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You Go, Girl!

Former Tucsonan Kelly Lewis launched a guidebook series providing advice to women on the move

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What do you envision as a very young girl's dream for the future? Becoming a cowgirl? A nurse? Perhaps a princess?

One girl, former Tucsonan and writer Kelly Lewis, wasn't all that young when she developed her dream—OK, she was in her 20s—but she did have a very unique one: She dreamed of founding a travel-guide series just for girls (that is, women—of all ages).

And Lewis's dream was literal: One night, recently out of the UA and working as an editor, she fell into REM and dreamed of starting this series.

Lewis was already living out one common aspiration of young people: traveling frequently to far-away lands. She was lucky to have a flexible work schedule and just enough funds to regularly depart Tucson for numerous foreign countries on numerous foreign continents.

That night deep in sleep, she dreamed of a "hole," as she describes it—a void in the world of travel guides: Where were the ones for women?

Where, she wondered, were guides that could've told her not to buy bras in Thailand, or that "it's really hard to find tampons in Buenos Aires"? Lewis learned these things the hard way, she lamented (once she awoke), because she'd lacked the right guidance for venturing to places unknown—travel guidance for solo females, who of course face countless challenges unlikely to affect vacationing families or worldly businessmen.

Thus Go! Girl Guides was hatched. About five years after her dream, in 2011—once Lewis had learned much about publishing and business, and reached out for writing help through her travel blog to her peers—the series' books and ebooks began building in number and notoriety. Now beloved among women all over the United States, they describe where to go, what to see—and what to watch out for—in desirable destinations around the world. To Lewis's knowledge, such books have never been available before.

"Our guides focus specifically on women's health and safety in different countries," said Lewis. "We go beyond the basics to talk about things applying specifically to women: We list women's health clinics in each country and interview local OB-GYNS, for example. ... We really work to be a valuable resource so women feel confident traveling in a new country."

The writing itself is fairly straightforward: Lewis and her Go! Girl Guide Team travel often anyway, so all they have to do is document their encounters, some pretty normal... and some pretty weird.

"Oh man," said Lewis. "I've had so many experiences! The majority have been amazing, but some were rough. I was spied on once in a bus bathroom by a bus employee in Argentina while on a 28-hour trip from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, which was awful. It would've been nice to get the heads-up that bus employees can get a little creepy! I made sure to tell my writers that, and it's something we talk about in our guidebooks."

Lewis's top three tips for traveling women:

1. For the love of God, don't get drunk. "Drink (if you want), but don't get so sloppy drunk that you don't know where you are. It's dangerous ... not cute." 

2. Avoid the beaches at night. "Always."

3. Don't be paranoid; be aware. "The world is mostly good, and people are mostly friendly, but you should always be aware of where you are, where your belongings are and who's around you."

OK, that's it for the free tips—but don't despair: Go! Girl guidebooks are inexpensive, from just $1.99 (Volunteer in Thailand) to $24.99 (a book devoted to all of Mexico—their bestseller), with many books at around five bucks.

"It's incredibly difficult to turn a profit in publishing," said Lewis, "but that's not really what we're about. We just want women to ... experience the transforming power that solo travel gives you. If one woman feels inspired to tackle traveling, then I've done my job."

And she has—not only are her guidebooks popular; so are the many writers on the Go! Team, based out of Brooklyn, Los Angeles, England and other places—with two "Adventurers" (besides Lewis) formerly from Tucson. This city, Lewis says, is what really made Go! Girl Guides possible:

"Tucson is such a great city to start a business in. My Tucson is a really special place, with a great community. Go! Girls really (succeeded) because of the support I had from my family and friends in Tucson, and that hasn't changed—I still have support from my crew! Ultimately everything you do is based on who you know, and my people in Tucson are so selfless and supportive and really encouraged me to make my dreams come true—and now they have! 

"Also, people in Tucson are artistic and celebrate success in a really beautiful way. My boss was so supportive when I went to travel. It was always very easy for me to find great support—and that's just something you don't find in New York."

That's where Lewis is now—New York City—getting ready for another unique endeavor: helping host a special festival just for traveling women. The Women's Travel Fest, scheduled for March 8 at The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts, is cohosted by Go! Girl Guides, which recently partnered with Expedia.com. It'll have panels, Q&A's and lectures hosted by "pro" women travelers on safety, "voluntourism" and much more, plus a "paaartay" at the end for relaxing and networking.

"There's something magical about getting hundreds of like-minded women together to talk about traveling," said Lewis of the fest. "Whether you're a seasoned traveler or someone interested in more information on different parts of the world, we've designed this conference to leave no stone unturned."

But Lewis is "definitely" returning to Tucson pronto—for one thing, she'll soon accept a young alumni award from the Arizona Daily Wildcat, where she started in journalism.

And what would Lewis write in a guide about Tucson?

"Ha!" she said. "I'm not totally sure, but I think it would include a fair amount of chile rellenos and tamales! ... My friends laugh because the first thing I always want when I land in Tucson is a burrito. That's just my style."

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