Willow Spotlight: Indagare CEO Melissa Biggs Bradley on Your Travel and Money Mindset

What’s the one thing that can make or break your travel experience? The same thing that can make all the difference in your personal finances: Your mindset.

We chatted with Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO of boutique travel planning company Indagare Travel, who shared why your awareness, curiosity, and mindset are the most important elements you need in both your travels and your finances.

“As much as we can send someone off with a perfectly planned itinerary,” she says, “we can't control the weather or the moods of the people that they're traveling with. “But a great traveler goes with the flow and makes the most of whatever happens.”

Watch video highlights from our interview on Instagram, or read on for a condensed version of our conversation where Melissa shares:

  • What travel will look like in a post-COVID world
  • How to have a travel experience without spending a lot of money
  • Why you have to be obsessed to start a business
  • How to find a great coach or guide
  • Why it’s important to believe you can make change in your life


COVID has obviously affected your industry significantly. How do you think travel will change post COVID? How will things look different next year?

In terms of how COVID has impacted the travel industry, it's not an exaggeration to say that it's been a catastrophe. Never in my lifetime has the world been shut down, people isolated, and planes grounded all over the world. It has been really cataclysmic and many travel companies have gone out of business. Projections show that 50% of hotels may never reopen.

But I'm someone who always looks for silver linings. So as difficult as this year has been for the company, I think it's forced everybody to think more deeply about travel and not take it for granted in ways that maybe we had, because it had become so easy and accessible. 

My hope is that as we come out of this, there's going to be a much more considered approach and a less consumptive one. And that people will really take seriously the responsibility of being a traveler—the privileges, but also the duties.

I’m hoping that some of the negative environmental impacts and impacts of over tourism will be gone forever, and that we'll come out of this as much more conscious travelers.


What are you looking forward to most in your work and in travel post COVID?

Our mission is to inspire and empower people to change their lives through travel, but when the world was locked down and nobody could travel, we couldn't empower them. But we could keep inspiring them. So we started a virtual travel program, where we have global classrooms and global conversations with our top guides, who we wanted to give some revenue to as well.

We have a huge network, which we thought would probably be just a temporary fix, where you can go behind the scenes at Versailles, or tour the pyramids with our top Egyptologists, and take cooking classes with people in Puglia. 

And what we've found is that people love what can be done virtually, and it isn't going to go away. I'm excited about how virtual content will enrich the in-person travel experience going forward.

I'm also leading an impact trip to Antarctica next fall, where a percentage of the trip goes back into sustainability and research and climate change. I'm really excited about that trip and I think that is in part people being much more aware of our connection to the environment and our responsibility. 

It will be my last continent and I'm pretty excited about exploring it despite the cold weather and Drake's passage. But in some ways it's a perfect metaphor for what real travel should be. It involves some difficulty and anxiety. But in that hardship, in some ways, you learn the most about yourself.


What advice do you have for women who want to travel, but for whatever reason—whether it’s lack of time, money, or confidence—aren’t?

I think one of the great benefits of travel is how it shifts your mindset and forces you out of your comfort zone.

I think you can have a travel experience without spending a lot of money if your approach is that you're curious and you're open and you're in seeker’s mode. Some of the most interesting experiences can happen nearby. It's really about deciding, “I'm going to be a seeker now.” 

I often will say to my kids, I think every one of us should do something each day that they've never done before.

 It's easy when you're traveling to take a mode of transportation in a foreign city that you've never taken before, but even in your own life, you can do something that you've never done before. Whether it's trying a different recipe or reading a poem by someone that you've never read before, and it's that seeker's mindset that you can get into. And if you take that out into the world, it becomes a practice.



'In a very simple way, [being an empowered woman] all comes down to believing that you have an ability to make change in your own life.'


What do you think every woman should know before she starts her own business?

You have to be obsessed to start a business. You have to be involved in all of the aspects from operational to financial, to technical, as well as the creative, but also services. And if you really love what you do and you believe in why you're doing it, those things are things that you will take on. If you don't, it's going to be really hard to keep getting through the tough times.

It sounds corny to say that having a mission and a calling is essential, but you will be working around the clock and doing a lot of things that you don't want to do. And that's easy if you love the reason you're doing it.


Do you have a coach or a mentor or a guide in your life? And if you do, how have they shaped your life?

I feel super fortunate. I've had a lot of coaches and guides throughout my life—they're not always women, though often they are—and I think of them as angels who show up in lots of different places and at different times. I've had people ask me, “How do you find a great coach or a guide?”

I think you have to be willing to look for them and you have to be willing to ask a lot of questions. And as somebody whose background is as a journalist and is probably a born traveler, I'm not uncomfortable with the fact that I don't know certain things, and I believe that some of the best ways to find answers is through asking a lot of questions.

Literally, I was once on a hiking trail with a woman who turns out was one of the founders of SoulCycle. I was talking about my business and asking about hers, and we had an incredible conversation because of lessons that I was struggling with that she'd already learned and people she could point me to who've been helpful to her. I wasn't looking for a mentor that day, but I ended up finding someone who was incredibly valuable in a particular problem. And I've found that, If you are someone who is open to getting advice, you will find lots of people who are willing to offer it.


What does it mean to you to be an empowered or modern woman?

I think the hallmarks of an empowered or modern woman are feeling that you have agency and feeling that there are lots of approaches to how you live your life and how you spend your time. And there is no one answer. For anybody. 

In a very simple way, it all comes down to believing that you have an ability to make change in your own life.


What is the best piece of personal finance advice you've ever received?

You have to measure what matters.

The most important thing is to be very aware of what you're choosing to spend money on and how you're choosing to invest and what your long-term goals are. I think money is something that for a lot of people is loaded with lots of emotional baggage. And because of that, people aren't always as steely-eyed as they need to be, which it's pretty simple, it's supply and demand.

That's what comes in and what goes out and it can be very simple if you look at it really honestly, but I think there are a lot of people who exert magical thinking around finance and think that hope is a strategy. It's not. So it really boils down to understanding exactly what you have, what you need, where you want to grow, what sacrifices you're willing to make, and what risks you're willing to take.

But that starts with self-awareness. I think the single most important aspect of finance is self-awareness and truly understanding what your goals, investments, risks, risk profile, and needs are, and being very, very honest about that.

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