Turning a Travel Passion into a Business
It’s early April 2005. I am on a boat on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica with my husband, Dave, our 16 year old son, Steven, and our guide, Javier, tooling towards the San Pedrillo station of Corcovado National Park. The water is a brilliant blue-green, the sun is shining, I’m incredibly relaxed and completely mesmerized by the nearly untouched coast line that is the gateway to one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world. Javier instructs the boat captain to stop near a small cluster of volcanic rocks in order to get a closer look at the Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigate birds. At that moment, I turn to Dave and say, “I am in love.”
Back in Chicago, life was good, so good. I was married to a wonderful man, had two great children, and was part of a close extended family. My consulting business provided a steady income stream, the opportunity to do work I loved, and professional growth and excitement. I lived and thrived in one of the greatest cities in the world.
Yet, I struggled. My new found love was Costa Rica, and it was more than a casual fling. Could I figure out a way to continue to explore Costa Rica through deep, meaningful and affordable travel while continuing to honor my familial and professional passions, relationships and responsibilities? Answering this question was the moment I began my mid-life journey: to find a way to marry my already exceptional everyday life with my passion for Costa Rica.
Ten months later, in February 2006, I led my first small group women’s adventure trip in Costa Rica. Since then, I:
? have been to Costa Rica almost 25 times, averaging 3 to 4 trips annually.
? am in the midst of marketing my 8th annual women’s trip (February 2013).
? am at ease with conversational Spanish, a language I only began to learn three years ago. I recently led my second annual co-ed Spanish/Cultural Immersion Trip in Costa Rica and am planning the third.
? have strategically downsized my consulting portfolio. I remain passionate, intellectually challenged, and energized by the everyday work I do.
What have I learned about this part of my life journey?
1. Define and remain focused on the vision. When I realized I wanted to take my Costa Rica fling to the next level, I began exploring ways to make traveling there more than a vacation—a regular occurrence. I identified quickly that marrying my professional expertise and personal priorities with my love of Costa Rica and experiential travel was for me and made strategic choices accordingly. I only lead two annual small group trips with an occasional customized third, if the spirit moves me and Dave is ready for his periodic Costa Rica “fix.” Family and clients are as important to me as Costa Rica, and I work hard to “be present” for both, giving each the quality time, attention, and energy that each deserves. This is what I need, too.
2. Play to your strengths. It’s important to know what you’re good at, what brings you joy, and embed them into your plan. Meeting planning and group dynamics have always been at the core of my business. As part of my work, I had developed expertise in creative program design, logistics, and marketing and sales. I have been able to deploy these skills into developing itineraries and facilitating small group experiential adventures in a place I love.
3. Enjoy being in the moment. Seven years later I’m just as enamored of Costa Rica as I was on that day we stopped by those volcanic rocks near the Corcovado entrance. My backpack/briefcase combo continues to serve me well in this phase of my life. It doesn’t require long-term strategic planning, a full-time staff to manage, or a requirement to grow the business in order to survive. I don’t spend much time trying to figure out what or when is around the corner. When the time comes for a change, I’ll know it. So, I’m focused on making the most of and enjoying the now.
As the Costa Ricans say, “Pura Vida.”
Ann Becker has more than 35 years of business and professional experience in organizational and program development, comprehensive meeting design and management, and strategic consulting. Through her small group experiential travel adventures, Ann has combined her love of Costa Rica with her business expertise. In addition, Ann loves international travel with her husband; bird watching; and Chicago neighborhoods, arts, and family outings to cheer on the Cubs. She is diligently trying to master her Pilates’ short spine and cat stretch.