INTERVIEW: TARA CAPPEL
Name: Tara Cappel
Position/Organization: Founder, President -- For The Love of Travel (FTLO Travel)
Hometown: Sun Valley, Idaho
When and why did you come to Los Angeles: I have deep family roots in LA but only moved here full time at the beginning of this year.
For the readers who don’t know, give us a rundown of what you do.
I am the founder of millennial travel company, FTLO Travel. We organize laid-back group trips for busy, career-oriented young professionals by curating unique, adventurous, and cultural activities, and taking care of all the logistics, so everyone can relax, connect, and have fun. Our mission is to increase understanding and empathy in the world by helping busy, young people connect with new people and new cultures.
I understand you traveled a ton as a kid. You even did a year abroad in high school! Some might consider this to be pretty young to be living across the world without family! How did this experience affect you?
Spending time in another culture is so incredibly mind-opening. I became very independent and started reexamining ideas about life that I took for granted. Because I was fully immersed in the culture, I learned the value of experiencing vs just seeing, which now shapes the vibe and the focus of FTLO trips.
Also, the experience gave me an early taste of manifesting what I wanted in life. I told my parents I wanted to go two years prior to going, and they were like, "that’s wonderful, Tara", and pretty much forgot about it until I had applied, been accepted, and figured out how to pay for it. So from early on, I've believed that if I set my mind to it, I can achieve it.
Could you give a little rundown of your college experience and what your original career plans were at that time?
I started my college career at Tufts University to study International Relations. After two years, I realized I was filling my schedule with language classes and not getting anywhere towards my major. I decided it made more sense to take a year off to study languages in Europe so that's what I did. I spent 8 months in Rome where I had my first job in tourism selling tours at the Colosseum, then I worked on my French au pairing and bartended in Paris. After that, I spent a couple months practicing my Spanish in this little coastal town in southern Spain called Tarifa, and ended my European tour waitressing in Wetzlar, Germany. If travel blogging was a thing back then, I would have killed it! While in Europe, I decided I wanted to study business (which Tufts does not offer) so I transferred to the Daniels School of Business at University of Denver where my sister was in school.
When explaining your decision to pursue business rather than diplomacy, you said something that had caught my attention: you mentioned, “...it’s easier to do good when there is money to be made.” I think this is a really interesting concept and I would love if you could expand on this.
What I mean is that capitalism is efficient and I think building a company that fills a need AND improves lives will have a greater impact than trying to push policy through a government entity that represents a million competing interests (most of which are financial anyway).
I wanted to do diplomacy because it's about creating a better world by building relationships among countries. After spending time abroad, I realized how much red tape there is in government and that the best way to help people understand another point of view is to give them the opportunity to experience it. For the Love of Travel is my grassroots way of bringing countries together by facilitating the connectedness of its individuals.
So what sparked the idea of For the Love of Travel?
If you let it, travel shapes you for the better. It fosters empathy and understanding of realities different from your own that will make you a more conscious person. I've met a lot of young people who say they want to travel (and mean it) but aren't going for one reason or another. For young people with full-time careers, it can be challenging to make a trip abroad -- planning is time-consuming, friends can be non-committal, etc. For the Love of Travel was born to alleviate those issues so that more people could experience the mind-opening benefits of travel. I wanted to create an option that allowed people to just go. So I did that by planning trips that are cultural and fun with people who are cool and relatable.
Once you decided to move forward with the idea, what was the first action step you took?
Gathered information. I spent hours and hours and hours researching, reading, and putting together power points to basically make a rock solid case for my idea because I wasn't going to go all in on something I didn't fully understand. At the time, I had a fulltime job running operations for an organic textile company so I worked from 8pm to 3am every day for a month as I did everything I could to become as knowledgeable about the industry, its trends, players, opportunities, etc. And then I wrote a business plan.
I know you had experience working in a start up environment, but how was it different running a start up?
My previous experience gave me an excellent inside view of different components to think about. It definitely helped me navigate starting FTLO Travel. That said, starting a company is a very different ballgame because EVERYTHING is on you. Not just the tech or the marketing, but also the vibe and culture of the company and, ultimately, the success or failure.
What were your specific fears or insecurities in the beginning (if any)? How did you deal with them when those feelings arose?
My biggest fear was that people wouldn't think I could do it. I was so nervous about finally telling people what I had been doing and when I finally made an announcement on Facebook, it felt like jumping off of a cliff. I had to give myself a pep talk. I was like, "Tara, if you can't do this, you can't do any of it, and you can. And if someone doesn't think you can do it, good, all the more reason to get out there and prove them wrong." And then as soon as I hit send, congratulations and words of encouragement started pouring in from so many people I had met over the years, even people I had lost touch with when I left Tufts. I remember sitting in my hotel room in France watching the number of users on my website go up and up as people explored my creation. And I just burst into tears.
But from the minute I made the decision to believe in myself regardless of what other people thought, I stopped caring about others opinions.
Now I actually use the idea that people might not think I can do it as fuel when I'm having a particularly tough day.
What was it like planning and executing the first FTLO Travel trip?
The days leading up to my first FTLO Travel trip were terrifying. Part of my job is to have a plan for any issues that may crop up so I convinced myself that something was going to go dramatically wrong, and that I would be sued, and that everything I worked for would be lost. But that didn’t happen. In fact, the first trip is still one of my favorites. The group was amazing -- no one knew each other beforehand and everyone totally bonded by the end of it. Two of the girls who met on the trip now live together and almost everyone is still in touch. It was so validating for me because it was exactly how I had envisioned it from the beginning -- that a group of strangers would go on an adventure together and the shared experience would expand all of their worlds. It was awesome.
What does a typical work day look like for you - morning to night?
I wish I could say I was one of those people who woke up at 5:30am every morning, ran 5 miles, and then sipped green tea. I’m not. When I’m not travelling, I wake up at 8am and start working by 9am. First, I answer emails from Europe that I receive in the night and then go over what my priorities are for the day. I can get side-tracked because I wear so many hats, so I recently hired an organizer to help me establish a system that gets my inbox to zero by the end of each week. My to-do list never looks the same but I generally work until 6pm, then take a couple of hours to exercise, hang with my BF, and make dinner. Then I work from 9pm to midnight and go to bed around 1am.
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
The absolute best part of my job is the knowledge that I'm affecting people's lives. The connections made on our trips can be life changing and the trips themselves allow people to just go without having to spend hours and hours planning or trying to find friends to travel with. The amazing travel I get to do doesn't hurt either.
Do you have any rituals for getting yourself in boss mode on days you might feel less-than-inspired?
On days I’m in a mental funk and feel totally overwhelmed my method is to either call my mom or listen to music and clean or organize something… at the same time. It occupies both of my brains so I can’t be thinking about how stressed I am. The movement helps get my blood circulating and the results give me a sense of accomplishment that re-motivates me to tackling my to-do list again. Current favorite motivational song is Halsey’s “Castle”.
What’s a fun fact about yourself that most of your travelers might not know?
I’m learning Krav Maga, which is an Israeli military fighting style that is great for self-defense. It's an incredible workout and makes me feel more confident when I travel alone.
L.A. LADY CULTURE
Favorite area of L.A.? I feel like each new neighborhood I visit becomes my favorite but I recently discovered Culver City and I think it’s so cool. I’m a sucker for interesting architecture and walkability and Culver City has both.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? For the food, I have to say Gracias Madre. It doesn't get much better than organic, plant-based Mexican. A close second is the fish tacos at Roe Express at the edge of LA County in Belmont Shore.
Menu item we must order there? Gracias Madre: Gorditas, Roe: Mahi Tacos
Favorite happy hour? Rollerblading on the boardwalk
Favorite weekend activities in the city? On the rare weekend I’m in town, I like to hit up the beach to try and surf with my boyfriend, have a night out with friends, explore new neighborhoods.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? I actually listen to FM radio when I drive and I switch between classic rock, new hits, and reggaeton.
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? Go to a movie premiere!
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? The Spicy Coconut Mind Opener from the Source Cafe in Hermosa Beach. It's like an $8 coffee but it's sooo good.