Life is short, said Spencer Carlson — you have just one chance to knock out as much on your to-do list as possible.
For the founder of TripSushi, a KC-based travel agency, that meant soaking in and connecting to peoples and locales across the globe, he said.
“[We] need to experience other cultures so that we can understand them better, so we can make better decisions aligned with them,” Carlson said. “I think that would just generate more peace, understanding and a better global civilization.”
TripSushi, 2017 Digital Sandbox company, allows users to take a vacation from the norm, he said.
“[The process of international travel] is just like super crazy; you have 40 different websites, 15 different bookings, spreadsheets and notes. And then how do you share it with your friends and family?” Carlson said. “We’re trying to make that super, super easy and then help people realize it’s affordable.”
A daunting flight path
After rebranding from 2020 Adventures, TripSushi has been challenged by issues of scalability, Carlson said, noting he personally builds the trips for customers. The idea is to allow customization by users that is less hands-on for Carlson, but so far that functionality only is available for trips to Iceland.
But with the agency’s tight-knit team — three managing sales with Carlson, Phil Baylog as chief technology officer and Keli Myracle managing social media — TripSushi is already taxiing on the runway, he said.
“We should be able to start making some big moves,” Carlson said. “So it’s a little bit daunting, but we’re finally switching from a lot of the manual labor stuff to be a tech company.”
TripSushi’s team walked away from this year’s Travel Tech Con with several partnerships, he said, including a Toronto-based company that offers travel options as part of its employee benefits package.
It’s all building toward Carlson’s ultimate benchmark for the web-based travel agency, he said.
“I want to build this map with pins of people from the states that we’ve connected in all these destinations and the more we can fill that out and when that gets plotted out, that’s how I really measure our success,” Carlson said. “Obviously to make money and employ people and all those things, but that’s end goal. I just try to keep that front of mind. That’s really the only reason I started the business.”
Navigating beyond concept
Volunteering in schools and AIDS orphanages across Africa helped inspire Carlson’s hunger for connections, he said. Upon returning, he felt he’d left his heart in Kenya, he said.
“I came back to the states and it was my first real experience of traveling overseas on my own,” Carlson said. “I’d only been to Panama and Costa Rica, Canada and Mexico, so that was like a huge culture shock for me. I really was fiending for it. I really wanted it more and more.”
A conversation with his mother resulted in a list of accomplishments Carlson hoped to knock out within the next five years. On the list: getting married, having children, and expanding his mind further with travel.
“I said, ‘This is the kind of person I want to be and where I want to be in life five years from now, and these are the types of things that I need to tackle to get there.’ A priority of one of them was seeing a ton of the world, having connections and experiencing the world,” said Carlson. “There was really no debate about what I had to do next.”
Still, the path to TripSushi wasn’t quick.
Carlson became a bartender — making more money than he could’ve with his biology degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he said — and saved every bit of money he could.
“I sold everything that I owned. It was weird living in my apartment. It was like a bed and some books, and that’s it,” said Carlson. “Then I saved up for like four or five months and took off for Russia, traveled through Europe, Egypt, to Southeast Asia and then ended up in Australia.”
Carlson journeyed for an entire year on only $10,000, making his way across 30 countries. He slept on couches and worked in exchange for lodging while staying with various families, he said.
While on the go, Carlson gathered a following who watched his travels and asked for tips. He began organizing trips for friends and family with his knowledge of secret places and local heroes across the globe.
Exactly five years after that life-changing conversation with his mother, Carlson is married with one child and another on the way. He’s traveled the globe and built a menu of from which users can access his adventure-based expertise.
“Now it’s time to reset the goals for the next five years,” he said.