“I think we’ve both become more comfortable with uncertainty, and learning to live through it, and keep going, rather than trying to control it. While our lives are more uncertain than they were before, we’ve also realized that life itself is uncertain, even if you have a secure job and are healthy right now, it can all change in a nanosecond.”
Geoff and Katie Matthews
Artists, Bloggers, Entrepreneurs and Travellers
Geoff and Katie Matthews are a couple who quit their corporate jobs to travel the world. They met as expats in Taiwan in 2006, and have been travelling ever since, and full-time since 2013. They have visited 47 countries together and have no plans to slow down. Focusing on urban travel- both mainstream and off-the-beaten-path city and town destinations- Geoff and Katie share humorous, inspirational, and informational destination snapshots, creating stories, photography and video, and travel coloring books that inspire some serious wanderlust. As friendly and polite Canadians, they aim to be both relatable and accessible, and love hearing from their community and customers! Read on to find out more.
Tell us about Wandertooth and how you both quit your corporate jobs to travel and make colouring books for grown-ups.
Geoff and I met in 2005 in Taiwan, where we were both living as expats. Between 2006 and 2013, we alternated between living in Canada with corporate jobs and lifestyles, and leaving for long stints of travel and life as expats. In 2013, we finally admitted that travel was our passion, and decided to build a business that could support us while traveling.
We started our travel blog Wandertooth — a play on sweet tooth — to chronicle our travels, and we aim to share humorous and relatable stories, videos, and photography that balance inspiration and information.
It wasn’t until 2015 we came up with the idea for travel colouring books for grown-ups, and we’re currently in Mexico working on our second book, which will include colourable scenes from across the country (our first book was a round-the-world book). What sets our books apart is they depict real-life scenes: we take photographs and then have them hand-traced to create the colourable line art. It’s quite labour intensive, but the result is stunning, and really fun to colour.
What has helped you in the process of following your dream?
At a very basic level, we recognise how incredibly privileged we are to have both been born to educated, employed parents in a country like Canada. Having the passport we do, and the education we do, has made it possible for us to travel freely, and take risks, knowing we have skills to build the business, and to fall back on and find work if needed. Both of us grew up with creative spirits as well, which we attribute to our parents.
Similarly, it would have been much more challenging to do this 30 years ago. Having reliable Wifi wherever we go is essential to what we do, as is, of course, being able to access customers and readers online.
What inspires you?
The driving force between our inspiration and creativity is travel, change and newness. We both tend to be inspired by the external stimuli, and struggle when we are in the same place for too long. I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing, but it’s the truth!
What challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
While the constant change of our lives stimulates creativity, it can also be tiring and stressful. To give you an example, in the past month we’ve slept in 8 different places, and have covered over 1500km of bus and colectivo travel in eastern Mexico to shoot scenes for the book. We deal with this by alternating periods of fast travel with staying for a month or more in the same place, and by building routine into our day-to-day lives as much as possible.
Beyond that, accessing customers, and understanding who’s buying our books, and where they’re finding them, is a constant challenge. For the first book, we published via CreateSpace and used Amazon for all distribution, but we found it limiting in terms of the customer data and reporting we had access to. For our next book, we’ll also print with Ingram Spark, and we’re also getting ready to sell the books on our website, too.
What message are you trying to share with Wandertooth?
With the books, we want to provide people with a totally new way to experience the world, whether they are able to actually travel, or not.
When we first came up with the idea, we had the idea that people would take the books with them to the destination, and colour scenes while there. What we’ve found, however, is that people have different reasons for buying our books: we have nervous flyers use them to take their mind occupied during flights; business travellers use them to unwind while away; armchair travellers use them to daydream, plan a trip, or remember a past trip; and parents use them when sharing an activity with their children. We also have many customers who simply love to colour, and love to travel, and our books combine those two passions!
With our blog, we want to challenge perceptions and encourage exploration beyond package tourism and typical destinations. Our content about Mexico, for example, is really focused on what a fantastic country this is, and how welcomed we’ve felt by the Mexican people we’ve met. About 30% of our audience is American, and the American media is not kind to Mexico, often sharing an underlying message of fear. In a small way, we want to counter that.
How do you deal with criticism?
We try to keep an open line with our customers, and even published our email address in our book because we really do want to hear from people! Some of the feedback we received about our first book will be incorporated into our second, and we think the book will be stronger as a result.
At the same time, we really try to listen to feedback at an aggregate level, and not let individual comments get to us. Everyone has their own preferences and tastes, and while some people find some of our illustrations too complex, others absolutely love the complexity! We try to balance difficulty across a book, so there are multiple illustrations for every type of colourist.
What is it that you love about travelling?
When you spend most of your time in one place and culture, it’s easy to believe the way your culture does things, and the way people there live, is the right way. We believe that kind of thinking is divisive and dangerous, and love being constantly challenged to reconsider our own assumptions, and to encourage others to do the same.
Passing nomads on the Tibetan plateau, hanging out with blogger friends in Berlin, and talking to a tour guide in small-town Tobasco …those are quite different experiences, and taken together have given us a better appreciation and openness to diversity.
What advice would you give to aspiring creative people?
Done is better than perfect. Since setting out to travel full-time in 2013, we’ve had probably 50 business ideas, but we always got bogged down in the research, details and problems in creating the perfect business and product. What made our colouring book business different is we set a tight deadline of Christmas for our first book, and we agreed to a “figure it out as we go” approach. By doing so, we avoided the problem we’d faced in the past, that we were our own worst enemy!
What have you both learned in the process of following your dream?
I think we’ve both become more comfortable with uncertainty, and learning to live through it, and keep going, rather than trying to control it. While our lives are more uncertain than they were before, we’ve also realized that life itself is uncertain, even if you have a secure job and are healthy right now, it can all change in a nanosecond.
Rather than planning what we’re going to do next, or where we’re going to go next, we tend to create “if, then” scenarios. If we get Partnership A, then we’ll do Book A. If we don’t get partnership A, then we’ll go to Bulgaria and create Book B.
It’s how we keep pushing ahead while operating with so many unknowns.
What are you most excited for in the future?
Right now, we’re most excited about finishing our second book, which we plan to publish at the end of April/early May. While our first book was all us, our second book is a collaboration with National Geographic Travelers of the Year, Pete and Dalene Heck of Hecktic Travels. To be able to create something with friends, and to create a new way of earning income from travel photography, is really exciting for us.
Beyond that, we have huge plans for the business, and are working to partner with tourism boards and travel companies to showcase unique destinations. And even further down the line, we have ideas for products that would take our business beyond colouring…but that’s still top secret!
Geoff and Katie Matthews
Artists, Entrepreneurs and Travellers