Traveling Lives: Contiki Guide and Filmmaker Glenn Kelly

by Brianne Miers
Glenn Kelly at the Great Wall of China

Glenn Kelly is pretty much living the dream – or at least my dream – by getting paid to travel the world while only working half of the year. We met this winter in India when he and two of his fellow Contiki travel directors were “Team Trashbag” in the Rickshaw Challenge. Check out his videos of our trip. (Update: Glenn is studying filmmaking.)

NAME: Glenn Kelly


OCCUPATION: Travel Director, Contiki, and Freelance Content Creator

How have you made your life a “traveling life” and why?

I decided in 2008 that I wanted to see as much of the world as I could before I turned 30. I made a list, called “30before30,” and started saving. Late 2009 I stepped onto a plane with a one way ticket to Beijing and haven’t had a permanent address for more than a few months since then.

It was tough to do, and some people thought I was insane, but it’s been five and a bit years, and I’m still on the road. I ended up crossing off more than 36 items before turning 30, and have now started a “40before40.”

To fund my ongoing travels, I started working as a travel director/tour manager/trip leader for Contiki Holidays, which has been amazing way to stay on the road and only work four-to-six months a year.

The role lets me help others to travel, while being surrounded by fellow staff members who are happy to drop everything during our time off and go explore some new place.

Glenn Kelly in Peru

horsing around in Peru

Why is travel important to you? 

Travel has allowed me to evaluate what is important and owning a home/car, etc. isn’t really for me. Over the last five years, my entire life has fit into a suitcase and a 1x1m locker. Travel also affords me the chance to meet people from different walks of life. I can honestly say I have friends on every continent, and a couch to crash on in most countries.

I also think that generally travel gives a wider perspective on your own cultural background. I’ve had travellers onboard my trips that go home and completely change directions in their lives because they realised what they were doing just doesn’t excite them.

What are some of your first travel memories? 

First travel memory is being terrified. I was 25, I landed in Beijing, didn’t speak the language, know anyone, and everything I owned at that point which amounted to 13kg, was in my backpack. I had no plan and the feeling of being completely alone was both scary and exhilarating. It’s a freedom that I think more people should experience.

The second most prominent memory would be when I stood at Everest base camp, Tibet/China side. I cried, not from sadness but because it was the first thing I ever wrote down on the 30before30 list, and having ridden a mountain bike there had made seeing it even more amazing.

Glenn Kelly in Egypt

jumping in Egypt

What is your most significant travel memory and why?

I was by far the slowest on the bike ride to Everest, and one day I was just done, so I pulled over on the side of the road to wait for the support crew – a small, doorless/windowless van.

While on the side of the road, some local Tibetan farmers waved me over and offered me tea and bread. We were away from the normal tourist trail on some backroads, and I think I may have been the only white, non-Chinese/Tibetan person they had every met up close.

I met their kids, who had been off herding some yaks, and spent about 45 minutes with them. It’s amazing that people who have next to nothing were still willing to share with a strange, sweaty, bearded white boy.

I didn’t have my camera on the bike that day, so this memory and image of the kind Tibetan farmers will only ever reside in my own mind, and – strangely for me – it makes it even more special.

What are some misconceptions friends & family have about your travels?

They assume I’m drunk every day, eat weird things constantly, and have spend each moment worried I’m about to be mugged or scammed. They also assume I’m on an extended holiday – five years and counting – but the truth is travel is now my profession.

Glenn Kelly

What advice do you have for others who want to incorporate more travel into their lives?

Book a plane ticket that departs 12 months from today. You now have 52 weeks to save for this trip. Try and put $30/£20 away each week, at a minimum you’ll have $1,500/£1000 for your trip.I often hear money is the biggest barrier to travel but there are simple things you can do to save more:

  • Divert 10% of your pay into a high interest account
  • Cut back socialising/drinking to once a month and save what you would have spent (put in the high interest account)
  • Cut back on dining out
  • Sell old clothing/furniture/electronics on eBay

If we’re honest with ourselves there are plenty of little things we spend money on a week that we could go without.

Where are you headed next? Croatia

Anything else?

Just say yes. Making it work has lead to me to exploring Mexico, visiting Chile and living in Austria.

The worst days I’ve had travelling have lead to some of my best stories.

Glenn Kelly in India

Glenn Kelly making friends in India

Connect with Glenn Kelly: Twitter | Instagram

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