By: Jonathan Kalan & Michael Youngblood, Unsettled Co-founders
When you hear the words “group travel”, do you cringe? Do you imagine a herd of human sheep with lanyards and silly looking name tags getting off a tour bus at the command of some all-knowing tour guide?
Yeah. Us too.
Which is why for the past few years at Unsettled, we’ve actively designed to avoid that kind of travel. We’ve defined an Unsettled experience as one that is shared, co-created, and community-driven. These values are true to our core. They do justice to our founding philosophy. Hell, they’ll do justice to however our work will look one day beyond Unsettled. To how we might even parent one day.
On the surface, it may seem like a contradiction to be both community-driven travel and to actively avoid the traditional definition of group travel. And herein lies the beauty: we are on a mission to radically redefine group travel for a new generation of travelers. To be able to experience all of the perspective, meaning, and growth that comes from traveling while connecting with a group of peers. It should feel like a reunion for a family you haven’t met yet.
Be the goat. Not the sheep.
What the hell are we talking about?
It’s well known that sheep are utterly defenseless herd animals. They have been bred for generations to seek safety in numbers, and flee from danger. They are trained to follow the voice of their shepherd. They trust him or her to lead them to food, water and safety. If they stray too far, they become nervous and vulnerable and the shepherd’s job is to rescue them back to the safety of the flock.
Goats, on the other hand, have a reputation for being more lively, independent, opinionated, and curious. They have an edge, and as a result can also be described as vulgar, hard to cage, and destructive (think furry, horny, misfits.) In short, they don’t give a fuck, and they don’t like to follow anyone. They don’t graze with the pack. They browse, following their senses for whatever strikes their fancy.
In fact, the goat herder leads from behind – a metaphor that’s widely known in leadership. It’s simple; while shepherds protect sheep from their environment, goat herders protect the environment from their goats.
So, would you rather travel as the safety-seeking sheep, or the goat that doesn’t give a fuck?
Let’s be real. Now more than ever, the possibilities for solo travelers are nearly infinite. The ability to navigate unfamiliar territory, from the backstreets of Kyoto to the wide open trails of Mongolia, is literally at your fingertips.
Why then does group travel still suck? Why does it feel 20 years outdated?
The world of travel focuses so much on creating certainty in itineraries and packaged activities, that they forget half the joy of travel is about embracing the uncertainty, the unexpected, and the unknown; those experiences that give us a sense of growth, meaning, and adventure we seek when venturing beyond our borders.
How can travel be unscripted, non-prescriptive, but still focused on people and community? Why do travel companies continue to overload and overstructure itineraries? When are we, the travelers, given the time and space to explore on our own? To take ownership over our experience and to define how we will pull meaning out of it on our own terms?
Traditional group travel destroys the most important part of it — the unscripted, unexpected, unpredictable moments that we crave so badly.
Today’s traveler – yes, that would be you – lives in an age of hyper-individualization. Everything from apps to our outfits can be custom tailored. The availability of information, and our ability to craft our preferences into the experiences of our dreams is a beautiful thing, and no one can deny that. Yet at the same time, there’s a downside. Back home our schedules are jammed packed full of meetings, calls, goals, and deadlines. We live in a world that’s over structured and over scripted. And sometimes we need a break from exactly that.
It seems that there remains a missing middle for those of us who have a preference to keep our independence, but also crave a diverse community. We’re either supposed to get on that fucking tour bus and get with the program, or we venture out on our own, customize our own itineraries, re-create that comfort bubble, and see what comes.
What we need is loose structure that welcomes independence but also provides a platform to meet other people, explore, and learn from each other.
Why doesn’t it exist? Well, it does.
At Unsettled, we believe that extraordinary travel experiences can still be curated, without being guided. They can be thoughtful, without being over-designed. They can be communal, without being groupthink. They can be deeply personal, without being isolating or a group therapy session. They can be a platform of life-defining moments, but they don’t need to pack every minute full of things to “do.”
To us, “group travel” does not, and should not, have to equal “herd mentality”. In fact, as any of our over 2,000 participants can attest, a curated group dynamic – one of thoughtful, creative, entrepreneurial professionals who all seek to shake their status quo – can present more opportunities for growth and learning than any other facet of travel.
…And travel like that damn goat.