I had heard the beaches were beautiful in Ecuador. So when I decided to travel instead of taking a job in DC or Chicago after earning my master’s degree in economics, that’s where I went. But the beaches weren’t beautiful at all. It was an El Niño year and the coast was flooded. I didn’t actually even see an Ecuadorian beach until years later.
Even while traveling around Ecuador and making friends with Inca Trail hiking guides for a few months in Peru, it never crossed my mind that I would work in the travel business. But when I returned to my home state of Montana, I got restless waiting to hear back about job applications. So I made a tri-fold brochure, figuring I could make a hobby of taking people back to Ecuador and going on my favorite adventures—things like going into the Amazon, hiking around a beautiful volcanic lake, exploring the local markets. At first I had no luck. But after I made a website and redesigned the brochure, people started calling. It dawned on me that people would actually pay someone to show them around a country. I realized I could make a business out of this, and Adventure Life was founded in 1999.
I thought I would be the tour guide, but the business plan changed within a few months. To handle smaller groups of people at different times of the year, I started hiring local guides. I picked the ones who could answer this question with a lot of passion and excitement: “Where would you take a good friend of yours who had never visited before?” Because of my experience in Latin America, we started focusing on that region; but today, our top destinations are the Galapagos, Peru, and Antarctica.
Here in Montana, we’re a small shop of 20 staff. And after more than a decade running the company, I decided to take a break from Adventure Life in 2010. That was a really big deal. I was feeling a little burned out and wanted to get away somewhere I could be reenergized. I picked Los Angeles—it’s an incredibly creatively stimulating city, where new businesses seem to be forming and falling every second. I kept a part-time tie to the company, giving my managers a chance to step up and lead, and it was an incredibly positive experience. I came back after 18 months feeling reengaged and excited to be a part of our many new initiatives.
We’ve added dozens of new trips in the past year. We’re currently expanding into Africa, and in 2015 we will be adding Southeast Asia, China, and India. We’re becoming increasingly focused on our customers and what they want. Rather than sending a generic catalogue with all of our tours in it, we first ask what you’re interested in. If you want to know more about hiking Machu Picchu and culinary culture in Peru, we’ll custom-print a catalogue showing all of the trekking options and culinary classes we offer in Peru. It will even have your name on it.