Cultural Alchemy With Ingrid Asoni, Founder Of Consciously Connected Travel

Cultural Alchemy With Ingrid Asoni, Founder Of Consciously Connected Travel

 

Travel can be like picking up a new language through the experience of the senses. Many of us holiday, but comparatively few of us find ourselves with the tools and resources needed to go deeper, and to create lasting impact. A holistic travel concierge curating personalised packages with purpose at their core, Consciously Connected Travel builds sustainable solutions to growth that spans across industries and borders.

 

As a ‘founding misfit’ – tell us a little more about who you are, and how your experiences have shaped the way in which you live and create from the heart?

I’m Ingrid Asoni and I started life in this space almost two decades ago now. Initially I was in consulting and production – producing for a lot of the big fashion houses or US artists coming into Europe, and I lived that life of travelling constantly and working 24 hours a day.

I was built for it and I loved every moment of it; I loved the creativity and I enjoyed developing brands and businesses primarily for the MENA market, during a time when the Middle East was still so hard to understand and to penetrate. But connecting these cultures together from a considered place was innately the sweet spot for me.

The prevailing approaches of the time weren’t considered. It was assumed that the Middle East was paved with gold and that they were uneducated in terms of their consumption. I wanted to reshape this focus, and I did that through a broader and more reflective perspective.

I built so many incredible relationships with amazing people during this time, and they kept asking me why I hadn’t started a lifestyle consultancy. On both a personal and professional level, I often found myself being the bridge for so many people seeking to explore new territory more consciously.

I set up the consultancy Asoni Haus for impact wealth and investment – allowing people to start investing in underserved markets. The primary focus was the Middle East and Africa, so being Cameroonian Palestinian, it targeted the two areas of my background, culture and heritage.

People felt investing in these landscapes wasn’t safe because there was very little due diligence. They needed an experienced point of contact that they could trust. But in creating these spaces and opportunities, it felt like I was still dealing with such a small percentage of the world. I wanted to create a real shift with a broader reach.

I had this feeling that there was something more that I needed to do, but I couldn’t figure out what that should be. Then about 7 years ago I had my own ‘come to Jesus moment’ as it were; My business was thriving, with great clients and projects, and I had all these incredible external wins – but within myself I was at 0. I was mentally and physically checked out, and although I had gratitude for what I had achieved, I felt as though I’d lost sight of myself in the process.

This was difficult for me because I ignored the alarm bells for so long, until eventually on a call with my doctor they told me that something had to give for the sake of my health. It was the wake up call I needed to start putting myself first.

I got on a plane and I did the cliché thing and went to Asia for 4 months. I went to Cambodia, which has always been a really impactful and transformative place for me, and I went to Japan, and Thailand – and just spent a lot of time surrounding myself with incredible local wisdom keepers.

Even though I travelled alone to heal myself, I kept meeting inspiring women from all walks of life that were there on the same journey. The conversations we kept having centred around finding a place that really understood the changes we were going through.

It became increasingly clear to me that as good as these retreats were, and without taking anything from the spaces that they’ve cultivated, it just wasn’t sustainable in the sense that once you left utopia, there weren’t any transferable resources to replicate the value of what they’d created back home.

This often meant that you came back to an incredible low for one, and it hadn’t really delved deeper into the existential elements of – why am I here? What changes do I need to be making? And what’s going on at this juncture that I find myself in?

I wanted to create a space for women like the ones I’d met on my travels, that empowered them to build the tools they needed to navigate such a journey. Because it became so abundantly clear that this was what was missing. Initially it was all about impactful journeys, and the focus on the wellness aspect didn’t come into it until later down the line, when I realised that they were inherently interlinked.

In terms of integrating this – I’m a very accountable person, and I felt that a lot of the industry created a sense of dependency and hand-holding to the detriment of the person trying to do the work. You can’t have these people or wisdom keepers at your disposal, and I wanted people to understand and to experience that the real medicine, the answers and the resources are within themselves.

I started reaching out to wisdom keepers that I felt were truly transformative, and who were aligned in terms of their approach to their work and ideology. One of these people was mama medicine woman, Deborah Hanekamp. I loved her work and what she stood for: as an Amazonian Curendara (native healer) that had been under tutelage for over ten years or so, she’d put in the time and dedication. And I found her message to be very true to the space that I was trying to cultivate.

When we spoke it was true resonance. I encouraged her to take this leap of faith with me, for accountable spaces focused on autonomous approaches to growth. The best thing we could empower people to cultivate was that sensation of being unshakeably reconnected to their authentic self.

 

Your immersions have a clear focus on philanthropy, how do you choose some of the causes that you give back to?

I knew that these experiences needed to be something that gives back from day 1. After spending a couple of years travelling, I was able to really connect with different representatives of various communities and cultures, and take the time to understand what it was that they needed.

But the Western world perpetuates this cultural ideology that we need to be saviours, and to be the ones with the answers and solutions. And I don’t take that approach. What I was focused on was problem-solving from an intrinsic point of view.

Many of us give a lot as it is and we donate to charities all the time, but we don’t always get to see the impact and change attached to that. I wanted transparency and to show where and how this money was being utilised. I wanted to get to the heart of the problem.

As a result, we’ve worked with a variety of different projects. For example, we have a beautiful community in Portobelo, Panama, which is a UNESCO world heritage site of 5,000 people. I found this one after reconnecting with a friend and confiding in her that I felt like something was missing – that weekend she drove me to Portobelo and introduced me to this ecosystem with such a rich Congo culture that was infamous for its music and art.

The people and children that I met were so incredibly talented and impassioned, whether it was through sound or artisanal craft. But politically, the Panama government had been trying to restrict resources to this specific region. From an economic perspective they were trying to isolate the people to make them leave, so that they could build on the land which faces the Panama rainforest.

They’d cut off supplies of electricity, sanitation, and transport, and I sat with community representatives to try to understand how we could be of service. What were the bare bones of the problem? We worked together to figure out sustainable solutions to these issues.

We’ve also worked with the Maasai Mara tribe who were selling a lot of their land to Western people – and this is not to knock Western people, just to provide context to the circumstances – but there was such a rapid increase in demand for land, and they needed more tools to navigate the business fundamentals of what was taking place. I spent months with key figures, supporting them in building a leasing structure so that they could retain their land and their heritage, but still generate the income and revenue needed to support and sustain the tribe.

Every project looks different because it goes to the heart of what’s needed. We have artist residencies, education and tutelage, surf communities in Sri Lanka… When people travel with us, we as a business take on the responsibility of finding efficient ways to give some of this money back.

Philanthropy can’t be guilted, there’s no longevity in that. But many of our clients feel moved to give back in their own way. Our role is to educate, inform, share, inspire and innovate in a way that resonates with people. As a result, so many of our community are independently proactive even after they leave.

That lets me know that we provide real value, in breaking down barriers and bridging cultures for people to connect through shared loves like art, fashion, music, film or otherwise. Sharing memories and moments in this way changes everything.

 

What is it like navigating the unknown in this way, and problem solving as you go along?

It can be emotionally draining at times, and I’ve accepted that as part of my personal journey. It’s challenging to be part of things that can floor you emotionally, while simultaneously trying to come up with balanced and rational solutions.

But I don’t make decisions on behalf of other people – it’s always centred around conversation and communication. I work with people to co-create the way forwards. It’s a collective effort and I just happen to be the person that can act as a catalyst, by accessing the resources and platform that’s required for that.

 

How do you manage some of these more emotionally draining aspects and take care of your own health and wellbeing in the process?

I spend a lot of time alone, and that’s by choice because it allows me to recalibrate. I learned early on in life that in order for me to be able to restore, I need to have time to detach and to set emotional boundaries.

Routine is essential for me, it’s not always consistent and I live a very realistic life as a human – but I value carving out space for silence and stillness. It’s in this space that we often find the answers that we’re looking for, and it’s a core and intrinsic part of my lifestyle.

There’s so much noise, distraction and constant engagement these days. I’m not encouraging people to be anti-social, but it’s about appreciating balance and not shying away from exploring yourself, by yourself. The sooner we can lean into that by getting comfortable with the uncomfortable within ourselves, the easier it is for us to lean into what we truly want and need, rather than what’s expected of us.

This takes shape in different ways – it’s not always about getting on a mat and sitting still for an hour. Meditation for me is listening to music, making the bed, cleaning my house, cooking dinner, cutting flowers, all these rhythmic routines or rituals that help you get into your groove.

 

What do you think about the rise in the use of plant medicines such as psychedelics or cannabis, as tools for living in alignment?

I have a fairly balanced view – society is quick to glamorise and glorify things without an in-depth level of context, and I think that people should do their research. I’m in a privileged position because my mother is a doctor of clinical science, so I can always pester her with plenty of questions. But it’s about taking the time to really understand things, and not just dive in because it’s trendy.

Society and certain platforms sell a particular story, and I know a lot of people that experiment with these things in all kinds of unconventional places. But I believe there needs to be a greater respect for where these medicines come from – and for being able to appreciate them within that cultural context. And I say that with absolute conviction.

There are long-standing traditions that need to be incorporated, along with their processes and protocols, whether that be fasting, spiritual alignment or otherwise. I see many people embarking on profound psychedelic journeys with a laissez faire attitude, and which isn’t supported by the hands of the truly experienced and skilled. The wisdom keepers of the medicine are the indigenous to which these plants are native, and it’s they who can guide people through such processes.

I also don’t believe that many of these tools are here for fun, they have a holistic history and heritage that isn’t part of our instant, quick-fix pill culture. But it’s a separate conversation to talk about these substances being adopted by clinical practitioners in a controlled environment for chronic conditions like PTSD.

For individuals it’s about finding the plant medicine that’s right for you, and there are so many to choose from. Lean into what calls to you intuitively, not what people or society are telling you to take. I also feel that these things usually find you at the right time, and that you don’t need to find them. We keep trying to control our worlds, minds and narratives, and sometimes this doesn’t leave space for what the rest of life and the universe is here to do. Which is to let us flow and to let the experience unfold.

 

What motivates you?

My biggest motivation comes back to my roots – my parents always instilled this notion of fighting for those that can’t fight for themselves. I don’t know why they encouraged this message in my household, but it’s always been intrinsic within us. When we can empower and unlock ourselves, the amount that we can do for both ourselves and each-other is limitless. And the way in which we can navigate and experience the world also becomes limitless.

 

In this soul-driven approach, what does spirituality mean to you, and does that have any relation to religion for you?

It’s a bit of both. I was born and raised a Catholic, but in my late teens I had a craving to explore different religions and spiritualities, and found a connection and resonance with Buddhism. I’ve been practicing loosely since I was about 18.

Everyone seeks some form of guidance. And religion for me is a means of connecting with people across these different existential languages. There’s always a place for this because we can all read the exact same material and come to different interpretations. Different tools help us to nurture ourselves as people.

I look at both religion and spirituality as tools that can guide, support and uplift us throughout this journey. But it’s more than just about what we read and apply within ourselves, it has to be about how we apply these skills and ideologies to serving others as well.

In this sense, I see religion as the foundation, and spirituality as the ripple effect.

 

How has the business fundraising process been for you, and how have you balanced staying true to your values, with wanting to expand and grow?

In the current environment, it’s definitely harder when the motivation behind your business is to create space and awareness, and to pour into causes that don’t always equate to such juicy bottom-lines economically.

But it always comes back to why I started doing what I do. So long as the community continues to grow and people continue to engage – whether that be through using our platform directly, or adopting our ideology to make more informed choices, then I know that the time and the effort is worth it.

As consumers we collectively hold so much purchasing power, and there are so many more conscious brands to choose from now. Shifting mindsets in an impactful way doesn’t necessarily come with rapid, large-scale growth and margins.

We choose to lead by example and to engage our community with a slow and intentional approach – the business works, is balanced, and allows us to do the things that we need to do. We focus on doing the small stuff well, consistently, accessibly and sustainably.

 

Are there any personal compromises or sacrifices that you’ve made as part of this journey?

I wouldn’t say it was a sacrifice. Making my path in life one of service was a conscious choice that I made a very long time ago. And I’m very content with the transformations, stories and feedback that’s ensued.

Seeing the incredible communities and camaraderie that we’ve contributed to makes everything worth it. There’s been a lot of organic growth through trusting that the right people and tools will find us, which ties into the faith that I’ve had as part of this process.

Maybe some things take longer, feel harder, or are more complicated, but ultimately it’s always the case that the right things eventually come along. Yes I’ve been very proactive in championing what we do, but it’s meeting both in the middle and allowing things to happen naturally, and at the right time.

 

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think that they’re the same thing – my strength is my weakness.

I put my heart and soul into what I do, and that can make it challenging to shut off when I need to. When I commit to something, I won’t rest, and while it’s great to have that drive, it can be hard to maintain balance.

I’m also not often willing to compromise, which works both ways. I won’t edit the message, or say it in a way that’s more palatable, and I won’t restructure the business in a way that will make it sell more – I’m here to ride it out come hell or high water because it’s more important to me that it’s done with integrity, honesty, truth, purpose and intention at the forefront.

 

How does this affect the ways in which you deal with failure?

Sometimes I come across a project that I get incredibly invested in, and it doesn’t always translate economically or resonate with the community for whatever reason. This can really hit hard when you’ve spent so long working with individuals and locals on the ground, and provided a level of hope.

There’s a lot of guilt that comes with these projects not working out in the way that you’d anticipated or championed. Larger consumer demand and trends aren’t always aligned with value in impact, and it can be hard to recognise and accept the consequences of these ebbs and flows in society.

 

How do you find some of the hidden gems that you work with?

They find me organically. But sometimes, I have these spontaneous moments of just waking up and feeling very strongly about a specific place. Then I take the leap and go there, and just trust the process.

Before the pandemic I was in Japan with a friend who’s an ex-monk. I had no structured plan and I just went where I felt called. By being attuned to myself and leaning into that, it always comes together one way or another.

 

How has what you do changed you as a person?

I’m more considered. I’m more mindful about how I live and navigate my world, and that’s changed me for the better. I never want to come across as preaching or dictating, and everyone does what works or feels right to them, but I’m just more reflective in every aspect of my life, from work to relationships.

Time and energy are precious and I’m more aware of where I choose to invest these things. The more I’m speaking, learning and listening to everyone I encounter, the more it reinforces that being more considered with our steps has such a profound ripple effect in the grand scheme of things.

 

Do you have a mentor or anyone you look up to for advice?

I don’t look up to anyone – and I don’t say that with ego by any stretch of the imagination. Man is capable of fault, and putting our energy or faith in gurus and masters, or other external things doesn’t make sense to me.

I still really respect and nourish all the wisdom that’s imparted from such sources, but I’ll always trust and come back to myself first and foremost.

 

If time and money were no object – what would be on your to-do and to-see list?

Namibia is always at the top of my list – that place just has something special about it. But the world is such a big place and I’ve barely even scratched the surface! As much as I’ve seen and as many places as I’ve travelled, I just want to keep connecting to amazing people, while doing amazing things and learning from these communities, cultures, traditions, languages, rituals and practices.

The more I’m exposed to it, the more I see the similarities and alignments across cultures. I’ll be in the middle of Peru and see something similar to Arabic culture, or go to the middle of Mongolia and find similarities with African culture. There’s just so much resonance and richness. There’s a little bit of all of us in everything.

So, to just live and experience this common humanity that we all share. I don’t think there’s a specific thing or place; Continuing to be received by communities in such an open way, while being able to pour back into them in the way that we are able to.

 

 

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