Welcome to my site!
And to my ever-evolving world, where "home" is often the Caribbean, other times the US, while Ethiopia––my birthplace––remains lodged in my heart. In between, home is all the adventures that have shaped me from living and working abroad.
I am a writer, photographer, blogger, a Caribbean travel expert. A former Washington DC lawyer who ditched the office and a closet full of designer stilettos to follow her lifelong passion for travel and culture.
During the last ten years–while traveling long term in the Caribbean region (living in Jamaica, Grenada and Belize, among other places)–I have had the privilege of doing work that I love through words and images, and inspiring others to travel and immerse in culture and nature.
An adventurous journey
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Côte d’Ivoire, I had my first passport by age six. By 14, I had lived on three continents, survived three school systems (French, British, American), and spoke four languages, including French and Spanish.
In hindsight, it's no surprise that my career as a corporate lawyer couldn't quench my thirst for exploration. In 2008, while sitting at my senior associate’s desk in Washington DC and staring out the window of my spacious office, it hit me. Life was too short to be miserable with work. With planning, I took a leap of faith and left my legal career behind to travel long term–six weeks was the initial plan (turned five months)–and figure out my passion. All I knew was my diverse background, multiple language skills and ability to live in cross cultural settings had a greater purpose. One that I was meant to use to benefit others.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”– Kurt Vonnegut
Travel photography: The beginning
My blog Sunshine and Stilettos launched in late 2008. My initial aim was to share photographs and stories with friends on my life as a solo female traveler. It soon became popular and a year after being on the road and landing assignments as a self-taught photographer, my images were published online and in print travel outlets.
In 2010, I took a travel photography course to enhance my knowledge on the business of photography, from social networking to publication. While I had a couple of articles published, I hadn't yet focused fully on writing for print.
From images to words: Forging a new path
In the summer of 2011, I landed my biggest opportunity yet: a three-month partnership with the Belize Tourism Board as an in-house writer, blogger, and photographer, in collaboration with Matador Travel online magazine. After exploring the country in depth (it was my second time there), and producing over 60 blog posts, articles and sharing photographs, I realized that I wanted to tell stories through words and not just images.
Becoming a published author and travel writer
All of these experiences, hard work and leaps of faith — including working with the Belize Tourism Board — led me to a bigger road: becoming a travel guidebook author. My first edition of Moon Belize (Avalon Travel/Hachette Books) was published in November 2013, printed in full color. I am currently preparing to work on my fourth edition (releasing in 2019).
In 2013, on the heels of my first guidebook, I was offered the opportunity to write a second title for Moon Guides: Moon Belize Cayes, focusing on Belize's offshore islands. A couple of years later, yet another door opened and I submitted a successful proposal for a first edition of Moon Dominican Republic (released Fall 2016). I wrote it from scratch, traveling across the DR for a solid year of research and writing.
Aside from my guidebooks, my articles and photography focus on culture and adventure, and have been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Delta Sky, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, MorningCalm (Korea Air) Magazine, New York Magazine, The Travel Channel, BBC Travel, American Way Magazine, New York Times Magazine and Lonely Planet Travel Magazine, among others.
I also work as a content creator and editor with tourism publications, publishers and travel companies looking for branded content and copywriting on specific Caribbean destinations, or updates to their travel literature, from digital travel agent guides to lists of best Caribbean hotels. Past and present clients include AFAR, Northstar Travel Media, Viator Travel, and a number of Caribbean Tourism entities like the Dominican Republic Ministry Tourism, and the Belize Tourist Industry Association.
Last but not least, I've had the honor of appearing as a Caribbean expert in major media outlets, including radio, podcast and cable television, in multiple languages, and my work being featured.
In 2016, I was thrilled to receive the Caribbean Tourism Organization's annual Marcia Vickery Wallace Memorial Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for my coverage of the Caribbean and of Jamaica.
A few other details about me
- I have two native languages–Amharic and French; I learned them simultaneously as a kid.
- My first name Lebawit means “a female with heart” in Amharic, Ethiopia's national language.
- I’ve lived in eight countries and visited 23 (including New Zealand and Taiwan).
- I love to dance, and my love for salsa, bachata, and merengue have me convinced I was Latina in my past life.
Get in touch
I'd love to hear from you! For writing or photography assignments, speaking engagements, interviews and other potential work collaborations, please get in touch via my email: lily_girma (at) yahoo (dot) com
If you have a favorite place in Belize, Jamaica, or the Dominican Republic that you'd like me to consider for future editions of my guidebooks, I'm always open to suggestions.
Last but not least, if your inquiry is career-related–how to become a travel writer or photographer–please review my blog and media spotlights where I share multiple tips and stories. Because I have to prioritize paying work and I am often on the road, it's often difficult to respond to individual career queries.
Feel free to join me on the social networks.