Have you ever asked yourself “what if?”
After reading Audrey Scott’s story, you will reassess the hesitations in your life and start considering your true calling—that thing that has been eagerly waving at you from the back seat all along.
When Audrey submitted her resignation in 2006 to embark on a creative sabbatical to travel the world with her husband, Daniel Noll, their initial plans for a 12-18 month trip evolved into an expedition that is now seven years and counting.
Their ongoing trek is the essence of Uncornered Market, a candid online community the duo founded encompassing all things travel. While exposing some of the most untapped destinations around the globe, they share how to travel efficiently, frugally and with a different perspective.
What began as a “creative sabbatical” is now a life’s work of forging human connections – and they have made the adventure their business: Uncornered Market provides a variety of services and products (PR, tourism, and sustainability consulting; media packages, training workshops, and inspirational speaking), all based on Audrey and Dan’s passion for story-telling.
Cataloguing their quest online through insightful stories and riveting photography, their readership reaches into the hundreds of thousands each month. They also take their talents to the stage, having acquired speaking engagements all over the world along the way.
What may be most influential about their approach is they have an innate ability to transcend their messaging far beyond flight itineraries and hotel reservations; their ultimate mission is to encourage others to “dream and do”, no matter where their feet may take them.
Everyday, with every footstep, their work bridges the gap between lived experience and what is possible.
After my interview with Audrey, you’ll be ready to start asking, what if . . .
1. Your continuing journey began as a “creative sabbatical”; you and your husband Dan decided to leave your careers, the security of the familiar and a planned future, to try out something different, which is now your life on the road. How did you overcome the fear to take such a risk initially, and then to commit to the long haul?
We had talked about traveling around the world for about a year, but there’s a big difference between talking about something and doing it. Then we realized that the question was more “What will happen if we don't do this?” We didn’t want to live with regret of what we didn’t do.
Then comes lots of conscious, deliberate decision-making. Lots of planning, too.
2. Having been to over 75 countries, making over 72 millions steps, do you feel as though you have really covered some turf? Or do you feel you have barely scratched the surface of the Earth?
That's easy. Barely scratched the surface. Socrates had it right. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Even when we’ve spent considerable time in a country we leave with more things on our wish list than when we arrived.
3. Can you share how your desire to travel surpassed any angst you might have had while downsizing your possessions and saying goodbye to loved ones? Can you elaborate on the phrase “emotional proximity” to maintain relationships with friends and relatives?
Of course, our families thought we were a little nuts. But as they began to understand that we were not only traveling to travel, but maybe to provide a gateway to help others see the world a little differently, they embraced what we did.
As for possessions, those really are fleeting. Here’s a tip: put a few boxes in storage (or in some place you’re not likely to look). Set a timer for one year. Go back. Do you really need that stuff?
4. Do you have a strategy or technique you employ when things do not go as planned, or a situation gets tough, dangerous or just plain unpleasant? How do you turn it around and shake it off?
I throw a tantrum. Kidding. First thing is to acknowledge it. That’s usually a good beginning. Then figure out what needs to happen to move forward, out of the situation and into something different or better.
Iteration helps the shake-off process. The more you experience and fail, the more all the decisions you make are put into perspective.
5. If you could go back to the day when you and Daniel were sitting at the edge of your bed about to confirm the decision to travel, what would your “now” self tell your “then” self?
“Go and see for yourself. It takes time to really understand.”
The other thing I would say is, “It’s much scarier before you take the jump. Once the decision is made things somehow fall into place because the drive and determination is there.”
6. You share ways of travelling with a different viewpoint and really immersing one’s self in the culture. Can you elaborate on how this approach is so beneficial to a rewarding trip?
Think about some of the best memories and stories we have, whether they are from travel or life – they are about people and connection. Immersing yourself in the culture and making an effort to engage with local people provides connection and an opportunity to learn.
This approach also causes you to let go of the need to control, to challenge assumptions and stereotypes.
7. Is there a universal trend of humankind you encounter no matter what country you go to?
That those who have very little are often the first to give. We’ve encountered this from Georgia to Uzbekistan.
8. How have you managed to make your passion self-sustaining -- that is, how did you go about turning your experiences into marketable skills and products? How has your business grown over the course of your journey? Has its success changed your personal itinerary?
It’s less about one moment and more about continual adaptation. When we began we weren’t planning to create a business or lifestyle from this; we thought this would be a 12-18 month journey. We didn't anticipate our journey taking the course it did. Rather quickly we saw that we had skills that provided value to others, from writing and photography to web design and social media work.
We adapted to what our audience and business partners responded to and we improved our skills (e.g., communication, storytelling, social media) that were in line with those responses and our interests. We are in the fortunate position to be offered trips to visit many places around the world. And while we do act on this, we are sure only to accept trips that are in line with our interests and values.
9. The website for Uncornered Market is not only your business; it is essentially your home in the online world. How do you build and maintain your online presence always on the go? In what ways has your online community changed the work that you do?
It can sometimes be difficult and stressful to maintain an online presence all the time, especially when we’re in countries with challenging connectivity or we’ve got a full schedule that takes all our time. But, the reward for these difficulties is that we get to introduce our community to new parts of the world and get them thinking about the world in a different way.
The single greatest effect our online community has had on our work: it has encouraged us to improve our writing and also go more deeply into our travel and life experiences.
10. Since the inception of your journey, how have you seen social media and blogging catapult your business? How much do you rely on them to keep your business afloat? Do you take into consideration comments and feedback from followers of your site?
It’s funny to think back to the early days of our trip (2007) when we used Twitter as a very simple communication tool to let our family and friends know we were alive in places like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan with strict internet censorship. These were the days before totalitarian governments knew about Twitter and it’s power.
So we view social media as a tool, rather than a cause of success. Yes, community feedback is crucial to pair with one’s internal compass. But the goal is to accurately communicate and do justice to the people and places that we’re visiting by sharing our experiences.
11. You’ve taken such a great leap in pursuit of what you call a “story-filled life.” What are some everyday steps that any of us can take, from our own little corner of the world, to benefit from experiences like your own?
First: Understand that you do not need to travel halfway around the world to change the way that you engage with it. Often our greatest opportunities for engagement and understanding are right outside our front door, where we are most likely to take things for granted. Yet especially in cities across North America and Europe, there are so many ways to engage with the world by going down the street and engaging with people in an ethnic grocery store, restaurant or a special event.
But I think the biggest opportunity comes from being open, saying “hello” and pushing yourself to do or go somewhere different on a regular basis, whether that’s once a week or once a month. This will continue to expand your comfort zone and develop your curiosity to learn more.
12. When people ask how you and Dan are “still married” (and you must get this question a lot!), how do you answer?
People don’t know this, but every couple of months, we strap on boxing gloves and go a few rounds, just to get our frustrations out on each other.
On a more serious note, humor helps. It breaks the ice and allows perspective.
13. In your TEDxWarsaw talk, you and Dan share your life philosophy of asking “what if” – not only once, but at anytime. What are some of the “what ifs” that you could never have imagined?
What if we just go to China? (It was never on our original itinerary.)
What if we just go and trek the Annapurna Circuit? (We never imagined we could climb mountains like that.)
What if we clear our minds…and wonder what our next “What if…?” is?
14. What advice would you give someone who is interested in mirroring a mission similar to yours, but is hung up on taking the leap?
Zero in on the word mission and clarify what would you like to do. Focus is the friend of passion. It helps one from getting distracted – and off course-- by too many things and helps one build confidence through successes that have a focused result.
Ask yourself: What happens if I don’t do this?
Think: avoid regret.
15. So Audrey, what is your next step? Seeing how far your business has come and the territory you have traveled, where do you see it going from here?
To take what we’ve learned from traveling the world and bring it back home. Although we see the world as our home, our main focus is the United States. The goal: to encourage curiosity about the rest of the world and help others understand their role in it. This might include doing more speaking or engaging with audiences in new, creative and interactive ways. Stay tuned…
Audrey Scott is a writer, blogger, and speaker. She is one half of the husband-and-wife team behind Uncornered Market, a digital community that inspires people to follow their travel dreams. You can also find them on Twitter at @umarket