In 2010, Anne Scott was feeling isolated and overwhelmed after moving to her 10th city in as many years. While her excitement for discovering new places persisted, having to develop new friendships and start from scratch at every new destination was starting to take its toll on her. In a moment of doubt while in Hamburg, Germany she decided to start a Facebook group to connect with other women in the city. One by one she would send friend requests to whatever women she could find that indicated that they were new to the city; and little by little what started out as a humble attempt to build a local community of travel-minded friends has since turned into one of the world’s most dynamic women’s travel groups, with more than 250,000 women in 200 cities worldwide. This is the story of how Girl Gone International has become the passport to friendship for women who have left their homes to travel and live abroad.
Tell us a bit about your journey – what was previously lacking in the travel space that led you to create Girl Gone International?
I had finally made a couple of friends in Vienna after two long years of struggling to meet people, when suddenly I had to move again. It was my 10th city move in 10 years, this time to Hamburg. When I arrived I quickly felt very alone in the world (again). But I thought that surely there had to be other women out there living life like I was – living far from friends, family and the familiar, a life made up of many challenges, changes and long-distance moves. But how to find them? I didn’t really identify as a tourist, traveler or an expat. I tried joining those groups but just didn’t feel that I belonged there. So I decided to start one of my own.
A week later I met up with five other women in a dark German bar while the rain poured outside. We drank red wine and shared our stories of how we had all ended up living in Hamburg and the moment in which we had ‘gone international’, and I remember one of the girls said, “Hey, you know something, my friends never ask me HOW I’m doing, they just ask WHERE are you?” And in that moment, we were all able to relate to one another.
We connected over how it feels when you leave little pieces of your heart behind all over the world. These were my people. I felt like I belonged there, in that room, having those conversations. And just like that my world opened up and I started to feel more at home in Hamburg.
There has been a big shift in the travel space and we’re seeing more women embrace the idea of traveling alone. Why do you think this is happening and why do you think it’s important?
My first solo trip was at age 17 when I packed a bag and bought a plane ticket to Malaga, Spain. Looking back, it was a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. To this day my solo travels continue to mark important transitions and milestones in my life. In fact, I just got engaged and am now heading off on my first ever trip to Asia – and I am going solo!
I think solo travel for women is an expression of our power and reflects shifts in society spurred by women fighting for our freedom. Every time I travel, I send out a thank you to the women who came before me, like my grandmother, whose paths were predetermined, whose freedom was curtailed and whose lives were not really their own – and I acknowledge that this is still a reality for the majority of women on this planet.
The end result of solo travel – of any travel – is that you discover that your home is not always a place; it is a feeling, it is friendships, it is belonging and understanding, and it is something which you carry with you wherever you go. Traveling alone is important because life really is a deeply personal journey, and it is chaotic. Traveling is as much mental, spiritual, and emotional as it is geographical. And women’s travel groups like Girl Gone International help women to feel safer as they move through life and through the world.
Our community is full of women who frequently travel solo, who know that going solo doesn’t have to mean you have to go alone – at least not all of the way! We have many members who join our local communities while on a solo trip just to reach out and say hi and connect with local members to explore, to meet up for coffee or to go to an event. I guess we offer a safe port for solo female travelers! But that’s not to say that one should always be a solo traveler; there are certain times in our lives where we need and want to share journeys with friends and peers.
I always say: make your journey bigger than yourself and you will go further than you ever imagined.
Girl Gone International (GGI) is unique because each of the worldwide communities is run by volunteers. Can you tell us a bit about why that model is crucial to GGI’s identity?
One day I realized that the little community I had created had become much bigger than just myself. It had quite literally grown legs! Members started to move away from Hamburg and asked me if they could take Girl Gone International with them. So I helped them to make a real women’s travel group happen. I explained the GGI mission and helped them build their own local community, recreating the same value-driven, empowering culture they experienced in Hamburg. Pretty quickly GGI began to spread across the world and became a strong co-created movement. It is a culture, a lifestyle and an identity. Now any woman living anywhere in the world can reach out and receive training to start a GGI community.
This model is crucial because Girl Gone International’s aim is to reach more and more of the millions of women living outside the country of their birth and as a non-profit without a marketing budget, this is how we are able to do that. Our aim is for every team member to understand and live the Girl Gone International culture and succeed in full alignment with GGI core values such as diversity, integrity, consistency, reliability, inclusion, service to others, education, and female empowerment.
How has Girl Gone International evolved since its early days?
GGI has scaled massively since its early days. We have scaled our mission, culture, and community. We now have around 200 local communities, have organized 15,000 free events to date, rely on a team of 260 community managers and 600 more volunteers from every country, culture, and language in the world. We offer up 4,000 meetups per year to our almost 300,000 active members in 37 countries. Our Facebook page organically reaches 8 million people per month and we have a magazine which is now on its 11th issue. We were also named one of Facebook’s 100 largest and most meaningful communities both in 2018 and 2019, and we have partnered up with Facebook to reach even more of the women who need us.
That’s a long way from six girls having wine in Hamburg!
What’s next for GGI (retreats, future initiatives, etc)?
Next year is an exciting milestone: we will be celebrating 10 years of GGI, so we have a lot of new initiatives coming up!
Our plan is to keep opening new communities and to reach, connect, support and empower more and more women. We are about to launch our community manager learning app in partnership with SmartUp which will support every GGI team member to better understand and live the Girl Gone International culture and succeed in full alignment with our core values such as diversity, integrity, inclusion, education and female empowerment.
We will be hosting GGI group trips throughout the year. The group travel experiences will take women to places they would never think of going alone or that are simply more fun with a bunch of new friends. We are also going to launch a series of new events aimed at GGIs who want to succeed professionally overseas, from digital nomads to entrepreneurs to international execs. And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to squeeze in a book and a podcast in 2020.
To learn more about upcoming Girl Gone International group trips and initiatives, visit www.girlgoneinternational.com.