Travelers will be committed to sustainable tourism and interacting respectfully with their destinations. Efforts like Ol’au Palau (a good traveler incentive recently implemented by Palau) will be echoed both by destinations and travel companies.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Forrest.
Erica Forrest is a Travel Education Specialist who helps curious people create more meaningful wanderings. As the founder of her travel education company, Trip Scholars, she blends over thirty years’ experience in education with the discoveries made through her own illuminating journeys. She inspires her clients to make the most of their time before departure, allowing them to better understand their destinations and, ultimately, themselves.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have spent a lot of my adult life devoted to two great passions: education and travel.
I’m a former Director of Hawaii Montessori Schools, a founder of the Family Learning Program, and a teacher. Through my time working with learners of all ages, I have come to see that we learn best when we are genuinely curious about a topic and often when it has direct relevance to our lives.
An important step in my career path was the realization that many of my transformative experiences have occurred while traveling. I am sure they have for a lot of your readers too.
Imagine laying on a white sandy beach in Hawaii and taking in the extraordinary beauty and relaxing sensations of the beach. It’s great, right?!? No one can argue with that. Now, also imagine thinking about the geologic forces at work building and eroding the islands all around you. Imagine the surrounding coral reefs that broke down to form the grains of sand that run through your fingers, the extraordinary aquatic habitat mostly hidden from view, the history of Native Hawaiians and their Polynesian ancestors who discovered the cluster of islands in the middle of the vast Pacific.
If you hold all of this in your mind, laying on the beach becomes a truly profound experience. It can more deeply connect you with the place, the people who live there, and with the people you may be traveling with. But to learn all of this about a place takes time, not only finding the best resources, but also finding ones that will help you learn the best. I want to make this learning and research process easier and more enjoyable for others and in the long run, enhance their travel.
I built a business combining these two areas of expertise: education and travel. I help curious travelers use their excitement about upcoming trips to inspire deeper understanding and joyful discovery. I am also an expert in travel planning and share tips and travel skills that will empower my clients to master these valuable abilities for themselves.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the more interesting things that has happened in my career was teaching philosophy to children. I earned a degree in Philosophy and have long been a proponent of introducing the subject well before college. Although some people believe that children are not capable of thinking about thinking, I have found them to be natural philosophers.
As a brief illustration, in a class discussion on aesthetics, kids gave these thoughtful replies when asked what beauty is: kindness, truth, architecture, art, the Grand Canyon, love, courage, and justice. I then gave them two pieces of paper and asked them to make a piece of art and something that isn’t art with each one. They found it very difficult to NOT make art! They did many interesting things to their papers in an attempt at not making art: leaving it blank, ripping it up, writing only words, erasing something previously added, and drawing a toilet. If you are engaged in the creative act of making or doing something to the page, does that make it art? Kids and teens are already wondering about the big questions, and it is a joy to nurture their curiosity with relevant activities, facilitate lively discussions about heavy subjects, and witness their discoveries.
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 the Director of Hawaii Montessori Schools, our big fundraiser each year was a large Oktoberfest celebration at Kona Brewery. It was a major event in town, and we had a great amount of support both locally and from generous brewers on the mainland. Months in advance, I ordered all the embossed tasting glasses in the 3 oz size, since that was the pour limit. But I didn’t consider the space needed for the beer’s head and air on top! That was the year of the 9/11 tragedy and shipping times to Hawaii were severely impacted. The glasses didn’t arrive until the morning of the event — and they were tiny! Luckily, we had made a run to Costco the night before to get plastic cups in case they didn’t arrive, so attendees still got decent pours. But it was embarrassing to hand out both glasses, since the glass souvenir version was too small to enjoy.
This mistake helped me to focus more on the details. Even though this was just one small choice out of many the day I placed the order, overlooking it had a big impact many months later. Fortunately, it is a very forgiving community and provided a good laugh, and it is a mistake I have never repeated!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
I know this may sound trite, but my best tip to my colleagues is to do what you love and believe in. Nothing drives you to get out of bed each morning like knowing that the work you do makes a difference.
Since launching my business less than three years ago, both of my parents died and one of our children became bed bound with a rare and difficult to diagnose illness. This was all amid the pandemic, which was a comical time to launch a travel business. Burn out would have been expected.
But because I believe in my mission, I was driven to work hard. I know that my approach to travel is transformative and worth investing in, so I was excited to share it with others. When your business is founded on your values and passions, the motivation is intrinsic.
Another tip is to do all you can to care for yourself. This pandemic has taken an enormous toll on our mental health and many people are dealing with anxiety, depression, and burn out. Travel professionals were hit especially hard, at the very least from a business perspective.
However, as travel professionals, we are also in a unique position to foster our own self-care. Many common mental health recommendations are things we already incorporated into our lives before the pandemic. As frequent travelers ourselves, we can use the anticipation of our own upcoming trips to improve our self-care. Planning a backpacking adventure? Let it inspire your daily walk. Heading to Italy? Allow it to motivate you to eat a Mediterranean diet this month. Do you keep a travel journal? Expand it into a gratitude journal while your own travel schedule gets into full swing. It is difficult to cultivate new habits but harnessing our excitement about upcoming excursions can provide just the nudge we need to practice better self-care.
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?
I am here only because of the great colleagues, bosses, mentors, family, and friends who have helped me along my way. But when asked about just one, it is my husband, Brandon. He has been my greatest cheerleader for the last 30 years and he is also an excellent sounding board.
A few years ago, when our youngest was nearing high school, we did a lot of brainstorming about what we want our lives to be like once our kids are launched. At that time, it was still ten years out, but we knew that we wanted to step into the changes with shared purpose and excitement. We decided that in our next chapter, we will live aboard a sailboat (Brandon is an experienced sailor) and travel the world while working part-time as digital nomads.
He supported me as I explored what that could look like for my next professional chapter. Brandon helped me refine my ideas about Trip Scholars and supported the launch of the business. He is a creative person and lots of fun to explore out of the box ideas with. Because of his own successful career, he also offers useful business advice. Once I decided on Trip Scholars, he’s been all in!
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
The primary focus of Trip Scholars is to help travelers make the most of their time before departure. Most of us are not able to travel nearly as much as we would like to, but we get a lot of joy out of the anticipation. Often this excitement is used to plan itineraries, scroll through Airbnb or TripAdvisor, and scour booking sites to find the best deals. These can all be helpful components to planning a trip, but I believe that there are other valuable ways we can invest that anticipation. Trip Scholars helps travelers channel their anticipation into the motivation it takes to discover at a deeper level.
We are living in a time of general languishing, widespread mental health challenges, and entertainment often composed of 20 second clips on social media. So, it can take a lot of effort to dive into the deeper learning that might have come more naturally in previous decades. I think we are all experiencing this to some degree.
Excitement and anticipation about an upcoming trip can inspire people to learn a new language, take an online class, read a book, or creatively engage in projects with family members related to their travel destinations. It can inspire travelers to improve their photography or nature journaling skills from home. The possibilities are great!
I apply my background of over thirty years in education to help travelers understand WHY they want to travel and then use that awareness to inspire transformative and fun learning. You can keep it light and entertaining, while still learning, or take a deeper dive into a specific destination.
I believe that this profound understanding of our destinations helps us become more responsible travelers committed to appreciating and protecting our planet and its people.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
One of the main pain points I address is the lament, “I wish I could travel more!” The wonder of travel can begin the moment you start to plan it, so I help people make the most of their trip planning. I support them in finding inspiring resources for deeper learning and fun entertainment to keep them excited and motivated. This extends their short vacations into months of discovery.
Research shows that most of us get more joy out of anticipating and planning a trip then we do from the trip itself. I help clients lean into this anticipation and use it to motivate a rich and lively exploration of their destinations.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
Since we are talking to seasoned travelers here, I expect they can all relate to this scene. A few years ago, at the Louvre, I was heartbroken to see many tourists walking up to a painting and quickly turning away from it to take a selfie. They then walked away to find the next piece that would likely garner hundreds or thousands of likes on Instagram, providing the predictable drip of dopamine. But they never actually looked at the artwork. Before the pandemic, a lot of travel had become ticking things off a bucket list and getting some gorgeous shots to share on social media.
Travel can be so much more. There is a global movement towards intentional travel, and I am grateful to be a part of that. The approach I encourage through Trip Scholars changes the status quo in this regard.
The Louvre is an excellent example because there are fascinating resources available to curious travelers. These resources bring it to life by revealing the historical and cultural context of the artwork. I have a particular online course specific to the museum and a few remarkably engaging art history classes I recommend. There are also intriguing books that reveal the rich background behind the artwork and enhance your in-person experience. There are feature films, podcasts, and games you can easily add to your regular entertainment. For families, I suggest art activities and age-appropriate short videos that get kids curious and vested in the trip.
I support travelers in integrating this learning into their lives and making it truly enjoyable. This allows them to extend their travel experience and have more fun with the family and friends they plan to travel with. When they finally visit, they have something much more valuable than a photo to share on social media! They have genuine transformational experiences, those that shape us in fundamental ways.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
Research shows that the pandemic has shifted values and that people have become more concerned with community and helping others. There has also been an increase in reflecting on meaning in our lives. These shifts bring welcome changes to the future of travel!
1. Travelers will be committed to sustainable tourism and interacting respectfully with their destinations. Efforts like Ol’au Palau (a good traveler incentive recently implemented by Palau) will be echoed both by destinations and travel companies.
This focus on sustainability will impact many aspects of travel: expect travel size toiletry bottles in hotels to be replaced with larger wall mounted dispensers; jet planes to become more fuel efficient; and eco-tourism to grow in popularity.
At Trip Scholars we offer buying guides for sustainable travel gear and gifts. We also highlight resources created by, or focused, on Indigenous peoples and other locals.
2. People will be seeking transformative and meaningful travel experiences. They will be willing to invest the time and energy it takes to be more responsible and engaged travelers. Increasing numbers of globetrotters will want to dive deeper to learn more about the people and places they visit.
The industry will adjust by offering more educational opportunities, guest lectures, and opportunities to connect with locals. This is the primary focus of Trip Scholars, and we provide hundreds of resources and ideas for travelers to enjoy from home.
3. Slow travel will grow as more people are able to work remotely and take longer trips. Instead of rushing through an itinerary because they only have a couple weeks of vacation a year, travelers will be staying for weeks or months in one location. They will have more opportunities to connect with locals and immerse themselves in the culture.
The industry will respond by offering more long term stay options and creative solutions to the challenges faced by digital nomads and other long-term travelers.
4. Travelers will often need to plan trips with more advanced notice. National parks are dealing with unprecedented crowds and many camping and lodging reservations fill up within hours or minutes. Reservations and tickets are now required at more national parks, hiking trails, museums, and cultural attractions.
Travel advisors and coaches will want to prepare their clients for the scheduling challenges and encourage solidifying these cornerstones of a trip early in the planning process.
5. Growing numbers of travelers will use the services of travel coaches. Travel coaches help their clients reflect on the why behind their travel. Just as the pandemic has inspired deeper reflection about our lives in general, it has also done so regarding travel.
I am a Travel Education Coach and help clients primarily focus on making the most of their time before departure. I also nurture travel skills, offer travel planning tips, and provide accountability as my clients craft the travel lifestyle they dream of.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
Wow, there are so many incredible ways to travel, it is hard to choose! For me a perfect vacation is one that has likely started many months before. I would have been learning the language, studying the history, immersing myself in the nature, art, and culture of the destination. The trip itself would be at least two weeks long and likely be with loved ones.
Once there, I strive for a balance between actively enjoying the sites, exploring the natural beauty of the location, and relaxing. I appreciate including at least one guided tour or live performance. I also enjoy as much local food and drink as I can. By taking time to learn the language in advance, it allows me to talk with local people, learn from them, and ask advice about how to explore their corner of our world.
I’ve taught science, history, and philosophy so I always seek out archaeological and historic sites. Unlike some travelers who prefer off the beaten path activities, I enjoy seeing the major cultural sites — they are usually crowded because of their important role in history, and it is often incredibly moving to see them in person. So, before I travel, I try to do a lot of research to find a way around the lines and plan to visit at the least crowded times!
I’m always keen to find local hikes, snorkeling, kayaking, and other outdoor adventures. There are some great apps, books, and documentaries that reveal much more to curious travelers than can be seen with the naked eye.
And of course, a good trip has some down time to soak up and reflect on all the new experiences. On our long travels, we try to include a mini vacation into the trip. This can be time in the countryside, on the beach, or camping — a place where the pace is slower, and we can connect with each other and ourselves.
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
I agree that one of the best aspects of travel is connecting. At Trip Scholars we offer creative and actionable suggestions for connecting with ourselves, our travel companions, local people, and our planet — each of these are all valuable aspects of wellness travel.
One of my favorite parts of my job is helping people find fun and creative ways to connect with their travel companions by learning more about their destinations together. This can be especially wonderful for families! I encourage using sites like mine to put together a watchlist early in the planning stages. Make the most of your movie nights — you’ll have lots to talk about with your companions if you pick films and documentaries related to your destination. Then look for games related to your destination. We have entertaining board and video choices that help build your shared anticipation and excitement about your trip. Amplify the connection by cooking regional food together, both modern and historic. Create a playlist of local music and related podcasts you can enjoy in the months before departure. Consider doing ancestry research if you are traveling to your ancestral homelands. Add some books to the mix: not just travel guides, but children’s books, mythology collections, history books, novels, cookbooks, and coffee table books so you can curl up and dream together. The possibilities are vast!
All these shared activities provide rich opportunities for connection with your travel companions. Tune in and carefully listen while you talk. The more you enjoy together, the more you can craft your perfect trip that highlights what each person has discovered they are most interested in. You can build off each other’s interests and areas of expertise. Most importantly, you can connect in interesting and joyful ways with the people you love and care about.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Trip Scholars is premised on the idea that travel brings inexhaustible value to our lives and is one of the best forms of education. We offer hundreds of creative and inspiring ways for curious travelers to learn more about our world and its people so we can better appreciate, understand, celebrate, and commit ourselves to the protection of our world and its people.
Trip Scholars is a place where people can gather resources to enjoy lifelong learning inspired by our journeys. Obviously, many people do not have the luxury of time, money, or reduced cultural constraints to either travel or study for pleasure. Although I offer travel coaching and earn an income through the site, I created the website to offer hundreds of these resources and ideas for free. The website offers some equity in making many resources more universally available.
We also have committed to donating 5% of our annual profits to a couple of great organizations. One of them is the North Cascades Institute, which helps young people get out into the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I chose this organization, in part because when I taught public high school in East Los Angeles, the students held multiple fundraisers so we could afford the buses to go to Griffith Observatory. On the day of the field trip, we also went for a short hike in the hills around the observatory. It was the first hike for some of them and I still vividly remember how wonderstruck they were seeing a lizard in its natural habitat. The North Cascades Institute brings many underserved young people out into the majestic Cascades mountains and provides a world class nature education program lasting much longer than an afternoon hike!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Making transformational travel more accessible is a movement with unlimited potential. The more people experience and understand our world, the more they want to protect it from climate change and pollution. When travelers are exposed to other cultures, it reduces prejudice and inspires us to work towards social justice.
Anything that helps in this regard is valuable: free admission to museums and national parks, school trips abroad, programs that help underserved communities travel, and easy access to travel education resources.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you very much for having me, it has been a pleasure!