Guilt is a wasted emotion. — I talk to so many women who feel guilty about how they are attempting to balance their personal life and career. They feel guilty when they travel for work and aren’t at home with their kids. They feel guilty when they take a much-deserved vacation because they’re missing an important board meeting. That guilt isn’t doing anyone any good. If you feel like you need to shift your priorities in some way, make that change and then accept that you can’t be everywhere at once. You might be superwoman, but you are not a time traveler.
I had the pleasure to interview Lauren Bates. Lauren is the founder and CEO of Wild Terrains, a boutique travel company specializing in curated group trips for women. Wild Terrains itineraries take travelers to vibrant, culturally-rich destinations and are centered around collaboration with local, women-owned businesses. All trips include accommodations at women-owned hotels, meals prepared by female chefs, and experiences that connect local women entrepreneurs, artists, and designers with travelers. Lauren Bates is an avid traveler with a deep passion for connecting people and creating meaningful experiences. Prior to Wild Terrains, Lauren was Chief Marketing Officer at UrbanStems, where she dreamed up and launched their wildly successful collaboration with Vogue.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me! The idea for Wild Terrains came to me while planning a last-minute vacation. I could only find women’s group trips that were activity-specific, focusing on things like yoga, trekking, and surfing. That frustrated me on a personal level, because I’m a much more dynamic traveler. I like my travel itineraries to be packed with activities related to food, culture, art, design, wine, self care, and more. It also frustrated me on a broader level, because I believe globally we tend to market to women in a very one- or two-dimensional way that misses the mark on what women are really craving in terms of experiences and connections.
Just because you like yoga doesn’t mean you want to do yoga every day on vacation, and just because you’re 70 years old doesn’t mean you want to be on a seniors-only trip. So, I started a travel company where those labels don’t exist. Wild Terrains exists for women from all walks of life, in all stages of life. We want to give women not only a safe space to explore the world, but also a space to nourish their creativity and build relationships with each other. To bring things full circle, we’ve made it our mission to always collaborate with the local women doing cool things in the places we visit.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I don’t know if I have a specific story, but honestly all of my days are super interesting! I spend most days traveling to incredible places and getting to know brilliant women along the way. I’m constantly learning from our partners and travelers. Being in their orbit is one of the true joys of my life.
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?
Before I officially launched Wild Terrains, I led a pilot trip to Mexico City for a group of my close female friends. I forgot to remind them that Mexico City sits at a pretty high elevation of about 7,500 feet above sea level. We kicked things off with mezcal cocktails in the garden at Ignacia Guest House. Let’s just say those cocktails caught up to us very quickly because of the altitude. Now, I always warn our travelers to drinks tons of water during their flight to Mexico City and we ration the mezcal on our first night! You live and you learn.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
A traveler on our most recent Mexico City Experience described our differentiator better than I can. She called it, “a true community trip, not a tour.” As I’ve led more and more women-only trips, I’ve noticed that the desire among women for a sense of community is a huge motivator for taking a trip with Wild Terrains. The growth of cities means we’ve lost the sense of community that we might feel if we still lived in a small village. Most of us have family members and friends scattered in different cities across the country or world. We’re able to stay in the loop thanks to technology like Facetime and social media, but we’re missing that in-person quality time and connection. So, I see a ton of long-distance friends, sisters, and mother/daughter sets using travel as a way to reconnect and get that quality time with each other. I also see a ton of solo female travelers seeking out new connections through our group trips. More than ever, I believe there’s a little bit of magic that happens when you give women that space to connect with each other. Travel is just how we’re making that happen.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We are actually working on a pretty massive project at the moment that should hopefully allow us to broaden the ways we interact with and positively impact our women partners and travelers. We can’t share the juicy details yet, but we promise it’s going to be really exciting! We’re also always scouting new destinations for our group trips!
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Our team is still pretty tiny, but we work with a ton of local partners in our destinations. I think the best way to manage a large team is to prioritize in-person and verbal communication. It’s easy to rely solely on email or text communication when you’re really busy or constantly on the move, but it lacks important data points like body language and tone. Anytime something seems to be confusing in an email thread, I tell our team to pick up the phone and actually talk to the person so nothing gets lost in translation.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Travel has always been a huge part of my identity. I’m very fortunate to have a brilliant mother who was an executive in the hospitality industry for over 30 years. At an early age, she made sure my brother and I were bitten by the travel bug. Watching my mom work hard, travel the world, and embrace other cultures, definitely gave me the independence and confidence to launch Wild Terrains. She is also my go-to work therapist.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hope we are having a positive impact on the lives of all the women we interact with, from our travelers to all of our partners.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Listen 80% of the time. — I think most young, successful women feel like they need to be constantly proving why they deserve a seat at the table. When I was younger, I felt the need to prove myself by constantly contributing to the conversation. As I’ve become a more experienced leader, I’ve learned how much you lose by doing that. You miss great ideas and important subtleties if you’re the one constantly driving the conversation. Don’t just talk to remind people that you exist. Spend 80% of your time listening, then decide what to do with the other 20% of the time.
- You are not perfect. Having high standards for yourself and your team is great, but you can’t expect perfection. You will make mistakes. Your team will make mistakes. Own them. Learn from them. And then, keep moving.
- Guilt is a wasted emotion. — I talk to so many women who feel guilty about how they are attempting to balance their personal life and career. They feel guilty when they travel for work and aren’t at home with their kids. They feel guilty when they take a much-deserved vacation because they’re missing an important board meeting. That guilt isn’t doing anyone any good. If you feel like you need to shift your priorities in some way, make that change and then accept that you can’t be everywhere at once. You might be superwoman, but you are not a time traveler.
- Just get started. I sat on the idea for Wild Terrains for two whole years! Why? Because it was terrifying to take the leap. At some point you just have to take the plunge. You’re not going to have every detail ironed out to perfection, and you’re not going to know the things you didn’t know you didn’t know. The sooner you take that leap, the quicker you’ll learn what those are!
- Bring a mini-spa on every flight. — This one is a bit silly, but I spend an absurd amount of time on airplanes. Drink a liter of water on the plane and bring a face mask with you. You will absolutely feel ridiculous wearing an inflight face mask, but your skin and your future self will thank you.
You are a person of great influence. 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 would love for the entire world to be a safe place where women feel safe traveling solo or in groups. We’re working on it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
— Grace Hopper
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 🙂
Oh, this one is tough! I’m going to pick more than one. Since I organize group trips for women, I obviously would organize a group brunch! Cleo Wade, Isle Crawford, and Anu Duggal. Can you say dream date?