The Trip That Inspired Me To …

by Michele Shapiro
photo by Lone Mørch Schneider

FA - Michele Shapiro

A lot of women underestimate the importance of travel. Time away from the office—whether that office is in a skyscraper or in your living room—is crucial both for recharging your batteries and providing the inspiration that somehow eludes you when you’re staring at a 10-page “to-do” list.

As diligent as corporate Americans are about putting work first, those who own and run their own businesses are even less likely to take time off. A 2008 travel survey conducted by Ladies Who Launch found that of the self-employed women who responded to the survey, 65 percent said they do take time to travel, but not as often as they would like. And 54 percent of survey participants said it’s money, rather than time or family/business obligations, that prevents them from traveling more for pleasure.

Fortunately, a number of self-employeds realize the benefits that a change of environment can have on everything from their waistlines to their bottom lines. “It’s healthy to get out and reconnect with nature,” says Jennifer Cassetta of New York City, who runs Health and the City, which offers fitness and nutrition solutions for busy people. “Traveling also gives you a different perspective. Whether you come back refreshed from a mental and physical vacation or you come back from a cultural vacation appreciating what you have so much more, either way you are gaining a fresh perspective.” Below, nine women share how one key trip influenced them both personally and professionally.

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Say Farewell to Corporate America

Traveler: Kristin Boekhoff, founder and owner, Panigram Resort, Bangladesh
Inspirational destination: Cavo Branch Eco Resort, Belize, January 2006
Duration: Two weeks
At the time, I worked as …: Chief Information Office at CharterMac, a full-service real-estate financing company.
What happened: “I was inspired by the place and the experience that I had there. The owner lived at the resort. He told me how he had left corporate America years before and came to Belize to develop his resort. After speaking with him, I realized I had all the skills that I needed to create my own resort. I have always been interested in seeing the ‘real’ culture of an area that I travel to. This desire was strengthened during my Fulbright Fellowship in Bangladesh.”
Her “motorcycle moment”: “On the beach in San Pedro, I drove a motor scooter for the first time in my life down the beach, and I had this incredible feeling of freedom and limitless possibility. I hadn’t experienced that sense of pure joy in a very long time. I got a glimpse of a life that I could have, one where I didn’t have to put on a suit and go into an office every day, a life where I could decide my own schedule and have the freedom to decide for myself how I could best make a difference in the world. Eight months later, I quit my corporate job in New York, donated everything that I owned to charity, and moved to Bangladesh.”
Baby steps from here to there: Boekhoff suggests building a financial safety net. “I was able to put $50,000 into savings before I left New York. This money is now covering my living expenses and initial start-up costs.” Most important, she says you simply need to take action. “Your idea is useless unless you take steps to bring it to fruition,” says Boekhoff.

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Launch a Business That Feeds My Passions

Traveler: Sneha Bhavan, Chic Papier with Asian Flair, Belmont, CA
Inspirational destination: India, Korea, and Hong Kong, January-February 2006
Duration: Two months (mainly for business)
At the time, I worked at a …: software company in San Jose, CA.
Highlights: “I visited the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that separates North from South Korea and witnessed a re-enactment of the changing of the guards at Deoksugung palace. For me, this is Asia—where art and history seen in centuries-old buildings stands alongside new architecture, and where old-standing customs and rituals share space with laptops and mobile phones.”
What clicked on that trip: “Traveling independently for work has given me the courage to take a chance and launch my own business. The goal remained in the back of my mind for a year. Then I decided that, while I love my job, I don’t want to work for someone for the rest of my life. Now, while I continue to work full-time, I’m also taking steps to launch my business.”
Why a stationery company? “As a South Asian Indian living in America, I felt the traditional wedding and holiday cards found in retail outlets here did not represent the South Asian essence. So in October 2007, I created Chic Papier: Paper With Asian Flair, to coincide with one of India’s biggest holidays, Diwali. We have since added a bridal line and I’m working on additional lines as well.”

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Know I Can Handle Anything

Traveler: Maria Ross, Red Slice
Inspirational destination: Maastricht, the Netherlands, Summer 1992
Duration: Two months
At the time, I was a …: college student enrolled in a summer school program.
Now I’m a …: brand marketing and communications consultant and freelance wine and food writer. “Anytime I’m faced with a challenge or with doing a job about which I have no clue, I remember that I can figure anything out if I just use my resources,” says Ross.
Fringe benefits of a summer abroad: “I became my own woman on this trip. I gained self-esteem and a sense of self-reliance and freedom that I still carry with me to this day. The journey helped me appreciate other cultures and new foods, and feel confident in finding my way around. It also shored up my ability to communicate with more than just words—this serves me in my profession where I need to step into other people’s shoes and help them tell their stories. Plus, travel, food, and wine are now in my blood!”
Return to paradise: “A few years ago, I tacked a trip to Rome onto a European business trip. It was a few months before I got married so it was like a ‘last hurrah’ for myself. There I was with my map, and I just went wherever the day took me. I basked in taking myself to dinner and having waiters treat me like a ‘princessa.’ I highly advise every woman to treat herself to one sumptuous trip alone anywhere in the world. It’s incredibly satisfying to know you can handle anything.”

The Trips That Inspired Me to … Sell the Merchandise I Collect During My Travels

Traveler: Nicole Simpson, Nicole’s Beverly Hills (, Beverly Hills, CA
Inspirational destinations: Istanbul, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Paris, Nice, Milan, Florence, Rome, Sydney, Singapore, Beijing, St. Thomas, Morocco, Canary Islands, Barcelona, Athens …
Before, I worked as a …: corporate executive.
Now my MO is …: to sell merchandise that is unique and can’t be found everywhere.
Baby steps from here to there: “Almost six years ago, I decided that I was going to step out on my own. I spoke with and hired a retail consultant to help me because I had no experience in setting up a retail business or gift shop.” Now, Simpson always does her homework before she sets off each year in search of goods—from shawls and vases to crystal perfume bottles and leather accessories. “I learn as much as I can about the country I’m visiting beforehand. Once there, I adjust to their way of thinking.”

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Mix Business With Pleasure—Permanently!

Traveler: Stephanie Schulte, Prudential California Realty (, Murrieta, CA
Inspirational destination: Oahu, HI, February 2007
Reason for trip: “A friend of mine had won two round-trip tickets to Honolulu and couldn’t use them, so she gave them to me. I decided to use them for my annual getaway with my best friend, Tenya.”
Duration: One week
At the time, I worked as a …: real-estate agent.
Now I’m a …: real-estate agent and freelance travel writer.
Trip highlights: “Tenya and I were meandering down the beach and fantasizing out loud about how cool it could be if we became travel documenters. I would be the writer, she the photographer.”
The call that changed everything: “Thirty minutes after that walk, I got a call from a magazine in which I’d advertised. They’d made a mistake on an ad I’d placed for my real-estate company, so she offered to have me write a two-page travel article as compensation for the error. That was 15 months ago. Now I’m a contributing writer for Valley Living magazine. I do it in trade for advertising my real-estate business, and I get to satiate my creative nature.”
Fringe benefits of the travel writing gig: “It helps keep my fires stoked; plus, it helps keep my name and my brand out there. It helps me build business networks in other locations, and helps me to stay sane. I have to pinch myself sometimes.”

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Let Go

Traveler: Jennifer Cassetta, Health and the City , New York, NY
Inspirational destination: Namale Resort, Fiji, January 2007
Duration: Two weeks
Reason for the trip: “I had the choice to do a Tony Robbins seminar called Life Mastery either in Florida, California, or Fiji. Simple choice. I like to take at least one big trip every year.”
Highlights: “Definitely the seminar. I remember getting on the scale at the end of the week and seeing myself seven pounds lighter! I also finally told my father a secret I had been keeping from him about dating a man 19 years older than I am. It sounds corny, I know. But with the group support and just feeling so far away from everything, it seemed I had nothing to lose.”
Lesson of the trip: “Let go! When I first arrived on the island, the airline lost my suitcase and I had nothing with me. The next thing I knew I was at the resort and at the top of a 60-foot telephone poll attached to pulleys and ready to jump off. Then the next day I was attached to a colonic machine and again forced to let go! By the third time, I got it. I had been very wound up and attached to outcomes, my belongings, etc. But as soon as I just relaxed and let it all go, things started to flow.”

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Reconnect With Myself

Traveler: Mindy Dutka, The Event Company
Inspirational destination: Bikini Boot Camp, Tulum, Mexico, August 2007
Duration: Five days
Reason for the trip: “I liked the idea of doing something for myself, eating healthy and having a flexible fitness program with some downtime.”
Results: “I felt like me for the first time in years—not someone’s wife, mother, business consultant, etc. I met the challenge of traveling on my own and being able to keep up with the physical challenges of the program, which I did in spite of being one of the oldest. The unexpected bonus was being able to connect with other women and make new friends.”
Fringe benefit: “I came back feeling strong and centered, and shortly after my return I created the concept for one of my biggest projects to date.”

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Detoxify

Traveler: Karen Mudrick, Director of Events and Sponsorships, Ladies Who Launch
Inspirational destination: We Care Spa, Desert Hot Springs, CA
Duration: One week
Reason for the trip: “It was my 40th birthday present to myself.”
Typical day: “I woke up around 6 or 7 a.m., listened to my meditation tapes, took my supplements and drinks and headed off to either a seminar or yoga class, a colonic or a spa service. Then I walked and ended the day with a dinner of soup. The soup was the highlight of everyone’s day.”
Fringe benefits: “Most of the group that fasted that week bonded over the experience. I would definitely return. The experience was mentally and physically amazing.”

The Trip That Inspired Me to … Feel Completely Brand New

Traveler: Sharon Ronen, Skin Haven Spa Studio
Inspirational destination: Lanai, HI, December 2006
Duration: Two days
Trip highlight: “We spotted a pod of wild dolphins off Lanai while snorkeling and ended up swimming with them for almost an hour. There were about 30-40, including babies, and it was literally the most transformational, incredible experience. It felt like time stopped and everything became clear in the universe.”
Result: “It totally inspired me, recharged my creative juices, and made me feel completely brand new. I realized that I can find my quiet, peaceful, centered place anywhere, as long as I envision it in the midst of chaos.”