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Is your wanderlust at peak intensity right now? There's something about a mid-winter escape that is the ultimate rejuvenation — ditching your apartment, your job, your snow-lined street for a sun-soaked getaway sounds like just the thing, doesn't it? We often find ourselves with a bit of travel-planning anxiety — once you commit to getting away, how do you know it's the right choice? What if we told you we'd found a new way to travel that would make Expedia's last-minute travel deals (and the nail-biting that goes along with booking them) a thing of the past? 

Thread Caravan is an artisan-inspired boutique travel guide company that organizes small-group jaunts to locales with a rich artisan culture. Founder Caitlin Garcia-Ahern has a unique background that primed her perfectly for founding this unique business: she's versed in fair-trade practices, has an artist's view of the world, and also studied microfinance at university. Hence a business that takes curious travelers to far-flung places where traditional cultures prevail and thrive. Want to make mezcal in Mexico or learn to weave in Guatemala? Yeah, us too. Read on to learn more, and then call your best friends (or not) to pump them up for the trip of a lifetime.

 

BIKINI:  How did Thread Caravan get started?
CAITLIN GARCIA-AHERN: I've been an artist from an early age. When I discovered sewing at the age of 15, that became my preferred medium of creativity. I studied sociology and international business at university in New Orleans, with particular interests in microfinance and fair trade artisan work. I interned with a big fair trade organization in New York and then worked with a smaller start-up fair trade organization in New Orleans, teaching job training skills to marginalized groups so that they could use their new skills to start artisan businesses. At first, this seemed like a great meshing of my skills and interests – but a key piece was still missing. I didn't want to be involved in the retail aspect of artisan businesses – I didn't like how the model was dependent on consumerism, especially at a time when many people didn't fully understand the complexity of artisan processes (luckily that is starting to shift more and more in recent years). So I switched my path and worked as a teacher and nanny for some time. I love nurturing and guiding others, and think education is one of the greatest gifts. After a couple years of this, the idea for Thread Caravan finally clicked: to connect with artisans and their processes through the concept of art education.

BIKINI: Experiential travel seems to be the next wave of wanderlust. In your opinion, why is it better than a regular book-and-go trip?
CA: I think current U.S. lifestyle is often lacking connectedness. We spend so much time on screens (ironically, often as a form of connecting), often at the expense of physical connection — both with people and processes. Experiential travel brings back that intimacy. It puts you face to face with people and gets you experiencing activities firsthand.

People also seem to be traveling more often but for shorter lengths — long weekend trips for example. That usually isn't long enough to form a strong connection to a place, especially if you just show up with little resources of what to see and do. I think one reason people enjoy Thread Caravan trips so much is because we take the planning and research out of the trip, putting travelers directly into experiential situations with local communities. 

 

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BIKINI: Tell us about some destinations that you love and the things to do there. 
CA: Oaxaca is one of my favorite places. I host a variety of workshops there — weaving, mezcal-making, and ceramics. Many states in Mexico are filled with incredibly talented craftspeople, but the reason Oaxaca stands out to me is that people there really live authentically in their craft. The ceramics, the woven rugs, the food made from scratch, it's all a part of people's daily lives, not just a show for tourism. I really love every place I have been though — if you are open to it, there is beauty everywhere!

 

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BIKINI: If someone's really in need of a break but doesn't have a squad, do you recommend a solo trip?
CA: Definitely! I actually think this is another reason folks like Thread Caravan trips. I set trip dates in advance, and then people sign up for them — either solo or with friends or family. (Our trips have 10 travelers maximum, but usually more like six to eight travelers). I often hear that the people booking solo couldn't rally a friend, so they book one of our trips knowing that they will make new friends and don't have to deal with some of the stresses that come from solo travel. All that said, it is also very empowering to travel totally solo — dealing with unexpected situations as they arise. It challenges you in a way that makes you realize your strength. 

BIKINI: What do you get from a Thread Caravan trip that you don't from, say, a stay at an all-inclusive resort?
CA: While our trips are almost completely all-inclusive, I think the main difference is that we are doing things most tourists don't normally do — like weaving 1-on-1 alongside a local instructor. Our groups are small, and we spend quality time with local communities. To boot, we usually have free time during each trip, where folks can incorporate unique things they want to do while there.

BIKINI: Where are you dying to go next? 
CA: This is always such a hard question! And my answer changes regularly. At this very moment: I'd have to say Bolivia. I am feeling very called to the mountains and mountain animals like alpaca, and to the country's people and their history. I am curious to learn more about their revolution, their socialism, and mostly their artistic traditions.