"FloYo and travel go hand in hand. One would not exist without the other."
- FloYo Founder, Jessie Benson
It all started in 2010. I was 2 years out of college and had been working in my hometown of Baltimore, MD at a local PR agency since I graduated from Rollins College in 2008. After graduating from college I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for work, but after a few internships in the PR/Marketing field I was thrilled to be offered this position straight out of college. The job was exciting, I was learning every day and getting to plan and attend fun press events. I looked the part of the “PR girl” in my pencil skirts and fancy Tory Burch pumps, however, after 2 years the fun began to wear off and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I had this unquenched desire to see the world (I had a little taste of travel in college when I studied abroad in Australia and did a big European backpacking trip right after college graduation) and knew I needed to leave this job now or else I may get sucked into the PR world and never make my escape! So, I bought a one way ticket to Quito, Ecuador and told my boss I needed to go explore and see the world.
Did I have doubts about leaving a secure job with a decent pay check and benefits- you bet!
I also knew that I was young with no commitments in Baltimore (other than that house in Fed Hill that I was so proud to have just purchased!) so now was the time. My idea was to travel around South America and try different fitness classes and blog about them. This is where my Instagram name @CulturallyFit came in. I wanted to learn about and experience other cultures through fitness. I arrived in Quito with one backpack and absolutely no plan. I was ready to step into the unknown and see what I would discover.
At the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. | Bolivia, 2010
Chiang Mai 2011 | Volunteering at the Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand.
The next 4 months were some of the best (and also scariest) months of my life. I met local tribes deep in the Amazon jungle, slept in a salt cave in Bolivia, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu during landslide season with no other English speakers, I surfed with Australian’s in Chile. As I traveled alone through 8 different countries where a 6′ tall, blonde America stuck out like a sore thumb I was amazed by the kindness I recieved from complete strangers. This trip awakened an awareness inside of me that no matter how different we may seem from the surface, we have more similarities than I ever dreamed. Even if we couldn’t communicate clearly, I learned to approach the world with an open mind and constant curiosity. After 2 months of couch surfing my way through South America, I wasn’t quite ready to go home to Baltimore. So, I bought another one way ticket….this time to Bangkok. I could write for hours about the many adventures I had in South East Asia- but the pivitol one is what led me here.
While exploring the tiny Indonesian Islands not far from Bali, called the Gili Islands, I discovered stand up paddleboarding for the very first time. I remember seeing what looked like a person walking on water coming towards Gili T. from a neighboring island. I was intrigued and I swam out to see what this person was standing on. They told me it was a paddle board. I had never heard or seen such a thing.
Eventually my SE Asia trip came to a close and I decided to return to Baltimore to see my family. Before I even arrived back in Baltimore I had received a job offer to be the Marketing Manager of a shopping mall in Baltimore County, Maryland. I was ready to get back to a regular paycheck so I took the job without much thought. My office was in the center of the mall with no windows or connection to the outdoors. For someone who thrives in the outdoors, this small, dark office felt like a prison cell. I would often find myself sitting in that office dreaming of the stand up paddle board I had seen in the Gili Islands.
I remember very clearly the day that one of my colleagues casually asked me, “If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?” I didn’t have to think long.
I replied, I would travel the world and teach paddle boarding.
Once I said those words out loud, I starting thinking more and more about this as an actual possibility. I am a big believer in the law of attraction and I believe that once you put an idea into writing and visualize it becoming a reality than it will become a reality. Less than a year later I had discovered that Baltimore’s first SUP (standup paddle board) rental business had opened and within weeks I had convinced them to let me bring my clients from the gyms (I had been teaching group fitness at a variety of gyms in town) to try yoga and fitness classes on the boards. This “SUP Fitness” idea was a brand new concept at the time, no one else on the East Coast was doing it. I presented my classes and this idea of SUP Fitness at a fitness conference in Florida and this is where I saw an opportunity to make a name for this “SUP Yoga” thing- and that is when FloYo was born.
Vietnam 2011 | While biking through the Mekong Delta I saw these kids playing soccer. I stopped and played with them and instantly had 5 new best friends!
Indonesia 2011 | My dive instructor in the Gili Islands- the first place I discovered SUP!
FloYo classes are about stepping our of your comfort zone so that you can discover what you are capable of. When I step on the paddleboard I am able to find that same sense of exploration and freedom I found when I stepped off the plane in Ecuador for the first time. It was only a matter of time before I started to combine my love of teaching FloYo classes with my love of traveling the world.
Since 2016 I have been curating unique retreats that lead people on truly local and authentic travel experiences. Through my FloYo Travels Retreats I provide opportunities for my clients to experience a country and culture by actively and meaningfully engaging with it’s history, people, food and environment. We bike ride with locals through their neighborhoods and villages to learn about their daily life, we go into locals homes for cooking classes and dance lessons. We get off the typical tourist track and explore the hidden alleyways and secret beaches. And our paddle adventures provide first hand encounters with the local wild life, fishermen and communities who live along the coast. These retreats are not your typical yoga retreat- it is not about doing yoga 3x a day and laying on a beautiful beach. FloYo Travels Retreats are about awakening a passion within you, these retreats give you permission to dream bigger and encourage you to step out of your comfort zone as you begin to tune in to all that the world has to offer.
I look forward to traveling with you!