COMBINING CREATIVITY, NATURE & PEOPLE - Explora Expeditions
About this Interview
Earlier this year, I found myself back on the beautiful Greek Island of Ithaca and it was here that I had the privilege of meeting a very inspiring woman, who founded her own outdoor adventure company - Explora Expeditions. Adriana found a way to combine her love for the outdoors, passion for creativity and a genuine interest in people & culture. It made me realise that: ‘yes’, you can do the things you love and make a living from it, you just have to be willing to put in a lot of hard work. I was fortunate enough to have met her over a group dinner (right place, right time - thank you universe!) and as the evening unfolded, I found myself more and more inspired by this incredible lady. I learnt many things that evening and walked back home with a permanent smile on my face, brimming with new ideas.
This interview with Adriana focuses on the ideas behind Explora Expeditions, the lessons she has learnt and the challenges she’s overcome in running her own outdoor company. You’ll also find some information on some of the exciting upcoming expeditions and courses they run in Greenland, Chile and Greece. I hope you guys are able to derive as much inspiration as I did from this interview :)
Without further ado, I’ll let Adriana introduce herself and Explora Expeditions…
- Intro by Adriana -
Explora is a project I set up about 4 years ago. The vision behind it was to bring together like-minded people, who had an incurable itch to discover beautiful parts of the world, inspired by people and cultural diversity, and motivated to contribute to the well-being of the places we travelled to. Most of the trips are currently based in Greece, Greenland and Chile - but we will soon be adding a new exciting destination. One of the reasons why many of our clients return to train and travel with us year after year, is because instead of operating like a travel agency, we have more of a community fostering club spirit.
Before setting up Explora, I worked as a producer in technology projects. But I reached a pivotal point about 7 years ago and embarked on a kayaking experience in Patagonia that re-shifted my course in life. Since then I have put all my energy and skills into getting Explora off the ground and creating unique experiences.
1. What inspired you to start Explora Expeditions in the first place? When did you start kayaking and then realise you wanted to take it further and start doing your own tours?
I discovered kayaking at the same time I was about to leave an office job I’d had for years and was having second thoughts about my career path. So my experience of a kayaking trip in Patagonia became a pivotal point for my life. It took months of wondering what I wanted to do next before I realised that I was already doing what I wanted. By that point, I had started to organise trips and courses for a club, and workshops such as the skin-on-frame week I run with Kiliii Yuyan. During this period, I also met new people who supported my ideas and helped me develop the skills I needed to progress my kayaking. As soon as the realisation hit me, things changed. My newfound clarity allowed me to fully focus and put all my energy into building a new company and develop groups of paddlers that wanted to train and travel with me. I got to know people well, understand what they wanted, what they needed to develop and overall, focus on offering something that was different and had another angle to what other companies were already offering.
My passion for kayaking stems from having that intimate connection with nature, the ability to explore, reach wild places, be somewhere where we find ourselves stripped back - honing in on our basic senses, the skills and instincts that nature equipped us with, to enjoy what the wilderness has to offer. From a social perspective, it’s a satisfying feeling to see the people who work alongside me also developing their skills and finding enjoyment in the same things. There are many people who have supported me in this journey and, by allowing me to work with them, have lent me a platform to grow.
2. What motivates you to keep doing what you do?
At heart, I am a creative person that relishes at the prospect of challenge. Challenge of making new things, discovering new places, putting together new projects. So I feel very fortunate to have had so many fantastic people joining my trips and courses. Many of the clients, coaches and guides have become my friends and our ethos is much more akin to a group of friends than ‘commercial bums on seats’ sort of company. Therefore, it is the opportunity to meet new people, enjoy fun experiences with friends, relax and discover new places, that plays the main role in what continues to motivate me.
For me, it is also very important to create and foster new relationships in the places we visit. Currently, I am working with a few young companies on a remote Greek Island, who are putting a lot of effort into creating new businesses, looking after the environment and putting pressure on their governments to improve the local situation from an economic, social & environmental standpoint. In Greenland, we work with a local Greenlandic family that provides all kinds of support for our expeditions. It is not only an enormous reassurance to know that they are there to help should we need anything, but it is also good to invest and support these smaller, more remote communities. I am a strong believer on the importance of working with local people for all of the above, but also because these close relationships enable my clients and myself to know places better. Instead of being passing tourists, they make us feel more like welcomed guests.
3. What are some exciting upcoming courses and expeditions?
Explora has established expeditions to the arctic zone of Greenland and we also work most of the summer on a gorgeous Greek Island called Ithaca. At the end of 2019, I will do my first test trip with clients to Chile. If all goes well, we expect to establish that as an annual trip too. I am also working on a new destination for 2020, but that’s a little hush-hush at the moment.
In Greenland, we do two summer expeditions during the whale feeding period. We explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of Disko Bay, which also has the second largest glacier in the world and boasts gigantic icebergs. This location is a very popular place for several species of whales and during peak summer, you can also enjoy the midnight sun. Being able to experience such beautiful wilderness through kayaking, camping and hiking, is so special.
While over in Greece, we run a variety of activities and workshops. For example, this year we have several beginner groups and a special Greenlandic Rolling Workshop. Coach Eiichi Ito is coming all the way from Japan specifically to teach. We also run multi-day trips to the surrounding islands and multi-activity holidays which include PADI diving courses, hiking, open water swimming and yoga - just to name a few. The islands have much to offer and the laid back, friendly atmosphere is so warm and welcoming.
4. How do you promote your tours or create more exposure for Explora?
Most of what we do is listed on the website, but the best way to follow and participate is though our Facebook Group: Explora. We chat, ask questions, share photos, list and organise events. As you might know, FB changed their algorithm some time ago, limiting the exposure of small companies unless they pay for promotion - so it has become a harder platform to get the word out. Luckily, we have a good number of growing clients, so we are now using other tools like WhatsApp and of course, word of mouth is very important.
We have also been successful in developing good relationships with large companies, who are looking for ethical providers that can provide new exciting and active holidays. This is our first year of partnership and it has been a game changer already.
5. I see that Explora Expeditions is changing from a LLC to a Community Interest Company - what exactly does that mean and why did you decide to change it?
This change is a reflection of our values and we consider environmental, social and economic projects as part of our work. For example, last year we designed and sponsored a residential course to train guides from abroad, which enabled them to attain their British Canoe qualifications. This not only means we will have better guides working with us, but they also have better work prospects and can negotiate better pay.
Being a Community Interest Company, this also allows us to apply for grants in order to source equipment, run trainings and look at developing projects for specific groups that deliver benefits to the community or the environment. There are limitations on what we can do with salaries and profits, but Explora has never been intended as a profit oriented organisation.
6. What were some of the hardest challenges in starting Explora Expeditions?
The hardest period was the beginning stages. It takes a few years for a new company to gather momentum and get going, so it is the first 2-3 years, that you must continue to plough on before you can start reaping any real benefits. I have been very lucky in having built relationships with many people who have supported the idea and worked with me to develop the courses, trips and expeditions.
As with any journey in life, there are always good people who want to see you succeed and others, that for whatever reason, would like to see you fail. It was very important for me to realise early on who was which, and not waste energy or time in toxic situations. With a giggle I remember Bruce Lee saying, “Be like water” - jokes aside, if it flows, then it is the right path. If not, move on.
7. What are your best tips to those starting out as outdoor guides?
Train, train and train again. Get as high a qualification as you can. One day, you might have to help someone in trouble.
If you are a woman, you’ll find it harder. But eventually, the right muscles, techniques and cheats do develop!
Love what you do. If you get bored, try something else.
8. How do you keep that work-life balance when working for yourself?
It is important to make free time for yourself, but the reality is that when working for yourself, you’ll always be ‘at work’. Your mind will always be in your business. As things develop and progress, then the luxury of free time becomes easier to attain. I have fully enjoyed creating Explora and working on it has not felt like ‘work’. If you like to have a separation between work & life and enjoy lots of free-time, then perhaps having your own business is not for you.
9. Who are some people or what are some traits that inspire you?
Obviously there are people who have achieved amazing things in their life like Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, the great mariners, Gustave Gussinde or the crazy guy from Latvia who is rowing across the oceans in an open boat as we speak, and many other pioneers.
But from my perspective, it’s more about being in awe of the smaller things. The behaviours and attitudes that create change, help someone, reveal a new perspective, fight for an area of protection for wildlife, etc... that, I think, is what makes a difference and those are the traits I truly admire and respect.
10. What are some of the most important lessons you have learnt over the years?
Build relationships with people that give back to you and support you. Relationships are two ways.
Explore different avenues, methods and ideas. With digital platforms it is easy and mostly free to experiment until you can fine tune what works for you.
Be creative, have passion and be kind. Sometimes working with people is very hard but if you put kindness first, then at least you’ll know you have done well.
Thank you Adriana for taking the time to do this interview! Truly appreciate it :)
If you’re interested in Kayaking courses or perhaps an expedition to Greenland, Chile or Greece, I’ll link the social handles below.
This is the Greek Island that Adriana mentioned. She works closely with a local company called Odyssey Outdoor Activities, whom I’ve also had the privilege of doing a collaboration with :)