Entrepreneurship Lessons I Learnt On A Solo Backpacking Tour of Europe
Like the solo trips, the entrepreneurial journey is not an easy one as it tests your limits and then shows you how to grow beyond them to succeed
Life is an adventure. Then, so is entrepreneurship. Every day is a new challenge, and with every challenge comes a new learning. There’s an abundance of things we can learn if we observe our surroundings a little more carefully. Take solo backpacking, for example. You’re on your own, in a new place, with no maps, practically no safety net to fall back on - it’s just you, your backpack, and a dusty trail. Now, if you look at that a little closer, that sounds exactly like an entrepreneurial journey - it’s just you, your ideas, and your vision to turn those ideas into reality.
I’m a habitual backpacker. Whether I’m traveling or running a digital marketing company, a digital marketing academy, giving consultations to clients on growth hacking, speaking at a seminar, or training the next generation of growth hackers, I prefer to go the backpacking way. I like it that way, it’s something I learnt on a 3-week tour across five countries in Europe. My backpack and I visited Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany. While my backpack came home full of knick-knacks and some wear from the travel, I came home with a handful of lessons in entrepreneurship. Here are a few of those gems I collected while making my own way through Europe.
#1 Finding the courage within
The courage to go out solo and do our own thing is within each one of us. All we need is to look deep within and find it hidden in some corner of our hearts. Going on a solo backpacking trip through countries you’ve never been to, through a culture you’re unfamiliar with, gives you the freedom to go in with an open mind and experience everything as it comes your way. You don’t go in with a preconceived notion that you will fail if you choose to do something to the best of your understanding.
“The secret to happiness is freedom. The secret to freedom is courage.” - Thucydides
The same applies to entrepreneurs who start up with the idea of freedom - freedom to be their own boss, solve real world problems the way they want, make their own processes, learn what they want to, and make the necessary changes that come their way. It is this freedom that all of us yearn for. The difference between an entrepreneur and the rest of us is that they go for it full steam ahead, and the rest of us keep wondering where to find the courage to take that first step.
#2 Finding method in the madness
The basic principle of backpacking is to have a plan, and then unplan and make a new one when the original plan goes for a toss. Nothing will turn out the way you wanted it to be, and you have to find the method in the madness of a new, unfamiliar territory, and learn to make the best of it. Leave the familiar behind, and experience the new with an open heart and an open mind. Don’t be content with what you get, and you’re certain to find an opportunity that will take you towards unexpected results.
Similarly, the entrepreneur’s journey is fraught with unexpected challenges. Plans never work to the letter, and challenges always bring with them an opportunity to make a new plan to address the challenge and grab the opportunity hidden in it. But if you keep looking at a map, you’ll miss out on exploring the world you set out to experience. So plan, then learn to unplan, and just roll with the flow.
#3 Finding your own way
When you travel solo, you go in without the safety net of knowing the language or the cultural nuances. But since you can’t do without them, you have to find your way through a cultural labyrinth and learn to communicate with whatever little you can muster up at the moment.
Such a situation is an all too familiar one in entrepreneurship. Limited knowledge of the landscape and little to no mentoring can make it look like an extremely uphill task to navigate the path of the entrepreneurial journey. But you learn, you find your own way, or you leave all apprehensions behind and create a new path for yourself with the only resources you have at your disposal.
#4 Finding trust
A truly solo trip does not exist. You will meet new people, you will interact with them, you will learn about them, their culture, their lives, and you will learn to trust them along the way. If you don’t, you won’t get a chance to experience truly opening yourself up to new things. And then, you might as well stay at home.
An entrepreneur too must learn to find trust in his team. Doubt and suspicion lead to micro-management, and tasks that ought to be completed in a time-bound manner never get done in time. This can be very harmful to a startup that is running on minimal resources and is dependent on delivering products and services within deadlines to ensure the cash flow and goodwill with the clients never stops. This very trust in my team that work will not get hampered in my absence that allowed me to go on a 3-week tour where I was not even reachable most of the time. I could take my mind off work and be with myself for that duration while things ran smoothly back home.
#5 Finding independence
While I met new people and made new friends through my journey, I was never dependent on anyone to take me to my next destination. I was truly independent. If one plan with someone didn’t work out, they got replaced with someone else, but the journey continued uninhibited.
Likewise, for an entrepreneur, everyone is important, trust in the team is important, but everyone is expendable. Processes are more important than people, and when that becomes the foundation, employee turnover becomes irrelevant to the continuation of the process. If one arrangement doesn’t work out, it gets replaced with a new arrangement, but the journey always continues uninhibited.
#6 Finding the voice of your conscience
The first challenger to your solo backpacking trip will be your mother. Family and friends will try to dissuade you from going solo. But if you listen to any of them, you won’t get anywhere.
As an entrepreneur, taking the first step means facing the same challenge of convincing people closest to you. Let them know that you’re doing it, irrespective of their opinions. Because the more you listen to the people around you, the more you start doubting yourself and your capabilities. Listen to the voice of your own conscience and follow your heart, that’s all you need to begin.
#7 Finding your spot outside the comfort zone
If you’re the one to book a hotel room before you start your journey, then solo backpacking is not for you. You might as well stay at home, deep within your comfort zone.
“If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”
Similarly, as an entrepreneur, you have to let go of your fears and apprehensions, and take the leap of faith if you want to get out of that comfort zone. Most people stay well ensconced inside the safe havens of their jobs while their ideas wither away with time. Unless you are prepared to let go of the opinion of others, you won’t be able to take the first steps towards entrepreneurship.
#8 Finding your spot outside the thinking box
There’s a difference between a tourist and a traveler. The tourist is keen on arriving at a destination, whereas the traveler is keen on the experiences of the journey. Package tours will take you to a fixed destination and show you the most visited places where you can take a picture to show off to people on your social media channels. Traveling off the beaten track will take you to new places where the magic really happens, where you see something new, where the ideas start flowing.
Similarly, an entrepreneur needs to stop thinking out of the box of traditions. He needs to find a spot outside the box to think. It’s like shedding the traditions to embrace a new idea that has not been tried before to solve a real problem that has never been addressed.
#9 Finding a new experience
Solo backpacking is not about the number of stamps on your passport. It’s about the people you meet, the food you taste, the cultures you experience. You won’t get that from the balcony of a hotel room in any part of the world. So grab your backpack and get out on that trail if you want an experience of a lifetime.
“Journey is more important than the destination"
For entrepreneurs, it is the journey of building something from the scratch that should count more than the destination. There’s a lesson hidden away in every experience that will make your journey worthwhile. You will fail sometimes, you will lose money sometimes, but you will learn a lot of valuable lessons. If all you want is money in the bank with every move you make, you’ll never learn to enjoy it when it comes to you.
#10 Finding more in less
While backpacking solo, you have a limited set of resources at your disposal. The time you can spend in one place, or the language skills that can help you communicate easily with the locals, or even the money in your pocket that can take you to your next destination. But you learn to survive and thrive in what you have at your disposal and reach the end of the journey.
An entrepreneur, too, is limited by the resources at his disposal, be it finances, or people, or even time. But you learn to survive and thrive with what you have. You learn to deploy those resources and extract every ounce of their potential to your advantage. You hack your growth potential with guerilla tactics and make the best of those resources at your disposal.
#11 Finding the motivation to move on
I had a 3-week window in which I had to cover 5 countries. My desire to veer off the beaten track made it seem like an impossible task to achieve in the beginning. But I wanted to experience all of those five countries. I wanted to experience what it felt like to have croissants fresh from the oven in France, and I wanted to taste fresh pasta in an Italian village paired with the local wine. I wanted to taste fresh Belgian beer and dance to techno-trance clubs in Germany and Amsterdam. My desire to make these memories in the time I had kept me going and I moved from one destination to the next.
“A rolling stone gathers no moss. But it gathers a certain polish.”
Entrepreneurs need to tap into that motivation that keeps them going, irrespective of the challenges in their path. If you stop, you start becoming irrelevant to the market, and the force of the market begins to direct your path. And soon, you’ll find yourself going nowhere in your entrepreneurial pursuits.
#12 Finding your passion
Solo trips are not for the faint-hearted. They test your will and give you multiple opportunities to learn about yourself. If you are planning to go on a solo backpacking trip just because it sounds cool, or because your friends have done it, then sit back and give it another thought. Unless you have the urge to experience something new that you cannot learn in your living room, drop the idea of a solo backpacking trip.
Similarly, the entrepreneurial journey is not an easy one. It will test you to your limits and then show you how to grow beyond them to succeed. Just because your colleagues left the job to follow his startup dream and succeeded at it, does not mean that you have what it takes to start-up immediately. Do your homework, and find your own niche before you take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
#13 Finding your adaptability
When you’re in a European village, you won’t get your favorite butter chicken anywhere. All you’ll get is what the locals eat, and you have to learn to love it or learn to go hungry. You have to adapt to the local customs, the culture, the language, and everything else in your surroundings to get a real experience of traveling.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
For an entrepreneur, the same logic applies to the products and services being offered, the likes and dislikes of the customers, the market conditions, the competition, and the stakeholders. You have to learn to adapt to each situation thrown at you by one or more of these diverse components in your entrepreneurial equation. You have to adapt to be fit, and you have to be fit to survive.
#14 Finding your own rewards
When you’re traveling solo, remember that you are your own travel companion. You are on your own, so you have to learn to enjoy your own achievements, no matter how small or big they are. Pat yourself on the back, splurge on a good meal or open a bottle of champagne when you finish important milestones in your journey.
As an entrepreneur, don’t forget to include your team when you celebrate your successes. They’ve been with you through your failures, so make them a part of your success, and give them a pat on the back.
#15 Finding yourself
You are truly alone out there, and that is a fact of life. A solo backpacking trip will bring this fact to you in a gift-wrapped box. It is up to you to open it up and enjoy it. You have to learn to enjoy your own company. Afterall, you are the only travel companion you have.
Even as an entrepreneur, you are all alone - in success, as in failure. Your successes are a result of your hard work, and your failures are a result of your mistakes. You have to learn to take pride in your success and move on from your failures. Everyone - stakeholders, employees, colleagues - all of them will move on at some point in time, but you have to learn to find yourself and learn to be happy with yourself.
A final word
I became a local with the locals, I spoke their language with them, I ate their food with them, I slept in the beds they gave me. And in all this, I found something unexpected about myself and my work. The journey of a lifetime truly began with a single step for me and I came home with a treasure of knowledge.
Rishabh Dev runs Mapplinks, the first mover's brand experiences company, trains the next generation of digital marketers at Mapplinks Academy, and provides consultation, training, and talks on Growth Hacking. He is building better brand experiences at Mapplinks and Training the next generation of growth marketers at Mapplinks Academy.