I recently met Teresa Williamson, founder of Tango Diva, for a glass of wine and travel talk. Being an avid traveler myself, I was curious to talk to Teresa about her adventures and most importantly, about the journey which enabled her to literally live, work, and breathe her passion for traveling. Teresa’s project connects women adventurers world-wide, encouraging them to Fly Solo, as the name of her book describes. Read more about her and her travel magazine in this two-part interview.
Q: When did you become a Tango Diva?
A: I officially became a Tango Diva at 30,000 feet above sea level in a plane above the Andes, when I had spent some time in Machu Picchu, Peru, in 2003. I had been trying to negotiate what my life was about and the plane lost an engine heading home, and I realized that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. The alarms were going off, the plane was filled with smoke, it was the worst case scenario and I thought, “I have lived a vacuous existence,” and I really want to take some time and give back to women and give back to the world. And the thing that I love so much is travel. I learned how to fly planes, and Tango is the phonetic letter for T, for travel, and Diva is actually the Goddess of Wisdom. So I see Tango Diva as a Goddess of Travel Wisdom, that women put on their dashboard, instead of Mother Mary you put Tango Diva. So that’s how I started!
Q: How do you identify a Tango Diva?
A: Firstly, she walks into a restaurant totally confident, by herself, goes to the bar, and sits down and orders a glass of rosé! Or champagne. And she’s not afraid to, she’s confident, she knows her strength and she’s got her wisdom. So, that’s how you can recognize her. And she’s probably wearing something really cute too. Really decent shoes, like if she’s in Rome she’s definitely going to have wedge-shoes on, she’s not going to be wearing Gucci stilettos! (She laughs) That would be somewhere else, like New York.
Q: She’s dressed appropriately.
A: Absolutely, she’s got it down, to a science.
Q: So, you’re 30,000 feet into the air and you realize that this isn’t what you want to do…and then you do it, you have your dream. What motto do you live by?
A: Go out and follow your bliss. I think a lot of people have forgotten that there is bliss out there that’s beyond the daily myopic mind, and I think that one of the things that women do is we have a tendency of carrying our labels with us. And I’m talking about the label of employer, employee, mother, daughter, wife, and we forget the brand labels, the designer labels. So what I try to inspire women to do is to leave the title at home. Leave what you feel you’re so connected to at home, and go away, and disassociate yourself with that. I read a lot of philosophy and self-help and everybody says the same thing, from Buddha, to Jesus, to Dr. Wayne Dyer, and Viktor Frankl: it’s all about finding your courage. The first thing that you have to do is reach in deep and find your courage, and once you find that courage, anything is possible. Traveling solo really is a courageous step and it takes a lot of work, it’s not easy. It can be lonely and it can be difficult. But when you take that first step, you’re really going to be able to experience a total transformation of your ideology when you come back to your real life.
Q: How do you abide by those ideals while running a company and managing your staff?
A: I sleep eight hours a day. I will not compromise my sleep, I set priorities. That’s one of the things when you do travel by yourself: you’ve got to set your priorities. What are the most important things to you in your life right at this particular moment? I do that everyday. So the most important things for me are my morning rituals, and I do set rituals, and I set rituals when I travel as well. I get up, work out, and take time to meditate. And the only time those change is if I have an early morning meeting, or if I’ve got a plane to catch. With my staff, my goal as a leader is to inspire them to find their bliss. For example my assistant just got offered this opportunity to go on a private jet for a month around the world. She came to me and she was really worried about it and said, “Teresa, I’ve got this opportunity, I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to leave you behind, I really support Tango Diva.” I said to her, “Girl, get on that jet! Get on that jet, take business cards, and have the time of your life. And when you come back, we’ll see where we’re at, and we’ll move forward. If you’re got something better to do than sit at a desk – go for it! The desk will be there when you get back.”
Q: Lessons learned while traveling always appear in unexpected forms: in the eyes of an old woman, the laughter of a child, a peaceful sunset in S. A. How have those experiences helped you in your professional life in San Francisco?
A: I think the key is to understand that people have a different set of realities, and a different set of expectations, and to respect that. For example, I’ve been to Italy. And there, everybody’s very close to you and they talk loud, and they’re flirty, and it’s important to accept that as a part of their culture. Or to Scandinavian countries and they’re a bit more aloof, and they’re not that close, then you don’t take anything personally. Or when I was in Budapest, and nobody smiled at me and I was getting really self-conscious that nobody was smiling at me, and understanding that that is their culture. They’ve only come out from behind the Iron Curtain for less than two decades, they don’t smile at you. How that has translated in my day-to-day life in San Francisco is that I have to understand that people come to me where they’re at. And sometimes that’s not where I’m at, my “at” might be in San Francisco, and their “at” might be, “Oh my god, my mom just had a heart attack, and she’s in the hospital and I’m in a really bad mood right now.” So that’s really given me an opportunity to be more understanding than I’ve ever been in my life.
Q: What have you learned about yourself from starting your own business?
A: That anything is possible. That miracles do exist, that if you really put your mind, and your soul, and your sweat, and your blood, and your hair follicles, (laugh), and the skin off your teeth, you can really make it work. What I find interesting is that a lot of people tell me, “Oh my god, Teresa, you’re an overnight success!” No, I’m not an overnight success. As a matter of fact, I didn’t sleep a lot of nights, and I’ve been doing this for over three years now. My book is just coming out, I’m just starting to get reviews, and I’m just starting to make a name for myself. You know the story of the mother hen who asks, “Does anyone want to plant the seeds with me?” and everyone says, “No, no, no”, and then she aks, “Would will reap the grain with me?” and everyone says, “No”, and she asks if anyone wants to help her make the bread, and everyone says “No”. Then the bread comes out of the oven and it smells delicious, and the sheep come by and the cows come by and say, “hey mama hen! We want some of your bread!” And it’s like, “Where were you when I was sowing, and reaping, and baking?” And I think that’s one thing that I have to keep in perspective, and I have to let other people know that this didn’t happen over night. This is something I’ve been working really hard on to accomplish. I think you have to have passion to follow your bliss and to keep it going because it gets tiring sometimes, it’s not that easy.
Q: When I’m traveling, my senses are heightened, I’m curious about everything, I want to meet people, there’s a certain essence in everything I do, and when I come home it’s really hard to incorporate that essence in my lifestyle here. How do you do it?
A: Eckhart Tolle wrote a book called, The Power of Now, that to me exemplifies solo-travel; it exemplifies that feeling you’re describing, that wonderment. You’re standing on the Champs Elysees with your bags, and you’re looking at the Arc de Triomphe, but you really are in the presence of that moment, and I think we lose that when we come back to our reality. What I have to do sometimes, especially when I’m stuck in traffic, going into the city and seeing the bridge, is to really take a moment to breathe and understand what a beautiful place I’m in, remind myself that I’m in a safe car, and there’s nice music going, and understanding that I am where I’m supposed to be.
Q: Where do you see the travel industry going in the next ten years?
A: It’s going to grow, and I think that women are going to play a pivotal role in the way that the travel industry is going to blossom. The thing about travel is that it’s the largest industry in the world. When you consider where everyone is spending their money, travel is number one. It’s a $4.7 trillion industry. Here in the US, women book 92 percent of all trips, be it with their families, by themselves, or their husbands, or for their work, women are responsible for making those decisions. The two things that women are using that they respect most in their lives are their time and their money. And we think about that. Once we go on a trip, we’ve spent it. I think that travel is going to become more conscious, it’s going to be wrapped about eco-travel, around green-travel: we’re going to ask ourselves, how can we sustain this place that we call earth in a more caring way? Or, where can I go to help with philanthropic efforts? I want to go on safari; can I go through an organization that donates part of their proceeds to a homeless shelter or an orphanage that’s there? I think that’s the direction that travel is going to start taking. We’re going to start thinking about ways to get there with less effect on the environment. We’re not there yet. The level of travel is going to become more conscious. People are going to make decisions not just based on, “Oh I want to go to Hawaii with the kids,” but, “Where can I go where we can help sustain community, where we can give back to the world?” That’s a process. And it’s going to take people like myself to move that ball forward, because we are pushing that ball up a hill.
Q: Any last thoughts for our wonderful readers?
A: Be courageous, take a first step. Decide to do something powerful and important. I think women forget that. And I would really remember what they say in airplanes, when they’re doing the safety checks, put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others that might need help. And just taking a trip away, even if it’s just to Napa for the day, is like putting the oxygen mask on yourself. And then you can help others!
Read the second part of our interview, Teresa’s Travel Tips for Savvy Travelers in: Travel: Single: Adventures
Find Teresa’s book, Fly Solo: The 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone on amazon.com