“One travels to run away from routine, that dreadful routine that kills all imagination and all our capacity for enthusiasm.”
— Ella Maillart
Travel is one of the most powerful tools we have to enhance our imagination and creativity. This is already common knowledge in most creative industries, so in the book we will instead focus on stories in the business and entrepreneurship space. This was done intentionally to demonstrate that the benefits of travel are not limited to artistic endeavors. It doesn’t matter if you are working on a novel or if you are a business student, the right attitude while traveling can open up a whole new world of possibilities.
So let’s kick it off strong with one of my favorite stories from the book, we begin our journey in Argentina.
Blake was an avid entrepreneur who worked very long hours to develop his business — some might call him a workaholic. As is common for many founders, Blake devoted a majority of his time to growing his business, leaving little time for personal enjoyment. But when he became a contestant on The Amazing Race, Blake had to resign himself to being different from his fellow entrepreneurs. Learning from his experience on the show, he became an avid traveler as well. He got in the habit of taking a month off each year in order to de-stress and enrich himself in a different part of the world.
“For me, the only way I could even have a thought of balance was this eleven months just going crazy, working as an entrepreneur, and then that month off,” said Blake.
That month off would change his life.
In 2002, Blake and his sister Paige competed on the wildly popular second season of The Amazing Race. If you haven’t seen the show, then I suggest you dust off your Hulu account and clear your schedule for the next month or two; the show has aired 30 seasons and counting. Over the course of a month, several teams travel around the world competing in mental and physical challenges for a cash prize of $1 million. While the prize is obviously the main motivation for competitors, most eliminated players say that the once-in-a-lifetime trip is a reward on its own.
It’s my dream to be a contestant. And I’m pretty sure that after binge-watching 30 seasons, you’ll feel the same way.
I won’t spoil the season for you, so let’s just say that Blake and Paige did quite well during their run. Argentina was among the many countries they visited on the show. In 2006, four years after his stint on the show, Blake decided to make his way back to Argentina.
Blake says he “always liked really immersing [him]self in whatever that country was known for.” Since he wasn’t much of a tango man, Blake decided to learn the national sport, polo, by enrolling in a training camp for his month off. At the same time, Blake dove head first into other parts of Argentine culture: he drank lots of Malbec (the national wine), learned some Spanish, and even started wearing a very popular local canvas shoe called the alpargata. The thought occurred to him that these shoes might have some commercial success if he were to bring them over to the United States. “But as with many half-formed ideas that came to me, I tabled it for the moment. My time in Argentina was supposed to be about fun, not work.”
But the idea about the shoes came back to him again. “Toward the end of my trip, I met an American woman in a cafe who was volunteering on a shoe drive — a new concept to me. She explained that many kids lacked shoes, even in relatively well developed countries like Argentina, an absence that didn’t just complicate every aspect of their lives — including essentials like attending school and getting water from the local well — but also exposed them to a wide range of diseases. Her organization collected shoes from donors and gave them to kids in need.”
Though he’d never done anything like it, Blake wanted to help and experience this shoe drive first hand. He joined the next outing to collect shoes and then distribute them to the children.
The experience was incredible to him: “I spent a few days traveling from village to village with the woman and her group, and a few more traveling on my own, witnessing the intense pockets of poverty just outside the bustling capital. It dramatically heightened my awareness.”
Afterward, Blake wanted to help even more. He started brainstorming how he could make a significant and lasting impact, even after leaving Argentina.
That’s when it clicked: he had managed to encounter a problem and its solution all on this vacation. The alpargata shoes that he had been wearing were the answer. Sure, the shoes may have been successful in the U.S. on their own — but combined with the message of buying them for a good cause, they could really take off. So Blake called back home and took another month off — though this was no vacation, as he was intent on finding a manufacturer for his shoes. The rest is history.
Blake’s story may have sounded familiar to you. The Blake that I’ve been talking about here is Blake Mycoskie, the Founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS. At TOMS, for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair is given away to someone that is in need.
Yep, the founder of TOMS is named Blake — not Tom.
Many people never knew that Blake got this idea thanks to his experiential trip to Argentina. Because he chose to immerse himself in the culture — all the way down to the shoes on his feet — Blake got a brilliant business idea he would never have thought of at home, regardless of his entrepreneurial acumen. And because he followed an unexpected interest in a local charity, he was able to turn that business idea into a philanthropic footwear fortune.
● Blake Mycoskie, entrepreneur and game show contestant, made a practice of taking one month off every year to immerse himself in a different culture.
- Make a point of taking regular breaks from your life to try something new — the longer the trip, the better your opportunity to really dive deep into the unknown.
● Blake was inspired to start TOMS Shoes after he volunteered on a charity drive that collected shoes for Argentinians in need.
- Sometimes, learning about new problems will set off the ol’ mental light bulb better than staring at old ones. Going beyond tourism to get involved with local volunteer work lets you help yourself while serving the community you’re visiting.
● If you have the chance, be a contestant on The Amazing Race.
- And put in a good word for me! ;)
If you’d like this story and would like to read more, you can order a copy of my book on Amazon. If you want to connect, you can reach me here via email firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on Instagram: @thestandbyguy. I would love to hear your feedback so please let me know what you think!