Kieron Wilde Won’t Put His Life on Autopilot
When the travel guide’s life turned upside down during the pandemic, he saw a chance to venture toward the kind of future he really wanted
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Kieron Wilde told his story to producer Ann Marie Awad for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I got into tourism almost 20 years ago, and left my career of ecology behind. But I’ve always felt like I had abandoned my real purpose and my real calling.
And I had that moment where I was like, Maybe they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I own a company called First Nature. We are a destination management and private tour company. We specialize in creating custom experiences around the Pacific Northwest.
Travel’s definitely a passion of mine. It’s all the things that go along with travel: the learning, the experiencing of other cultures, the meeting of new people, and just the experience of opening yourself up to the world.
The beginning of the pandemic aligned perfectly with the birth of my first child. And for my industry, the tourism industry, we were one of the first and hardest hit. Everything just came to a screeching halt in March of 2020.
My “oh shit” moment was probably not long after the official call came down from the US government, banning travel. Just the aftermath of that, cascading down through every hotel here, and every small little outfitter and guide, is massive.
My husband was still working full-time. He was still going to the office quite a bit, even though they were social distancing. And I was basically a night nurse, and if anybody’s had a kid, they can understand what that means. Every few hours you’re awake, if you even get to go to sleep in between, and then there’s the daytime. You’re doing the same thing, but also trying to run a business. Every day felt a little bit overwhelming.
What kept me going was the excitement, for one, of being a new parent. I was very lucky in some sense that I had the opportunity to be at home and not be out guiding. It’s a very magical thing to become a parent, and I had been wanting it for my entire adult life, actually a lot of childhood as well. It’s just been a huge goal of mine forever, and it’s hard for two men to have kids. It’s a little bit more complicated than most other partnerships, for the obvious reasons. So it had taken us many years to get to the point where we had been able to realize our dream of having a family, and the fact that we had finally reached this goal was amazing. Even though everything else seemed to be falling apart and it kind of felt like the end of days. We’re like, Is this the apocalypse? And what are we gonna do with our brand new newborn in this new world?
I just remember just sitting there on very few hours of sleep on my computer trying to figure out how to refund these people all their money. They had paid for tours that they weren’t gonna be taking. And I had that moment of, Hey, maybe this is an opportunity to invest in doing things differently, in a way that is more fulfilling for myself and makes a better impact on the planet and the people that we interact with. Maybe this is a way to rewrite the script on travel in general.
I just started working on a plan B and a pivot for my company. We started to think about ways to create regenerative travel moments for people when they’re traveling to the destinations we work in.
Regenerative travel is a trend in the industry right now that allows visitors to engage in stewardship that leaves a place better than they found it. It can look a lot of different ways. Regenerative travel can be anything from volunteering to do trail restoration work, to spending some time cleaning up a beach in the destination you’re visiting, to planting trees in riparian zones to help salmon habitat restoration.
I had a couple moments in 2021 when we launched the first of these regenerative travel projects, where it was still pretty new that people could travel together, and there was a lot of hesitancy around travel still, and it was hard to fill them. I definitely had a few moments where I was like, Is this even a viable product?
But it’s gaining momentum, we’re working with destinations to consult on how they can be more regenerative as a destination. And there’s a lot of interest.
It takes time when you make a big pivot, you make a big move, and you kind of have to trust the process and stick with it if you want to be successful. I really believe in purpose finding and doing that internal work, and I’ve done a lot of those exercises over the years, just finding my intention, following your passion, and seeing where all those things align.
It took a while to apply that to my own business, because once you’re making money and you’re doing your thing, it’s hard to really shift. It’s hard to change tracks once you’ve built this thing and it’s really going along. The pandemic really provided that opportunity to say, Woah, is there a way we could be doing this better? Is there something entirely different we could be doing? It provided that opportunity to take a break and pause and shift focus.
You just get on autopilot sometimes when you have so many things, but find those moments where you can breathe and just be in the moment. Be still for a minute. And that’s when a lot of those epiphanies come, I think, when people take that time to be still.
Kieron Wilde is the founder of First Nature Tours in Portland, Oregon, and is an experienced tour guide in the Pacific Northwest as well as in Central and South America. You can find his company at firstnaturetours.com.