Remember to build community! When I was first creating my website, there were people who helped me. Dave from Dave’s Travel Corner made a suggestion and I said in five years when I figure out how to do that I will. He immediately sent me the code for my website. I have never forgotten his kindness. I have sent many people code and ideas as a way to thank him for all he did for me. Jessie from Wandering Educators gave me a suggestion and I said it will take me a week to do that. She said, “You are not going to do that. You are doing to hire my tech guy and he is going to do it.” I appreciate all the people who showed me the way to do it and the way to make it easier.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Ellen Niver, M.A. Education. Lisa is a science teacher and an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. She is an award-nominated television host, travel journalist and passionate artist who sailed the seven seas by cruise ship for seven years and backpacked for three years in Asia. She is the founder of We Said Go Travel which is read in over 200 countries and named #3 on the top 1000 Travel Blog and the top female travel blogger 3 times in 2019. Find her talking travel at KTLA TV and in her We Said Go Travel videos with over one million views on her YouTube channel. She has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best, is verified on both Twitter and Facebook, has over 160,000 followers across social media and ran fifteen travel competitions publishing over 2500 writers and photographers from 75 countries. She has been a finalist for six Southern California Journalism Awards in the past three years for broadcast television as well as print and digital articles. She won an award for her print Jewish Journal article. Niver has written for AARP, American Airways, Delta Sky, En Route (Air Canada), Hemispheres (United Airlines), Jewish Journal, Luxury Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Myanmar Times, National Geographic, POPSUGAR, Robb Report, Saturday Evening Post, Scuba Diver Life, Sierra Club, Ski Utah, Smithsonian, TODAY.com, Trivago, USA Today 10best, Wharton Magazine and Yahoo. She is writing a book, “Brave Rebel: 50 Scary Challenges Before 50,” about her most recent travels and challenges. Look for her underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Thank you for including me in your series. When I tell people I am a travel journalist, they often say, “That is my dream job!” and I feel the same way. My parents took my sister and I on a cruise when we were in elementary school and we saw Ephesus in Turkey, the Egyptian pyramids, the Parthenon and the Western Wall in Israel. I felt like I walked into my history books and learned so much by physically being in these locations. I have always remembered that feeling and wanted to learn more about different countries.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, I moved to San Francisco to go to Medical School at UCSF. I took a year of leave to think about if I really wanted to be a doctor or not. During that year, I learned to scuba dive and went to my first ceramics class. I decided I did not want to spend all of my 20’s in a classroom and left medical school. I wanted to go underwater to dive but I was teaching and not making enough money for a scuba trip. I went to work at Club Med in Colorado and then the Bahamas. After that, I traveled by cruise ship for over six years. I was being paid to go to my dream destinations!
After I left ships, I started to teach again. When I chose to travel long term again, the blog revolution had begun and I started my site, We Said Go Travel. Slowly, I began to write for other sites and make videos of my adventures.
In July 2019, my YouTube channel went over one million views! Years ago, I started very small and committed to my dream. I worked hard every day and have been able to travel to over 100 countries.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I worked one small step at a time. When I started my blog, I used blogger because it was free and I did not need a new password. I committed to writing once a week. I started to write for other sites and practiced using all the tools of technology.
I read books about how to grow your platform and decided to give a talk at my temple which led to my column at the Jewish Journal. When you just start, you have no idea what will happen next because of that step. People will help you build your dream but they have to know what you want to do.
I made commitments to myself to keep going and growing and learning. I asked for help from other business owners who taught me something new. I worked on that and went to networking events and reached out to more people who taught me one new step. I cannot believe that all of those tiny steps led me to write for Ms. Magazine. I am so honored to be able to share my articles in print and on their website.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
The best thing to do in the beginning is to try it out. How can you put your toe in the water? I often let people share an article on my site. They follow my guidelines and then say to me, that is so many steps. I would recommend spending a day with someone who is in that business and asking many questions about how does it work?
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
For me, the most important thing is to make sure that I take breaks! I love to write and to edit video but there are times when it gets to be too much. I plan my day and make sure that there are times when I am exercising, connecting with other people and working at my computer to make edits on articles and videos. I also make sure I am not on the road too often or too long because that can be exhausting also. I sometimes add an extra day after a conference so I can have down time before I get back to my desk to follow-up with everyone new I have met.
Many of my adventures include skiing or scuba diving. I have been able to enjoy a trip and then write about it for many sites like USA Today 10best. For me, switching between tasks or being home and on the road keeps me going.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
The best thing is traveling to new places or sharing a place I love with someone who has never been there. I love when someone comments on one of my videos and says it helped them decide to visit that location! In order to keep going, I make a schedule that includes time at my art studio, going to shabbat services at my temple and meeting with people in person which helps me keep a balance with running my own business.
Being able to see the importance of what I do also helps me. I have been thrilled to be able to share stories about saving our seas on the website for the TODAY show.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I worked in travel for seven years at Club Med and then on cruise ships for Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Renaissance Cruises. I worked seven days a week. Now I work for myself but I still work seven days a week. I have made some adjustments lately to take more time off. I am used to working part of every day. I did not realize how much work it would take to grow my videos and my website but it is working.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
I have taught in many school settings and worked in different types of travel jobs. When I get frustrated and threaten to get a “real job,” my best friend laughs and says, “you have never had a real job!” I think she might be right. I have always loved to do different things every day and to explore new countries. Fortunately when I feel like “I just can’t take it anymore,” something great is usually around the corner and it reminds me that I love what I do.
In September 2019, I am going to the United Nations Global Goals Conference as a journalist for Ms. Magazine. I am honored and excited to have media credentials for this important event.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I moved back to America from Asia in 2014, I received an email inviting me to the Red Carpet of the Oscars with United Airlines. I was surprised and honestly thought it was a spam email at first! I had so much fun and loved the whole day even though it rained on us. We sat in Row A and saw all of the stars. We were watching when Oprah stepped on Lady Gaga’s dress!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was traveling in Asia for 11 months (2008–2009), I knew that some of my electronic equipment might break. During the first week, my laptop had issues and I had to find someone to service it. Later, I broke the laptop screen as well as the CISCO FLIP video camera. I was able to use a NOKIA phone for filming and bought a new laptop. My biggest surprise was when my external hard drive died. I was trying to find someone who could recover my photos and videos. The man at the shop said, “Why did you only back it up once?” I said, “I did back-up every month.” He said, “It does not count unless you back-up twice.” I had no idea. Now I backup all my photos and videos to three separate external hard drives. It did not feel funny at the time but it was very memorable.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My teacher, Joannie Parker, used to tell us in my all-girls’ high school English class and in our senior elective of Women’s Studies, “Some day when you are the CEO of the company…some day when you are president of the country.” She talked to use about the news of the day, women’s suffrage, women’s rights and what we could do to build community and make the world a better place. I have always been inspired by her efforts to change what she could and hope that I can make a difference in my corner of the world as well.
I was able to share a print story this year in Ms. Magazine about a women’s economic development project in Africa. Your old bicycle can change someone’s life!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
It is crucial to me to tell good and important stories that are not being heard. I was invited to ski with the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. I wrote a story for Sierra Club about a ski lesson with Jennifer who is blind. I wrote about making magic on the mountain with Matt who is a wounded warrior in a wheelchair and our day skiing for Ski Utah.
For Saturday Evening Post, I shared about my day trying to keep up with 14 year old Saylor O’Brien who is training on the Paralympic development team and has spina bifida.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I had no idea that there would be no days off when I started to work on cruise ships. It was worth it because we had time off each day and some of those days I went scuba diving. I still work every day and I still love all the adventures I get to take in my time off.
- I wish I had known that change is the only constant. As soon as I figure out how to post something on a social platform, they change it. It is not so hard but it is always something different. I remind myself I figured it out before and I will figure it out again.
- I had no idea that everything would take so long. People always tell me, “It will take longer than you think.” However, I have learned to never give up and believe that eventually I will meet my goals. I was as excited when I had 10,000 views on YouTube as I was in July of this year to get to one million views. I wonder what is my best next goal and I know slowly it will happen.
- Remember to build community! When I was first creating my website, there were people who helped me. Dave from Dave’s Travel Corner made a suggestion and I said in five years when I figure out how to do that I will. He immediately sent me the code for my website. I have never forgotten his kindness. I have sent many people code and ideas as a way to thank him for all he did for me. Jessie from Wandering Educators gave me a suggestion and I said it will take me a week to do that. She said, “You are not going to do that. You are doing to hire my tech guy and he is going to do it.” I appreciate all the people who showed me the way to do it and the way to make it easier.
- I had an Israeli dance teacher who said, “Practice makes better!” and that is what I try to do each day to get better! When I was starting out in video, someone recommended that I work with a video coach. I thought that was a great idea and asked for suggestions of who to work with. My friend’s friend offered to introduce me to her coach who was excellent. Always remember to keep asking for help and to get a tiny bit better each day. I am also amazed that other people think I am brave. I was recently in a Reader’s Digest article about strength, acceptance, beauty and bikinis!
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am now a trainer for the #IamRemarkable workshop which is a Google initiative empowering women and underrepresented groups to speak openly about their accomplishments in the workplace and beyond, thereby breaking modesty norms and glass ceilings. One of my favorite things about this workshop is when we get to say, “It is not bragging if it is based on facts.” It is important to share your successes! I hope more people will take this workshop and become facilitators and we can see what happens when everyone feels supported in following their dreams and passions! In June, I presented this workshop at Ms. Magazine for all of their summer interns.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson and helps me remember what is important to me. It is not all about money or numbers but about the impact we have on others.
“What is success?
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I absolutely love the 21-Day Meditation series by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. It is on the app from Chopra Center and I listen to them often but especially when I am in the airport waiting for a flight. I would love to meet either of them for a meal and talk about meditation, inspiration and life goals!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrust Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com