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.

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.

Filed under: 170, Work Abroad