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Ep. 221: How this remote entrepreneur provides transformational travel experiences in Africa with Greg Traverso

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In this episode, I speak with Greg Traverso who is the Founder of Metamo, a transformational travel company that specializes in adventurous journeys to East Africa.  

Listen on to find out how Greg has been able to explore the world in unconventional ways.

Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone. I am so excited to speak with my guest today. I’m here with Greg. 

Hey, Greg. How are you? 

Greg:

Hi, Debbie. I’m doing great. Good to see you.

Debbie:

Thank you so much for being here. Can you tell us a bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Greg:

I live the offbeat life because I’m always thinking outside of the box as much as I can, looking for that opportunity to see things differently, to be bold, and try new things. And at the same time, keep a steady beat with life, with people, and keep family and friendships intact but still not afraid to go off-grid and quit a job after 25 years to start a new endeavor or whatever may come my way. 

Debbie:

So, Greg, I know for a lot of people when they think about someone who left their  9-to-5, go off and travel the world or do something really different with their life, they’re thinking about the Millennials, Gen Z generation but you did this. 

You were at a job that you’ve been at for 25 years and you’ve already been a traveler, someone who’s super adventurous but you started a new life for yourself after 25 years of being in the same place that you loved to do something else. What was that transition like? Why did you decide to do that after all of these years to start doing more adventurous things?

And I love that by the way because it just shows us that you can do this at any age.

Greg:

Thank you for asking that question because I don’t really talk about it too often. Looking back on the evolution of that, I’ve been doing African safaris in East Africa for 20-plus years. 

It was definitely a passion and definitely something I had always dreamed about doing full time to see what it would be like to take a different course and really go for that passion but I love my job, I love the community I was with and work for. But it was also way more than that. 

My family has been five generations in that environment, in that school as an educator. It’s an entire community that I absolutely love and I’m obviously still a part of it but to leave that, I never really could imagine that. 

And then one day I was talking to my wife and I got to give her so much credit, you’re only as happy as your wife is. I was talking to her and I said, “Hey, what if I were to take the major retirement that they kind of gave us?” Which wasn’t much at all. 

I said, “If I were to leave and really go for this African safari full-time, no major push to make the dream happen,” and she said, “Go for it.” And that just was the changing point. But even with that, it took shedding a lot of stuff over many months to get to the point where I finally made the decision to do it. 

And one of the things about my job is I was constantly in a position to be able to help students and people. And so I was trying to imagine what that would be like not having that in my life. That was a big part of it.

As I thought about it, I really decided that no matter where you are in life, you can help people so why not go for something that’s a dream? Yeah, I’m getting to be 60 here fairly soon but it was more just being bold and trying a new course ’cause I’ve always done that with other things as well. 

So yeah, I just went for it and it was extremely difficult personally to leave. And then of course, the pandemic hit. So the timing is interesting but people are going through so much that this is just my own little world but it definitely was timing that allowed me the time to really build the foundation, really recreate the brand in a major way.

And yes, it’s been quite the adventure. 

Debbie:

I love that. And also you talked about shedding a lot of things before you actually made this decision and for so many of us that happen, right? And I’m sure for you, Greg, this has happened several times in your life. You did a lot of different things before and then now.

What makes you really go for something else, something more that you have in your life? Because that is really difficult, especially when you are in something that you’ve been in for such a long time, what was that mental block that you really had to get over before you finally did this?

And I know you talked to your wife about this, you had that conversation and she was okay with it. But for you, what was it that was stopping you even though you knew this was something that you really wanted to do?

Greg:

 Maybe I haven’t thought about this until now but it hit me when you said that, that for me it was being able to have the vision to see what that life would be like and be able to picture that ten years out or longer. 

And I can start to see it even more clearly that this life of adventure could be a part of everyday existence with travel. Once the vision comes and I can see it, I go for it. 

I also remembered back to one time I was working on a safari for a client, he was a doctor from Texas with his daughter. I was in the Bahamas, we were on vacation, this was many years ago, and I was working on this plan. It was warm breezes, turquoise water, a really cool place and I had to take care of the finishing touches of this safari for this gentleman.

They climbed Kilimanjaro and then they met in Kenya. And so I got to finish this up and he was off and on his way and I thought, “Wow, to be able to do this on my computer from like the Bahamas.” And this was probably 10-12 years ago, I will never forget that feeling. 

So I thought about that and that kind of helped me along as well. Just to imagine that life of not 9 to 5 and then be able to have that freedom. And I know you talked a lot about freedom and really ultimately when I could see that, I felt it and it carried me on my way.

Debbie:

And this is something that I recently talked about and this is something that I found for myself too. I think the last year, maybe a little sooner, or recently than that, is everyone always thinks about happiness, freedom, equating to money, right? Like, “I need to make a certain amount every single month, a year to be really happy.”

And for me, living in New York City, I see so many people making a ton of money and they’re just so unhappy with their life. And then I’ve gone traveling and also have met friends who don’t make as much but they have a life that is so much more fulfilling. 

And I actually started to think about it in a different way, and I spoke about this in a recent solo episode that I had, about kind of restructuring the way we think about that type of life, like, real happiness and freedom and what we want that instead of thinking about what you’re making every single month or every year, think about the lifestyle that you see yourself in and figure out how much money you actually need for that lifestyle, right? 

Because maybe you don’t need, like, $200,000 a year to afford that living. Maybe you just need like 80,000 or even fifty to really live a happy life for yourself. So it really depends on what that looks like and I love that you had that moment of clarity a decade ago and thinking about it back then and you’re like, “That’s my life of freedom., of happiness, of being in front of beautiful turquoise waters and helping people create their own adventures.” 

I love when people have those senses of clarity in their life and when you think about those times, it’s not the amount of money or taking in your pocket. It’s about the experience you’re having, right? So it’s so mind-boggling, I think when I finally realized that.

And when you touched upon that Greg that’s so amazing.

Greg:

 Well, you’re doing a great job ’cause it doesn’t get talked about enough and it’s really important what you just said. I think about it sometimes in terms of life being transient to a point where one day, we’re going to all be on our deathbed.

God willing, we’ll have longevity but looking back from all cultures, from all walks of life, people at that moment don’t look back and say how much money they make. It comes down to what I didn’t do with my life or what I was able to accomplish helping people or living the life that matches with my inner core. 

So I do think that’s really important for young people, older people, whatever, to look beyond. And so,  money is certainly important, obviously but then you have to be successful as a business and you can’t just rely on your creativity and everything forever.

I mean, you have to definitely be smart with business and prove it but absolutely that balance is really key and I’ve always been that way. So, when I was young, my friends, for the most part during their careers and jobs, I would go work for a year to save my money and be on the road for a few months traveling on cheap, on a budget. But that’s for the greatest things to happen. 

Debbie:

Yeah. And that’s the thing. I love talking about money. I think money is a great tool and we all need this and I think also the other side of this is people thinking money is evil, money is bad, you shouldn’t talk about money. 

I love talking about money. I love making money. I think it’s such a huge tool because you can also help so many people with it, right? But again to think about it as a tool, as a way for you to make your life better. Not as a way to imprison you because it can become a prison for you when you think about it in that sense. 

I think it took me such a long time to get to that point, to think about it in a different way. And now I’m like telling everybody, “Oh my gosh, this is how I’m thinking now. Hopefully, it changes your way of thinking too.” 

And for you, Greg, I know you’ve changed what you’re doing now, what was it like for the people around you? Were they kind of like, “oh my God, what are you doing?” Or were people awestruck? Were they like, “Oh my gosh, I wish I could do the same.”? 

What was that experience? Like what were people’s reactions when you told them that you were leaving a “stable” job to start this new adventure for yourself?

Greg:

Wow, that was a profound moment with my friends. I have deep relationships with them, going back decades in some cases. It was a bit of a shock. It was emotional and it was also enlightening in the sense that every one of them was very supportive. Like, you can just sense like, “Go for your dreams. Absolutely.” 

Everybody without question has that. That I’m close to having that reaction, “Why not go for it? Now is the time.” And I think that it helps people in some way to look at their own journey and say, “Maybe I should consider leaving.” Not leaving the job but following a dream of some sort.

And I have to see. Like, I work in the nonprofit world so it was more of a vocation in the sense that I really didn’t even need to know what I was making as a teacher at a private Catholic High School. Obviously, they had to pay the bills but that wasn’t the primary reason. 

My wife and I founded a nonprofit that we worked on for twenty years now. So when Metamo was being conceptually formed with the major rebranding, we wanted to have a philanthropic part of that. So that kind of helped me as well because it’s one of the things I’m most passionate about. 

With Metamo, for every traveler that comes with us, we put a child through school for a year and that’s transformative in itself. And so that idea of transformation, I look at your earlier question, I do think about the concept of transformation and transformational travel in life. 

So that transformation of leaving a job and kind of shedding, kind of that metamorphosis if you will, for all of us. Whatever you’re doing in life, that idea of a new start and adding the philanthropic element to it helped me along as well because I get very passionate about having the ability to help a child go to school, that wouldn’t have been in school or otherwise.

For me, that’s the motivation that deep down I am most excited about that. 

Debbie:

And one of the best things that you can do in your business is not only to help yourself but also other people in a different form and sense. And one of the most fulfilling things about creating a business is when you can finally start affecting other people’s lives and that has been a part of your mission even as an educator and now someone who does plan trips for other people. 

But then there’s also another thing that goes along with it which is to help children get an education. And I love that. I love that there’s a bigger purpose for it and that you are really doing something that is not necessarily different, right? Because it’s still in the educational sector ‘till you put a little of your own twist to it. So that is pretty awesome for you. 

So when you started this new business that you have, which is a travel company, you help people plan really out-of-the-box types of travel, how did you get your first client? Especially now, when it’s really hard to do this and I know that maybe it’s so different. And absolutely, it’s so different from what you thought it was going to be when you were starting it out. 

How are you trying to reach clients? How are you doing now with everything that’s happening in the world?

Greg:

There are 2 parts to that, one is there’s been a long history of existing clients that have gone back to the late 90s who traveled with us and have become friends. I’ve been on the journey and many times several of them back multiple times. There’s a long history there so I was able to build on that. 

And then there’s the other word of mouth that comes from that. So there’s that organic part of it that is strong and then the other newer phase of it is putting ads out there basically through social media and getting the word out in all kinds of ways including a podcast, including some other direct emails.

And really trying to capture that niche, our market, which is people that can afford such a trip, it’s a big-ticket item but what we offer is taken care of everything from the moment they touch down. So there’s none of all those hidden fees and that type of thing. We just want to complete decompression, complete relaxation, just an incredible couple of weeks journey where they are not worrying about anything at all. 

In fact, they’re able to recharge completely for their own personal and even for their professional life. So it’s really been interesting going out through social media ’cause it was new to me; to be able to market and to advertise in that way. 

But people are really feeling that they’ve been pimped out with the travel bug. It’s been dormant for a while and now they’re really excited about traveling. So I do think that we’re in a whole new world of excitement for travel. 

Debbie:

Yeah. I agree with that. I think once the pandemic is not as it is right now, there is going to be a huge surge in travel because people just want to get out. They want to leave, they want to do something, they want to go back to normal, they want to start traveling and seeing people that they love. 

And I think it’s going to be a huge, huge boom in the travel industry probably in a year or so. So hopefully you’re prepared for that, Greg.

Greg:

Exactly.

I should’ve said that there’s excitement from people who are not quite ready to completely bite the bullet, right? But they are excited. They’re reaching out and they’re talking about the months to come and it was Africa, especially. 

I think it’s a journey people start to plan a year ahead of time, 6 months ahead of time. So yeah, it’s coming. I do believe that.

And really, being honest, over and in that part of the world, in East Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, I mean, people are hurting. It’s ripping lives apart. Every individual in the tourism market takes care of seven family members for sustenance. 

I think there were 12,000 people a month, for many, many months, lost their jobs in Kenya alone. So you can imagine the impact there. But we’re starting to see more travellers and people are again interested and looking for booking trips. 

Debbie:

Yeah. I think it’s going to be really amazing and I can’t wait to see that surge for you, your business, and for everyone else in the travel industry ’cause it is really hard right now. But I think, like I mentioned, there’s going to be a huge difference.

I think the way we travel is going to be different. I think the way we see life is going to be completely different, there’s going to be so much more appreciation for everything so I cannot wait for that. 

Alright, Greg, so let’s talk about maybe 20 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Greg:

You put me 20 years ahead right now and looking back on my life, I want to be known for helping people to find their dreams, to experience new ways of thinking. And in particular, I would like to know that the lives of children have been transformed through the work that their lives really were impacted in a way that completely transformed. 

The trajectory that they look back and they remember going to school and then they went to school and they went all the way through and maybe on to a career in Kenya, Tanzania and on the homefront. 

The Metamo community grows. A legacy to be left is for the next generation to continue on. Those are the things that come to mind. 

Debbie:

I love it. And I’m sure there’s going to be so much to come and I can’t wait to see what you’re going to be doing with that next. I love that.

Alright, Greg, before we say goodbye, I have five rapid questions for you and you have to answer them in one sentence or less. Are you ready? 

Greg:

I’m ready.

Debbie:

Awesome. So first question: what has been the best money you’ve ever spent while abroad and why?

Greg:

I think it was the money I would work in a yogurt shop. I worked in the yogurt shop for 16 months and then I spent that money on 10 months of adventure around the world deep through sub-Saharan Africa and across India and around the world. So yeah, I spread it out over those months. 

Debbie:

That is amazing. I’m sure you have a ton of stories with that.

Greg:

Yes, I do.

Debbie:

And to go and work at a yogurt shop and to be able to travel the world, that’s incredible. I wish we could do that. I wish I could do that right now. 

Describe what your ideal day would look like, Greg. 

Greg:

Well, I would be back in the Bahamas looking at the turquoise water and finishing up a safari plan for somebody ready to go live their great adventure. 

Debbie:

Just like a decade ago, right?

Greg:

It was probably like 12, 13 years ago.

Debbie:

That’s amazing.

Greg:

My kids were small.

Debbie:

Where is the best location to live, do you feel, as a remote worker? 

Greg:

My wife and I are talking about where we would like to live and we throw out Costa Rica, somewhere in Central America. But yeah, somewhere tropical, not terribly expensive, somewhere near the water. 

Debbie:

That sounds amazing. 

If you could have a superpower, Greg, what would it be? 

Greg:

This is a good one. I’m a little bit stumped, to be honest with you. I have to think about it.

Debbie:

Alright, we’ll go back to that.

What’s the one thing that you wish you did sooner?

Greg:

Talking about money. I think the idea of saving 25 bucks a month, 50 bucks a month, putting into a Roth IRA when I was younger and just contribute to that because generally, you’re not going to miss it. 

So doing that when you’re young and letting that bill, it’s incredible. I think if you put $100 a month until you’re 65, I think it’s like 1.3 million dollars or something like that after taxes. So I do believe that would have been a prudent thing to do.

Debbie:

Yeah. The sooner, the better. Love it. 

Do you think you can answer the superpower question now?

Greg:

Well, I think I would like to be able to help more people. I’m just trying to find the way to have that power to do that. And to be able to change lives and to make a difference. So I guess I would want to be able to do several things at the same time: to be in the classroom teaching, to be on the road, leading a group.

Maybe to multiply.

Debbie:

Yeah, the power of multiplication.

That’s an awesome one and I thought of another one too. A good superpower maybe could be allowing people to see another person’s point of view. I think that would be a good one, especially with today’s world. 

I think it’s like with any time and like the world, there are always differences in opinions and I think a lot of times because we are so honed into our own opinions in our own beliefs that most of the time, we actually don’t listen to each other and we’re more about like finding ways to prove ourselves, right? 

And I think it would be a cool superpower to allow people to also see another person’s opinion. Not to say they have to agree with it but the reasoning behind that and to be able to listen to it.

Greg:

Wow, that would be spectacular, right? Just to be able to have that gift.

Debbie:

Wouldn’t it be awesome? You’ll be like, “Okay we’re all in this room…”

Greg:

“Oh, I get it. I don’t agree but I understand.”

Debbie:

Yeah, right?

At least you’re like, “Okay, I see your point of view.” A little less hate and a little more understanding. I think it is always good for everyone. 

Greg:

And one more thing about looking back on life, it just hit me, is like to have been a good father, to be a good husband, to be able to have the family remember me in that way. That’s certainly top of the list as well. 

Debbie:

I think, as a parent, that’s the best legacy you can have because you do have a legacy, your children are your legacy. So yeah, that’s an awesome one, Greg. 

Thank you so much for being here today with us, Greg, we really appreciate you and we love your journey, and thank you so much for sharing it with us. If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you? 

Greg:

They can go to our website which is Metamo.travel and metamo is the first half of the word metamorphosis. They can chat with me anytime at hello@memtamo.travel. They want to hear some stories because I always check out the podcast at Metamo Travel.

Debbie:

Awesome. Thank you so much for that, Greg. We really appreciate you and we’ll definitely check all of those things out. 

Greg:

Awesome. Thanks so much for having me as a guest. I really enjoyed it.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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