Alum spotlight: Gabby Beckford (B.S.’17/H&S) shares her best secret travel tips
After graduating from VCU in 2017, Gabby Beckford (B.S.’17/H&S) made a three-year plan to switch careers from a full-time quality engineer with a four-hour-commute in northern Virginia to a full-time travel blogger with a ticket to see, and share, the world.
Beckford grew up with a love of travel and adventure; her mother was a travel agent and her father was active duty military for 25 years. The family moved around the U.S. and spent three years in Japan on one of her dad’s deployments.
“It was instilled in me that travel was a way to learn about each other, learn about the world around us, establish confidence and learn about ourselves, too,” Beckford says.
The time came to execute her plan in 2020, but two weeks after she ended her lease and packed her bags, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Beckford did not give up and instead pivoted, staying stateside to pitch and pour more into her blog, Packs Light, which provides resources, information and tips for aspiring travelers. Her work has been featured in “Good Morning America,” the New York Times, Forbes, National Geographic and more.
What inspired you to travel full time?
While I was at VCU in 2016, I was going to graduate early; I had one semester left. I had a choice: I could graduate and be 20 years old seeking full-time employment, or I could study abroad. I ended up working with the VCU National Scholarship Office and was awarded the Boren Scholarship, which allowed me to study abroad in Dubai for an entire academic year at no cost to me. The experience changed my life and made me realize that I did not want to work as an engineer. I set a timeline for myself of three years. With the scholarship, I had to work one year in government service after graduation. Once that year was done and I spent two years in the field preparing for traveling full time, it was February 2020.
What has been your favorite place to visit or live?
Dubai because of my study abroad experience. It is the first city I experienced with an incredible amount of diversity. There are so many different ways to live life, and you can see them all in Dubai. It reminds me of my time at VCU. Going to university there was the first time that I could deeply see how others experience the world. VCU is the reason why I wanted to go to the Middle East. I was surrounded by Persian, Egyptian and Saudi international students, and I did a language exchange program with someone who didn’t speak English well. I realized I didn’t know anything about the Middle East as a whole, only what is shown on the media and news. So I wanted to go to Dubai to get a view for myself, and ended up falling in love with it.
How did your biomedical engineering and statistics classes apply to traveling full time?
Having my own business and having a degree in statistics helps a lot because I can do so much with data. For example, when people ask me for post-analytic reports from campaigns or partnerships, I am able to produce something that is palatable, but detailed. People who are travel bloggers usually come from a background in writing, journalism or marketing. For me, to have a statistics background brings a different edge to the partnership.
Do you mind sharing some travel tips?
One of my favorite tips is if you’re traveling solo, always have an app phone number that can be accessed via Wi-Fi. This is an easier number to give to hotels and other places because it is not your personal number. It also helps if you do not have service with your usual SIM card because you are out of the country. I recommend Google Voice.
Another top tip: For those traveling on a budget, start planning your trip about three months in advance. Usually, the prices are still ideal and activities are still available in this time frame.
What does your life and Packs Light look like in five years?
I hope in five years my business is fine-tuned where it runs itself. When you start a business, you are wearing a lot of hats. I hope to be wearing one hat by then! I want to be able to delegate really well with a team I really like that supports the administrative side of what I do. Most importantly, I want to help people experience the world again and help the tourism industry recover from the pandemic.
What would you say to others looking to travel full time?
It is more possible than you think. Remote work is much more widely accepted and available now (I would know, I wrote an ebook on it). Traveling full time may not be exactly as glamorous as you think; it’s a lot of juggling time zones, jet lag, etc. But it is worthwhile.
How do you distinguish yourself?
From the very beginning I have been extremely authentic in my content. Yes, my social media is curated and can be scripted, but I have never been the type to stand in front of the Eiffel Tower for an hour to get the perfect shot. I’m the type who will forget my suitcase at my hotel and detail my scramble to get it back. People like authenticity; Generation Z appreciates the good and the bad. My advice is to be courageously authentic and raw.
Where are you going next?
I am hoping to go to Sri Lanka, if they don’t change the border restrictions.