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Couple Turn Passion For Backpacking Into A Business

By Kristen Leigh Painter Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

MINNEAPOLIS

Teng Lee and Chao Xiong had been hiking and camping for years, but they finally had enough.

Whether it was the noisy children, the doors slamming or the guitar-playing guy who inevitably finds his stage confidence after one too many beers at the campground, the pair was ready to strike out in search of a more restful camping spot in nature.

Two years later, Lee and Xiong were hooked on backpacking, which took them farther from the crowds, and out of reach of cellphone service. Last year, they turned their passion into a business called WanderBoth, providing guide-like services to other busy couples around the Twin Cities who don't have time to plan and pack their own excursions into the woods.

The premise is simple: People in urban areas often have a desire for tranquility, adventure and escape, but lack the time to research and plan trips or the equipment needed for them. WanderBoth does all of this work for them, taking guests through every step of the journey.

"We gear it toward couples trying to get away from the dinner-and-movie habit by encouraging weekend getaways to unplug from technology," Xiong said.

The Outdoor Foundation's 2014 American Camper Report found the top barrier to camping is a lack of time, followed by planning, gear issues and packing. WanderBoth seeks to fill those holes by handling all of the logistics. Their clients' responsibilities are only toiletries and clothing.

"We aren't against technology. We are both pretty tech-savvy," said Lee, who works as a conversion analyst for Ditech Financial while Xiong works as an operations analyst for Wells Fargo "But you work eight hours a day, then spend hours commuting, and you are essentially working 10 hours a day. Then you have very little time to spend time together and talk without the distractions of Facebook or Twitter, so how about getting away where we don't get a cell signal?"

WanderBoth's startup costs reflect its grass-roots nature. Several of Lee's and Xiong's recent birthdays or Christmases have consisted exclusively of gift cards to REI, the outdoor outfitter. They've invested about $6,000 in six new camping gear sets, which include stoves, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, plates, cups, utensils and more.

The two were looking for a way to get paid to do what they love, Lee said, but didn't want to create another financial barrier for people. Charging just $100 a night for a couple, they aren't planning on making this their full-time job, at least not in the near future. "We are wilderness people who create quick getaways for people without having to spend too much money," Lee said.

The company's target audience is entry-level backpackers. Lee and Xiong will do all the cooking and cleaning, unless clients have an interest in learning how to do it themselves. "We won't not let them cook if they want to," Lee said.

While they occasionally offer trips of varying lengths, a typical outing leaves the Twin Cities on Friday and returns Sunday with a rotation of destinations at state parks and wilderness areas throughout Minnesota. Lee and Xiong say they set a manageable walking pace for their small groups.

"We took some friends who are a couple out backpacking whose relationship wasn't as good as they had hoped it would be," Lee said. "They started to talk to us about what they wanted for marriage, for kids. And maybe it's just because you have less to do, but people just start talking about life when you are out there."

Having just incorporated the business in May, the volume and trip schedule are still evolving. They post new trip openings two months out from the date _ and, yes, that includes winter camping.

"There's no bugs, water is everywhere, we just boil it," Lee said. "One of our goals is to get people to really learn to love winter camping. It's just getting them out there to do it."

Lee and Xiong, leaning on the advice from entrepreneurial friends in the area, discovered no other known competitor companies in Minnesota. Instead, they look at two companies in California and Colorado for ideas and lessons.

For the young couple, WanderBoth is an intrepid side business, but they have loftier goals for it.

"We have plans beyond just backpacking," Lee said. "We want to teach some classes in how to get started, and after two or three years of doing this, we would like to have saved some capital to buy a campground near the Twin Cities for couples only."

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