We were thrilled when Beth Santos, founder and CEO of Wanderful, agreed to share her insight on how traveling not only shapes us as people, but how it is an invaluable education for our professional development. Through Beth’s travels abroad, she has gained experience to help foster her entrepreneurial spirit and create an incredible online community of women travelers through sheswanderful.com. We can’t think of a better proponent of travel for personal and professional growth!
Read on for Beth’s advice on using travel to follow your dreams, why you should make sure you are doing one thing that inspires you and one thing that pays the bills, and to get inspired by an awesome quote that involves wrestling gorillas.
Wanderful is an international community of adventurous, independent, globally minded women who travel. Our mission is to connect women travelers together by empowering them with the tools they need to go abroad and facilitating a trusted network that can help guide them in their journeys.
Many people I know learned their love of travel from their family — they traveled since being a young child and couldn’t get enough of it. I had a very different experience. In fact, as a child, I didn’t care to travel much at all. My family moved around a lot and I always associated travel with saying goodbye to my favorite things and people.
I also grew up as a Portuguese-American. My father’s family had a very special immigration story that made me really interested during my college years in that side of my background. My father never taught me Portuguese, so I decided to study abroad in Portugal to learn the language and reconnect with my roots. I originally had planned to visit for a semester, but once there, I knew I couldn’t leave. I stayed for an academic year and continue to return often to visit the family I have come to know and love.
I think it was that year in college where my world just opened up. I took weekend adventures to London, Rome and Barcelona. When I graduated college, I took advantage of a volunteer opportunity to work in Sao Tome and Principe, a former Portuguese colony off the west coast of Africa. It was while living in Sao Tome that I became extremely aware of my unique experience as a female and as a foreigner, and the concept of Wanderful was born.
I have always made a point of it to follow my bliss, but I admit that I didn’t always know what “my bliss” was. I graduated college in 2008, which was a very unfortunate time to graduate. I took advantage of the opportunity to volunteer abroad and got my first job out of college as a direct result of my volunteer work.
Beth teaching abroad in Sao Tome. Image provided by Beth Santos
But things didn’t always go so smoothly. There were a few years in there where I would balance two or three jobs at once — a paid internship at a PR firm, an unpaid internship at the Embassy of Portugal and a job waiting tables at a restaurant in Washington, DC. I always made sure that I was always doing one thing that inspired me, and one thing that paid the bills. Sometimes those things were the same, but not always.
My advice for people who are graduating and interested in pursuing their dreams is this: Pursue your dreams. Absolutely. 100%.
Don’t leave those behind. But make sure you’re bringing in a little cash too. It doesn’t matter how you do it — at a 9-5 job, at a restaurant, doing consulting. Work your butt off those first few years doing both the things you love and the things you need to do to survive, and you will be surprised how capable you will feel when that one big idea, that real opportunity, arises.
Travel teaches us so many lessons that we can apply in the working world. We learn to be comfortable with confusion. We learn to work with people who have unique backgrounds and skill sets. We learn how to roll with the punches, how to be flexible, how to adjust and adapt. We can look at problems and see really unique solutions that we draw from our time experiencing the way a different culture operates. These talents are unmatchable.
Beth hiking with team of the Mount St Helens Institute. Image from Beth Santos
When I first arrived in Portugal, I spoke maybe one sentence in Portuguese. I lived with my family for three months and they didn’t speak English. I had no idea what was going to happen each day when I woke up. Was I going to accompany my cousin Natalia to one of her business meetings? Was I going to help chase a herd of sheep into a new pasture? Was I going to attend a funeral? All three things happened at one point or other during my time there. I became constantly prepared and able to really go with the flow.
When I lived in Sao Tome, I had similar unexpected experiences. On my first day on the ground, having never been to Africa before, I was asked to give a 10-minute presentation, in Portuguese, to 100 school children about a computer program that I only found out about 30 seconds prior that I would be running. So I went with it.
I think these skills have helped me more than anything with my entrepreneurial pursuits. In entrepreneurship, everything is changing. Constantly. All the time. Being able to see what’s working and what’s not working early on, to be able to make adjustments on the fly and even “fake it” if you need to, have been indispensable skills to me. I love that my travels have taught me those things.
Following her dreams, Beth Santos is CEO and founder of sheswanderful.com.
I have a list of quotes that inspire me, especially in my most trying times (and I assure you, they happen). One of the quotes that really gets me through is the hilariously memorable quote from Robert Strauss. It’s not about travel, per se — rather about persistence.
The quote goes, “It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired.”
The quote makes me laugh in one of those “it’s funny because it’s true” moments. It reminds me that, when I’m facing demons or I’m out in a new place and things aren’t working right or if I’m experiencing something that’s just not shaping up the way it should, I don’t quit. Just because I’m tired doesn’t mean that the game is over. Keep getting back in the ring.
I would tell them that there is absolutely no other thing more life-changing than living abroad. It makes you a better person. It also (usually) ends. We all have our opportunities to do it, and those opportunities don’t last forever. Don’t look back on your life wishing you’d done it while you had the chance.
I think the comfort of being uncomfortable is one of the best lessons that travel has ever taught me. Whatever your dreams are, going abroad will make you remember that taking a risk is what gets you to other great places — whether it’s a physical place like a new job or city, or an emotional place like satisfaction and peace. Plus, it’s fun, and when you come home, you’ll realize you’ve found a new part of yourself that you never knew before.