Our ongoing GlobetrotterGirl of the Month series features women who have been able to break free, living life on their own terms, which includes a lifestyle of travel. While it is inspiring to hear stories of those who are well established, we wanted to take a look this month at someone in the beginning stages of this to understand the initial steps it takes to break free.
Leah Walker of LeahTravels.com is a great example of that; she is just one month into her ultimate freedom!
In this interview, she talks about the moment her mentality shifted, what some of the keys to her early success have been and the dedication and confidence it takes to take that first big risk out on her own. You’ll also see just how much travel this writer and budding brandmaker has incorporated into her lifestyle already.
GlobetrotterGirls: Where are you from?
Leah: The easy answer to that is simply, Texas. I was born in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, raised near Lubbock, and graduated high school near Houston.
GT Girls: Where do you live now?
Leah: I’ve been in Houston for eleven years, which is really hard for me to comprehend.
GT Girls: What did you do for a living before deciding to Break Free?
Leah: I feel like I’ve broken free a few times in my life. The first being when I decided to quit teaching and coaching. That was a huge step; perhaps even more than when I left a dependable job as a technical writer for a company in the oil and gas industry last month to dedicate my time to my website.
GT Girls: In your own words, what is your ‘job title’ now?
Leah: I am the Writer, Editor, and Tall-Tale Weaver at LeahTravels.com.
In addition to Leah Travels, I’m also the Special Contributor and the Houston City Editor for The Daily Meal, the Shopping Contributor for Travel Squire, Travel Editor for The Daily Basics, and a Tastesetter for Triptease.
GT Girls: You’re also an award-winning writer. How did you end up spending a month writing in Europe?
Leah: An apartment rental company, Go with Oh, sponsored a contest that offered a month’s accommodation in Europe as its grand prize. I was required to choose one of their cities and write five things I’d like to do in that city. I chose Florence and labored over that piece for weeks. Once I published it, the competitiveness came out in me and I decided to market myself in an effort to keep my entry on the minds of the judges. I created a simple sign that read, “I want @L_e_a_h to @GoWithOh” and sent it to friends and readers all over the world. They took photos of the sign in amazing locations and sent the pictures back to me. I then posted them to all my social media channels. Some of my favorites were from Namibia, Iraq, Laos, Dubai, and Maui. I am still grateful for everyone’s support. The month I spent in Europe was easily the best experience of my life.
Leah: I grew up taking road trips around the USA with my family, but the travel bug really hit me after studying Spanish in Costa Rica in 1997. It was only my second time out of the country, but I was hooked.
GT Girls: You talk about what motivated you to starting travelling more in this incredibly moving post: Why I Travel on LeahTravels.com. Can you summarize this motivation for us here?
Leah: Essentially my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and shortly after, I was also identified as having the BRCA2 gene, which means I have an 85% chance of having breast cancer and 25% of having ovarian cancer in my lifetime.
For four years I watched as my mom went in and out of remission until, at age 65, she passed away. There were so many things that she’d wanted to see and do, but was too busy being a mother, grandmother, wife and teacher.
I am armed with the knowledge of my possible fate and am taking measures to prevent a diagnosis and I’ve adopted the mantra, “Life’s too short to live with a someday mentality.” Now I seek new experiences with an all-encompassing sense of urgency. Through her death, my mother taught me how to live.
GT Girls: In ‘Why I Travel’ you explain that at this time you were a teacher, about to move to California, also purchasing a house in Florida. Your whole life seemed planned out. When you discovered your own health risks, you said, “…this was the exact moment that my life changed… I didn’t want to have a house in Florida. I didn’t want to live in California. And I certainly didn’t want to be a teacher for the rest of my life.”
What did your mom say to you about your decision to take such a one-eighty in response to what was happening with her?
Leah: My mom was always my biggest fan. When I wasn’t with her, I was traveling. I spent a month in Singapore and in China and seized any other travel opportunity that I could. She loved seeing the world through my eyes. In her earlier years, my mom was quite adventurous, so I think she saw a bit of herself in me. I like to think that I made her proud.
Leah: After winning the Go with Oh competition in the spring of 2012, the path seemed to open up so clearly for me. I was getting numerous opportunities, some of which I had to turn down or simply cut short, due to my limited time off. Fortunately my employer allowed me to work late and on weekends in order to accumulate time off for the month-long trip to Europe. I’m forever grateful for that. However, three weeks vacation just was not conducive to be being able to pursue travel and writing as my career.
I’m terribly competitive and don’t like not being the best at anything I do, therefore I was working non-stop on my job, the website and social media. With very little time for anything else, something had to give and I wasn’t willing for it to be my website.
GT Girls: How long did you prepare before you broke free?
Leah: Mentally, I’d prepared myself for about three months. Financially is another story. I did have some savings, a bonus check, and thanks to a very generous tax refund from Uncle Sam, a nice little cushion.
GT Girls: Were there people who told you were crazy? How did you get past self-doubt and doubts of others?
Leah: I am fortunate to be surrounded by a bounty of supportive people. My family, friends, co-workers, and readers all were cheering me on. That made it a lot easier to hush the tiny voices of doubt in the back of my mind.
GT Girls: Who were your biggest supporters?
Leah: Without the support, both emotionally and financially, of my husband, there is no way I would be able to do what I’m doing. He has shouldered the bulk of our living expenses to give me the opportunity to pursue this passion of mine.
My dad is also a huge supporter of mine. Even in his quiet way, I know that he wants me to be happy first and foremost. And if this path makes me happy then he’s right behind me. Also, two of my best girlfriends and fellow travel writers, Lola DiMarco and Ana Silva O’Reily, have been cheering me on from the start. I can’t thank them enough.
Leah: Honestly, I haven’t had a moment to digest it. The morning after my last day at work I went to Telluride, Colorado. Four days after getting home from there, I left for three weeks in Spain, Paris, and London. While in London I received an invitation to visit Jordan in April – something I’m thrilled about.
I suppose the best moment after quitting was when I completed a trip in Spain and I didn’t have to rush home to get to the office. Instead, I was able to extend my trip to Paris and London. That was something unheard of a month ago. It was like I was a kid and I’d been released for summer vacation, forever!
GT Girls: What books have influenced you?
Leah: To Kill a Mockingbird is easily my favorite book. I’ve read it over 50 times. It transcends time and I whole-heartedly believe that every person in the world should read it at least once.
GT Girls: What websites inspire you?
Leah: I stumbled upon the site, 1000 Awesome Things, a few years ago. It’s such a positive and fun site. It makes me laugh and appreciate the little things in life.
GT Girls: What music do you listen to when you write?
Leah: I require complete silence when I write. I’m easily distracted.
GT Girls: Who is your role model or mentor? Who do you look to for leadership?
Leah: As a former athlete and basketball coach, I’ve always looked up to sports figures. Outside of my mom and dad, I’d say that Duke men’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski has served as a mentor to me. I’ve read all his books, followed his career, and admire how he’s been so successful by doing things the right way.
GT Girls: Do you have a mantra, quote or philosophy that you live by?
Leah: I have two. “Life’s too short to live with a someday attitude” and “Life is short and the road is long,” which happens to be the tagline for my site.
GT Girls: How many countries have you been to?
Leah: I’d say not enough!
GT Girls: What countries can you not wait to visit?
Leah: I really want to do the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway. I’m also coveting Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Lebanon, Israel, and Australia. Oh, throw in the Maldives, Seychelles, and Thailand for good measure.
GT Girls: What’s on the horizon for you?
Leah: I have an exciting venture that I’m working on with a couple of others, so I see myself putting a lot of time and energy into getting that off the ground in the next few months.
In a year I want to have established myself as an authority, not only in the travel space, but also in social media. I’d like to consult with travel-related brands in their social marketing strategies. I’d also like to be more organized with my travel plans and know more or less what I have going on at least three months out.
In five years I’d like my website to simply be an extension of my brand. I’m a writer and will always write, but I see myself pursuing other avenues beyond the site.
Do you have more questions for Leah? Ask them in the comments below, or find her on her website and on social media:
Need more inspiration to Break Free or looking for a great group of women to surround yourself with? Check out our GT Girl of the Month section and stay tuned next month for a woman with a full artillery of four letter words whose not afraid to use them!