For our 9th episode, Color & Curiosity founder & CCO Megan Zink interviewed Adventures by the Book ® founder & CEO Susan McBeth about her experiential literary travel company, learning for the joy of learning (especially through travel) and how to get from that very small, yet very overwhelming brain space of thinking about doing something to actually doing it.
Wider Worldview is a new live podcast hosted by Color & Curiosity founder Megan Zink that explores the power of travel – how it can change the world: spark new ideas, foster different perspectives, catalyst curiosity and lifelong learning. Join her for interviews with entrepreneurs, educators and explorers and get inspired to tap into travel as an experiential learning and empathy building tool.
Head over to this link to catch the full audio recording with Susan McBeth & Adventures by the Book ® – but in the meantime, here’s a snippet of the conversation. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Susan, for those of us out there who may not know, tell us just a little bit about how Adventures by the Book fell into your path and how you’ve gotten to be where you are right now.
So, I used to work in an independent bookstore as their director of marketing and events, organizing all these author events at the bookstore, and I noticed that this one-size-fits-all approach just didn’t work for me. I was watching the audience too, and the authors would come through on a 20-city book tour – and half the time they didn’t even know what city they were in because they all started looking alike, sitting in front of the same audience, same people, different town. And I thought, ‘there’s got to be a different way to do this – to connect people more.’
I had this idea, but of course the bookstore wanted to continue to do their thing. Then one time I met Frances Mayes – the author of Under the Tuscan Sun – and I was talking to her in the green room, and said, ‘oh my gosh, I traveled vicariously through you; I’ve never been to Tuscany, and I’ve always wanted to go.’ Her first response to me is, ‘oh, you should come over and visit me.’ I told her, ‘never say that to me, because I am the girl that will jump on a plane and do it. So be careful what you offer!’ And the more I thought about it, I thought, ‘wow, I want to go over there, and I bet her legions of fans would love to go over and hang out under the Tuscan sun with her too.’ And she told me she would be there in July and I thought, ‘oh my god, how am I going to make that happen in four or five months?’ So, I immediately quit my job and started Adventures by the Book. Before I knew it, I had 10 people who said they’d go with me.
From listening to some of these travels that you’ve had through Adventures by the Book and how I understand you put these tours together, you ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research to understand how the tour experience will be different from other typical tours. You’ve facilitated tours to Morocco, Patagonia and Alaska – and so my question for you is, from a learning skill point – it seems like it’s not even about the doing, more like the context of what you know when you’re traveling.
Do you think the people who take tours with Adventures By The Book – do you notice any difference in the way they’re experiencing the travel in comparison to other more traditional types of travel? Do you see anything different in takeaways, or deep cultural understanding, or memories?
Absolutely, because I’ve been on both sides – the intimate tours, and the larger group tours; the cruise ships to Alaska, that type of thing – and hands down the intimate tours win every time. I’ll give you a prime example: Lynn [Schooler] reached out to me when we got back from Tuscany and said ‘would you ever consider an Alaskan Adventure by the Book?’ and he very graciously invited me up to Alaska – I’d never met him before – and I flew up to Alaska to meet him, and he showed me around and we talked about potential itineraries.
I don’t know how many people have been to Alaska, but typically most people go on a cruise ship, because that’s the way they know how to travel there. I’ve done that before too. And everyone wants to see a glacier in Alaska. And so you get off the cruise ship and you, and you know, hundreds of people, get on these buses, and are trucked over to Mendenhall Glacier, which is right there in Juneau. And hundreds of people get on the off the buses, and you’re surrounded by these big crowds and you get, I don’t know, 30 minutes to wander around the glacier and take pictures – and then you get on the bus and get back on the cruise ship. And so that’s exciting when you haven’t done anything like that before, but then when we went on our Alaskan Adventures by the Book adventure with Lynn, he taught us what a REAL glacier experience was. And it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
We got on bicycles, and we rode I don’t know how many miles through the Alaskan rainforest. And it is so quiet – a profound silence that makes your heart sing, you know, I mean you don’t get that kind of silence in everyday life. And we’re biking and biking, and at one point we had to get off our bikes because the river was flowing, and it included some of the paths so we had to walk the rest of the rest of the way in. And as we turn this corner in front of us is the most brilliant blue glacier I have ever seen in my life. There wasn’t a soul around, Lynn had packed his wonderful picnic lunch, and we sat down at the foot of this glacier, with nobody around, except the silence and the roar of the water.
It’s that travel that not many people do. The other thing that I thought was super interesting is that you had no idea what you were going to expect. I think sometimes experiential travel can be a little bit intimidating to people – like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do that or if I CAN do that.’
On the other side of your background, I was really fascinated to learn that you are a facilitator for the San Diego State University Osher Institute EdVentures and I said, ‘what is the Osher Institute?’ – I couldn’t believe it; it’s literally an institute for higher learning purely for the joy of learning. I can’t believe that exists. And so I’m curious to ask you, did you ever encounter somebody who was maybe adverse to try something new, or how did the mindset of those who went on these adventures or any experience with you differ from those who might not?
I’m going to again recite an example from one of our Alaskan tours – Lynn lives in a rainforest. So when we tell people about the trip we’re very clear about expectations, we’re staying in Lynn’s home, It’s going to rain – it’s going to rain – and you need to come prepared with a really solid poncho and rainboots, and we’re going to go out and adventure, and that’s part of the fun of it. We had a traveler – it’s important to me that people know what to expect, so I would tell them via phone, and make them sign an agreement, and then tell them via email, this is what we’re going to expect, so bring your rain gear – and she came on the trip and the first day it was raining and she said, ‘you know what, I think I’m going to stay back.’ And okay, it’s her trip, she can do whatever she wants to do, and so she stayed back and had a relaxing lovely day.
And then the next day it was raining and she said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to go out again.’ And I don’t know if it was the third day – but I was starting to get worried because I wanted her to have the experience; it was her trip – but I was worried she was just going to stay in this house every day. And we were trying to be very encouraging, but by the third night she had had enough of the rain and she said she was going to leave the trip and stay in a hotel, and that was the first time ever, and since, that has ever happened.
And so you have to be open to new experiences. And I find that the people who go on these kind of trips with Adventures by the Book are looking for adventure – something different and interesting – because let’s be honest, you can go anywhere, pretty inexpensively nowadays – and in order to do something different, you have to be open to anything happening, because some of the most magical things are unplanned.
I learned from a recent interview that you had talked about going on an adventure, and people had asked, ‘how did you decide to do it?’ and you’d mentioned you have an adventurous friend named Mary Duncan and you pretend she’s sitting on your shoulder – but for those of us who may not have an adventurous Mary Duncan sitting on our shoulder – how do you overcome that very tiny, yet large mental block between thinking about something and then actually doing it?
I’m one of those people that, that love alphabetizing my spice racks and color coding my closets and so organizing trips is fun to me. What I tell people is that I’m an adventurous spirit trapped in a chicken’s body. I’ll be honest, when Lynn invited me up to Alaska, the first thing I thought was, “oh my god, bears – I’m a city girl and I’m afraid of bears – and what is it going to be like?” Have you ever heard the saying that “90% of what you fear in life never happens”? And so I keep that in mind all the time. [In Alaska] I was fearing bears and if I was so focused on seeing a bear and “what was going to happen, and was I going to get eaten by a bear?” I would have missed all these incredible opportunities. And so every time I have a fear or a phobia or something makes me a little hesitant about traveling or an experience – I remind myself of the 90% rule – 90% of what I’m worried about is not going to happen. And am I going to miss out on a great opportunity because of fear?
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