Why Travelers Make Great Entrepreneurs: Lessons From the Road

Like many, we graduated into a horrible economy in 2008. Bachelor degrees in hand, neither of us even tried looking for jobs. We both hopped on separate planes to Australia to live and work for a year. We met in Sydney, spent four months becoming fast friends, and then separately continued our travels. Some time later, we both came home with full passports and a changed perspective.

Fast forward a few years, and we still haven’t worked “real jobs” or spent any time on Monster.com. We simply experienced too much in our travels to live the cubicle lifestyle. We saw poverty, freedom, beauty, and a world that doesn’t make sense from a high-rise office building.

We wanted a different kind of life — a life completely shaped by our travels. We wanted to help others, give back, live fully, and have freedom of time that we take for granted in the West.

So we became entrepreneurs and decided to start a sustainable eco-clothing line after returning tothe States. We are finally launching our very first product, the Versalette, that is the ultimate travel companion for women, serving as a shirt, dress, purse, scarf, skirt, and pretty much anything you can think of.

During our time abroad, we didn’t realize how our travels shaped us as entrepreneurs. Looking back, a lot of the lessons we’ve applied to our business have come directly from our experiences abroad — lessons of teamwork, gratitude, confidence, and making things happen.

In a world that encourages ladder-climbing over travel experience, we say otherwise. Here are a few of the lessons we learned abroad that prepared us for the wild world of entrepreneurship.

Doing research for our business in Guatemala

 

Lesson #1: Make it work

You’re in a small town in Laos, with no guide book and not one Laotian who speaks English. Most people have never experienced this — they have never had to speak in universal “sign language,” hitch-hike, learn numbers and formalities in a new language, or read a bus schedule in Southeast Asia.

But travelers do this all the time. They encounter seemingly impossible situations, and make them work. And this is the first lesson of business. Nothing is impossible, and there is a way in or a way out of any situation (with a little creativity).

You might end up in the back of a pickup truck sitting next to a goat, but darnit, any traveler or entrepreneur will make it work.

Lesson #2: People and connections are everything

Travelers quickly find that the people they meet make all the difference.

A conversation on a bus turns into a lifelong friendship. A night in a hostel turns into a full-time job. Travel is about connecting with others, and sharing knowledge. So is business.

Being an entrepreneur means putting yourself out there and networking to the fullest. Every person you meet has the power to change the course of your life — via your travel route, or your business plan.

Kristin & Shannon of {r}evolution apparel

 

Lesson #3: Plan, but be flexible

Time estimation is a killer. Let’s face it, most things don’t go according to plan or fit into the allotted time frame. Flights get delayed. Buses breakdown. Hostel reservations get lost in the mix.

Itineraries are great, but every traveler has to be prepared for cancellations, glitches and unforeseen obstacles. The key is to be able to adjust and turn a potential disappointment into a new opportunity.

Planning for a business is much the same way. Deadlines aren’t met, price points are underestimated, suppliers don’t return your emails. Without flexibility, the likelihood of disappointment is high and overlooked opportunities are inevitable.

Have goals, plan ahead, make due dates, but be prepared for the roadblocks.

Lesson #4: Know that fear is good

There’s good fear and then there’s bad fear. Telling your taxi driver to take you to any hotel in Managua at one o’clock in the morning and then realizing you’ve possibly entered a human-trafficking ring is bad fear.

Good fears are jumping out of a plane from 12,000 feet or booking a flight for several months of solo travel. These are the kinds of adrenaline rushes that are necessary for sanity. They keep you stimulated, invigorated and ready for more.

The same feeling comes from your first wholesale deal, or investing thousands of dollars into one idea, or launching a brand new product. The fear can be overwhelming but the experience gained makes it worth conquering every doubt.

Shannon in Cape Town, South Africa

 

Lesson #5: Be confident

The timid traveler can be eaten alive in cities like Bangkok, Cairo and Mumbai. Even if you’re not feeling confident, it’s vital to appear that you are — at least to be able to ask for help.

Sure, hitch-hiking through Thailand isn’t exactly a part of your everyday comfort zone, but neither is giving a product pitch to a boardroom of potential investors. Self-confidence can be acquired, but it can also be faked. Find the balance and make it work to your advantage.

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Kristin Glenn and Shannon Whitehead are the designers and co-founders of {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable, travel clothing line for women. They are currently Kickstarting their signature piece, the Versalette. You can check them out at www.revolutionapparel.me, follow them on Twitter at @AllofUsRev and hang out with them on Facebook.

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Leave a Comment

  • Greenaer Mobility said at 2012-02-01T10:01:49+0000: Great article in which we recognized ourselves 100% , my partner and I went on a 6 months journey to India and at the end of it decided to start our business importing Electric Cars from Bangalore , we had lived and experienced too much on our travels, we had to give the venture a go! Almost 5 years on and we are still at it , with the core belief that we can make things change for the better following Ghandi s mantra " Be the change you wish to see in the world". Best of luck girls and enjoy the journey!
  • Ali Kerr said at 2012-01-25T09:22:43+0000: Guys very true words! Good luck with your business always keep looking for the new ideas...
  • Laurel Egan said at 2012-01-06T00:17:27+0000: Wow! I've actually never looked at it from that perspective. I am an entrepreneur who spent my youth doing a fair amount of globe trotting, started and succeeded with two previous businesses and am on my third, my dream, travelvision.com. I feel a kinship and think you have great insight. I can't wait to see how your business progresses! Best of luck!
  • Ellen M Ercolini said at 2012-01-03T19:28:43+0000: Boom. Lessons learned by living abroad and on the road inform my attitude all the time. My biggest lesson to add to this is 'it's possible. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk towards it.' - I first learned that climbing Torres del Paine, and it was the basis of my 6 month adventure to South America. Just start walking, the path reveals itself.
  • Toni DeBella said at 2012-01-02T16:04:07+0000: Kristin and Shannon, Congratulations on your success and your adventurous spirit. You are young, intelligent, beautiful and courageous...maybe travel made you adventurous or maybe you travel because you have adventurous souls. Either way you have a bright future. BTW: how smart are you to make a product that give you the opportunity to travel for your business.
  • Bob Wilson said at 2012-01-03T02:18:31+0000: Thanks for your thoughts on this topic - excellent points & very well-written. Congrats on your business venture - that's wonderful! I'm happy & inspired to hear your story...best wishes now and always... Bob :)
  • Feather Ives said at 2012-01-02T15:24:49+0000: Fantastic! I am currently building an online based company so I can be where I want when I want and not worry about running out of savings.
  • M Manuela MPons said at 2012-01-02T16:42:41+0000: Fantastic! and now how can one check out this?
  • Sarah Towle said at 2012-01-02T19:11:41+0000: Very nice post! How true it is!