Kemi Adewumi spent a decade working in the corporate world of advertising in the USA. Feeling unfulfilled with her career direction, she left her job, and set off on a one-year travel adventure across the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Taking a career break to travel inspired Kemi to take a completely new direction. After returning home to New York City, she combined her marketing and advertising experience with her newfound passion for exploration to create Go Galavant Travel, an online marketplace that connects travellers with fully planned group trips, tailored to their specific interests.
In this interview, Kemi talks about what motivated her to take a career break, her personal development along the journey, finding a new career direction, and the challenges of growing a new travel business amid a global pandemic.
What was your career and life situation before you decided to take a travel break?
For the last ten years I worked a nine-to-five in corporate America in the advertising industry. My last position was as an account director at a boutique agency in NYC. If anyone has worked in advertising on the account side, you know a nine-to-five is more like a nine-to-whenever-my-client-stops-calling-me AND they’re on west coast time.
For the most part, I liked the people I worked with, but deep down I didn’t love the work I was doing. It wasn’t bad work by any means, it just wasn’t fulfilling, I wasn’t content, I felt my employers over the years didn’t value me as a person, and although I took pride in my work, I knew feeling this way wasn’t pushing me to be the best at what I did.
I knew I needed to be doing something else to make a living, but couldn’t figure out what a fulfilling and profitable career looked like. My salaries in advertising had been very good, so the thought of leaving that for the unknown was uncomfortable to say the least.
My personal life was good – family, friends, trips a few times a year. Years ago I stopped waiting on people to travel with and started enjoying the wonders of solo travel. Yes, it would be great to experience some travel experiences with a loved one, but if that wasn’t possible I wasn’t going to leave any vacation days on the table.
What inspired you to leave your work in advertising to travel?
A friend of mine worked in marketing and had similar emotions about not feeling content with his line of work. Out of what seemed like nowhere, he quit. No job to go to and just an idea of what to do next. He went to visit a family member overseas and found his new career from there.
That was poke #1. It wasn’t until I had knee surgery in late 2018 that I made it official to myself that I was going to leave. The way management handled me being able take off a few days to recover after surgery was sad. That was the proverbial last straw.
I realised I shouldn’t let not knowing what will come next prevent me from taking a break. I looked at my bank statements, got together a savings plan for the next couple of months, and started planning my career break to travel the world.
How did you approach the situation with your workplace, and how did you prepare for leaving?
There was no sabbatical policy at my last job, and I wasn’t even a year into the position, so I didn’t think asking to take a break was a possibility. Despite my disdain for upper management, I didn’t want to leave my team hanging.
I was a little naïve and thought it would be a good idea to give them a few months’ notice, you know, enough time to find a suitable replacement. Luckily for me, my brother opened my eyes and I ended up giving them about three weeks’ notice. Part of my savings plan was to squirrel away as much funds as possible for the next three months, so giving them that much notice might have left me without income to save for one or two months.
I told my direct report, and although she was disappointed that I was leaving, she seemed genuinely happy for me. Before leaving, I prepped my team, left clear instructions/directions on everything I had done, said goodbye to my clients and assured them they were in great hands. Nothing complicated at all.
“Every time I second-guessed my decision, I had enough encouragement and positive signs to keep pushing forward with planning.”
How did your family and friends react to your decision to leave your job and travel?
I had mixed reactions from friends and family. Some family members thought I was going through a really early mid-life crisis. They literally asked me if I was having “man, money, job, or emotional issues”.
Others were supportive, happy, and proud that I was taking the leap. It took more than I thought it would to not let the folks in the concerned camp talk me out of taking this break. But every time I second-guessed my decision, I had enough encouragement and positive signs to keep pushing forward with planning.
How did you plan and prepare for the trip?
I saved. I’ve always been a saver, so I had a nice cushion to dip into for this trip. The last three or four months before I left I cut down on spending even more. I wanted to have enough to live comfortably for a year, and have money left over for a few months after I returned.
I budgeted. I knew where I wanted to go – the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia. I looked up the cost of living in each country I planned on visiting, and worked out a monthly budget that would include everything.
I planned. Three months out, I put out the word that I wanted to sublet my apartment, and I was lucky to find a friend who was looking. I was also lucky to have a mother with a basement where I could safely (and freely) put some of my belongings while someone else was in my apartment.
I had two travel pattern options and chose the one that worked with good weather in each country and had the cheaper flight options. Usually on shorter vacations I have a solid outline for the entire time that I can adjust as I go along. I had the same plan for this long trip, but I planned more as I went along so I could be flexible.
I had my main flights booked, housing for the first two cities (I was in a different city every week), and a general list of activities that I wanted to do. Once I got to a city I mapped out what the week would look like, and took some time to plan out housing and possible activities for the next city. I enjoyed this flexibility, but sometimes this last-minute approach changed my plans. Still, it worked out perfectly.
What were the biggest challenges in adjusting to long-term travel?
I thought I would have issues with moving around so much, finding home comforts, and language barriers, but it was the random feelings of loneliness that were hard at times. I met wonderful people, chatted with lots of folks, and formed new friendships, but it hits differently when you’re able to share experiences with people you know and who know you. I pride myself on being able to ‘figure it out’ and adjust to different scenarios, so nothing made me want to call it quits and head home.
Some friends did a good job of prepping me with the right mindset: be flexible, grateful, and open to adjustments when things don’t go as you planned.
I also struggled with not feeling productive. I had plenty of enriching activities planned, but having worked since the age of 12 it was hard getting my mind to understand that exploring was being productive. My mind wanted me to work and make money. Working on my new business appeased my mind enough to allow me to enjoy my exploration.
“Getting your phone stolen isn’t fun, but it was how I reacted to the situation that showed my personal growth.”
Where did your adventure take you, and what are your stand-out memories?
My travels took me to Barbados, France, Italy, Portugal, Ghana, Nigeria, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and back to Ghana!
As for stand-out memories, there are many. Watching sumo wrestling in Tokyo is one. I was lucky enough to be there at the time of the tournament and woke up at the crack of dawn to get tickets. Seeing the usually reserved Japanese people cut loose in the stadium was great.
Also, getting my phone snatched in Ho Chi Minh City. No, getting your phone stolen isn’t fun, but it was how I reacted to the situation that showed my personal growth. I was on my way to an Airbnb experience right when my phone was snatched. I considered cancelling and even told the host as much, but changed my mind and went on the tour. It was the best decision! I learned so much, and met wonderful people. When I got back I dealt with all the issues and moved on.
Sipping rosé on the beach in southern Portugal with a friend is a very happy memory. She travelled all the way from the US to visit me, and it made my time in Lagos and Lisbon so great!
Finally, touching down on the continent. I’ve been to countries in Africa before, but this time the welcome just felt different. As a black woman, having been in places where you’re different, and pointed out as being different, it felt so good to just be, and to be welcomed. Not in a touristy way, but in a genuine, ‘you belong’ way.
What did you learn from your travel experiences that you would never have learned at home?
Not knowing what happens next is ok. In fact it’s freeing – it allows you to just be, see what unfolds, and challenge yourself to adjust.
What sparked your idea to create a group trip platform?
While I was planning for my trip, searching for group trips to join in certain countries, I got the idea for my current business and new career. I was spending too much time searching for options and going from site to site to compare ones that I did find. I just needed all the information in one place, so I created it.
Go Galavant is an online marketplace that connects travellers with fully planned group trips, tailored to their specific interests. Since the trip planning and business idea happened at the same time, I knew I’d be exploring and developing my business at the same time.
“Starting a travel business several months before a pandemic is not what I had in my return plans.”
How did you navigate the logistics of returning home from such an adventure and beginning a completely new career path?
After moving around so long it was hard to come home and sit in one place, but I was happy to be back in my apartment. And I really didn’t have much of a choice in sitting still, because as soon as I came back, a global pandemic broke out.
Beginning the new career path was, and still is, hard. It’s my first time being an entrepreneur, so you really don’t know what you don’t know, and everything is a learning process. On top of that, starting a travel business several months before a pandemic is not what I had in my return plans.
But again, it’s not what happens, but how you react to it. I’m confident that Go Galavant will continue to grow and I am committed to it for the long run. I’ve taken up a couple side hustles to pay the bills, and happy with all that I’ve learned from my travels and being back home.
It’s been a difficult year to grow a new travel business – how have you been adapting, and what are your plans for the future?
Difficult is an understatement! But to be honest, everything about the pandemic is so new and ever-changing that I haven’t allowed myself to get all doom and gloom about the travel industry. Go Galavant was created to be helpful – so in the height of the pandemic, that’s what we sought to be. Providing our travellers and trip companies information to guide them through and prepare them for them for what travel looked like in the future.
During this downtime I’ve been able to network, learn new entrepreneurial skills, and position Go Galavant for all the pent-up travel demand that’s on the horizon.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a travel career break?
If it’s what you really want to do, do it! Don’t let other people’s doubts and concerns prevent you from such an amazing experience.
Also don’t let money or a lack of substantial funds stop you either. I didn’t work while I travelled, but there are ways to generate income while travelling, and ways to travel without spending lots of money. Points/miles for flights, house-sitting to cut down on accommodation costs – Go Galavant’s blog has several articles on opportunities like this.