Transformational Travel – Founder Story

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destination wedding, Jordan

This destination event was many things to me: it was my second chance to make a lifetime commitment, it was a chance to bring my old and new worlds together for one symbolic celebration and it was the test of my idea for YouLi – the business I wanted to build to empower group leaders to create these types of transformational travel experiences. I had a lot to prove.

Two Digital Nomads Traveling The World

5 years before the wedding, I had packed all my belongings into a shipping container and moved my life from NYC to Melbourne, Australia. I had made the move to get a new perspective outside my American bubble and I got more perspective than I had bargained for. It took 2 years of planning. I knew my American friends would need at least that much time to save enough vacation.

We never wanted a wedding, not the traditional kind anyway. My fiancé and I were travelers who had met on the other side of the world from our homes and we’d built a life surrounded by people who believed in the transformational power of travel as much as we did. So we wanted a destination wedding that was all travel and no wasted time on white dresses and silly ceremonies.

So we set about planning an Epic Destination Wedding; 8 Days across the most stunning locations in Jordan, where my husband was born and where he showed me how oversimplified my perception of the Arab world was. I planned it with the help of Sue Beard from Spice Road Travel – an Aussie who had lived in Jordan and knew how to create experiences that exceeded expectations. We even made a welcome video to help them know what was included.

Connecting The Cultures

It wasn’t a cheap trip, and it was a lot to ask of our guests. The itinerary was $2-3K USD depending on how many days people came for and what extras they selected (like hot air ballooning over Wadi Rum), plus airfare. I figured we would be lucky if we got 10 people to join on to our crazy plans, yet somehow we had 50 interested and 30 who actually came.

Our guests came from the US, Argentina, Europe, Asia and Australia. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the Americans who were hardest to convince that Jordan was safe. This was during the Syrian War, before the Americans got directly involved, and Jordan borders Syria. I had so many conversations explaining why they would not be kidnapped and why they would be amazed at how welcoming Jordanians were (even, and sometimes especially, to Americans).

One college friend in particular decided not only to trust me and go further from her comfort zone than ever before, but she also brought her new boyfriend. I warned her that travel can test relationships, but she took the chance. She trusted in me and she trusted in her relationship and on return from her extraordinary trip she married her boyfriend and soon after named their daughter Jordan because of how deeply the trip had transformed their lives.

What Made It A Transformational Experience

The wedding day was held in the ancient Roman amphitheater of Jerash, after many of our friends demanded an actual ceremony. We were told that only royalty had weddings there, but that only made us more determined. It required a bit of “wasta” (knowing the right people), to get the permits, but it turns out even non-royals can have their day in the sun. It was a mashup of Arab and Western tradition. We entered together to the Zaffe, played on bagpipes, followed by dancing, then Western wedding vows (I said mine in Arabic as a nod to my new in-laws, despite not knowing how to speak it fluently). Then, of course, more dancing, including the Dabke. 

For my guests it was the most wonderful way to experience a magical country and make friends with the people their news channels told them were their enemies. For me, it was a test of my ability to accept that I cannot control everything – especially not in Jordan! One of our #TransformationalGroupLeaders, Dr. Fiona Hill, shared with me later that for her, all the control goes into the process before the trip, then you must trust in your guides, your passengers and yourself to navigate what comes. That is how you make transformational experiences.

In the end the trip was better than I could have dreamed even when things didn’t go to plan. It changed not only me and my husband, but also transformed our guests. We still can’t believe we pulled it off and the confidence from that experience has powered me through many hard times. I encourage everyone about to embark on a new venture to test with a friendly audience and challenge themselves to do the impossible, it makes you feel like you can do anything!

I came back inspired to create, and today the YouLi Travel Management Platform serves transformational group leaders around the world. My team is passionate about our mission and determined to help trip organizers, like you, provide the transformation that travelers are seeking.

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Jennifer Fein
Jennifer Fein
Jen Fein is the product visionary behind YouLi and epic group travel planner. After years of building digital products as an engineer and product manager for others, she’s now determined to make software that empowers passionate people to create unique group travel businesses. She is also the co-author of Ready to Start? Becoming an Entrepreneur in Australia.