GoAbroad Interview

Liam Kelly - Founder

Liam Kelly - Founder

Liam has hiked volcanoes, swam with rays, and camped in the wild with lions, yet nothing was as terrifying as his first day teaching in Thailand. What started as an experience characterized by fear, ended up guiding his life in many ways. Through his experiences teaching abroad, Liam developed a newfound respect for educators and an appreciation for new cultures, which led him to start TravelBud, with his best friend, Stu, and brother, Luke.

How did traveling impact your life early on?

My first real independent travel experience was with my fellow TravelBud partner, Stu Brown. We did a mini exchange to a friend’s place in Dusseldorf, Germany, and had the opportunity to visit various towns within Western Europe. Looking back on this experience, the things that stand out for me the most are the new sounds, cars, buildings, smells, tastes, cultural differences, and the excitement of how all of these together created a sensory overload in my mind.

Man sliding down Villarica Volcano

I hiked Villarica Volcano with a few friends back in 2012. It was one of the most physically and mentally challenging experiences of my life. This photo was taken of me on the way down from the summit. Intense pain and dedication resulted in a jubilant experience afterwards. Moments like these have taught me to press on, work hard, and enjoy the rewards that come.

After this experience, I feel that each time I travel I pick up on little changes around the world, and start to see things from a different perspective and gain a greater understanding of how the new people I meet live.

Why do you think traveling abroad can be such a life-changing experience for individuals of all ages?

Travelling allows one to learn and appreciate new cultures and experiences, whilst at the same time taking a step back from life back home. I find that when I return home from a trip abroad I develop a new appreciation for a different element of my life back home. This I believe is something that anyone, of any age, can experience and appreciate.

You founded TravelBud with your best friend and brother. How did the three of you put your heads together and come up with TravelBud?

First and foremost, the three of us have a great love for travel and people. We wanted to provide like-minded people seeking an adventure, which is both fulfilling to themselves and to the people they engage with along the way, with the opportunity to experience something amazing like teaching English abroad, which we ourselves have been fortunate enough to experience first-hand.

Volunteer teacher in Thailand with local student

This photo captured the moment that mattered for me in Thailand. For months I tried to teach this little guy to say "Hello" and "How are you?", he struggled with learning and nothing seemed to work. One day I decided to pick up a plastic banana and have a telephone conversation with him. In this moment the words came from his mouth and tears welled in my eyes. 

What makes TravelBud such a unique addition to the field of international education?

We work hard to find the right people for the job, who care, and are destined to make a positive impact in the lives of their students. Our first-hand experience offers a great advantage of being able to offer invaluable advice and guidance before heading over, fully preparing them. We partner with the best TESOL schools to ensure that our participants receive the best training before heading off to their placements too.

How do TravelBud’s programs integrate your passions for teaching and learning about new cultures?

Our programs place students and young adults into a new and foreign environment outside of their comfort zones, which come equipped with enough in-country support to assist everyone in successfully integrating. We pride ourselves in passing on our first-hand travel experiences and assisting people in ensuring they have the best shot in successfully integrating into a foreign environment abroad.

Men on a motorcycle tour of Koh Lanta, Thailand

My brother and fellow TravelBud founder, Luke Kelly, and I enjoying a break from our motorcycle tour of Koh Lanta, Thailand

You taught in Thailand in the past before you ever came up with the idea for TravelBud. What makes Thailand a great place for first-time travelers in your opinion?

Thailand is so well geared toward travelling. It is a fantastic mix of organised chaos, amazing food, warm and welcoming locals, and scenery that is second to none. From my experience of being a teacher in a small rice-farming town called Bang Luang, my colleagues and various members of the local community treated me like family. Often taking me for lunch, providing me with advice, lots of smiles, and even a place to stay for the duration of my time there.

How did you choose the locations where TravelBud offers programs?

We choose locations/programs based on what we, or our close friends, have experienced. We don’t offer programs unless we have a solid understanding of them and can well and truly pass on valuable advice to ensure that everyone who chooses TravelBud will have a truly amazing experience. We believe that is better to have less programs which we understand back to front than many programs which we do not know all that well.

Man fishing in the Richtersveld

My happy place: Fishing in The Richtersveld.

What do you love most about the path your career has taken you down?

This one is simple: the people I have met. 

Is there anything new we can look forward to in 2016 from TravelBud?

Yes! We are breaking new ground in Colombia!