"There is nothing more beautiful and fulfilling than to see others when they get out of the comfort zone, the smile and pride on their faces when they succeed in something they did not believe they can do," Sabina Sirco.
One of the greatest joys of adventure travel is meeting like-minded women all over the globe. Within just a few minutes of meeting Sabina Sirco on Skype we were laughing and talking excitedly as if we were old friends. By the end of the chat, she had invited me to Bosnia to come hiking with her. This was no surprise to me- I had heard about Sabina from my colleagues and they described her as friendly, warm, and ambitious. They were right. Sabina has guided our Hiking the Via Dinaricatrip and we talked about women in the outdoors, sustainable travel, and how your coworkers can become your family.
Sabina grew up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a region that is still light on tourism despite its dramatic natural beauty. She has always enjoyed being in nature but didn't have a large community of outdoorsy friends. So she created one.
While she was in college, she started a blog called Wild in the Balkansabout her adventures in the mountains as well as the cultural heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Balkans. When she graduated she came across a call for new guides at Green Visions, a socially conscious adventure travel outfitter, and her blog was the perfect resume."I was always passionate about organizing and guiding my friends in the Bosnian mountains. But, the problem was that in beginning I was the only one among my friends who was really interested in the hiking and the mountains. Luckily, they were eager to try it as long as I do all the organization of our trips."
I figured out that if I really enjoyed doing that (guiding) for my friends I could make it my profession. My blog was like my CV and cover letter!
It's no surprise to me that they hired her on the spot, but Sabina said she wasn't sure she would get the job. Guiding isn't a popular career for women in Bosnia and men generally overshadow women in the outdoor travel industry. Sabina explained that in her country and the Balkan region there are still widespread "traditional opinions that women should stay at home, raise kids and cook for their husbands. But at Green Visions, we think women are as strong and skillful as men. We can be mums and raise our kids while we do a profession we enjoy, like being a mountain or biking guide."
So Sabina joined the staff at Green Visions and quickly found what she calls her "second family." She didn't leave her outdoor friends behind, but she did acquire a new community of powerful men and women... including some who have become her role models.
"When it comes to guiding my role models are colleagues from Green Visions. I always learn something new from all of them. I get little bit of knowledge, experience and ideas from each mountain guide and then I build my own style of guiding."
They company has also started a campaign called Women in Adventure to help build a community of women who are currently working in the adventure travel industry and would like to help other women pursue their dreams. It's right in line with what Sabina is looking for in her career development.
"You should be surrounded by women that are working in the outdoor, travel industry and talk with them, hear their experiences and learn. They will always support you for sure! It is important to step out of our comfort zone and explore ourselves, our mind, and our possibilities. Because society often teaches us we are less skillful and brave than we are."
In fact, Adventures in Good Company founder Marian Marbury was one of those women who supported Sabina. When Sabina was deciding what to name her blog, she was adamant that the title include the word "wild" and wanted to emphasize her connection to the Balkans. Marian, who loves exploring the Balkans, used her experience in tourism and marketing to encourage Sabina to name the blog "Wild in the Balkans." For both Marian and Sabina, the continued collaboration has been a great success- especially for AGC travelers.
Sabina says the timing of more women wanting to explore Bosnia and Herzegovina is perfect- adventure tourism is coming into its golden era in the Balkans because of the development of the Via Dinarica.
"The Via Dinarica trail is a new long-distance trail that is naturally connecting the whole region, seven countries where the mountain range of Dinaric Alps passes through. This project is helping people to stay or return to villages in the mountains. Via Dinarica is helping locals to promote their culture and to keep their tradition from oblivion."
It's just one way that Sabina sees tourism serving her region rather than hurting it. She said that "tourism keeps our culture alive" and that when done respectfully, tourism can have an enormous positive impact.
In a world that is so easy to explore, it's not uncommon for beautiful cities and natural areas to become over-touristed. But that hasn't been the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sabina hopes more people will visit her home and discover its natural beauty.
"I wish more people knew that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a perfectly safe country to travel to. It is sad that there are still people who think the war we had in the 90s is still going on. The nature and food and culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina is mind-blowing and ready to be explored by travelers from other parts of the world."
Sabina, along with her colleagues at Green Visions, are working to make that a reality. Sabina is still writing and publishing her popular blog about the Balkans and hopes that it reaches and inspires travelers from across the globe. Her colleagues are promoting her blog and helping her with campaigns. Green Visions supports their guides in taking larger-scale social projects like trash challenges and trail cleanups. And (immigrants, trash challenge, cleaning trails,...). And the agency financially supports its guides in developing new skills and knowledge, especially if it helps them become tourism leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For Sabina, this concentrated effort is what makes her company her second family and what she thinks will lead to a tourism boom in her region.
"I believe tourism will become a main industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina. More and more young people are moving to other countries to find a job. If more travelers visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, then tourism will become a main industry and young people will stay in their country and find a job. I have always been a big optimist and I am sure this will happen."
Her optimism is contagious and we are so happy to travel with her again this year for our Highlights of the Via Dinarica trip.