13 lessons from 22,000 miles of adventure

On February 13th 2017, we stepped off Argentinian soil and boarded our plane to Cape Town. This was to be where we would spend our last few weeks meeting social entrepreneurs and investors before returning to the UK. After eight months on the road, the MacroAdventure journey was at its end.

In June last year, as we said goodbye to our families in Gatwick Airport before we departed for Alaska, we had one thought in mind - how elated we would feel to have completed this journey and reach the finish line in Argentina. How different the reality was.

Instead, we found ourselves in Buenos Aires, both quietly proud and grateful for the journey we’d completed, but subdued by the thought that our epic adventure was almost over.

Virgin Unite, MacroAdventure, Entrepreneurship

For the last eight months our goal had been clear: to meet and share the stories of as many people using business as a force for good across the Americas as possible, and reach Argentina by mid-February 2017. This very tangible goal always kept us moving forwards. It galvanised our sense of purpose. But, as we’ve said before, the journey was never about the destination.

Having now travelled across 22,000 miles over eight months, and having met and interviewed over 75 incredible entrepreneurs, we’ve collected almost as many lessons about life and entrepreneurship as the number of miles we’ve travelled. We’re hoping to hold onto as many of these ‘Macro-isms’ as we can as we transition to life back in the UK.

Here are the 13 lessons from our journey that we most wanted to share:

1. Bootstrap – When we started in Alaska, we were still accustomed to our London way of living and our London salaries. A stable income was one of the hardest things to give up and we had to make our savings last eight months until Argentina. This was a huge lesson in sustainability for us, and also a question of priorities. However, once we had learned to manage our spending more effectively we realised we were happy with less, with the few sets of clothes we carried on our backs and with our healthy one-pot dinners made over the campfire. We still like to treat ourselves when we can, but we have found cheaper substitutes. Instead of going to the gym, for example, we enjoyed exercising outside more – hiking, surfing, swimming, running – all things we wanted to do in the UK but often couldn’t find the time for. Taking conscious control of every aspect of our lives allowed us to break free of our previous habits and start to shape valuable new ones.

2. Endure the tough stuff and persevere – It’s the hard times that make it all worthwhile. We found that it’s only when you reach your breaking point that you’re forced to adapt, to learn about yourself and to figure out how to keep going. So, be grateful for the hardships – they’re your biggest teacher and make you appreciate the good times. Our breakpoints were often financial, but also emotional. Like starting a business, travelling for a long time is an endurance challenge – we were with each other every day, we were tired and far from home and routine, we didn’t always want to think about the next place we had to get to and how we were going to get there. Sometimes you think about giving up. When you feel like that, just make sure you always take another step forward, no matter how small. Having a partner in crime helps, and often Jo and I were able to motivate each other through the toughest parts of our journey.

Virgin Unite, MacroAdventure, Entrepreneurship

3. Have faith – Both in yourself and in those around you. Surround yourself with a community of good people and, if you’re on the right path, the world will often conspire to help you. It won’t always be easy and your conviction will be regularly tested, but trust that help is usually found when you least expect it. We were overwhelmed by the completely unsolicited help we received throughout our journey – strangers invited us into their homes, prepared meals for us, paid our taxi fares, and connected us to friends who could help us along our route. Trust those that offer genuine help and learn to share your knowledge so others can trust you in return. Life is richer for the ups and downs. Our journey taught us to trust that one will always follow the other, and to trust that you always have the ability to make a plan.

4. Listen! – Our most valuable lesson. When travelling, interviewing and starting a business, this was the most important skill of all. We often sat up late talking to other travellers who would give us advice about great places to visit, cheap ways to travel, and dangerous places to avoid. We listened to each other and learned to be mindful of each other's needs, but also listened to our own internal voices and what the journey was teaching us. We listened intently in our meetings to what people do, how they can help others within the community and what they needed themselves.

Listening has enabled us to spot where we can share knowledge that will catalyse growth for people building businesses for good

In Oregon, for example, we learnt how Hatch Innovation is changing laws to pioneer crowdfunding for equity share. In contrast, we were shocked when we found even traditional crowdfunding was effectively outlawed in Colombia. However when we met Fundacion Capital in Bogota we learned that they were setting up their own crowdfunding platform called ‘Little Big Money’ – it was only through in-depth discussion that we learned about the different cultural challenges they faced and how they overcame them. Listening has enabled us to spot where we can share knowledge that will catalyse growth for people building businesses for good, and has allowed us to refine our own role in this community.

Virgin Unite, MacroAdventure, Entrepreneurship

5. Consciously take time to disconnect – One of the great things about travelling in today's age is that you can be connected all the time, but that poses its own challenges. So many of us get caught up in the echo chamber of our digital world and we forget to look at what’s going on around us. We actively took breaks from being online while on our journey, which helped us to more fully appreciate the experiences we were having. When we actually take the time to reconnect with our surroundings, people, nature, and design, we open ourselves to new inspiration and allow room for new ideas.

6. Always ask questions – Be inquisitive. Don’t just accept. Ask: why? We spotted many differences and similarities on our travels and always asked ourselves, why is this as it is here? Why are there barriers to crowdfunding in Colombia, whilst Oregon is so innovative? Why is there so much homelessness in San Francisco, but not in Guadalajara? Why does this idea work here, and not somewhere else?

It’s only when you question in depth that you can get to the core of a problem and start to figure out the answers. We also took time to question ourselves and the life choices we had made until this point. Why did we believe certain things about work and how we wanted to live our lives?

Next week we’ll be sharing part two of MacroAdventure’s: Now we’ve finished, it’s time to get started – 13 lessons from 22,000 miles of adventure

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