Episode 30: The Power of Travel: Talking with the Founders of AFAR Media, Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz

about the episode

This episode focuses on the power of travel as one of the best forms of education with our guests, the two founders of AFAR Media, Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz. When Greg and Joe launched AFAR in 2009, they joined forces with No Barriers Youth to also launch Learning AFAR, which provides travel experiences to high school students from low-income families. Over 1,500 students have been given life-changing experiences through this joint program.

“Learning AFAR runs to the core of everything we do at AFAR,” says Diaz.

Starting with a pivotal trip to India in 2009, Joe and Greg were quickly inspired to share their love of travel with the world. They see travel as not just glamorous or escapism but as a way to instead seek and discover meaning, purpose, and connection in their lives.

Greg started his career as a corporate securities attorney and later an investment banker before launching a series of successful entrepreneurial ventures. In addition to Joe’s daily responsibilities at AFAR, he is an accomplished speaker and frequently lends his expertise on a variety of topics, including travel trends, startups, brands, entrepreneurship, innovation through digital media, and more.

“It starts with a mindset, that travel isn’t something you do two weeks out of the year but an approach you take to life. That you’re curious about the world and want to really get off the tour bus and sit at the kitchen table. It’s a spirit—every time you walk out your front door you take it with you.” – Joe

About AFAR Media

AFAR Media is a premier media company serving the world’s best travelers. AFAR’s website offers daily travel news, inspiration, and guides to destinations throughout the globe. AFAR’s mission is to inspire, guide and enable deeper, richer and more fulfilling travel experiences. AFAR also has America’s most critically acclaimed travel magazine.

Learn more about LearningAFAR here.

Episode Transcript

Joe: To me, travel is the best form of education. It really helps me understand me. There's such an incredible opportunity through travel when done with an open mind and a curious spirit and a willingness to get outside your comfort zone and really stretch yourself, it creates such an opportunity for growth.

Erik Weihenmayer: It's easy to talk about the successes. But what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a No Barriers Life, to define it, to push the perimeters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And in that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Dave Shurna: Our two guests today Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz are the founders of a AFAR Media, the world's leading travel media brands with a mission of inspiring and guiding travelers to have deeper, richer, and more meaningful experiences.

Dave Shurna: Greg started his career as a corporate security's attorney and later an investment banker before launching a series of successful entrepreneurial adventures, including the world's largest selling coin operated basketball game manufacturer and the second largest used car sales and finance company in the United States. In addition to his daily responsibilities at AFAR, Joe Diaz is an accomplished speaker and frequently lends his expertise on a variety of topics, including travel trends, startups, brands, entrepreneurship, innovation through digital media, and more.

Dave Shurna: Greg and Joe believe that travel can change the world and are founders of Learning AFAR, a program with a goal of making the life changing power of authentic travel available to all students, regardless of their social and economic background.

Dave Shurna: Hello everyone. It's Dave Shurna, Erik Weihenmayer here for our No Barriers Podcast. Really excited with our two guests today, Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz. We're going to learn a lot about the power of travel to help us find purpose and meaning and discover new pathways. It's going to be a great conversation. As I was thinking, Erik, about our guests today, one thing that struck me is that both you and I are founders of No Barriers and this No Barriers Movement, and travel has been a big part of what's helped us both impact people's lives and also impact our own lives. Wouldn't you say travel has really helped provide you with direction in your life, Erik?

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. In fact, I'm really psyched to talk to Greg and Joe because I leave for Ama Dablam, which is a peak in the Himalayas. In three weeks, I'll be there for a month. When I was climbing Everest, I was heading to the summit, and I was with this guy [inaudible 00:03:33]. He probably had not much of an education, and he had learned to speak a little bit of English. We're heading across the Knife Edge Ridge. This is like the place where most teams stop if you're having any trouble or problems. It's the point of no return, and I said, "My oxygen bottle, do I have enough oxygen?" He said, "Yes, enough. We'll go, let's go." And I said, "Are you sure we have enough oxygen I can get there and back to this south summit?" And he said, "Yes, you have enough." And we went up to the summit together.

Erik Weihenmayer: That guy was linked. This guy with hardly any education was linked to me. He was linking himself to a blind guy, and I could never think of Nepal and humanity the same again. It was completely transformational. This guy trusted me enough to link his life to me. Because if I fell down or got hurt, he was there with me to die most likely.

Erik Weihenmayer: So, I really believe in this idea of travel, and I can't wait to talk to these guys about it.

Dave Shurna: Yeah, part of what we've heard over the past year of podcast is that in the midst of great challenges and struggles, people are often coming back to this core sense of who they are and how they connect to others as a source of strength. I think that what I like about what we're about to talk about is what role can exploring the world outside of your own four walls play in helping you-

Erik Weihenmayer: How it helps you connect with humanity, with other people, and have empathy, and understand where people come from in the world. Yeah, why don't we dive in?

Dave Shurna: Yeah. Well, Greg, Joe, welcome.

Joe: Thank you. Excited to be here.

Greg: Yeah. Happy to be here.

Dave Shurna: So, I thought it'd be fun to start with you two founded AFAR Media. It's 2009. It's the Great Recession. Magazines are shuttering their doors. There's declines in subscriptions and declining print and ad sales, and you guys get together and you say, "You know what we should do? Let's start a magazine." So, tell us why you did it.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. That sounds like a brilliant business decision.

Joe: We've never been accused of being smart. Audacious, yes.

Greg: Well, Joe and I were ... Actually the impetus came from a trip to India actually. We had bought tickets into Delhi and five weeks later reservation out of Mumbai but nothing in between. We had out first night hotel booked, but other than that nothing. And we just met people and followed our notes, and we got in a couple of situations but just ... India is one of the best places to travel anyway, it is just such a place of diversity and contrast and we felt like we had a lot of personal growth out of that trip and at the end of it we were just like, "Oh, my God, this has just been such an amazing experience." And we just heard what travel media was talking about and we thought what a great thing to try to do with our lives is to try to get people to get out of their comfort zone, explore the world and think about what it's effect on their own personal values and their own personal lives could be.

Erik Weihenmayer: Well, I heard you guys talk about the idea that travel isn't super models on elephants and beautiful jungles, right? It can be hard and smelly, and crowded and hard and it's blind so there's a lot of suffering in that travel experience, right? In the real travel experience, so the more authentic, right?

Joe: That's right Erik. I mean, I think for us, like you said, with super models on elephants on deserted beaches sounds amazing but that's not really how the real world works. And we've all traveled a lot. I don't think we've been any of us have ever seen that before. But I was just really thinking back to your story about your connection with your climbing partner on that knife Ridge and yeah, to me, travel is the best form of education. That's something that my mom from a very early age always instilled upon me. And that trip to India was the first time in my life that I landed in a place and no one looked like me.

Joe: And so, that was incredibly eyeopening and humbling for me. I think the thing that I love about travel is that it really helps me understand me, and it puts me in situations that I'd never imagined myself being in. And so, there's such an incredible opportunity through travel when done with an open mind and a curious spirit and a willingness to get outside your comfort zone and really stretch yourself, it creates such an opportunity for growth. And I think, what you were saying, Eric, about that experience on that Ridge is that there really is such an important part of travel that is human connection. And so, that when we connect with others and really trust others and believe that when we land in places where people don't look like us, if you go in with the belief that 99.9% of the people who are there are there to help you, it completely changes your entire trip. And so, being able to break out of this sense of fear and fearing less by just trusting in humanity really opens up your world in pretty incredible ways. And we've seen that a lot.

Erik Weihenmayer: Why do you think Americans like us ... Well, correct me. It seems like Americans aren't traveling as much around the world. Like when I travel, I don't see as many Americans. I see a lot of Europeans and people from Asia, but I don't see a lot of Americans. Is it declining or what's the situation? Are we afraid to get out of our country these days?

Joe: Well, I mean, no. I think it's actually increasing.

Erik Weihenmayer: It is.

Joe: I do. And we see that, we see the numbers. More and more Americans are traveling today than ever before. And I think it's through not only the, the work that we're doing, but the entire industry has really come together to really promote this idea of experiences over things. And I think more and more Americans are doing that.

Joe: Now, with that said, we're still notorious for not being the kind of travelers that the Australians are, the South Africans are, or the Israelis are, or the Germans are, but I think that's changing, especially through this next generation of young people who are really valuing experiences over the collection of things. And so, that's only going to get bigger.

Greg: Yeah. I think one of the things that, in way to put that is Americans still are still reluctant. Many Americans are still reluctant to have that discomfort, that of the moments of unease. In fact, even the idea of the perfect vacation, where not everything goes according to plan and nothing's wrong. Well, of course that's the antithesis of what travel should be, right? You need some discomfort. That's where the growth happens. That's where the interesting things happen. And so, we try to preach that a lot. Try to encourage people to not just look for the perfect, but to welcome the disruptions that can happen.

Erik Weihenmayer: What's that look like though? Experience over collecting things? What's that like? What's that picture look like?

Joe: Well, I mean, I think it ... For me it first starts with a mindset. The idea travel isn't just something that you do two weeks out of the year. But it's an approach that you take in your life that you're curious about the world and you want to really get off of the tour bus and sit at the kitchen table. And so, this is a, it's a spirit and so to have that spirit of every second you walk, every time you walk out your front door, you take that spirit with you and that spirit will carry you to kitchen tables that you've never imagined sitting at. And a lot of people talk about, you hear the trophy hunters, you say I've been to 147 countries or I've been to all the countries in the world and I'm like, good for you. That's great. But like, been to, what ideas been to mean? Did you know like, so let's use a new metric and mine is how many kitchen tables in those countries have you been able to sit at? And so, to me that's really the embodiment of what experiential travel is for me.

Erik Weihenmayer: How do people get that experience like kitchen table experience? Because most people get on a tour or something, it's hard to have those random cool experiences that completely changed the dynamic of your trip. Right?

Joe: Yeah. I mean, I think once again, how do they get that? I think it starts with those values and that mindset. And it goes back to what I was saying a little bit earlier about, looking and believing in the kindness of strangers, which is a story that was actually in the first issue of AFAR written, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, Greg by Tim K Hill.

Greg: Correct.

Joe: And so, that was a story that that he wrote. And it really is that knowing that when you go to a place and you sit up, you go to a restaurant, sit at the bar and have a conversation with the bartender and see where that takes you. And just always looking for opportunities with your curiosity to bring you into places that you wouldn't be able to go.

Greg: Yeah. So in some sense, [inaudible 00:14:07] modeled after our trip to India where we didn't plan a thing except the first night hotel and a five week trip. We have a thing in at AFAR we called spin the globe where we ... It's actually right here next to me where we have a globe in the office and we have, and we actually do spin it and we'll send a writer someplace with no more than 24 hour notice of where they're going. And we like to say that the planning can get in the way of experiences because it's that whole desire for perfection and not letting things happen is why you don't get the experience, you're just getting an itinerary where you ... And honestly, you're going back to your earlier question about experiences over products.

Greg: There's a lot of statistics today that show that people are spending more on experiences and less on physical things, cars and the like than they were 10, 15 years ago when we launched. But I still think it's in our human nature that the acquisition of whether it's counting countries like Joe or their Instagram feed and just, you see it all the time when you're traveling. People they are more interested in getting a picture of themselves at this place than having an experience. So, all of they spend their money on the experience. They're still trying to capture a trophy to show versus really trying to come away with something that impacts their life.

Dave Shurna: So, take us back to ... You've had this trip together back in '09, and Joe, you mentioned that one of the most powerful things about travel is what you learn about yourself through the process. And so, what did you guys learn about yourselves on that first trip? I mean, my understanding is this was a pivotal trip for career trajectory and what you wanted to do with your life. So, tell us a little bit about what happened for you all in that moment.

Joe: Well, we discovered that there was a hole for us that needed to be filled. Which was there wasn't really any major media cafe or any media company for the like that really was speaking to us as global city... We identified ourselves as these global citizen travelers. And so we thought, well, wow, wouldn't this be a great opportunity to, and idea to dedicate our life to is to create a company that really believes in the transformational power of travel.

Joe: So, after that last couple of days in India where Greg and I were sitting on a beach in Goa, we woke up the next morning and said, "Wow, let's ... This seems like an idea." And so, we got back home and literally went onto amazon.com and bought four mag- how to start a magazine, books. They were three from editors. That's what you do when you don't know an answer, you just go on to Amazon and Google. And so, we bought four books from Amazon about how to start a magazine. Three were written by editors and one was written by an accountant and we really wanted to figure out how to make this sustainable and thrive. And so, we called the accountant up and literally met him, literally right across the street from where I'm sitting today in our office on the sixth floor of a 44th street between fifth and sixth in Manhattan. And that was really the launching point for us.

Greg: Yeah. And I'd say personally, Joe came from a different background than me. He was ... His dad was from Spain, there his mother met his dad when she was living in Spain. And his grandparents were big travelers. My family was, I was raised in Oklahoma. I was ... My parents did not travel except where we could get in the station wagon and I ... These trips, I just became aware of so much more that was happening in the world. And that my way, my view of what my life might be was narrower than what I thought, and what I saw when I got to other places and really looked at what other people were doing and the way they lived. And I started one just to thinking about new possibilities, new ways of new choices. Yeah. It's just so opening possibilities I guess is just what I would guess I would say and challenging notions that I thought were fixed.

Joe: I do want to say too, I mean, Greg and I on those first couple trips we did, we did them, on our own and spontaneously and I think earlier we were referencing a little bit about how companies try to just put you on the tour and help you to see the perfect and not the imperfect. But I do think that there are some really amazing operators out there, tour companies, tour operators that really do believe in the same things that we do. And so, you don't just have to do this on your own. There are great operators out there like G Adventures that share in similar values that we do and that want to help travelers get deeper in places. And so, you don't always have to think of this as something that you do on your own. And not every tour is built the same way. And it really starts with the vision and values of the company. So, I don't want to take away from the great work that a lot of folks in our industry do every single day to really help travelers get beneath the surface in places.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. Because there's this great writer [inaudible 00:20:07] Shaw, that he's a travel writer and I read in one of his books and it was like he went to Peru and he would just get on a bus and meet something and the guy would invite him home for the weekend. He'd go to this incredible condo or festival and then he'd wind up like then a few days later meeting somebody who said, "I know a showman." And he'd be at the Schamens retreat, and he just [crosstalk 00:20:29] let the wind carry him, and peep, that's pretty brave. I thought, man, I mean, most people are not going to do that. So, what I'm hearing you guys say is that, yeah, you don't have to be that bold and crazy, right? You can still have an authentic experience maybe with a little bit of support along the way.

Greg: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I mean, once again when I talked about spin the globe is the spontaneity. We also totally encourage what I call deep dives or agendas. But, I did, I volunteered in South Africa for five weeks where it is, I never really moved from one little shelter that I stayed in for five weeks. And you just get to know the local so well and you have great experience. So, and yes, like Joe was saying, this whole desire for experiences and for personal growth and transformation is growing and there are many, many, many more partners that are trying to serve that need and are doing a great job.

Joe: And like Greg and I when we did our India trip, we had six weeks, so five and a half weeks, and how many people really have that kind of that luxury of time. And so, a great operator, a great travel agent can help put that trip together and in a way that allows you to experience a lot and in shorter periods of time. And so, having great partners, just like Eric you were saying, without a team you wouldn't be able to do the climbs that you're able to do. And so, I always think about trip building a little bit like that. Who's going to be the team, whether it's formal or informal, that's going to help me get to the place where I want to go, and obviously build up enough space in the trip to let spontaneity also help take me to places that I never would've imagined going to?

Erik Weihenmayer: And I like what you guys talk about with, it's really about how you each day to day interaction, even when you are traveling. Are you sitting in the restaurant looking at your phone, or are you looking with your head up and talking to the person that's at the bar or that's taking you on your cab ride? I love that mentality. Last year my family and I we went on a Safari in Africa. And through a conversation we were just having with some random folks, they said, "Well, if you've ever make your way to South Africa, come spend an afternoon at our house." And we're like, "Well, we're going to be there in two weeks." We got their phone number. And we went spent and one spent of our highlights of the whole three week trip was the half day we spent with this random family that we had met on Safari. And it was wonderful. And so, I think it's partly how people approach each day of their experience as an opportunity to meet and make new connections.

Joe: Exactly. And we always have ... Everyone has a different level of comfort zone. And so, what I say is just step outside your personal comfort zone, maybe going to South Africa for a lot of people is scary and they're not ready to do that. But what is your comfort zone and find ways to do that. And one example that I always give, and probably Greg is probably going to roll his eyes because he's heard it 30 million times. But-

Erik Weihenmayer: It's a radio, we can't see him roll his eyes.

Joe: ... Yeah, I can feel it. So, I live in New York city and being in a cab or an Uber is a part of life here. And so you can get in that taxi or that Uber and get on your phone and start cranking away at email or you can try to look at what the driver's name is and then take a guess about where that person is from. And then, when he tells you or she tells you, go onto the Google, then get on your phone and type in, Google top 10 phrases in that language and bust some of those out to that driver. And I guarantee you that your ride will be different than any other ride you've ever had. And I do that a lot and it's fun.

Greg: Yeah. One of Joe's and my favorite things here at AFAR is travel begins the second you walk out your front door. And it is, it's just a spirit of discovery and openness to what's distinctive wherever it is.

Erik Weihenmayer: What do you guys think about all the technologies where people can go travel through Google and you can ... I've heard about these virtual reality headsets where you can go climb a mountain or go travel. What's your thinking on that? Does that take you away from actually getting out there and suffering with, you can do it all from your computer?

Greg: Once again, we're all about getting out of your comfort zone and exploring. So, I mean, I'm open to that being, having a place that now certainly should that replace the physical experience and I'm hoping not.

Joe: [crosstalk 00:25:21] I mean, technology is a tool and so you need to use that tool and not let the tool use you. And I mean, the first time I put on a set of VR goggles actually was in Montreal during an AFAR experience that we had in Montreal. And it was a scene of me sitting in the middle of Mongolia with a herb of nomadic tribes people watching the world go by.

Dave Shurna: Wow.

Joe: And it was cool, but I was just ... It enhanced my desire to want to go to Mongolia, a place I always wanted to go. And so, when I went finally there in July of this year, that would never replace what I saw through those VR lenses. So, I think it's a real opportunity to help inspire people to want to go. But I just encourage people to think that it shouldn't be a replacement for the going.

Greg: Yeah. It's a step in the journey.

Dave Shurna: It's the 10 year anniversary of the magazine coming up here, or maybe it's past, it's 2019. Is it 10 years or is it more?

Joe: Yeah, it's 10 years.

Dave Shurna: 10 years. And I want to make sure we also talk about another passion of yours that when I first met you guys, you were just starting the magazine, but you came to me and said, "We are starting this whole, it's not just a magazine, it's all media company. But what one thing we really care about is bringing diverse kids on trips that change their lives." And so that program, which is called Learning AFAR you've been doing for 10 years now, brought think more than over a thousand kids on life changing adventures all over the world with the support of No Barriers. And some of those Eric has even been on, and I've been on. So, talk to us about this passion that you have for kids having access to travel experience.

Greg: Well, yeah, I mean if you really do think that travel enriches your life and make sure life better, deeper, richer, or more fulfilling life, and that the more people who travel this way, the better the world is, which is what we believe. And that's like what shouldn't be confined just to people that have accumulated the time and money and the like, it's important that in fact, one of my ... I wish I had come to travel the way I came to it in my forties. I wish I had come to it that way when I was in high school. And Joe and I met when I was a volunteer in his classroom. And you just see these students and their world is pretty small because they've grown up with limited circumstances and just like all of us and to give them the ability to see the world can offer them is such a gift. And it's been a great blessing. It has been a wonderful partnership with you.

Erik Weihenmayer: And that's been your guys' gift, to try to help kids travel who may not have the money and the means to do that. Do you have tips for people like kids who want to go out and have great travel adventures and they don't have thousands of dollars to spend? Are there like some secrets to how to do that?

Joe: Well, I mean, I think it all starts with desire, right? It all starts with how bad do you really want it. And I think if you want something bad enough you're going to make it happen. And then it's about recruiting your team and your board to help make that a possibility. Passion and effort make up for in spades the amount of dollars that you have or don't have in a bank account. And so, we're always looking with Learning AFAR for opportunities to continue to serve more students. And so, if the more they can learn about us and basically rally to try to raise some funds with leaders in the community, the more we can do that work as well. So, but it starts with, it's sports. And my grandfather always said this, he said, you got to want it. Life is what you make it. Life is where you make it. Life is what you make it and you got to want it. If you don't want it, you're not going to get it. And if you do, chances are you will. And I think that's really the starting point. And it's been a real blessing for us to see the impact that travel has had on the communities that we serve.

Joe: Like Greg said, I was a teach for America Teacher and my first job out of college, and my students in Phoenix, Arizona, were all lower income kids whose worlds were two miles by two miles squared. And so, that was their only frame of reference. And one of my heroes, a man by the name of Alexander Von Humboldt, who is a pioneer scientist in early late 1700s and early 1800s, and if you haven't read the book, Invention of Nature, it's a book about him and it's an incredible one. But one of my favorite quotes from him is, the most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have never viewed the world. And so, our whole mission on this is, like Dave said, we've sent over, I think that Dave, I think we're over 1500 students.

Dave Shurna: Yeah, over [inaudible 00:31:01].

Joe: Our goal is a million, and if we can add some zeros to that and get more and more students out into the world, it would completely change the fabric and DNA of the conversations that we have with each other and the conversations that we have with ourselves. And so, the more that we can power this work and the more that we can help students go on trips like this and come back and really not only impact themselves, but it impacts their communities and we're seeing that. And so, we want to continue to do a lot more of that.

Dave Shurna: So, I imagine there's some wealthy donors listening and I think one of the things we hear often is, yeah, I mean we get it, travel is amazing and it's a great way and we see the data from Learning AFAR and the impact, but it's still expensive to send 10, 20, a hundred kids. And if I have to make my choice about where am I going to spend my money, is this really the place to spend in? One of the things I love about you all is you say, "Yes." So talk about that.

Greg: Yeah. Well, so I mean, this does ... It goes back to Eric's question in some sense. So yeah, you can do, say you grow up in San Francisco or Oakland. Yeah, Oakland is a great example. When we did our very first Oakland class with No Barriers, and we actually did a retreat a couple of weeks before they made their trip.

Greg: And we went to the Pacific ocean and these kids from Oakland and I think over half of them had never been to the Pacific ocean, which is 20 miles, 30 miles from their home. And that was transformative. And so, anytime you get somebody out of their familiar environment, there's growth. Now, we happen to believe that they're exponential when you put them in a much more unfamiliar environment, a totally different culture, or a totally different language.

Greg: And by the way, it costs whether it's 4,000, 4500, $5,000 your student to get them there, and put it by the way, they're not there just on vacation, going on amusement park rides, with your help, we're sending them on beach cleanups, we're going to schools, old age homes. I mean, they really get to just see what life and another land is like. And they usually come away very appreciative of what they have. Even though these kids that don't have very much in the way of typical financial wealth, they just come away with all kinds, a whole new life views. And how do you put a value on that?

Joe: Well, and the other thing is that it's not only that they have been impacted, but now they can pay that forward. And a lot of these students who go on these trips, I mean, one of the things that we say is, now you've gone on this trip, what are you going to do to pay it forward? How are you going to impact your community? And so, yes, to answer the question, yeah, it is a higher fixed cost per student than say, donating mosquito nets, which is also a very important thing to do. But we look at it as that fixed cost is not just spread on that one student. It's actually spread across the entire community. And to our discredit, we still have a lot of work to do in terms of measuring that impact. We know that from our gut. We see it in the student's eyes when they come back. They are completely change individuals. They go from children to young adults and they see the world differently. And so, that impact is spread across a much larger swath of community. Then I think we've been able to prove out quantitatively. So more than do there.

Dave Shurna: What I think to Joe's point, that very same Oakland school, we've now been doing eight, nine years and Amy Boyle, who's the system principal or who's been there the entire time, she said after just one or two years of us to sending 10 students a year that their entire school had changed in their amount of activities, extracurricular activities that people were engaged in because it just changes the school and to have these people go away to Cambodia and Peru and, and Costa Rica and they come back and it just changes everybody's sense of what's possible and what they should be doing with themselves.

Joe: I mean, another small data point on that was like when we first started in that school, Amy couldn't even get 10 people to sign up to go on a trip. They had a free ride to go to Costa Rica basically, and they couldn't go, they couldn't get the trip filled. And now it's like they've got so many after they saw that first group come back. I mean, unfortunately, there's an application process and there are students who really want to go and they can't.

Joe: And Dave, to your point, yeah, hopefully there's some very wealthy donors out there that get on board and really see the impact that we can have and that we can build together. But you know what? Every single dollar counts and there are ways that you can make smaller contributions. These students don't have passports and we need to get them passports. And that's what, 70, $75. So, just Steve, every dollar really counts. And it goes towards a very tangible part of the trip that really makes it possible, and just thankful to be working with No Barriers, you believes in that and really it has helped us take this to where it is today.

Erik Weihenmayer: It seems like there's like a trend, and you guys have touched on this obviously already, but in the travel world, I mean, obviously there's the folks that are taking selfies in front of the Acropolis or something, but there's also this purpose driven thing. Where there's a service project attached to it. It seems like that's happening more and more. What's your thoughts there? I mean, is that something that people are craving? Like I don't want to just go lay on a beach or just even do activities. I want to actually serve in some way in my travel experience?

Joe: Yeah, I mean, I think I'm more and more, we hear it from our audience and from our partners that building in a service component to the trip or making it the entire trip is just increasingly more of what people really want. Because I think they understand that when they put service above self, that's when they're able to rise above all of the pettiness. And they're able to really give back and lots of research has been done on that. And that when you give, it feels not only as good but better than receiving. And even the ability when someone else sees someone give, they receive benefit from that. So, there really is an exponential benefit to it and people really are looking for that today. And that's a great thing.

Dave Shurna: Interesting element of that is you've got a lot of people that traveled as young people and then they've now got kids and they want to get their kids exposed to other parts of the world, but also they've had some success in life and worried that their kids maybe too soft. And so yes, you see a lot of travel with purpose for families becoming more and more popular too.

Joe: Yeah. Multi-gen, I mean, multi-generational trips where you have the grandparents, the parents, and then the grandkids. And it's really great to see how the grandkids are really the influencers in the trip. And they're the ones that are putting on the radar of their parents and grandparents, the fact that they need to do things that help make the place that they're traveling better. And so, it's really this next generation of kids who are coming through that are really helping to transform this. And it's a powerful thing. And that isn't only about service projects, but also putting it on there on all of our radars about just how important it is for us to take care of this planet. This is the UN, United Nations week here in New York. And the big thrust of the conference was around sustainability and taking care of our planet.

Joe: And I can say that I was at a signing two days ago where 50 travel leaders got up and signed a document that are pledging. These are owners of enormous companies from Hilton to the [inaudible 00:40:02], Brett Toman and the Travel Corporation where they have pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050 and so, that's still a long ways away, but they've committed to working towards making sure that their industry carbon neutral by 2050 and that is, I think a result of this next generation who are saying, "Shame on you. We need to do something." And that's an important thrust that we will continue to see. And I'm really proud of that generation for stepping up and making us take action.

Dave Shurna: Well, I had one other question, and is about the kind of that next generation and Joe in your Ted talk, you talk about travel being an antidote to fear and intolerance. And I'd just like you to share a little bit, the two of you, I think you guys have a real firm belief that when you think of the state of the world today with a lot of problems with intolerance and fear, how travel can play a role in breaking that down.

Joe: Yeah. Well, I mean, that talk was about not being fearless because that's hard. We all have fear, but how do you fear less? Yeah. And to your point, Dave, I mean, I think, comes down to the fact that it's really hard to drop bombs on people that you know. And the more we get to know our neighbors and when I say neighbors, we live in such an interconnected world right now where I can hop on one flight and get halfway or three quarters of the way around the world in 18 hours. We're all in a much closer, closer world and a more connected world. And so, it's really incumbent upon all of us to know our neighbors. And you saw that even in the United States. I mean, in the current political climate, whether you're on one side or the other, that's not the important thing.

Joe: I think the important thing was everybody woke up that next day completely shocked about the result. And that to me is telling that we didn't know that 50% or roughly there of, of the people in our country were feeling much different than the other 50%. We, this year at AFAR in a testament to our Editor in-Chief Julia Cosgrave, who's been with us from the very beginning, it really felt like it was a really important time to shine a light on the US and so we had our first only domestic issue where we only focused on the United States, which is ironic because when we launched, we covered everywhere in the world, but the United States. And so, we've come full circle on that. And I think it was a really important notion that maybe you don't always need to get on a plane and travel 18 hours halfway around the world.

Joe: Maybe you get on a bus and on a Greyhound and travel 18 hours to someplace in the middle of the country or to the coast if you live in the middle of the country and see that's about, and I think that's something we should all be doing more of this, learning who our neighbors are, and getting to know them and getting to understand them. And we might not always agree with them, but we all at the very end of the day want the same things and share in the same things which is love and kindness and peace and I think when we get above all that riff raff we can find some really solid common ground there. Cool.

Dave Shurna: Cool. Well, guys, No Barriers as you've seen we're proud to be partners with the AFAR Media and Learning AFAR for so many years. It's been an honor to know you both and to work with you and we're looking forward to many more great stories of lives changed through our programs together. It's been really a humbling experience, just hearing those stories you guys share to remember some of those stories and to think about the impact that we've been able to have, which has been profound. And Eric, you've been a part of that too. So, we want to thank you. Tell our listeners you can go to learn more about AFAR Media and Learning AFAR.

Joe: Well, thank you guys. It's been a pleasure to share this time with you and a lot more work to do together. And so, I encourage all of us, not just four of us here, but everybody that's listening to really just go out there and make it happen and do what you love. And like my grandpa Wilbur always said, life is what you make it and make it great.

Greg: Yeah. If you want to learn about AFAR, you can go to afar.com and you can go also to learningafar.org to learn about that program. And yes, we are so grateful. We've been so fortunate. It's been the best partnership working with No Barriers.

Greg: And thank you.

Dave Shurna: Well, Eric, another great adventurous conversation with some incredible folks that have been a long time members of our No Barriers community, Eric. Okay. What stood out for you in that conversation?

Erik Weihenmayer: I love this idea and I wish we could even explore it further. How travel i a lens to understanding yourself better and getting a different perspective on your own life. I don't know if that's like a science or whether that's psychology, it's just really fascinating to think what the potential is there. When I think of this trip I led across the Mustang region of Nepal with the No Barriers group a couple summers ago, and we had kids of all different abilities and backgrounds and struggles, kids with physical disabilities, kids with depression, and kids who've experienced violence and loss and addiction. And it was a really diverse group. And there was one teenager there who was blind and we went and visited a school for the deaf and worked with that school for the day. And this blind kid had been bullied and in his life, in his high school. And he asked the question to that school administrator, "What happens to these kids who are deaf when they graduate?"

Erik Weihenmayer: And he said, "Well, they're very, very lucky they get a job." He said, "But a lot of them don't. A lot of them become slaves and prostitutes and all sorts of terrible things." And this kid went home with that perspective. Like, this is a connection, I'm so lucky to live where I am. Sure I'm bullied but my life is pretty good and I'm going to do something about this. I'm going to be a Crusader, not just to help myself but to the world because there's a lot of challenges out there for somebody exactly like me.

Erik Weihenmayer: So, I'm finding this idea of travel can be a great driver to motivation and energy and purpose in our lives. I hope people understand that and really explore that.

Dave Shurna: Yeah, and I think for me, we're sitting on a call with four people who for you, Eric you climb Everest, had this amazing moment and then was struggling to figure out what to do with that energy and help start No Barriers. I was backpacking across Southern Africa for three months with friends on a few dollars a day for all three of us and wrote down what I wanted to do with my next ... Ended up being the next 20 years of my life. These guys go on a trip to India and basically dis discover that they want to start an immediate company and help kids travel as a part of that. One of the things that stood out for me, because this is something we are always trying to think about is, how can travel be that catalyst and how can we help people use it as the catalyst when they return? They go on these amazing experiences and they get excited and they have new ideas about where they want to go. How do you help those people channel that energy and excitement and newfound curiosity into something concrete?

Dave Shurna: I think is a really exciting opportunity and something I'm very passionate about too and I loved hearing how they had done that with their own business.

Dave Shurna: So, we are grateful for all of you who listened to today's podcast. If you are thinking, gosh, how can I help No Barriers, one thing you can do is like, and share this podcast and spread the word about No Barriers. You can always go to NoBarriersusa.org to see the latest and the greatest. We are offering online courses to learn the No Barriers mindset. If you can't travel to one of our events, you can actually join our virtual community now.

Dave Shurna: Thank you all for being a part of the No Barriers community.

Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, and the message of the day go travel, right. Go smell, I'm not going to say, see, go smell and hear that ocean that's 20 miles away from your house.

Dave Shurna: I think we hear that phrase traveling every single day.

Erik Weihenmayer: No Barriers. Thanks everyone.

Dave Shurna: No Barriers. Thank you.

Dave Shurna: Thanks to all of you for listening to our podcast. We know that you have a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and so we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com

Dave Shurna: Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song, which is called Guidance. The production team behind this podcast includes producers, Didrik Johnck and Pauline Schaffer. Sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Kotlin, graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Laura Baldwin and Jamie Donnelly. Thanks to all you amazing people for the great work you do.

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