All I can say is wow: I am so glad to have Nell Shapiro from the Kibou Bag in our travel interview series!

I first learned about Kibou from an Instagram ad, when I was researching the best fanny packs for travel, and what I hadn’t even seen is that the Kibou is the world’s first diaper bag fanny pack. Little did I know that within a few months, I’d be slinging a Kibou across my back as a “cool mom” belt bag while taking our infant on her first road trips and flights.

The Kibou became the #1 thing that saved me in changing a diaper on a plane as well as being a handy travel item.

The company starts with Nell, though, and her travel history, her first months and year of being a parent and the way she developed Kibou with her business partner and friend, Steph. It turns out we both share a love of some of the same awesome travel destinations out there, as well as a common past of playing Mad Libs during family road trips when we were kids!

Read on, to learn all about this feature’s travel entrepreneur.

Interested in seeing in-depth about the Kibou? Read my Kibou diaper bag fanny pack review to see if it’s for you or your partner.

Tell us about your personal history with travel. When did travel begin for you?

My earliest travel memories are long car trips in the 80s with my family. We rarely took airplanes (crazy to say, since I’m only 42, but in those days, my grandparents used to get dressed up for flights, and planes still had ashtrays!).

We lived outside of D.C., and would drive all the way up to Kittery, Maine, or down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Because cars only had cassette players and personal screens weren’t a thing, we would play sooo many games as a family; one of our favorites was the “word guessing game” where someone thought of anything in the world and you just kept asking questions to get to their word. We would have singalongs (no radio, just us), and I usually brought a pillow, and was a master at car naps.

As I got older, we took more flights, but I’d say the travel bug really bit me once my older sister moved to France when I was 15, and we began going to Europe once a year.

A couple of years later, I got to spend two months of high school in Israel just outside of Tel Aviv. And though I didn’t study abroad in college, when I was 26, I moved to Argentina for a year to learn Spanish and teach English to adults (and travel as much as I possibly could afford to!).

While that’s not where my traveling began, my experience as an outsider, just learning the language, was incredibly humbling and rewarding. It cemented for me the commitment to sharing the world and our small part in the vastness of humanity, with my kids.

How did travel change for you when you became a parent?

When you’re young and childless, other than traveling for work, travel is mostly vacation. Of course, you can go somewhere to volunteer, or you can go on adventurous trips that involve difficult terrain and exhausting days, but ultimately, it’s all what you’ve chosen to do.

Traveling with kids is an adventure, it’s an experience, and while it’s still technically a vacation, I’m not so sure I’d call it that. :-)

When the kids were really little, we traveled less and opted to go with family whenever possible, to have more hands on-deck—I guess in hopes of sneaking in some relaxation and solo time together.

My husband and I are lucky enough to have parents who can still watch our kids, so we’ve been able to sneak away for weekends together, from upstate New York to wine country in California, at least once a year. We even made it to Italy for our close friends’ wedding for a week in October 2019.

Charlie was only one when Covid shut everything down, so by the time things were opening up again, Dan and I were itching to adventure. Travel for us now is about going to places that we’re excited to explore, because when we’re genuinely excited–and take a bit of time to identify things that would be engaging for the kids–we know they will feed off of our enthusiasm and they’ll enjoy it as much as we do.

Last summer, we took the kids to the south of France and to Amsterdam, and it was truly a dream from beginning to end, flight and all. I think mostly because we didn’t try to overdo or over-schedule it.

Since the boys were little, we’ve always taken them to restaurants and brought plenty of magazines, coloring supplies and activity books to keep them busy. This serves us so well, as we travel because they’re prepared to sit down for meals and (mostly) not disturb others around us.

We’re lucky they don’t mind hours on the plane (when we do give them pretty much endless screen time) and hours in the car (when we call upon some of those car games I used to play with my family: Mad Libs, anyone? And we do “Song Square” where we rotate song choice around the car for hours at a time).

How did travel inspire your ideas for the first Kibou?

Kibou is all about being on-the-go without stuff weighing you down, and when I first envisioned the design, I thought of it for everyday life–going from our apartment to the playground or doctor’s office and baby meet-ups or the library.

But the first time we took a flight with a baby (with our then-six-month-old), I realized that traditional diaper bags weren’t just cumbersome and in-the-way when I was walking around town—they were also less than ideal (kind of the worst!) for airplane aisles, bathrooms, and travels in foreign cities.

In all instances, having a compact hands-free diaper bag by my side would have helped me to feel more prepared, less overwhelmed and more present with my family.

Tell us about the lightbulb moment when Kibou was born.

When Theo was only a few months old, I was itching to get out of the apartment and meet people.

Those early days are just so all-consuming and, for me, totally overwhelming. Socially, I did not feel like myself at all, so making new mom friends who also had new babies was hard.

I had a small human relying on me for everything, and the obsession with being prepared and properly and effectively responsive at all times was daunting.

We’d be walking down the street, and I’d try frantically to find his pacifier somewhere in the abyss of my diaper bag as he wailed. Or, I’d bring him into a public bathroom to change his diaper, only to discover I’d left the wipes or a changing pad at home.

I began fantasizing about a compact bag that always had exactly what I needed built in: a changing pad, a spot for wipes, and a hook for keys. I swear I went to the end of the internet and I couldn’t find a thing like it.

The problem was, I was a teacher and had no background in design or fashion (nor any experience in business.) I waited two full years for someone to make my dream bag, and when no one had, I decided to get to work myself to make the solution a reality.

A year later, I brought in my co-founder Stephanie, and a year after that we launched Kibou on Kickstarter!

What were the early goals for Kibou and how was the early feedback?

We were able to make it through two full years of product development spending less than $3,000, but we knew that manufacturing and launching a brand would take a lot more money than that. So before we took out a loan, we wanted to make sure that other parents actually wanted this bag.

We decided to launch on Kickstarter with two goals: 1. Prove the concept of the bag: see that people were excited about the idea and were willing to spend the money it would cost, and 2. Fund our initial inventory so we didn’t have to take on debt.

We hit 50% of our goal in two days, and in less than 4 weeks, we surpassed our initial goal by $4,000, with over 250 preorders and $30,000 toward our initial goal. People were clearly excited by the concept!

When website sales went live in January 2020, early feedback was overwhelming. Parents were obsessed with our compact diaper bag; like us, they were in search of a bag to make life with little ones a little easier, and we were thrilled to be giving them that solution!

What has it been like watching Kibou grow as a brand and a line of products for parents?

I say almost everyday how grateful I am for the opportunity to see an idea that I had come to life and exist in this world–across many countries–in families’ lives who I have never even met.

What a crazy thing to wrap my brain around!

Truly the most rewarding part of the entire journey is knowing that my solution has genuinely helped to make tens of thousands of parents’ lives a little easier with their kids.

Any future plans for the brand?

Yes! We always have ideas in the works, but the cat’s out of the bag on the newest excitement around here: Kibou Kids!

Four years after launching our Kibou diaper bag, we launched the Mini to give mamas who were ready to ditch their kids’ stuff for their own minimal essentials. Think of it as your wallet (built right in!) with just enough space for your must-haves (keys, phone, glasses, sunscreen).

One year later, we’re giving kids a way to carry their own essentials in style. Parents asked for this exact solution, and we saw an opportunity to design something super playful and equally functional. Designing these bags was so much fun, and we’re so excited to have them out in the world!

Favorite places to travel with your kids?

  1. Anywhere we can go camping!
  2. Asheville, North Carolina, to visit my parents and explore the beauty
  3. Washington, D.C., to explore the museums (Air and Space!), monuments, and visit my best friend
  4. Amsterdam, the MOST kid-friendly city to explore, and always the best to get to be with my business partner and close friend Steph Merks
  5. Killington, Vermont, for great East Coast skiing, and quality family hanging with some of our best friends

Any upcoming family trips?

We’re planning a much-anticipated tour of a bunch of the national parks next year. We just have to decide whether we go farther northwest, or southwest. There are too many good options.

If you’re looking for some good travel inspo, check out Kibou’s Travel Diaries with a bunch of city guides for family-friendly trips around the world (including Upstate New York with Becca!).

Stay up to date with Kibou

To learn more about Kibou and stay up to date with new product launches, follow Kibou on Instagram.