Travel runs in the family for Gabby Beckford, the wildly popular Gen Z blogger behind Packs Light. Her mom spent 25 years as a travel agent, with her sister following suit. And because her dad was in the military, they moved every two years—including a stint in Japan.
“Things like navigating airports, reading maps, and being in different places where I didn’t know the language were common growing up,” says Beckford.
When you take this early exposure to travel and combine it with a fiercely independent, entrepreneurial spirit, you get someone who took her first solo trip to Iceland at 17. Someone who won more than $75,000 in college scholarships (including a $40,000 study abroad scholarship that allowed her to spend one year in Dubai, UAE). You get someone who has started her own company, given a TEDx talk, and been featured everywhere from the New York Times to Good Morning America...all before the age of 25.
So what’s the secret behind her success? Turns out it all boils down to “delusional confidence” which, in addition to the apt title for her recent TEDx talk, is the very force propelling her to seek risks, seize opportunities, and see the world—while helping others do the same.
I caught up with Beckford to learn more about how her mindset has shifted in light of the pandemic, and what she hopes to see for the future of the travel industry (diversity included).
“Gabby is a girl who just doesn’t believe in limitations.”
I can’t help but ask Beckford about this quote, pulled directly from her author bio on The Huffington Post, when it seems like the ultimate limitation is standing in front of all of us: COVID-19. But she simply doesn’t see it that way.
“When a wave comes at you, you can either surf it or be fearful and run away,” Beckford explains. “This year has required a mental shift because of my own assumptions—I thought 2020 was going to be my year. But now it’s up to me to find joy in the everyday.”
Just because the world is smaller doesn’t mean you can’t continue to see it. That’s what Beckford continually tells herself—and her almost 17k followers on Instagram—as a reminder that what makes travel, travel is the fact that you’re outside of your comfort zone accruing cultural or experiential moments, which you don’t have to venture far to do.
And while the almost superhuman ability to seek out the silver lining seems like the ultimate manifestation of the “easier said than done” cliché, Beckford insists that there are practical, easy steps you can take to make this Herculean feat more accessible.
- Making your house as comfortable as possible
“When you’re secure and stable, it’s easier to see the silver lining,” argues Beckford, who has become a devoted plant mom during the pandemic. “I also purchased an essential oil diffuser and open up all my windows to get fresh air and make my house as comfortable as possible.”
- Reminiscing on old travels
“We rarely get the chance to take a step back and reflect in a more meaningful way on our past travels,” says Beckford. “This is the perfect time to do that.”
- Joining virtual penpal groups
“I’m part of a chat roulette with people around the world,” explains Beckford who, two days prior, was talking with someone from Bosnia. “It’s a really interesting way to connect because we’re all going through this pandemic together.”
- Taking a step back to think about this “blip of time” in the context of your life
“I think back to high school, which felt SO long at the time,” says Beckford, “and now I can barely remember any of it. And that was four years! So while we may be here for a year or two, in the long stream of things—in a decade or so—it will be a blip. But because we’re in the moment right now, it feels kind of like a heart break. And it will take time to get past the emotional part.”
“You have to prepare for opportunities even when you can’t see them.”
I pose this line to Beckford next, a direct quote from her TEDx talk, and ask her how she’s preparing for future travel when that “future” is tenuous at best.
A proud “bargain shopper,” Beckford is seizing this time to purchase hotel credits in advance and plan trips for 2021. “At the worst, nothing comes out of it, and at the best? You get amazing deals,” she argues, citing increasingly flexible cancellation policies as added motivation.
“If you can’t predict the future, why not opt to believe in the positive? If there’s a 50/50 chance that you’ll go or not go, then why not commit to the belief that you’ll go? It’ll make your mental state so much better up until that point.”
“It doesn’t pay to be pessimistic.”
Optimism is clearly Beckford’s MO when it comes to seizing opportunity—she regularly shares funded travel opportunities with her readership, completely free—but when I surfaced this final quote, I was interested in gauging where on the optimism spectrum she falls when it comes to diversity in the travel industry.
Despite growing up with a white mother, Black father, and Japanese step mother, race wasn’t something Beckford grew up talking about.
“I was always so confident, no one could tell me anything about myself,” explains Beckford. “And it wasn’t until later that it registered in a meaningful way that I am Black and that people of color specifically are treated differently."
Fast forward to today, and race is something that she things about all the time. "Representation in the travel industry is ridiculously important, and I have to use my privilege to talk about it."
In a recent post, Beckford highlights the importance of portraying more Black women enjoying luxury travel experiences, stating that her "favorite aesthetic is Black women in luxury."
"Black women relaxing, Black women being taken care of instead of doing all the caring. I don't like seeing us expected to suffer in life, in love, in anything, to be deserved of happiness. Why can't we just have the happiness the first time? Up front?"
As a member of the Black Travel Alliance, Beckford works with fellow travel authors, bloggers, broadcasters, journalists, photographers, podcasters, social media influencers, and vloggers to amplify the voices of people of color, provide training and business support to members, and hold destinations and travel brands accountable on the issue of diversity in travel marketing and storytelling.
It’s these sorts of tangible actions that make her optimistic for the longevity and sustainability of the cultural shift that we’re starting to see with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I do hope this is different,” says Beckford, “and that we’ll start to see long-term changes with Black people in positions of power. I’m optimistic because the conversations on race are still being had, but I also think we need to think about diversity and inclusion in so many other ways. Non-binary, queer, able-bodied, not-able-bodied, dark-skinned, light-skinned, young people. I want those voices to be heard.”
To diversify the voices in your Instagram feed, consider following these 18 influential people of color.