23 Founders on the Trips That Changed Their Lives

You can find inspiration in the most unexpected places.
23 Founders on the Trips That Changed Their Lives
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15 min read

A surefire way to get a new idea or alter your perspective is to get out of your comfort zone. So break free of your routine and do something different.

We caught up with 10 successful founders to ask them about the adventures and travels that forever changed their view of the world, and how it impacted their business today.


Taught independence

Taught independence
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Name: Jennie Ripps
Company: Owl’s Brew
Life-changing trip: After I graduated from college I moved to Prague for a year. What I learned there was that I really didn't need anything except for myself to survive. This sounds weird because you already know that, but to be in a new country for a year and recognize that I could do that alone was meaningful to me.

Read more about Ripps: The One Thing This Entrepreneur Does Each Day to Stay Productive


Elevated spirituality

Elevated spirituality
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Name: David Perkins
Company: High West Distillery 
Life-changing trip: I went to the Peruvian rainforest with my dad, his brother and my cousin. It was mind-boggling to be in a place where more than 20 percent of the world's oxygen is produced, more than half of the world's estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live and one-fifth of the world's freshwater is contained. It was also a spiritual experience for me as a scientist as I met a psychic that told me things that she shouldn't have known. I could not call B.S. on that (which I normally would). That taught me to have an open mind and that my way isn’t always the right way.

Read more about Perkins: This Founder Ditched His Career at 40 and Turned a Hunch Into Millions


Sparked business idea

Sparked business idea
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Name: Chieh Huang
Company: Boxed
Life-changing trip: Emotionally, it was a trip to Tibet. I definitely saw not only the beauty of the place but what some folks in life are truly going through. I didn't have an easy childhood but compared to kids who are growing up in poverty in China and Tibet, that changed the way I thought about opportunity.

A trajectory changer for my professional life was teaching English in Japan for two years. I was sent off into the countryside. I felt like I wasted those two years at first, but it turned out that our first investor in Boxed actually grew up in that area. Without that initial spark, I don’t think we’d be here today.

Read more about Huang: The Surprising Reason Why This Founder Says Not to Be Afraid of the Competition

Became more open minded

Became more open minded
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Name: Merrill Stubbs
Company: Food52
Life-changing trip: The trip that changed me the most was a trip to Southeast Asia 10 years ago. Until that trip, I hadn't been anywhere that was so different. It really opened my eyes to the extent of differences in cultures, in norms and mannerisms and the extent of diversity that exists in the world.
I think that trip just reinforced an ongoing goal of mine, which is to be open-minded about where others are coming from. This usually involves lots of listening and observing.

Read more about Stubbs: The Life-Changing Book That Helps This Entrepreneur Think Big


Found a business partner

Found a business partner
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Name: David Bladow
Company: BloomThat
Life-changing trip: I met my wife studying abroad in Australia in college. I had to go to Australia to find a girl from Tennessee. Through that trip I met her, and we’ve been together for 10 years. One of the first things I said to her, when we started to become friends, was “you’re one of the only people I would go into business with.” It wasn’t a line; it was just what I thought and felt. It was foreshadowing what was to come over the next 10 years.

Read more about Bladow: This Founder Has 3 Simple Tips to Achieve Maximum Productivity


Built up a support system

Built up a support system
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Name: Heidi Zak
Company: ThirdLove
Life-changing trip: Five years ago, my husband and I climbed to Mt. Everest basecamp in Nepal. You get to 18,000 plus feet at base camp. It's important in two ways: I like to challenge myself generally and that trip pushed me to my limits. I had a little altitude sickness, but I made it thanks to the support of my husband and the other couple we were with. That's the other thing, surround yourself with people who are supportive that you trust.

Read more about Zak: This Founder's Best Advice for Entrepreneurs: To Succeed, Entrepreneurs Need to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable


Became self reliant

Became self reliant
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Name: Jeff Chapin
Company: Casper
Influence: In 2009, I moved to Cambodia for six months and worked with a nonprofit to do a rural sanitation project. I had always been a part of an institution. I learned you can do something on your own, even though you've always been a part of these institutions. You don’t need them; you can go on your own to learn, grow and continue to succeed.

Read more about Chapin: Behind a $100 Million Mattress Startup, Casper Co-Founder Shares Advice on Finding Success as an Entrepreneur


Learned about the American Dream

Learned about the American Dream
Image credit: Matteo Colombo | Getty Images

Name: Oliver Kharraz
Company: Zocdoc
Life-changing trip: The single most pivotal trip in my life was being a foreign exchange student in the U.S. when I was 15. The stark difference coming from Germany to the States is this incredibly optimism, can-do attitude, the vision that life is getting better from generation to generation and not a downhill race. It’s a version of the American Dream that makes you feel you are proud to be part of a community that can tackle so much and is not afraid.

Read more about Kharraz: This Founder Says to Succeed You Need to Question Everything


Defined mission

Defined mission
Image credit: Sino Images | Getty Images

Name: Tim Chen
Company: Nerdwallet
Life-changing trip: One of the fascinating aspects of being an investor was visiting some of the facilities we invested in. In 2008, I took a trip to China as a solar investor and visited a ton of solar factories in rural areas. What I saw was astonishing. The pollution was so bad, you could only see 20 feet in front of you in the middle of the day. I just sensed the complete loss of potential in all the people there; they were in terrible working conditions. After that, I realized I wanted to help people reach their human potential, maybe one day there is a way to do that using technology.

Read more about Chen: Nerdwallet's Founder Shares the Worst Advice He Ever Got


Discovered passion

Discovered passion
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Name: Gavin Armstrong
Company: Lucky Iron Fish
Life-changing trip: My first time really leaving North America was for a seminar course in my first year of college. We went to Botswana. I wanted to be a banker; it seemed like such a lucrative, affluent lifestyle. That trip was the first time experiencing abject poverty. After leaving Botswana, I realized I was on a selfish trajectory. Instead of just doing my undergraduate degree and getting out as fast as possible, I ended up staying 10 years at the university and earning three degrees, and then starting my own company.

Read more about Armstrong: This CEO Has Helped Thousands -- and He's Just Getting Started


Learned about commitment

Learned about commitment
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Name: John Zimmer
Company: Lyft
Life-changing trip: There is a white pineapple that is native to Nicaragua that I tried with the community I was staying with. After my trip there, I thought it would both benefit people there who wanted to export that as well as people in the states who hadn’t tried it.

We thought how were we going to ship it. There were four of us that worked on it. We went to the idea of dried fruit because of the shipping difficulties, and it ended up that we were not successful in bringing it to market.

I learned a lot about how something that may seem simple is very complicated. At the time I was naive in what I thought it meant to start something. It was just a dose of reality around if you want to make something happen, you have to fully commit yourself. I think that’s what Logan and I have done with Lyft. It’s basically our life’s world. I learned a lot about the commitment required to fully deliver.

Read more about Zimmer: Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer: 'You Should Never Veer Off the Path of Your Own Values'

Changed perspective about entrepreneurship

Changed perspective about entrepreneurship
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Name: Randi Zuckerberg
Company: Zuckerberg Media
Life-changing trip: About a year ago, I traveled to Kuwait. I spoke at one of the first women in business conferences they had in the entire country. It really opened my eyes and challenged my viewpoint. I met some wonderful entrepreneurs that I’m still in touch with on social media. I feel really grateful for that opportunity, and it made me realize that I need to take more trips like that to get out of my own bubble and to expand my view of entrepreneurship in different regions in the world.

Read more about Zuckerberg: Why Everyone Can Use Randi Zuckerberg's Number One Focus Tip

Gained an understanding of her roots

Gained an understanding of her roots
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Name: Jordana Kier
Company: Lola
Life-changing trip: The first time I went to Cuba was with my grand

Nikadaparents. Just seeing their lives that were uprooted and the businesses that were taken away. And the dire need to make sure they would give their kids a better life, which meant leaving everything they knew and starting completely from scratch. It was viscerally life changing.

Read more about Kier: How You Can Use Your Computer Password to Make Your Aspirations a Reality

Discovered a sense of universality

Discovered a sense of universality
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Name: Katrina Lake
Company: Stitch Fix
Life-changing trip: I went to China around the time of the Paris attacks. Everybody was kind of on edge, but I just [discovered] this sense of universal humanity from the women I met there. We're all just doing the same things [for our families and for our work] just in different places and in different languages.

Read more about Lake: Stitch Fix Founder Explains Why the Worst Piece of Advice She Ever Got Was to Raise A Lot of Money

Began a new chapter in his life

Began a new chapter in his life
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Name: Luis von Ahn
Company: Duolingo
Life-changing trip: I grew up in Guatemala. The first time I came to the U.S. really changed me. The first thing I thought was, this is where I want to live. I know a lot of countries are more orderly, but at the time, Guatemala was extremely chaotic. Everything in the U.S. was so orderly. People stood in line and used turn signals. That such a society could exist was amazing. For many people that’s not surprising, but for me that was surprising.

Read more about von Ahn: Why This Founder Says the Worst Advice He Ever Got Was to Listen to His Users

Changed the way he ran his business

Changed the way he ran his business
Image credit: Shi Zheng | EyeEm | Getty Images

Name: Bruce Poon Tip
Company: G Adventures
Life-changing trip: Crossing into the border in Tibet on March 14th, 1997. It was the day before my birthday, and I was crossing into my 100th country. That trip changed me, because it was the first time I went to a country where people were guided by spiritual decisions.

At the time my company was on the verge of going out of business. So, I went on that trip to kind of clear my mind and come back. My initial thought was that I was going to come back and wind down my business, but the trip inspired me to come back and completely rethink how I looked at business.

Read more about Poon Tip: I Was About to Shut Down My Business but I Changed My Mind. Here's Why.

Altered the course of her career

Altered the course of her career
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Name: Ayah Bdeir
Company: LittleBits
Life-changing trip: My sister, who was the architect, was doing her master's degree at MIT. I went to visit her when I was doing engineering one summer [when I was in college]. I happened to walk around the campus, and I fell across the Media Lab at MIT. I fell in love with the Media Lab, and I decided I would go there for my graduate school. It completely changed the trajectory of my life.

Read more about Bdeir: This Successful Entrepreneur Explains Why Revenue Is Not the Most Important Thing (and What Is)

Made a lifelong friend in an unexpected place

Made a lifelong friend in an unexpected place
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Name: Dr. Katie Rodan
Company: Rodan + Fields
Life-changing trip:  I went to Scandinavia with my parents when I was 13. On that trip, I met a Norwegian boy who had just run away from home. We stayed in touch, and he came to California many times over the years that followed. After meeting my uncle, a self-made real-estate developer, my friend moved from manufacturing sweaters to investing in the burgeoning Oslo real estate market, eventually becoming one of the most successful people in his country. This experience taught me to always be open to meeting new people from diverse backgrounds. You learn so much from each other, and you never know the impact you can have on their life and vice versa.

Read more about Dr. Katie Rodan: Want to Build a Billion-Dollar Business? Here Are 2 Simple Ideas That Helped These Two Skincare Heavyweights.

Met an idol that became a mentor

Met an idol that became a mentor
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Name: Alexa von Tobel
Company: LearnVest
Life-changing trip: I dropped out of Harvard Business School in the heart of the recession with no income. I read Richard Branson's book Losing My Virginity, which is all about him starting Virgin.

What was really powerful for me is one of my investors took me down to Necker Island, Richard's island, where I got to spend five days with Richard and a group of amazing people doing everything from beach Olympics to late night dancing and having the most fun ever.

As an entrepreneur, I think mentors matter. And for me, Richard Branson was someone that was a mentor who lived up to what I thought he would be. He has a zest for life, zest for family. He has comfort with big risks and boldness and deep belief and conviction. And at a time that was everything I wanted for LearnVest: to empower Americans to have a financial plan and make everyone's life better. Being able to meet an idol of mine was pinch-me cool.

Read more about Tobel: This Entrepreneur Shares Her Surprising Secret to Fighting Decision Fatigue

Learned self-reliance that became business confidence

Learned self-reliance that became business confidence
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Name: Amanda Bradford
Company: The League
Life-changing trip: I graduated college a semester early and travelled alone to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. I had to figure everything out on my own once I got over there, and I also met hundreds of other backpackers from all over the world. I learned that I love meeting and hanging out with people [who are] different from myself, and I also learned that I love independence and the autonomy of being able to make my own decisions about where to go and what to do. I believe this trip gave me the confidence I needed to start my own company later in life, without co-founders.

Read more about Bradford: This Successful Entrepreneur Explains Why You Shouldn't Put Time Limits on Creativity

Pursued an interest that set her on the path to entrepreneurship

Pursued an interest that set her on the path to entrepreneurship
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Name: Kathryn Minshew
Company: The Muse
Life-changing trip: I lived in Rwanda in 2010 for part of the year. I was working with the Clinton Health Access Initiative on vaccine introduction. Interestingly, I was there because when I left McKinsey, I was interested in technology, entrepreneurship and in global development.

I had the opportunity to take a six-month position in global development in Rwanda and other places. I realized that if I didn't scratch that itch now, I might always wonder whether it was the right path to take. Whereas, I felt like technology would still be there when I got back. The work was absolutely fascinating, but I also struggled with having the patience to work within a large government bureaucracy. It ended up making me excited to come back and start my first company and get involved with technology.

Read more about Minshew: Use This Successful Entrepreneur's Scheduling Secret to Have Your Most Productive Day

Learned about the culture that would inform her company

Learned about the culture that would inform her company
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Name: Tracy DiNunzio
Company: Tradesy
Life-changing trip: I went to Mexico and ended up staying to get my master's degree in fine arts. I was there for over three years. It was supposed to be a short trip that turned into a pretty long one. And when I came back from Mexico, the difference in how we treated objects shocked me. There is less of a disposable culture there -- you don't throw things away. That really inspired me to start Tradesy.

Read more about DiNunzio: This Successful Entrepreneur Shares The Trick That Helps Her Tell The Difference Between Being Productive and Being Busy

Found the inspiration for her business

Found the inspiration for her business
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Name: Sarah Kauss
Company: S’well
Life-changing trip: I went to Peru but after that we went to the rain forest in the Amazon. We were in this absolutely beautiful environment, and as far as you can see, there were plastic water bottles floating. It really burned a memory into my heart of the impact that we were having on the environment

Read more about Kauss: This Successful Entrepreneur Shares Why You Should Do The Thing You Dread Most First Thing Every Day

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