Ever dream of traveling around the world? It was a longtime dream of Libryia Jones. In fact, since she was 19 she dreamed of such a trip and now the single mother and IT professional is making that dream come true not only for herself but others as well.
Jones has launched a travel program called My Wander Year (MWY) where Jones, along with a group of other professionals, will treat themselves to a year of discovery around the world. A group of 30-plus individuals plus Jones will take the first My Wander Year trip in August 2016. They will be living, working in, and exploring Prague, Czech Republic; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Cape Town, South Africa; and Panama City, Panama.
It might seem impossible to take a year off to travel, but Jones has made the impossible possible. A life coach coach will be working with participants during their wander year to help them either work remotely, start projects they have been longing to begin (like one participant who will use the time to write a book) and develop their entrepreneurial dreams. Jones is also working to have childcare and homeschooling available for children who will be along for the global ride with their parents.
While you might have to sublet your apartment to pay for the journey, think about it as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The fees per month for the year-long trip are $2,000, to bring an additional person with you the cost is $750 and any person added on after that is $500 per month. There is also an initial buy-in fee of 1.5 times whatever your monthly fee is.
Intrigued by this wander year idea, we got the inside scoop on the worldwide travel program, how Jones pulled it off, and how you can too.
MadameNoire (MN): How did you decide to launch My Wander Year?
Libryia Jones (LJ): I have wanted to live out of the country since I was 19 but didn’t quite know how it could happen. While I was in grad school working towards my MBA, I had a little girl. During my MBA program, one of my finance professors hand-picked me for an internship opportunity in China. I was disqualified because I had a child. In the middle of last year, I came across another opportunity to live abroad and travel with a group. I thought yes, this is it! I quickly realized, I also could not qualify for this program because I have a child. I truly believe my daughter is not a hindrance to my life, she is an enhancement. I thought “why should it be no for me just because I’m a mom?” I decided to create the opportunity for myself and to extend it to other people who may have felt they couldn’t live their dreams of traveling the world for one reason or another.
MN: Is it your full-time job?
LJ: I work full-time as a Project Manager for a software company based in San Jose. I will admit, juggling a full-time job, My Wander Year, and being a soccer mom has proven to be very interesting but I love a challenge!
MN: How does it work?
LJ: We are a community of 30-plus people who will wander the globe for a full year, creating a life that we don’t need to vacation from. We’ll stay in a different location every three months. Anyone over the age of 21 and willing to commit to a full year abroad can apply. What makes this special is you can bring your husband, wife, significant other, or even your children.
We cover our participants’ transportation, lodging, a co-work space, 24-hour WiFi access, an excursion every month, and a community service event in each country we visit.
A feature of the program I love is that from the time you are selected to the time we depart, we work hard to ensure our Wanderists are prepared for the journey. We launch a Wanderist training program to assist our participants with all of the things that are pertinent to preparing for the year abroad, including topics such as finding remote work, health insurance, legal matters, what to pack, dealing with homesickness, etc. We want to do as much as we can to make this an extraordinary experience.
MN: I understand you are a single mom, how does that affect your travel?
LJ: I’m lucky in that it hasn’t had an impact on my ability to travel. Sure there are trips I can’t take because they clash with my daughter’s soccer schedule. But my daughter — age 12 — travels with me quite often. Last year, she traveled with me at least once per month. We’ve gone to New Orleans for Easter, Memphis for a fried chicken tour, Chicago for Labor Day, Savannah for Mother’s Day, and several other places. She also spent a month in Brazil with her best friend’s family; that was an amazing experience for her. This year, we’ve gone to Miami, Abu Dhabi, and Cape Town.
When I need to travel without her for work or for pleasure, I have an amazing support system that steps in to help me take care of her. Having a village is so important whether you’re a single mom or not, traveler or not. It’s always good to have someone who can help you take a “mommy break” from time to time.
MN: What has the response been to My Wander Year?
LJ: People either think I’m crazy or on to something big. Both are likely right, I think! The response from the people going on the trip has been incredibly endearing. Most of these folks have dreamed of doing something like this almost all of their lives but didn’t think they could or didn’t want to do it alone. Each of them has their reasons for going, some because they’ve always wanted to be location independent.
One young lady wants to take the time to write a book, another wants to use this opportunity to launch a business, another a blog. Regardless of the reasons, one thing is clear, every person who is going on this trip has been waiting for an opportunity such as this.
One thing I absolutely love to witness is the impact that My Wander Year has had on even the people who aren’t going on the trip. I get messages on a daily basis that what we’re doing has inspired someone to push past their fears or step outside of their comfort zones and do something they’ve always dreamed of doing. We’re truly defining a new path, we’re proving to people who their lives do not have to look a certain way, you do get to design your life and turn your dreams into real things.
MN: Had you even done anything in travel prior?
LJ: My career started in Finance and moved into IT. It’s certainly an interesting transition to travel and there is so much to learn. I’m very fortunate to have a mentor in the space. Evita Robinson, founder of Nomadness, has been an invaluable resource in navigating the nuances of the industry. I also have great relationships with other business owners in this space including Kent Johnson of Black and Abroad and Claire Soares of Up In The Air Life.
MN: What has been the biggest challenge in launching My Wander Year?
LJ: Honestly, our biggest challenge has been getting parents to commit to the program. One of the main reasons I started this program is to have this type of opportunity available to people with children. We currently do not have any parents officially going on the trip outside of the single mom we are sponsoring to go. There were quite a few parents who applied, made it through the application process, and accepted our invitation to the program. I’m of the belief that the biggest hurdle there has been having someone on the trip who can help them facilitate road schooling options for them. This is not included or offered by My Wander Year; however, when I originally conceptualized the program, I had a friend who is a teacher who was coming along. She was going to offer services to help facilitate virtual schools and enhance their learning. Unfortunately, she is unable to join us on this trip, but I am determined to find a solution for future cycles.
MN: How did you select the destinations?
LJ: Early on, I created a scoring sheet to review and rank different cities. I had a list of 10 cities in four continents that I did research on. That research included things like crime rate, exchange rate, cost of living, percentage of English speakers, expat community, Internet quality, climate, and activities. Another factor in the decision was the proximity of these locations to other cities/countries that our Wanderists would want to visit. Given we’re in each location for three months, it’s quite easy to hop a flight to a neighboring country, and quite inexpensive. For instance, it’s roughly $60 to fly to Rome from Prague. It’s just about $500 to fly to Australia from Chiang Mai.
MN: Do all the participants travel for a full year?
LJ: We truly wanted our inaugural trip to be bold and for people to push past their comfort zones and do something significant. For that reason, we accepted individuals into our program who were committed to traveling for a full year. In future cycles, we will consider offering shorter stints.
MN:What are the most common questions you get by potential clients?
LJ: People usually want to know what they get for the cost of the program. I tell people all the time that I don’t take it lightly that people are willing to pay for this program. Every single dollar they pay to us represents time spent away from their families and doing things they truly love because they’ve worked to earn that money. I don’t take it lightly and feel a great sense of responsibility to provide significant value in exchange.
Another question we typically get is “what kind of housing will we live in?” No one wants to wake up every day in a roach motel. The golden rule with housing selections are that I wouldn’t put anyone in an apartment or hotel that I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting my daughter in. Our participants have the additional piece of mind that someone on the MWY team has actually seen the apartments in person and aren’t just booking hostels online.
MN: What has been the biggest business lesson in starting My Wander Year?
LJ: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is quite honestly that having a team of people who are passionate and entrepreneurial with your business is required for success. There is absolutely no way I could do this alone, but I’m so lucky to have a team of 10 people who bought into this vision and are passionate about the fact that we aren’t just providing a service, we are changing people’s lives!
The MWY team is full of very smart people who treat this as if it’s their own business. They challenge me, motivate me, hold me accountable, make decisions, take initiative, and most of all, take care of our Wanderists.
MN: What has been the biggest surprise?
LJ: I was surprised at how vested and passionate our Wanderists are. I knew that they were passionate about traveling and living their dreams about traveling the world but this is something different. They truly have a vested interest in the success of this business. I’ve had so many of them tell me that one of the biggest reasons they chose to do this program versus any other was because it was owned by a Black woman. They are such an integral part of the growth of this company. They share ideas and suggestions with us. They’ve been incredibly patient with us throughout our learning and growing process. Some of the people going on the trip have even joined the My Wander Year team!
MN: What do you hope to achieve with My Wander Year?
LJ: This began as a personal goal, to live outside of the country with my daughter for a year. It’s become about so much more. It’s become about encouraging others to spend their one and only life doing what makes them happy or passionate. That doesn’t have to mean traveling or starting a business, it could mean volunteering with young children, learning a new language, tracing your family heritage. Whatever it is that you’ve been telling your friends you really want to do…GO DO IT!