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How El Camino’s Katalina Mayorga made travel her full-time job

Katalina Mayorga of El Camino Travel (Emma McAlary)

Name: Katalina Mayorga, 32
Position: Founder and CEO, El Camino Travel

What she does
Shampooing her hair. That’s when Katalina Mayorga came up with the name for her millennial-focused travel company, El Camino Travel. “You can’t have your phone in the shower so you can’t be distracted by anything,” Mayorga says. “You’re literally just sitting with your own thoughts, which is happening way less [often] with social media.”

Social media is what inspired her to start the company in the first place. A few months earlier, in May 2014, while on a business trip in Guatemala, she found that people weren’t actually engaging with their surroundings. “At very beautiful spots, all of the tourists were on their phone the whole time,” Mayorga says. “Everyone was looking at these beautiful volcanoes around this lake through the screens of their phones, including myself.” On her plane ride back to the States, she began to plan her company.

Over the last three years, El Camino Travel has taken nearly 400 travelers to five countries in Latin America. As part of Mayorga’s mission to disconnect from social media, El Camino brings along a professional photographer for each of its trips, which she says helps travelers stay in the moment and create real connections. “The fact that they’re not on their phone all of the time allows them to just fully immerse themselves in that experience,” Mayorga says. “You can’t really build a connection with someone, especially if you don’t speak the same language, if there’s a phone screen between you and that person.”

While her day-to-day in D.C. is the nitty-gritty of running a start-up, (managing accounting, schedules and yes, social media), and though these days she partners with locals to guide and host trips, rather than leading them herself, she remains hands-on with each trip. Mayorga arranges for travelers to team up with local creatives, including designers, architects and entrepreneurs, to create unique experiences for travelers. Past trips have featured meals of freshly caught fish on the beach and walking tours with local graffiti artists.

How she got the job
Mayorga developed an intimate knowledge of the region from running her own consulting business in international development throughout Latin America. She also uses her family history every day in her work — her parents are from Colombia, and she’s been traveling there for years.

She paired this with her keen business acuity, spotting a void in the multibillion-dollar travel industry: a premium travel brand for millennials focused on what she calls “experiential tourism.”

“We found destinations that are of interest to travelers right now … places where we can provide an immersive and unique experience that travelers wouldn’t be able to get on their own,” Mayorga says.

Who would want this job
A job like Mayorga’s requires an innate ability to find experiences travelers never knew they wanted. “Our traveler is someone who wants to go to that trendy rooftop bar in Mexico City that they’ve seen on Instagram and have that beautiful mezcal drink that they saw their favorite influencer take a photo of,” she says. “But at the same time, they want to hit the ground running and go to that hole-in-the-wall taco place that has the best tacos al pastor in all of Mexico City but that only locals know about — those hidden gems.”

How you can get the job
For all of the would-be entrepreneurs out there, the most important thing, according to Mayorga, is learning on the go. “I asked a lot of people for advice, but I really didn’t know the travel industry at all,” Mayorga says. The trick, she says, is to try your ideas out and learn from all of the feedback you receive.

To do that, Mayorga has three rules. First, find what she calls your “north star” by having a clear understanding of your vision, mission and unique voice to guide your work. At the same time, you need to be open to failure. “The idea is that you fail quickly and you fail cheaply,” Mayorga says. Finally, be flexible and take feedback in stride — without fundamentally changing your brand because of it.

Mayorga often looks to her favorite quotation, which she has tattooed on her arm: “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar,” which, roughly translated from Spanish, means “Traveler, there is no path, paths are made by wandering.”

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