By Pamela Burke/June 19, 2012
Beth Whitman is a self-described travel addict. She started her popular Wanderlust and Lipstick blog in 2006 just to follow her passion to wander the world. It’s evolved into a very successful online travel business. There’s hardly a trip she hasn’t tackled. On one of her journeys, she road a motorcycle solo 7,000 miles from Seattle to Panama over nine weeks.
“I like to get underneath the surface in all of my tours and travels. I’m not interested in just staying in a super nice hotel…” Beth Whitman
Stacey Gualandi says she couldn’t wait to talk to her about that trip and about her crazy but exciting addiction. She got the chance to interview her on “The Women’s Eye Radio Show” and now is looking forward to taking an exciting journey of her own. Here’s an excerpt from that interview…
STACEY: I guess there’s really no cure for your particular obsession, is there?
BETH: N0, there’s definitely not.
STACEY: And why would you want to? You probably can’t put all the things you’ve seen over the last 20 years into words although you do describe a lot of it on your website.
BETH: No, I can’t. Sometimes I have to just stop and pinch myself and think that this is the best life because I have seen so many things, good and bad. I have been able to influence things, too, around the world and that’s really exciting. If you have to work, it’s not a bad job.
STACEY: I would say so. Give me an idea of just all the places that you’ve been?
BETH: As you know, I took that solo motorcycle trip, so I’ve been all through Central America as far down as Panama. I travel a lot to Asia. I really enjoy developing countries because I think they are thriving, exciting, colorful and filled with wonderful smells and sites.
I’ve seen most of Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Singapore and Indonesia. I’ve spent eight months in Australia and driven around the back roads of Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
STACEY: Since what happened on 9/11, I think a lot has changed in the comfort of traveling. Has that affected you at all?
BETH: I leave more time. I’m one of those anxious people who always arrive some place very early because I don’t want to be late; I don’t want to be rushed. If there are lines at the security area, I’m not all stressed out about it.
I very rarely check baggage. I’ve got a little 22-inch carry on bad, and I can live five weeks on that bag. It’s all in the shoes. Do not ever carry more than two pairs. You’ve got one pair on you and one pair that’s packed away. That’s all you ever need because they take up so much space.
“A guidebook can tell you the great restaurants and great hotels, but it’s not going to tell you about the great people that you will meet…”
STACEY: Obviously giving tips is just one of many things that you do on your blog and your website, Wanderlust and Lipstick. What do you feel are the most asked questions about travel? Do they want tips?
BETH: There are a few really big questions that people have. One is about whether they are going to be lonely. Women are very social creatures, and they think that they’re going to be lonely when they get out on the road.
STACEY: Are they willing to face their fear on that?
BETH: Absolutely! They want to figure it out, and they want to learn more. A guidebook can tell you the great restaurants and great hotels, but it’s not going to tell you about the great people that you will meet along the way.
So it doesn’t even come to mind that you’re going to probably meet a new best friend somewhere. You will definitely meet people when you’re traveling so it’s a very rare circumstance where you end up being lonely or really being on your own.
STACEY: Do you have a preference? Would you rather to travel alone or with other people?
BETH: It just depends. Sometimes I really do like to be on my own because then I can explore. I have three brothers, but they’re all quite older than me so in a way I kind of grew up as an only child. Because I spent so much time on my own, I’m very comfortable with that.
But I also like to share things with people, and I run tours now. I adore the people that I travel with. They’re just so fascinating and to be in these interesting countries and these exotic locations and to get to know people is just amazing. I love it.
STACEY: So you’re excited to share your experiences with people that have never been to these places.
BETH: Exactly, and I go to Papua New Guinea which is a very exotic place, but has a bad reputation. There’s a bit of a fear factor going on there when people go.
STACEY: What’s the bad reputation?
BETH: It’s not a super safe place. There are about 850 tribes that live on this island. They speak different languages, so there’s not great communication between them. In the city, there’s about 80% unemployment, so these folks are leaving their villages and coming to the cities. Hotels, restaurants and apartment building have walls and fencing and armed guards protecting them so you know it’s not safe.
“I want to see how the people live and just really have a different experience.”
STACEY: But you go there knowing that ahead of time. Does that help?
BETH: As long as you know what you’re getting into, you take those precautions so you don’t go out at night; you don’t walk around the streets as a female alone. Outside of the city, the people in general are really some of the nicest people around.
STACEY: What makes it so attractive for you to go to Papua New Guinea? Is it because you go a little bit deeper?
I want to go to someone’s home and have dinner. I want to see how the people live and just really have a different experience. That’s what I try to incorporate into my own travels and the tours.
STACEY: What’s great about your tours as well, and specifically with Papua New Guinea, is that you’re actually doing charitable efforts in many of these countries. Tell me about that.
BETH: Yes, I am, and I’m trying to incorporate an element of purpose in each of the tours. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work over the years from building orphanages in Vietnam to making donations.
In Papua New Guinea, the river system there in many areas has been polluted by the mining industry so I’m looking at bringing in big water tanks for these villages.
It might cost about $1,000 to bring in a big water tank, but then an entire village can have clean water for a year. It’s a way for myself and for the tour participants to learn about what’s going on and then feel involved. We’re not just there as tourists.
“You just say, ‘What can I do? My twenty dollars is going to really help these people.'”
STACEY: At what point do you think you had that sort of ah-ha moment when you wanted to start doing those charitable type things on your travels?
BETH: I think from day one. Twenty years ago I went to Asia and saw how desperately poor people were living and how desperately poor people were. You just say, “What can I do? My twenty dollars is going to really help these people.”
So I came back from a trip where I spent three months in Vietnam, and I joined a board of directors here in Seattle. I was on the board for almost 10 years to create a sister city with Vietnam. That’s where the orphanage is and the playgrounds. I’ve just always found projects where I’ve traveled to be able to help the locals out.
STACEY: That’s great. As an American, you’re leaving a mark, and in this case, it’s a really good mark around the world. Do you educate potential tourists, too, as to how not to be the quote, unquote, ugly American?
BETH: Yes, I do. I think the name, “Wanderlust and Lipstick,” brings a certain kind of connotation to it. I think it brings fun and because the tours are a little bit more adventurous and exotic. It brings a certain type of traveler to us.
They’re usually very well traveled, so they come on board a little bit more savvy to begin with. I really try to lay the foundation long before we leave on the trip, that this is kind of what’s expected of you. I don’t say, “Don’t be an ugly American,” but I just bring in a more in a positive light and say, “Hey, this is what’s expected, and this is what we’re going to do, and this is how we’re going to help out…”
STACEY: You offer trips to Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, South India and Santa Fe, where you are leading a tour now.
BETH: The tours are for people who want to get to know me. They want to get to know the company and don’t want to make a $6,000 commitment for a tour and international flight. They take a little trip, and then they love it and they decide to take a future trip.
We have a Bhutan Buddhism-focused trip. There we can meditate with the monks, do a little bit of yoga, and we have a lecture with a Buddhist scholar. We learn about why the culture in Bhutan is so magical. They are just really sweet people, and I think it comes from their religion.
STACEY: Your WanderTours are mainly women-only. Are they only for women?
BETH: No. This whole things started about 20 years ago after I came back from a year long trip, and I realized that women needed a little bit more encouragement to travel. So I started teaching classes locally in the Seattle area.
I’d have workshops and have five or ten women come, and I’d encourage them to get out and travel. Then I decided I really wanted to take that message broader and because of the internet, it was easy to do. I pretty much took 2006 off and I wrote my first book, Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. And then I launched the website and the blog.
After that everything just kind of took off. All the major bookstores picked up the book.
STACEY: It’s a great title. So I’m allowed to bring my lipstick is what you’re telling me?
BETH: You can. The funny thing is that I don’t wear lipstick so that’s kind of a joke, but Wanderlust and Chapstick didn’t sound too good. I really wanted to encourage women to get out and travel, but my husband likes to come sometimes so I do these co-ed trips on occasion.
I really wouldn’t bring a group of women to Papua New Guinea. I just think it’s better to have a co-ed group for safety reasons, and so there’s some tours that we let the men sneak in. And those are always fun too.
STACEY: Is there a place that you’ve never been to that you really want to go?
BETH: The Amazon Rainforest. Since I was probably 13, Papua New Guinea was really high on my list. It was the one place I always wanted to go. I just have a fondness and a love for indigenous culture. I have this thing about getting to the Rainforest. I hope to go this year and do a tour there in 2013, so that’s my next big adventure.
“I’d love ‘Wanderlust and Lipstick’ to be a household name, so I joke I’m building my little empire.”
STACEY: Your site has become very successful. What are your future goals as far as the site and where you want to take your business?
BETH: I’d like to increase the number of tours that I do. Every year I add a new destination, and I’d like to just keep adding destinations and growing and filling those tours. I do have lot of people who come to the website on a monthly basis, and I just want to keep increasing that.
I have about 20 women who blog on the site. I’d like increase that as well. I’d love “Wanderlust and Lipstick” to be a household name, so I joke I’m building my little empire. And in the meantime I have fun doing it, and I think that’s the real key.
STACEY: Thanks, Beth. I think that’s why you’re going to find even more success because you love what you do. I want to take one of your tours. Maybe I’ll start with Santa Fe and go from there. I can’t cook, but I love to eat.
TWITTER FOR BETH: @wanderluster