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Walking the walk in search of authenticity

How Thunder Bay's Samantha Plavins turned a career crisis into a new way for women to look at their own careers

When many of us think about a career switch or some other momentous life change, we talk about it with a spouse or friend in a coffee shop or spend a weekend on the back deck reflecting.

When Sam Plavins had her career crisis, she went to Spain for a month and walked the Camino de Santiago. And that road less travelled certainly made all the difference in her life.

“That walk saved me, and I’m not being dramatic here,” Plavins said. “I would have been either divorced or dead right now if I’d stayed in that work. Or, I’d just be a shell of a human being.”

Plavins realized that she was probably not the only woman feeling lost and unsatisfied with her career and the expectations society had handed her. That’s when she came up with the initial idea for She Walks the Walk, her Thunder Bay-based company that provides, among other things, walking adventures for women where “the internal journey is just as important.”

“The idea for the company came from me wanting to give women a slimmed-down version of a pilgrimage,” she said.

Sunset on the desert, Jordan. | Madhi Hanini photo

Slim in duration, but not in scope, the plan from the start was to take women on treks to various places in the world — what she calls Global Walking Adventures (G’WAs). However, it would be wrong to call She Walks the Walk a trekking company. Similarly, Plavins is a certified Chopra Meditation instructor, but meditation isn’t entirely what she does. She is a registered travel agent, yes, but that doesn’t fully describe her, either. She is also not a counsellor, but... you get the picture.

Instead, Plavins sees her skills as tools to help her on her real mission: to help women “get off society’s treadmill and rediscover their authentic selves.”

“Part of getting off that treadmill is stepping out of your comfort zone,” Plavins said. “I want women to realize that they are allowed to question their lives. They’re allowed to take a timeout.”

Plavins said she knew from her Camino pilgrimage that the combination of physical activity, exploring new environments, immersing yourself in new cultures, and time away from home helps you gain new perspectives on your life back home.

She Walks the Walk is also globally and socially minded. For example, Plavins takes the opportunity to help communities by booking through local tour companies where possible. But she also shows women how choices in their daily lives can directly impact the lives of women on the other side of the world.

Next year, her trek up Mount Kilimanjaro will include a culture experience visiting a women’s collective in Tanzania. A safari across the Serengeti is another part of the package and will demonstrate how conservation efforts are helping keep the African Wilds alive and thriving.

Sam Plavins (middle) and a group at the Tikal ruins in Guatemala. | Supplied photo

These experiences help give perspective on a personal level, but they are also designed to give women a larger overall world view, she said.

“We buy those five tops in the same colour on Shein, but then we see them in a landfill on a mountainside in Nepal — what does that mean?”

As with many businesses, COVID set Plavins back. She began plans for She Walks the Walk in January 2020 and had booked her first test trek to Guatemala when the pandemic hit two months later.

“I lost two years for sure. But it gave me an opportunity to develop other ideas I had for the company.”

For example, Plavins designed a course called “Crossroads” that helps women decide what changes they want to make in their lives. The course combines a self-administered questionnaire with group and one-on-one sessions with Plavins.

She also developed content for her social media channels on Instagram and Facebook, launched a podcast, organized a monthly virtual book club for women from all over the world, started her travel consultation service called “Anywhere But Here” (ABH), hit the speaker circuit with inspiring messages for women, and encouraged women to take advantage of their lockdown time by walking the streets and countryside of their hometowns, raising money in the process.

Sam Plavins overlooking the Treasury at the ancient stone city of Petra in Jordan. | Julie Carcaud photo

Since the lockdown lifted, she has led several treks including to Guatemala and Jordan. Her next G’WA is to Norway’s Lofoten Islands above the Arctic Circle, just after the summer solstice when the sun never sets.

If that’s not enough on her plate, Plavins is also travelling to Bhutan with filmmaker Kendra Slagter this fall to make a documentary about happiness and raise money for women’s mental health. Their Kickstarter campaign to help fund the documentary met its goal within a week.

“A lot of these countries have figured out how to put an emphasis on happiness over the material trappings of Western ways,” Plavins said. “Really, that hits at the core values of She Walks the Walk. Is it worth killing yourself with work and losing your family and friends for the material gains of career success?

“Myself, I’d rather be happy, and I think a lot of other women out there feel the same way, too.”