Haley Woods, 39, is an avid traveler who founded the very successful Facebook group Girls LOVE Travel, commonly referred to as GLT. Officially created on December 30th of 2015, the group reassembles a female-only community from 13 to 90-year-olds that enjoys traveling. During a long layover in Amsterdam on her way from Japan to Morocco, The Amsterdammer had the opportunity to conduct an interview with GLT’s founder.
At the age of twelve, Woods set off on her first international flight to attend a dance trip in Japan. Little did she know that almost three decades and above thirty countries later she would come back to explore the island while being the founder of a group of more than half-a-million members. For seven years, her home has been wherever she travels to. Recalling her debut at GLT, Woods remembers looking for a community that fit her interests best. “I was lonely, I was nomadic, I was traveling around the world and […] I didn’t have a sense of community on my own,” she said. In only two years, the Girls LOVE Travel Facebook group has reached over 540,000 members who constantly share experiences and opinions about travel-related topics. However, Woods admits never planning any of it, “it just happened.” No advertising is needed, the group grows on a daily basis, having about 800 new posts and members every day. “It’s crazy how engaging our community is,” Woods said. In a 28 days period, there are on average 1.8 million posts, comments, and reactions. Principally based in the United States of America and Australia, the demographics of the group are as impressive as the engagement of the members: from a list limited to 100 countries, 100 appear. “There are some groups that don’t need a hundred countries [in the analytics]” she reported, “[…] you have to imagine that there is the potential that we are in every single country.”
The success of GLT took Haley Woods to the Facebook headquarters twice in 2017, where she discussed shortly her projects with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and elaborated on her aspirations for GLT with COO Sheryl Sandberg and co-founder Chris Hughes. “I can’t speak higher of the Facebook community, they are just fantastic,” she affirms. Today, GLT is present in several social media platforms besides Facebook such as Instagram or Twitter, and was able to create a partnership with Overnight, a platform where the members can share their homes with trusted people, or in this case, females from Girls LOVE Travel with each other.
The Facebook group still being the central focus of GLT, Woods explains it has been described as a “conversational Google.” Indeed, if a woman has a question related in some way to traveling, she will post it in the group and most likely receive an answer right away. In the future, Woods hopes to pursue that sense of connectivity and wants to encourage the members to bring “the online connection to offline friendships.”
As the community grew, women found a place to organize meetups around the world and started traveling together. From Iceland to Cuba or Thailand, the community is setting off to Antarctica later this year where 111 female travelers are expected to join the trip. The purpose: to bring together women who share a common love for traveling. “Our trips […] [are] just an extension of the social dynamic of the group,” Woods explained. In 2018, she has already been to Japan, the United States, the Netherlands, Morocco, and she is headed to Egypt by the end of the month. “I am doing my research,” she said. Eventually, she hopes to find on her way the countries where the next GLT trip will take place. However, she believes that “the best thing that has happened (to the community) wasn’t the trips because [they] are not reinventing a wheel.” Instead, Girls LOVE Travel aims support travel companies by encouraging people to travel. From the GLT Instagram Story to the constant inspirational stories posted in the Facebook group, the shareability of common experiences and support through a group dedicated to traveling has encouraged the community to either continue or start their traveling journey. In addition, Woods hopes to find a way to create an unspoken connection between the members of the community. To do so, she wants to encourage women to wear the group’s merchandise in which the trademarked logo will help the females from the community to “spot” each other while traveling.
As of the connectivity enhanced by GLT, the Facebook group’s founder finds herself fascinated by the results the posts have had. “My favorite stories are the stories of the community support.” In early 2018, she remembers Valerie Wilson, a travel blogger and member of Girls LOVE Travel, who was writing a report in Switzerland. Unfortunately, her trip merged to an emergency room waiting to get her appendix removed. “Is anyone around? I’m all alone and could use a friend to help me be less scared”, posted Wilson in the group. The next day, two members of the group showed their support by going to her room, helping her pick up her prescriptions and to go back to her hotel. “When we have had this kind of stories being shared, when I hear a girl telling me that she got her first passport because […] she feels more comfortable travelling alone [thanks to the] group or when I hear about multi-generations in the community […], it continues to blow my mind” Woods said, impressed by the turning GLT has taken. Alongside a group of moderators and 200 volunteers, Haley Woods wishes nothing but to continue respecting the three pillars of GLT: “safety, socializing and support for the female traveler,” as she said. “No matter what happens, […] as long as the pillars are met, we’re all set.”
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Isabel Bonnet is a 21-year-old second-year student in communication science at UvA. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Amsterdammer. Before its creation, she worked as a photo editor at the Independent Florida Alligator and did an internship at Le Monde.