1. Sojourns by Brownell is a really cool idea. What inspired it?
My husband and I lived in France for three months, but kept our “day jobs” with U.S.-based companies. It was one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences of our lives, but it came with a unique set of challenges that we weren’t prepared for, even though we are both experienced travelers.
2. What were those challenges?
I think the one that we never solved was lack of community. We didn’t have access to friends or groups that we could socialize with, travel with and relate to. Access to consistent high-speed wireless and office equipment like printer/copiers and basic office supplies ran a close second.
3. Tell me more about the importance of great accommodations and access to work space.
In France, we were extremely fortunate to be able to live with family. And while we had an incredible experience, I also learned a lot about what NOT to do. For instance, we were in a smaller town (experiencing real day-to-day life), but our distance from a major hub made it hard to explore on the weekends. We had great internet at home, but if we wanted to work somewhere that we’d meet local people (cafes, shared workspace, etc.), we had trouble finding fast enough wifi or a space that was available.
4. How does Sojourns by Brownell alleviate some of those challenges?
The peace-of-mind that Brownell, a 130-year old travel company, has vetted every apartment, every work space, and every partner is the biggest advantage in my mind. There are a number of start-ups that offer accommodations and work spaces for digital nomads, but they are more akin to a hostel experience. Many have shared bathrooms or kitchen facilities and are not well-located. It drives down the cost a bit, but takes a great deal away from the experience. Brownell understands the fine nuances of international travel like various forms of travel insurance that are easily overlooked by less-experienced start-ups.
5. Are Sojourns targeted towards a specific age group or demographic?
No, and I think that’s one of the strongest advantages of the program. The group dynamic is central to the success of the trip. We balance the common interests and travel styles within a broad age range and diverse demographics. The groups are designed to be inclusive and appealing to all – no one is going to feel like a fish-out-water within the larger group. Brownell has been designing and hosting group travel for more than 130 years – there isn’t a company operating today who understands better how to cultivate connections through shared experiences. Having a local host (me!) is also an advantage. Part of my role will be to facilitate relationships.
6. Sojourns by Brownell has been called “Study Abroad for Grown-Ups.” Where did that come from?
It’s so funny how many Brownell leisure clients reference their time spend studying abroad as the inspiration for their travel plans. They want to revisit their old “haunts,” show them off to family, and relive some of those memories. I loved my own study abroad experience in Spain, and trying to have a similar experience as an adult is what motivated our move to France. I thought, why try to relive old memories when you can make new ones! Sojourns has all of the enriching elements of a study abroad program – time to immerse yourself in a culture, make new connections and have a jumping-off point for exploration – but without the final exams!
7. Why is Sojourns appealing to professionals and upscale travelers?
The easiest answer is the accommodations. We’ve hand-selected beautifully appointed, centrally-located apartments and aparthotels with all the creature comforts they have at home. All of our accommodations are private; that’s key. Each week, Sojourners can experience something truly remarkable in the destination. We’ve worked with locals and partners in each destination to create behind-the-scenes experiences that you can’t google, or couldn’t gain access to without Brownell’s connections.
8. Who are you finding is most interested in Sojourns?
How much time do you have? This has been the most fascinating and exciting part of developing this product. It’s such a diverse and exciting group of people and couples. Remote workers from industries like technology, research, finance and insurance have been a home-run. Empty-nesters, too. Baby-boomers who are wrapping up their careers or who have shifted into consulting roles because they are still very active and have the time and money. Conversely, young couples have been really enthusiastic about the program. They know the opportunity to live and work abroad is fleeting and they want to take advantage of it before the ties of family and career growth into management positions make it difficult to travel for extended periods of time. Another great sub-set has been people from cities around the country with high costs of living like LA, San Francisco, NYC and Seattle. Many are able to fund their Sojourn by subletting their apartments and houses through AirBnb or similar.
9. What’s been the biggest challenge in launching and selling Sojourns?
That’s a tough one. I don’t want to downplay the challenges, but it’s hard to define them because everything has evolved so organically and everyone has been so supportive of the concept. If you pin me down, I would say that it’s next to impossible to paint the picture of the experience and the value of the experience with a website or email. Once I have the chance to speak face-to-face or over the phone, it’s much simpler to help people understand how it all works and how it will change their lives.
10. What are the top 5 things you are most excited about for the upcoming South America Sojourn
5. Working with my partners in South America to plan fun surprises and local experiences.
4. Taking detailed operational notes for the development of the next Sojourn by Brownell.
3. The food. There is nothing I won’t eat. Even insects aren’t off limits.
2. Meeting the Sojourners and helping them get settled into their new cities.
1. Being an “on-location” travel advisor for the Sojourners and helping them plan and book their excursions and adventures.