From EA to Founder...

I had spent a little over two years working like a crazy person at a tech start-up in NYC. It was the most insane time of my life. I was (or at least I thought I was) the happiest girl in the world. I loved my company. My CEO was by far the best boss ever. It was definitely the first time in my life I had actually uttered the words “I love my job.” I was respected for the work I did, and I was trusted with responsibilities that didn’t necessarily fall under the EA umbrella. I was treated like a team member, and not a servant. Like most EA jobs, my hours were basically 24/7, but I came and went as I pleased. After all, I was treated like a responsible adult.

Then I had a moment of realization when I saw myself in the mirror, and I looked like I had aged 10 years. I was stressed and overworked and angry and depressed and simply not happy. I even gained 20 lbs. Ugh! All I had going for myself was a job I loved. I hardly had any social life, and zero potential for anything romantic. How did this become my reality? I completely neglected myself. All of my needs and desires became almost non-existent. Thank god for that nagging voice in my head that kept telling me, “You need to focus more on you.”  I needed to make some serious changes, but I had absolutely no idea where to begin. The only thing I knew for sure was that if I kept going at that pace, I was going to have a mental breakdown. Luckily, my solo trip to Bali was quickly approaching, and that would give me ample time to think. I told my boss I that I needed to completely detach in order to recharge, which he understood. Then I said, that means I’m shutting off email and not checking it until I return to the office in 20 days. WHAT? Who says that to their boss? I do! That could have completely backfired, but frankly, I didn’t care. Did I mention I was on the verge of a mental breakdown? BTW, I do not recommend ever saying that to your boss, unless you really don’t give F, then go for it!

I arrived in Bali without a care in the world. I never felt so free in all of my life. I spent the first four days at a five-star hotel laying in the sun, surfing, swimming in the pool, and reading a book. Saying I was relaxed was an understatement. Then I made my way to a women’s sanctuary, where I had 3 hours of treatment daily. Massages, facials, head scrubs, etc. Ok, I was seriously in heaven, and ready to open myself up to all things Bali. I watched mother nature beautifully paint the sky every night at sunset. I visited the temples, and fully immersed myself into a long-lived tradition of making my big wish at Tirta Empul Temple. I spent time walking through the Monkey Forest in Ubud, which was unbelievable especially because I’m obsessed with monkeys. A few little guys jumped on me as I fed them bananas. It was absolutely bananas! I climbed an active volcano in the middle of the night just so I could watch the sun rise from the top, and then I relaxed in a hot spring. I met with all sorts of healers from a light & crystal healer to a massage healer and everything in between.

Bali is a very spiritual place. All you need to do is open up your ears, and actually listen to the messages being sent. For me, it completely changed my life. The Bali gods were sending me a message loud and clear… career change. Immediately, I said no way! I’m too old for a career change. Plus, I love my job. I met with a tarot card healer, and he basically predicted the next year of my life. Everything he was telling me did not make any sense at the time, and most of it was based on this career change I wasn’t going to make. All I could think was that he and the Bali gods had the wrong girl. I made a mental note of a few things that stood out, and then I pretty much forgot about the session.

I came back to NYC feeling like a new woman who could rule the world. I enjoyed a relaxing New Year’s Eve with friends and family, and then it was back to the grind. I walked into the office, and I immediately felt like I couldn’t breathe. Almost like I was being suffocated by stress and anxiety. There was so much going on, and my plate was completely over-flowing. I was juggling a thousand balls at once, and trying my hardest not to let any of them drop. It was absolute insanity, but I still loved my job! Before I knew it, it was March and I still hadn’t come up for air. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, because I’m only one person and I am only human. For some strange reason, as an EA you’re expected to be magician and make the impossible happen. There are so many “Are you FN kidding me” moments that I would have throughout each and every day. Instead, I bit my tongue and smiled, because I loved my job.

One day, my boss took me to lunch and delivered some really difficult news. While he was speaking, I remembered a few things the tarot card healer said, and I realized it’s all starting to happen. I went home and immediately played the recording of our session. My mind was blown! How could he know all of this? Everything he said was making complete sense. I had no intention of leaving my job, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice. I was laid off, and it was time for me to figure out my next move, and all I could hear in my mind was career change. I respected my boss and his opinion, so I asked him what he thought I should do. He said, “Kelly, don’t take this the wrong way as I think you are an amazing EA, but maybe it’s time for you to do something else. Honestly, you hate being an assistant.” I never really realized it until I heard him say those words, and couldn’t have agreed more. I hated being an assistant. So, what’s next? The wheels began turning…

I needed to find something I loved. Something that warmed my heart. Something that made me feel fulfilled at the end of the day. Something that would have impact on other people’s lives. Something that has a healing element to it. Something that would make me feel like the woman I was when I returned from Bali. I spent a few days in my head thinking, and shortly after Travel Souly was born. I couldn’t be prouder of myself for creating this company from nothing. I have already come so far, and this is only the beginning! I am beyond excited to see where this journey leads, and how women all over the world will be positively impacted by Travel Souly.

It’s certainly not the most traditional career path, but I would say being an EA has more than prepared me for this role as Founder. Finally, I can honestly say I love my job, and I truly mean it!

Kelly Bates

Where's my seat?

Let’s be honest, there are no perfect seats on a flight, unless you are in first or business class in your own row or suite, or on a private jet. If that is your flying style, then there is absolutely no reason for you to read any further. For the rest of us, we have to strategically plan our seat attack. Before becoming an Executive Assistant, I really didn’t think much about choosing a seat on a flight. To be honest, I used to pick a window seat in a row with a good number. I was much more superstitious in my younger days. Everything changed once I started booking flights for others. God forbid my executive was stuck in a seat that didn’t recline, or was located near the lavatory, or in the bulkhead, or in the back of the plane, or the very worst… the dreaded middle seat. Off with her head!!! Having to constantly research seats for others made me a little bit of a seat snob. They always rub off on you, those picky execs! Here are a few tips for snagging a good seat on a plane…

Are you a window or aisle person? This really should be a situational answer, and there are a few questions you need to ask yourself…

  • How long is this flight?
  • Do I want to sleep without being disturbed?
  • Do I need to get up a lot to use the lavatory or to stretch my legs?
  • Do I have a connecting flight? If so, how much lay over time?
  • Is there a better seat closer to the front of the plane?
  • Do I want the bulkhead?

Let’s break it down:

If your flight is under 5 hours, then go with which ever you prefer more, aisle or window. If your flight is over 5 hours and you want to sleep without being disturbed, then go with the window. If your flight is over 5 hours and you want to get up a lot, then go with the aisle. It’s better than having to hop over the person next to you who won’t wake up from your polite nudge. I have been there before, and of course he woke up while I was mid hop. Awkward!

Front or back of the plane?

I always go with the front of the plane. I like to be up and out without having to wait on everyone ahead of me.

The only time I would suggest booking a seat in the back of the plane is if you are in economy on a really long flight, and only if there are a lot of empty seats. If luck is on your side, then you might get an entire row to yourself. I wish I would have known this little tip before I went on a 14 hour non-stop flight to South Africa. If you have the extra money or points to splurge a little on premium economy for those really long flights, then please take my word that it is beyond worth it! Most importantly, if you have a connection with limited time, then always chose the seat closest to the front. Also, be sure to take into consideration that the first flight can be delayed and you might have to really book it to your next flight.

Bulkhead?

If you appreciate the extra leg room, then go for it. Please keep in mind that you will have to put your personal carry on item in the overhead compartment, and depending on the plane you may not have a pocket to hold your items in front of you. Also, sometimes people flying with babies will request the bulkhead, which means there could be a lot of crying. Personally, I don’t mind the bulkhead for short flights, but I would opt for a different row on long flights. I’m super short, and on some planes my feet do not reach the floor if I sit properly in my seat. Sad, but true! That’s why I like to have my trusty back pack under the seat in front of me as it has a dual purpose and also serves as a foot rest.

You have chosen your seat, now what?

Do yourself a favor and go to seatguru.com. Look at the seat you have chosen and make sure it is a desirable seat. Either print your itinerary or add the seat number to the appointment you create in your calendar so you can keep track. If you book a flight well in advance, then you may want to check on your seat every few weeks to make sure the airline didn’t bump you out of your carefully chosen seat. Also, if a better seat opens up then then you can claim it before it’s too late. Lastly, check in online as soon as it opens, which is usually 24 hours prior to the departure time. Before you check in, give that seat map one last look. Sometimes you’ll get an even better seat simply because people have either been granted their requested upgrades, or they decided to cancel or switch flights at the very last minute. It’s always worth that last look. 

Less is more…

I used to be known for always over packing. I was that girl who checked a bag for a weekend trip. I would bring 10 pairs of shoes, enough toiletries to sink a ship, and at least 6 extra dresses just in case. Just in case? In all my years of traveling, I never actually found out what just in case really means. Meanwhile, I was stuck schlepping these heavy bags around and only I was to blame. When I went to Spain for 15 days, I had a serious moment of realization, and I knew I had to change my packing habits for good. My checked bag was 5 pounds over the limit. Ah it’s only 5 pounds over, right? Wrong! That would have cost me around a total of $500 in penalty fees for all of the flights on my trip. Luckily, the agent warned me to make adjustments before my next flight. The worst part of these adjustments was having to make my back pack even heavier. Why the F did I pack so much? The back pack literally made me topple over every time I put it on. Plus, I had to pull 2 pieces of luggage almost totaling my body weight from Home -> JFK -> Barcelona Airport -> Airbnb -> Barcelona Airport -> Ibiza Airport -> Airbnb -> Ibiza Airport -> Mallorca Airport -> Hotel -> Mallorca Airport -> Madrid Airport, which also included a 3 mile walk to the terminal where I had to change planes -> JFK -> taxi -> home. I'm exhausted just thinking about it! A week at the spa couldn’t cure the pain I felt after I returned. That was when I made a sound decision to always strive to under pack. What is this nonsense I speak of?!?! It makes sense. Hear me out.  

I’ve found that if I focus on under-packing, then I will pack just the right amount or only slightly over. For example, I recently went on a trip to Disney World for 9 days. (Yes, I am slightly insane!) All I packed was a small carry-on and my trusty back pack, which I now refer to as the Mary Poppins bag. Believe it or not, I still managed to over pack!

So, what’s the secret to under packing? Be realistic and honest with yourself. You know you don’t need every pair of shoes in your closet. That dress you bought 3 years ago with the tags still on it, (you know the one) throw it in the donation bag immediately! If you are questioning whether or not you should bring something, then the answer is no. Not comfortable with that answer? Then ask yourself, “Do I really want to lug everything I own around with me while I’m on vacation?” Trust me, the “what if I need it” is certainly not worth the struggle. If you are nervous about not having enough for that “just in case” moment, then ease your mind with this simple thought...  You can always buy it there. What? How could you possibly buy it there? Unless the destination you are traveling to is so far removed from off the beaten path, then I would bet that they have whatever it is that you may need. The label might be in a different language, but it's all the same stuff. 

The added bonus to successfully under packing is that you can buy things at your destination to physically bring home with you. Gifts for loved ones. That dress you have had your eye on from the moment you landed. After all, you need it because you didn’t pack that extra dress for dinner. Aha! ;) A pair of shoes to go with your new lovely dress. A unique purse no one at home would ever have. You can make all of these purchases without worrying how it will fit it into your luggage. Imagine that? 

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when trying to under pack:

1.       Do your laundry 2 nights before you are scheduled to leave. This will give ample time for all the stuff you hang dry to actually dry before you're ready to begin packing. It's the only way to avoid that mildew smell from wet clothes. Gross!

2.       Fold everything into categorized piles… Dresses, shirts, shorts, PJs, socks, unmentionables, etc.

3.       Once you have everything you intend on taking is in correct piles, then remove at least 2 items from each pile. That sexy little bedtime number that you will not wear. Unless you are going away with your significant other, then please remove it. Who has time for that, seriously?

4.       Decide on the shoes you will 1000% need. Need, not want! This will obviously depend on your intended destination, but let’s keep it limited. For example, you are going to a casual resort on an island. Chances are you will either be barefoot or in a pair of flip flops for the whole vacation. Bring a pair of flippies, a nice flat sandal, one “just in case” heel or wedge, and a pair of sneakers. How can you limit it down to only 4 pairs of shoes? I promise you, it’s possible!

5.       Plan your outfits in advance, and actually try them on before you pack. If you're anything like me, then your weight is constantly fluctuating. Ugh, I know! :( There’s nothing worse than arriving with an entire bag of clothes that no longer fit you. Been there before, and it was not fun! Try to pack similar colors that will match that one pair of sandals and that one pair of heels/ wedges. If most of my outfits are black, then I plan for a black wedge and a fancy silver or gold sandal or vice versa. Once you have your 4 pairs of shoes, then place them at the bottom of the suitcase strategically mushing them together without damaging the shape of the shoe.  

6.       Keep rolling and rolling and rolling… seriously, I roll everything! Start with the casual dresses and then the fancy dresses, followed by shirts, shorts, pants, etc. Roll and place it in the suitcase and repeat. Make sure to fit it all in tightly, and then fit one more in. There is always more space. The tighter the better, and it will lead to less wrinkles.  

7.       Purses, another space gobbler. Limit yourself to a total of 3 purses. One that goes with most of the outfits you packed (for me it would be black) and one that matches the fancy sandal. These purses should be fancy, yet casual. They should be able to go with a dressy outfit, yet not look over the top with a more casual outfit. The most important purse is the casual every day bag. I suggest a cross body type of purse. Something you can take on an all-day adventure or out for a quick coffee run.

8.       Keep room for in your suitcase for your hairdryer, brushes, mini steamer, make-up case, and toiletries. If you don’t have Global Entry or TSA pre-check, then you should put your toiletries in the back pack in case you have to put it in a bin at the security check. It’s a little easier to remove from the back pack verses the suitcase.

9.       Ah toiletries… keep it travel size even if you are checking a bag. The weight from full sized bottles will add up. Personally, I find it more cost effective to buy the fillable travel sized containers verses actual travel sized products. I have spent over $50 on travel sized products for one long weekend trip, which is basically the same cost for the products I usually buy at a normal size. Plus, I prefer to buy the products I like and transfer them into the travel sized containers. At least then I have products I actually like instead of settling for what comes in travel size. What I’m about to say next might be my OCD talking... after you fill the containers, put them into Ziploc bags divided by category. Why by category? If a hair product explodes, then you can still get away with using everything if it’s in a Ziploc with other hair products. If that same bottle exploded while in a bag with your mouth wash or eye cleanser, then you might have to go to the store to buy replacements. If you are on a trip for 7 days or more, then double up on shampoo, conditioner, tooth paste, mouth wash, body wash, lotion, and sun block.

10.   Now you should be left with socks, undies, PJs, swimsuits, cover ups, etc.… This is when that trusty back pack comes in handy. I use my Mary Poppins bag, and I stuff these items in along with any light weight articles of clothing that don't fit into the carry-on. Try to strategically fill the back pack in a way that makes sense for you. I put all the items I just mentioned above in the pocket closest to my back. I don't want to have to open up the pocket while getting from point A to B. The middle pocket is for my laptop, I-pad, chargers, international sockets, and a book. I keep room in this compartment to stuff my casual cross body bag. In my cross-body bag, I keep my wallet, passport if necessary, cell phone, boarding pass, lip gloss, hair clip and anything else that I need to be easily accessible. Back to the Marry Poppins bag… the other compartments are for my gum/ mints, Evian Spray, hand sanitizer, Vitamin C packets, Vitamins, Advil, and my noise cancelling headphones. What baby crying? If you are strategic when packing your back pack, then you will know precisely where everything is, and it will be much easier to find when you have to dig for it on the plane.  

Hope this article helps you pack for your next adventure!

Travel souly, find your soul!

Kelly