Tracy Blesi is the co-founder and owner of Women on the GrOw, a women’s adventure travel business based in Minneapolis.
[JANUARY 2022 UPDATE: Unfortunately, Tracy had to close Women on the GrOw due to some health concerns. I’m leaving this article up, though, because I think it’s very inspirational! Maybe others will get some ideas from her story.]
I sat down for coffee with her recently to get her story on how she turned her love for adventure travel and experience planning group trips into a business.
AOW: Tell us your backstory—how did Women on the GrOw begin?
TRACY: I had been wanting to go into ministry with a particular church. But after three interviews for three different positions, things weren’t moving forward. I was very frustrated and really, emotionally down.
Then within a week, three unrelated people said to me: “You should start a travel business. What you do and enjoy—all of us want to do it! We’ll go anywhere with you. You know how to do things, and you do things nobody else does.”
To me that was a God moment. I went online and looked up women’s travel businesses with the things I wanted to do, and found the market is so huge.
I thought, “Why not? Let’s give it a go—this is my passion. If I can’t make a difference through a church, I can make a difference through a travel company. I can bring women to see and do things they’ve never done, and do it with a Christ-like attitude.”
Within a month of this I found (business associate) Kim on Facebook. She had the same idea. I have the business sense and she had the experience of travel. We make a great team.
That was the beginning of 2017, and we registered as a business in December of 2017.
AOW: Did you grow up loving outdoor adventure and traveling?
(This question was such a no-brainer, we both laughed when I asked it!)
TRACY: I grew up camping, I grew up loving the woods, loving adventure. I love new…I love beautiful…I love God’s creation. To me it’s about experiencing His creation in so many ways when you get out there.
So yeah, I’ve always been an outdoor person and adventurer. Will be ’til I die!
AOW: What’s your favorite thing about bringing other women traveling?
TRACY: The life change! To watch women see and experience things they’ve never seen or experienced…to see and hear the visual and verbal expressions—that’s the most gratifying thing of my job, even if it’s a place I’ve been to 10 times.
In Utah they were absolutely astounded by the beauty. They had no clue that was in the United States, and were just blown away. That is the most gratifying piece of the company.
They’re giddy with excitement the whole time and come back on a high.
AOW: How do you find the local adventures you put into your trip itineraries? How do you know who to work with?
TRACY: Ideally, it’s first-hand experience for Kim and I. Typically we’ve already been and done and we know these people. Plan A is we want have to have scouted beforehand and done all the stuff ourselves.
Plan B is networking through word-of-mouth with people we know and trust. Plan C is major research and review reading—that’s our last resort.
For Cuba, it’s the best friend of my best friend’s husband who’s doing this whole thing for us. It’s his business down there. He’s a strong Christian man who loves the Lord and loves people, and he’s Cuban.
AOW: What’s your favorite outdoor activity you do on your trips?
TRACY: Hiking! It’s one of those things where you don’t know what’s around the corner—and you know at the end you’ll have this amazing sight. It can be a solitude time or it can be a fun, get-to-know-each-other time because you’re talking and laughing.
AOW: What other outdoor activities have you done on your trips?
TRACY: Biking, horseback riding, kayaking. We add in whatever we feel is appropriate for the trip. We don’t do camping—we’re not that rustic! The closest we’ve come is a sort of “glamping” experience on the coast in Hawaii—that was in tents on a platform with beds.
AOW: What one adventure surprised you the most and why?
TRACY: We’ll go back to Utah first. Utah surprised me the most about how little people know about our country.
The other was Hawaii. One of the gals was there a day longer than the rest of the group, and I was there an extra day as well. We decided to do a hike along the coast. We just picked one that was next to the ocean so we could maybe see some whales in the distance.
We got to a point when we saw something flopping in the water—didn’t know what it was. Here’s a manta ray frolicking about 30 feet offshore with, maybe, a 22-foot wingspan, just having a heyday right next to us! And then beyond then we saw about five whales breaching.
So, what we expected to be just a casual hike along the coast‚ just a time-filler, turned out to be one of the highlights, if not the highlight of the trip for us, just the two of us. It was breathtaking!
AOW: Which activity—and where—can you not wait to get back to?
TRACY: Again, that was Utah for us. Both Kim and I knew it was a mind-blowing trip for the women. We’ll tweak it, of course. We’ve learned some things and don’t want to be redundant. But every one of the women on the trip said they know someone who’d love it.
Kim had never been out there either, and she was just blown away. And I still get blown away every time I go.
AOW: What’s one outdoor activity you haven’t done yet but want to?
TRACY: More of a destination—I want to hike the Camino de Santiago, the meditative trail in Spain. That’s on my bucket list. It would be the challenge of doing that for 4-6 weeks, hiking 15 miles a day.
That’s something Kim and I are hoping to do as a WOTG trip one day, part of the Camino. We’d do it as a meditative trail, not as tourists. Stay in hostels and meet people from all walks of life and all over the world.
AOW: Yours isn’t a Christian business. How are you able to integrate your faith life into it anyway?
TRACY: Philippians 2—Christlike behavior in everything, and Christlike attitude. Humility, love, acceptance. I would hope that people see all the attributes of Christ in me, including integrity. Integrity is huge to me. We love on people no matter who they are.
I want the women who come to experience love, acceptance, grace, encouragement—that we give them hope, even. And that they see we’re trustworthy and honest in everything we do.
Our company rule is: we don’t promote our religion, but if someone asks us then we’re free to share. We try to steer conversation away from politics and religion because we don’t want the atmosphere of our trips to be divisive in any way.
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Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.