How I Use Travel for Inspiration in My Business (and Life) Ventures
If you know me or have spent any time lurking on my Instagram you know that I like to travel. I find it a great way to not only disconnect from the “day to day” we all tend to settle into but it also has opened my eyes to ideas, cultures and experiences you just can’t get from a book or travel blog.
Aside from the travel memories, spending time with my family and the wonderful people I’ve met, I’ve also grown as an entrepreneur through travel.
Many things I’ve seen and learned through these explorations have directly impacted some aspect of my professional ventures and I’d like to share a few of them.
The Many Favors of a Farmers Market
Ever since I was a young kid I’ve been drawn to open air food markets in all of it’s vibrant (and sometimes pungent) glory. I fondly recall wandering through the Italian Market in South Philadelphia taking in the scents, sounds and sensory overload that very few places at the time could deliver.
From the fresh fruits and vegetables to exotic cheeses & spices to the bounty of seafood packed on ice by local fishmongers — these markets had me hooked from the beginning.
It was these early experiences that led me to decide many years later that downtown Asbury Park NEEDED a farmers market.
I knew what worked so well in Philadelphia would be very hard to pull off in a suburban community of approximately 16,000 people so I began to look elsewhere for inspiration — and what better place was there to search than some of the places I had recently visited.
Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
I visited the Hemel Hempstead Market back in 2008 when my sister was living in the English suburb, about 45 minutes north of London. Twice a week they shut down the main street in the center of town and the produce and food trucks would roll in, setting up their tents for the afternoon. It amazed me how everything seemed to come to a halt as the community came out for their bi-weekly shopping trip.
Aquadilla, Puerto Rico
The market in Aquadilla, which I visited on a quick trip to Rincon back in 2012, was a much smaller affair but I immediately picked up on the community vibe of this open air market. I was in awe of the little old ladies selling exotic fruits and vegetables to locals and tourists alike.
Ocean Beach, San Diego
I was staying at the Ocean Beach International Hostel in San Diego a short time later when I visited their weekly Wednesday night market. Like the Hemel-Hempstead market, around 4PM, the cars gave way to EZ-Up tents as the main thoroughfare was closed to vehicles.
The bars and restaurants began to serve happy hour drinks through street accessible service windows and the air filled with the sounds of buskers and street performers. There was an ever present charm that only can be found in Southern California and my entire perspective of what a farmers market could be was completely shifted.
My visits to these markets resonated on a number of levels and when it came time to start Asbury Fresh in the summer of 2012, I had a pretty clear picture of what we could build. Over the past 6 years, Fresh Markets has evolved into it’s own brand and identity but many of the things I saw while visiting these 3 very distinct markets helped shape our identity.
Coworking in the Jungle
Cowerks started well before my first trip to Southeast Asia but what I’ve learned since then is how far reaching and creative the coworking business model can be.
My first trip to Bali (and that part of the world) was in the winter of 2015 where I was hired to lead a software development boot camp.
During my 3 month tenure in Ubud we worked out of a coworking space right across the street from the iconic Sacred Monkey Forest called Hubud.
I recall making a very naive (and western centric) comment to one of the founders of Hubud about how I was surprised there was a coworking space in “that part of the world” to which I got a very short reply “oh yeah — it’s pretty big”.
During my stay in Bali, Hubud also hosted the 1st Annual CUAsia Coworking Conference, to which I was invited to speak. Over the 2 day event I met dozens of other space owners from places including other parts of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines. In the 4 years since the conference I try and keep a watchful eye on what’s happening not only to some of the people I met but also the industry as a whole.
While big players like WeWork have moved into the region, most notably with their acquisition of Spacemob in 2017, you’ve also seen smaller spaces, like Hubud continue to grow and thrive through finding a niche with ex-pats & digital nomads looking for fast internet, low cost of living and the high quality of life few places outside of Bali and Southeast Asia can offer.
Personal Development Through Culinary Challenges
The Explorers Supper Club is a new “project” I launched a few months back as a way of sharing authentic Thai & Southeast Asian cuisine as well as challenge myself to chase a passion and undergo a bit of personal development.
I’ve alway thought I knew how to make a curry, and to most westerners, I probably delivered a pretty good, albeit non-authentic, product. After learning the fundamentals of Indonesian cooking through sweating in a kitchen at a vegan warung on the outskirts of Ubud as well as studying Thai food at Mai Kaidee cooking school in Bangkok, I felt like I could deliver both a tasty and authentic meal.
For years I’ve always (half) joked that my goal is to make enough money to retire at a young age and open up a vegan restaurant purely as a passion project. I’d keep limited hours, run it as a break even venture and focus purely on delivering quality food.
From what I know about the restaurant industry, it’s extremely stressful from both a physical and financial perspective so my reasoning was to take both of those aggravations out of the equation from the get go and create something just for fun.
After my most recent trip to Thailand, I decided to throw my hat into the ring a few years ahead of my scheduled “retirement” and host a series of 3 course, plant based pop-up dinners based on my culinary experiences in Indonesia, Singapore, & Thailand.
I had zero experience in the food industry so I enlisted the help of my buddy Shiah, a veteran of the local Asbury Park restaurant scene to help bring this idea to fruition. Together we worked on refining and scaling the recipes, sourcing fresh authentic ingredients and building a buzz around the events.
Our first two dinners were received extremely well — in fact they completely filled up and we’re currently working on some new dinners for early 2019.
Most importantly, I succeeded in challenging myself to step outside my comfort zone and do something completely new.
For me — travel serves as a way to learn, challenge myself and grow. It’s all too easy to settle into the routines of life (and business) and unless I’m actively challenging myself to “mix things up”, I find it extremely easy for stagnation to set in.
All too often we look to travel as a way to disconnect from our “real lives” and while that certainly has it’s merits, I prefer to blend the lines.
When I travel my mind is in a constant state of stimulation. When I return to “real life” I’m able let these experiences shape both my personal and professional life.
Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a year long backpacking adventure through India, I encourage you to try and carve out some space to explore our wonderful world — it’s the fastest way to achieve personal growth and, as an added bonus, you might stumble upon your next killer idea.