Real Stories: My First Vacation in Three Years

Welcome to the Awesome guest blog series! Our first guest post is by Avital Ungar, owner of the incredibly popular Avital Food Tours in San Francisco, California.

I started my company to be able to do what I love full time: eat and travel. Yet I had become a slave to my business.

Sometimes people would ask me, “How many hours per week do you work?” I honestly can’t answer that question; My work is my play and my play is my work. While I love the everyday of my business, when I can go out to eat at the hottest new restaurant and call it “research,” the boundaries between my work and play become blurred. 

About a year ago, I made a commitment to myself that I would no longer let my work be my ONLY play. I had other interests and duties that had been slowly neglected like a plant deprived of water and I wanted to have the time to pursue those as well, including spending more time with my family. In order to carve out the time to prepare myself for a more balanced life, I needed to pull myself out of the daily operations of the business and act more as the business owner managing others and allowing them to do the work.

I spent a very challenging year preparing my business to run without me. After a crash course in hiring (one of the most important skills a CEO can have is learning how to recruit the best employees!) and growing our company from 3 employees to 8 employees, I finally knew it was time to take a real vacation - the kind of exotic travel I had been longing for.

One autumn day, I shared with my new Director of Experience that I had bought my plane ticket to Japan. I couldn’t have anticipated this, but setting a deadline for leaving had indicated to my employees that I trusted them to get their job done well in my absence. 

Preparing for my vacation was an unexpected benefit. For the first time since starting my business, I was able to put myself in the shoes of my own customer. I researched every tour company, website and travel resource and surprised myself by the choices I made while planning. I learned how I could improve my business and after returning, made smart decisions about how to serve our guests better.

I learned about the pain points of traveling in a technology age in a country where you don’t speak the language. As a result, I’m now more sympathetic to our foreign guests and travelers. 

Returning back from a month-long vacation was incredible. My mind and body were reenergized to go back to work.

While traveling, every day is new, different, and filled with challenges that need to be solved in creative ways. Each day measures a 10 out of 10! Daily life can sometimes be monotonous, so when returning home, I asked myself, “How can I raise my days from a 7 to a 10?” and “How can I continue to capture that travel mentality and curiosity on a daily basis?” I have since continued to try new things and explore to raise my days to a higher score and maintain that feeling of being a traveler in my own city.

On the business side, after returning home, my management style changed. I realized that I had been hindering my employees from reaching their potential and in the words of the United States Army “Be[ing] all that [they] can Be.” I began to withdraw my fingers from some of their projects and trusting my employees to do their jobs. My business didn’t collapse and in fact it was relatively quiet - a bit too quiet for an entrepreneur, to be honest.

Taking myself out of the business allowed me to think more critically about the business overall instead of getting caught in the weeds.

Now that I’ve left on vacation and my ego understands that I’m not the only part of this business that matters, and it will run without me, I’m itching to do it again!

Turkey and Morocco here I come!

Avital Ungar, is the owner of Avital Food Tours. She is a menu collector, curious traveler and storyteller. She drives a meter maid car and lives in San Francisco in her Nob Hill apartment surrounded by numerous vases and books.