“If You Wait For The Perfect Time, You Will Never Get Anything Done” 5 Startup Lessons With Valerie Joy Wilson
“There will never be a perfect time to start. I should have started sooner instead of working an office job I hated. If you wait for the perfect time, you will never get anything done.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Joy Wilson, of TrustedTravelGirl.com. Valerie is a self-taught travel journalist, host, influencer and photographer & content creator. She travels the world solo, and shares her adventures and experiences with her audience. Valerie focuses on getting off the beaten path of tourism, getting to know the locals, and experiencing the local secrets of a destination.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m from a small town in upstate NY, Saratoga Springs. It’s famous for horse racing in the summertime, and it’s pretty much a Main Street, USA type of place.
As as kid, my family was always traveling, although we never really left the US or Canada outside of a trip to Mexico. My parents definitely laid the foundation for me as far as being a traveler and not a tourist– which is now the whole basis of my brand. We would never just hang by the beach or pool, my parents always immersed me in the culture of a destination. It wasn’t ever something we talked about, it was just how my parents operated, and as I got older I realized that not everyone truly takes advantage of the destinations they visit. I take after my dad who could just sit at a bar or restaurant and immediately make friends with the locals and know all the best places to go, and I have always challenged myself to find the best local gems in each destination I visit.
I never knew that traveling could be a career option. I went to Clemson University where I would earn my bachelors of science in Business Management. Before I finished, I fell extremely ill with Lyme Disease, and was pretty much laid up doing nothing for 4 years. I had an IV line in my arm and would give myself IV’s every day and had a nurse coming to the house every week with a new delivery of antibiotics. I basically lived at the doctor for several years and was almost completely bedridden at times, unable to do more than basic tasks. Even showering was exhausting. I promised myself if I got better, I would remember to make each day count, really live my life to the fullest, and not just go through the motions. When I started to feel a bit better, I started traveling immediately out of fear of relapse. I wanted to see every place I could, thinking one day I wouldn’t be able to see anything except my bed.
Instead of relapsing, I gradually gained my strength back and have been fortunate enough to make a pretty decent recovery! I still have my down days or weeks every now and then, but I’m a world away from where I was. I went back to school, graduated and started working a thankless office job. I was miserable there. I always loved to travel and I loved entertainment, and one day I was watching “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmern, and I said “why am I not doing this with my life?”. It was then I started my website, quit my job and never looked back. It wasn’t easy or glamorous, I struggled and hustled. I had babysitting jobs, and would tour guide strangers around LA in my personal car, and do anything I had to in order to make ends meet and have the ability to travel.
After a couple years of hard work, I became a trusted resource, gained a loyal following and now the people I used to look up to are my peers. It’s been a wild ride!
Can you share the funniest of most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?
When I first started to gain traction as a writer and influencer, I would get hotels and products offered to me for free… small stuff. Then one day I received a phone call to go on my first press trip, which is where a tourism board will fly you to a destination, put you in a hotel, and pay for all of your meals and experiences. In exchange you are to promote the destination through your outlets. Feeling like all of my hard work was finally gaining me some small amount of notoriety in the industry, I called my parents to tell them that I was being sent business-class to the Philippines. They lost their minds, and not in a good way. They couldn’t comprehend what I had been working towards with my website and social media following, and thought I was being scammed. I told them I had met with the director of the tourism board, and they still didn’t understand it. It was hilarious. I don’t think they fully relaxed until they realized that I really was at a 5 star hotel and producing content. That was a big turning point, not just for my career, but also because the people around me finally started to understand the importance of what I had created. They were in complete awe that a tourism board would spend the money to fly me to the other side of the world for a couple of days. Now, they are used to the idea, as I travel non-stop. Today alone I had to turn down three trips that didn’t fit in my schedule.
Now, I think the funniest moments are always when I’m on the other side of the world and my two worlds collide. For example, I was sitting on top of a pagoda watching the sunset in Myanmar with a friend I had just made from Singapore. We started chatting with the people next to us and they live in my neighborhood in LA, literally two blocks from me. This type of stuff happens all the time and it makes you realize it really is a small world after all!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that sharing the cultures from around the world with my audience is creating a more tolerant and educated planet, bringing goodness to the world. I think the best thing anyone can do is help others learn to be more compassionate to those who are different. When you are sitting in a place where you don’t understand the language, the food is strange, the culture is complicated, no one around looks like you, it can be intimidating. However, when you share a smile or a laugh with someone– you realize we are all the same.
The world is mostly good. Sure, bad things happen, and there are bad people out there, but the world is so much better than we think. We don’t give people enough credit. I have had more strangers lend me a helping hand, invite me into their home, and share meals with me, or help me when I’m in a bind.
When traveling, we can be so guarded, and busy protecting ourselves from harm, that we forget to let our hearts and our minds be vulnerable to the people and the culture around us. The people of a country are not their government, and when we turn on the nightly news it’s difficult to remember that. If my travel videos, photographs and articles can teach my audience to open up, the world will be a more accepting, tolerant, and harmonious place for all of us.
If someone would want to emulate your career, what would you suggest are the most important things to do?
As a travel content creator, you have to find your niche. When I started, there were a lot less people trying to get a piece of the travel pie. Authenticity is key. You have to be authentic to who you are, what message you have to share, and really narrow down what you want to be an expert in. Solo female travel was almost unheard of when I started Trusted Travel Girl, now that isn’t enough to gain a foothold in the market.
Outside of traveling, and learning about every place you can, you just need to create. I wish that I had the opportunity to take more creative classes in school. If you have the opportunity, I would learn video and photo editing with Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, and Premiere. If you are still in college, you should have access to those creative suites through your university. You have to be a jack of all trades, you have to know what looks good, be able to go out and shoot it, and deliver the final product all by yourself. The fact that I do a little bit of everything helps me book jobs because I can do it all. If you want to be a writer, you need to write, if you want to be in front of the camera, you have to shoot everyday… even if its just instagram stories. Practice your craft everyday and most importantly, just start putting content out there. There is no perfect time to start, and if you wait for the perfect video or the perfect article or the perfect scenario, it will never get done. You have to be okay with failing sometimes while you learn. As you practice more, you will get better and your audience will grow with you. Look for a good story, and tell it in a way that is unique, a way that only you can share it.
Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
My parents have made the most profound difference. I’m a dreamer, and even they didn’t always love my career choice, it’s a little easier to take risks knowing that you have a place to go should you completely screw everything up. They have helped me invest in myself and my craft. As as kid, they rarely said no to acting lessons or taking new courses. I learned photography from a young age because they sent me to a really amazing camp. They helped me learn to love travel from a young age. I was an only child, so they were able to give me a lot, but I was never spoiled. I always had to work for and earn everything I had, and that taught me the value of hard work. I often work 15 hour workdays, and I work almost every day of the year, if it wasn’t for them teaching me those values, I may have never had the work ethic I do today. My dad even bought me my first camera when I was nine years old, and now it’s one of my biggest passions and a huge part of my job. I owe them everything.
So what are the most exciting projects you are working on now?
I have been working on more video content and hosting, which is really bringing Trusted Travel Girl full circle for me. I started out with the desire to host a travel show, but began as a blogger and instagram influencer because that was how I found a foot in the door to the travel community. This last year, my video content has really grown. I just worked on a project in Nepal with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a family who lost theirs in the 2015 earthquake. I was sent out as a traditional journalist to cover it by writing an article, but I ended up filming while there and it has turned out to be my favorite project to date. I felt like Bourdain, talking with locals. It was a very humbling experience, and I walked away with a story I’m proud to share with the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.
- There will never be a perfect time to start. I should have started sooner instead of working an office job I hated. If you wait for the perfect time, you will never get anything done.
- You are going to make it. I may have worked harder from the get-go if I knew success was actually a possibility.
- Keep your secrets to yourself. When I’m excited, I like too share. I’m too trusting. This doesn’t bode well in a business where everyone wants to have your job. I wish someone told me to keep my business to myself, and that I don’t always have to give others the answer they are looking for.
- It’s okay to say “no”. Learning to say no is difficult, but you only have so much time in your day. I’m naturally a people-pleaser. I want to say yes to every friend in need, every opportunity, and every experience. I’ve learned to be careful where I spend my time, and I’ve learned the value of no. The word “no” has increased my value as well. “No, I won’t work on that project for free. No, I don’t have time for that. No, I don’t want to do that. No, I don’t stand for that. No, you can not treat me that way.” Learning to say “no” is a powerful lesson. You aren’t going to make everyone happy, and you need to make yourself happy if you want to be successful in any other areas of your life.
- Travel will change who you are. I used to value having things. A nice car, a nice apartment, the best clothes, just stuff. Travel has changed me. I still like nice things, but now I value all experiences over possessions. I hardly ever shop anymore outside of work related items or gifts for someone else.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. :-)
Bourdain, are you out there? That would be a dream lunch date!
Honestly, I would sit down with anyone I could learn from. From execs at a network producing travel content to the chef at Thai restaurant, to someone who’s designing the next Boeing. If I can learn from you… let’s have lunch.