and everything we do day in and day out is to promote other bloggers and not ourselves, so it can be quite tough when people make demands on me. Unfortunately, as much as we would love to, we can’t feature everyone on the blog.
What I enjoy is our vision for what We Are Travel Girls can become. It's super hard work, but I think we can create something that truly inspires and connects women around the world on and offline. This may be controversial, but I have never been a feminist, honestly I quite like a door being opened for me, but I do understand that many women feel that they're not treated equally to men, whether that’s in life or work, and in many countries they certainly aren't. We have started this as a site for female travellers, but we could make it so much more to help inspire women to take their lives into their own hands and build a company they want to work on. Our new Ladies We Love interview series kicks this off.
Vanessa: I've had a hard time spending hours editing people’s work. We get so many submissions that have great potential to be good posts but the amount of editing time required to publish them is not sustainable. We also try to do as little editing a possible to keep the stories on our site authentic and original, but it’s hard when you see a post that just needs some work to get published, but you have to pass on it because it's just too much to change and too time consuming. I just wish there were more hours in the day because I would love to help everyone who submits a post to us to get published, but there just is not enough time.
I also think keeping up on all the social networking is hard work! Becky and I both have our own personal social networks for our personal travel blogs, BeckyvanDijk.com and GlitterandMud.com, in addition to my own swimwear line of eco bikinis SUMMERLOVE SWIM, and then we also have all of the We Are Travel Girls social networks. It’s hard to find enough time to update each of these continuously each day.
If there’s anything you could have done better since you stared, what would it be?
Becky: Fired our first web designer a lot quicker than we did! This would have saved us several months and got our site launched in 2015 instead of June 2016! On the plus it meant that I learned how to put together the site myself.
Vanessa: Becky and I work pretty efficiently so there's not much that I think we could have done better. You learn a lot as you go along with blogging so there are things we are doing much better now than when we started but that’s part of the process.
I do have to agree we should have fired our first web designer right off. He worked for me previously and had done good work for me but as soon as he slipped up on our WATG site we should have let him go but I wanted to give him another chance. But it was a good lesson. When it comes to business transactions if someone shows that they can't deliver you need to get rid of them right away! Neither of us will make that mistake again!
Where is most of the WATG community from or based?
It’s difficult to say because we have a different follower population on the blog and the main social media accounts. But in general the majority of followers are the US, then Europe, mostly the UK. We're looking to expand our presence and following in Asia and Australia - being based in Bali is helping to bring attention to WATG in Indonesia!
What are the three things you look for in someone’s WATG submissions?
Following our guidelines! We wrote them so that girls would have the highest likelihood of being published but it’s surprising that most people ignore these! At the beginning, this didn’t matter as much as we were able to spend a lot of time editing and adjusting images etc, but our volume of submissions is so high now it’s just not possible. I spent over 7 hours editing and re-writing one girls post, finding and using my own images and after that we've decided to be more selective with the submissions.
Obviously the content! We want the posts to be informative, useful and with real recommendations that someone can use when they visit a place. Or a truly inspirational story.
The photos! Alot of people are inspired visually so we want the posts to include amazing photos that correspond to the post.
For you, what’s the required mindset to be as successful travel blogger?
Becky: Be humble and be professional. Looking at peoples blogs or Instagrams we see so many other women enjoying luxurious hotels, showing off gorgeous clothing and gifts that they've received. This makes the life of a travel blogger seem desirable and a free ride. Before entering this field, realise that like any job it is work, as such you should not go into it just for a freebie. If you want to be successful you must also be willing to work extremely hard. Together with that you should also act professionally, if you do form a partnership with a brand, hotel or destination make sure you deliver what you say you will within a defined period of time. I've met with many marketing managers and PRs who have told me they've had very bad experiences working with travel bloggers, whether this is the initial demanding contact from the blogger or them not delivering on what has been agreed and then ignoring all communications from that brand.
Vanessa: You need to be an extremely hard worker to be a successful blogger. And you need to be fiercly dedicated. As I type these words it's 12:45AM in the morning. I answered emails all morning, held our first WATG LA Meet Up from 3:30 - 7PM, came home and loaded a post that I just published on WATG for today and now I'll be working on this interview till at least 1:30am. But I love my job and I am so thankful to be doing something I enjoy!
What do all travel bloggers have in common?
Becky: Other than the love for travel, which we all have in common, I think most bloggers bring something new or unique to the table. Whether this is their photography, their writing or simply the destinations and the ways that they travel.
Vanessa: Most travel bloggers I have met are kind, open-minded, outgoing and passionate. That's why I love doing our Meet Ups because we get to meet so many cool like-minded travel girls! It's really inspiring to meet so many girls who are going after their dreams!
What are you currently both doing in Bali?
Becky: I'm here working on We Are Travel Girls. I moved out here to allow me the time to concentrate on the company. So I work full time everyday at our villa, managing our social media accounts, replying to all of our contacts, editing posts, managing the website, working on partnerships (such as our upcoming Blogger Retreat with Pangea Dreams!), amongst other things! We've been here for two months now, and I really haven’t seen that much so we're planning some trips in Indonesia and Asia and day trips each week around Bali.
Vanessa: I'm currently based in London but I had the pleasure of spending 3 weeks with Becky in Bali! I'm sad not to have Becky in London with me anymore, but it gives us a good excuse to meet up around the world (as if we needed more reasons to travel)!
What’s next on both of your personal bucket lists?
Becky: Whilst in Indonesia I really want to visit Komodo Island, get over to the Philippines and Raja Amphat. I am also desperate to go back to India, and a stop in Sri Lanka and the Maldives on the way would be nice!
Vanessa: I would love to visit the Maldives and Japan! I'm also excited that we are going to be working on a We Are Travel Girls Ski Retreat which is slated for 2018. I'm a surf, ski and snowboard instructor so it has always been a big dream of mine to do an all girls ski reatreat! (SUBSCRIBE to our email list if you're interested in joining this or any of our other retreats!)
Do you both also find that traveling is addictive?
Becky: Absolutely! You either have the travel bug or not. I have many friends who are happy to go back to the same destination annually, which is totally fine but for me I'm constantly craving seeing new destinations, even planning the next trip whilst on a plane out to a new destination.
Vanessa:Traveling is my drug of choice! We all have our addictions and mine are surfing, running, and travel!
Have either of you ever found yourselves in a dangerous situation whilst traveling?
Becky: I visited Morocco when I was 18. We took the boat from Spain and were on a very long train journey down to Marrakech overnight. There were no tourists on the train, back then there were fewer backpackers going there (we saw literally only 4 other tourists in Marrakech!). The train had those old style cabins, early on a gentleman joined my boyfriend and I, chatted to us nicely and seemed like an ok guy so feeling comfortable we decided to have a nap as it got to nighttime.
I woke up with the man above me and my skirt up around my waist. I jumped up and he said, ‘I was just looking’ and was apologetic, we didn’t know how to react whether to tell anyone, so we just tried to act normally and keep peace. By this time the train had filled up and strangely, the man started talking to various other passengers and saying something to them about us. The atmousphere quickly became aggressive and I was pretty scared, then a while later he said he was getting off the train and goodbye...
Whilst this was a pretty bad experience, I was lucky it wasn’t worse and it certainly didn’t stop me travelling, or going back to Morocco. Bad things can happen close to home as much as they can abroad, you can’t judge a country by one experience or person, all you can do is be careful and smart when travelling.
Vanessa: No, I’ve been very lucky thus far.
What are the next steps and projects for WATG?
We have a couple of projects we're working on that we hope can come to fruition quickly so that we can share these with our followers. In terms of what we're working on in the near future, we want to increase the number of meet-ups around the world and host more getaways!
↠ If you're a passionate female traveler and what to connect with other like-minded girls then join the WATG community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Remember you also have the opportunity to share your own travel stories and tips on their website. Click here to read my own WATG posts for some inspiration.