Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your career path so far.
A: My love of travel started at the age of 5 when I traveled to Majorca, Spain with my mother, an aunt and cousins. Seeing such a different world than the one I lived in (in Finland) opened up a world of wonder for me. We shopped at local markets, went to see flamenco dancing and a bullfight (not my favorite) and I rode a donkey. This first travel experience engendered a fascination about distant lands and peoples.
The following year my family immigrated to the USA. A new adventure! College history, especially ancient history and women’s history made me even more curious about the world.
After college I worked for an international NGO in the US and Australia, then at a travel publication, and for a company that imported and retailed furniture. The common thread was travel. Those years included a Grand Tour of Europe of sorts for a couple of months, my first visit to Egypt and an around the world trip.
After returning from my yearlong sojourn, I decided to make travel my career.
Q: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
A: In the early 90's the only options for women travelers were to join a bus tour or go solo. At the time I was working for a travel agency that specialized in Foreign Independent Travel (FIT). One of the agency’s clients, a single woman, came to me looking for a bus tour to Greece. I suggested she go solo and assured her it would be fine because I would book all my favorite hotels for her and create an interesting and safe itinerary. But she was not comfortable going alone. So per her insistence I booked a bus tour for her. She hated it! No one should hate traveling in Greece! That was the impetus for me to start my own business offering small group tours for women based on the FIT model.
Q: Tell us about your business.
A: This year WanderWoman® Tours and Retreats is celebrating 20 years. My women-only tours are very personal. I select all the hotels, restaurants, guides, and the sites visited. My interest in women’s history usually plays into my itineraries, highlighting female figures and opportunities to learn about the lives and roles of women. Also, I make a point of supporting other women-owned businesses.
My tours offer a balance of culture, history and being active. Seeing a place on foot gives a very different perspective than from the window of a bus. So we walk when possible. The groups are small, usually 6-12 women. I love sharing my favorite places in different destinations. But what I love most about doing WanderWoman tours is meeting my clients who are usually pretty amazing women! Many of the women on my tours have been on several trips with me; they have become friends over the years. I can’t say my groups are always “like-minded,” sometimes the groups are very diverse, yet our shared experience creates a strong bond of friendship by the end of the tour. Travel is a wonderful way to bridge differences and to discover our commonalities. By meeting people in places that we read about in the media and finding things that as women we share and dream about, I believe helps bring the world together one small piece at a time.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur?
A: Fear of taking financial risks. Looking back, I realize that taking a business loan would have enabled me to more rapidly grow my business. Instead I worked other jobs to support myself as I grew my business. Of course balancing work and personal life can be challenging; there are not more than a handful of days each year that I am not working at least part of the day. But I am very happy doing what I do.
Q: Where have you found the support you've needed to start, grow, and scale?
A: I have found other women to be my greatest support. When I worked at the travel agency, the owner Suzie Balestracci, took me under her wing and taught me how to create beautiful itineraries, how to work with hotels, ground handlers, airlines, etc. I still call Suzie for advice 20 years later! ☺ Networking with women who have similar interests, but different strengths has been very important in growing/scaling my business. Utilizing resources available for women in business has also been invaluable.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would like to share with other entrepreneurial women in the world?
A: Believe in yourself enough to invest in yourself, and remember to be kind and always fair. If you have succeeded, help other women to succeed!
Q: What do you like most about WorldWideWomen?
A: I find the whole concept of WorldWideWomen exciting! I love that it aims to empower young women to succeed and supports women in business!
Learn more about her business at her WorldWideWomen page listing here.
Connect with Erja through her LinkedIn page!