Cristy Elmendorp is a former television host who has worked extensively in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia in connection to humanitarian aid work. A passion for meeting new people and exploring foreign cultures, Cristy has met and collaborated with influential persons, including Anthony Robbins, H.R.H. Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark, and H.H. the Dalai Lama.
Catering to the conscious and informed traveler, Cristy has more than seven years of experience leading and organizing customized tours through the Himalayas and Central Asia. Passionate about creating once-in-a-life-time experiences that provide a personal sense of accomplishment while facilitating a broader connection and network with the world, Cristy founded Soma Journeys in 2012, a travel company that organizes luxury tours and exclusive travel to Asia’s most exotic destinations.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I love meeting new people and exploring new places. People fascinate me and I have met interesting people in some of the most random situations. Many of these people have become my closest friends. My curiosity for meeting new people and discovering new places is partly due to my parents’ own love of travel. During school holidays my siblings and I were taken on road trips all over Europe, from travels to the Black Sea, to fishing trips in the Czech Republic, to camping trips in the Austrian Alps. Intrigued by new ways of thinking and living, I moved in my early teens to Bucharest, Romania, for a study abroad program where I also participated in volunteer work with local orphanages, children hospitals, and schools. By my late teens I wanted to see more of the world and moved to southern Thailand and immersed myself in Thai culture and language studies while continuing to participate in social programs and humanitarian work. Moving to Asia also gave me the opportunity to explore other countries in the region, such as Nepal, Cambodia, and China.
What inspired you to start Soma Journeys and The Soma Society?
I started traveling at a very young age and always found it to be a source of fresh ideas and new perspectives. This inspired me to share my experiences with others and, now both through Soma Journeys and The Soma Society, to facilitate travel to cultures and environments that provide a space for reflection and inspire new ways of thinking and being.
How did you get involved in the travel industry?
In 2005, I co-founded an educationally oriented travel company with my partner, Ian Baker. For seven years we led trips, pilgrimages, and travel seminars in Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan, and Myanmar. In 2012, Ian wanted to devote more time to his books and writing projects and I felt drawn to introduce a bit more luxury into the adventure travel experience. This is how Soma Journeys came to be.
Can you please recount one of your most memorable moments from one of your travels?
I will never forget the complete peace and connectedness that I felt while hiking over a fifteen-thousand foot pass between Nepal and Tibet. We had been trekking for six days to reach the Tibetan border and the last day was going to be particularly long so we had started at dawn. As we made our ascent towards the pass, a blizzard came from nowhere and I remember not being able to see more than a metre in front of me. All I could do was tell myself to simply put one foot in front of the other and not to think about how much further we still had to go. When we finally reached the top of the pass, the storm had subsided and I felt an inner peace and silence welled up within me. I do not know if part of it was simply relief that I had made it to the top, but I do know that whenever I am sad or I feel off centre I can revisit that space of complete serenity.
What does travel mean to you?
Travel for me is a process of personal growth and renewal. I feel that when I travel I have an opportunity to learn something new about myself as I reflect upon my new environment. Travel also allows me to press a reset button and I can let go of who I have been and develop new ways of being as I adapt to my new culture and surroundings.
What have you found to be the greatest challenges in the travel industry?
One of the current challenges in the travel business is promoting travel experiences while maintaining a low carbon footprint. Sometimes I feel that everyone should just stay at home, myself included, since travel inevitably consumes un-renewable natural resources. At the same time travel and exposure to other cultures develops broader cross-cultural understanding and tolerance of divergent beliefs. It is human nature to fear what we don’t understand, travel provides the most effective bridge towards a deeper understanding of both others, and ultimately ourselves.
What do you love about your work?
I am passionate about creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for fellow travelers. In the end, a journey is not so much about traveling to a new geographical destination or covering as much territory as possible, but about enriching the continual moment of the present. While there are many ways this can happen, Soma Journeys is a platform for actualizing this vision by providing a space for absorbing and integrating the experiences that arise by traveling beyond our familiar horizons. This is the aspect of my work that most excites me, and I equally love that I get to host fellow travelers and develop creative ways of providing travel experiences that go above and beyond their expectations.
What makes you smile?
Simple things make me smile. I love seeing people genuinely enjoying themselves, elderly couples holding hands, innocent laughter of mischievous children, great conversations with friends, and the ability to silently enjoy the presence of someone without always having to communicate through words.
What makes you sad?
I have always had a soft spot for the underdog, especially as I was a very awkward and shy child. I get sad when I see injustice, whether on a large scale between nations or on a more immediate level where people are marginalized and exploited due to gender, race or beliefs.
What would you regret not fully doing, being, or having in your life?
I would regret leaving this life with the feeling that I have not lived it to the fullest because of fear or self-limiting beliefs. I try to live my life always growing, always exploring, and always discovering all that I am and all that I can be.
What is your personal ‘mantra’ in life?
Treat successes and failures in your life equally.
Don’t do things because you seek the affirmation of others and don’t quit because your dreams might seem impossible to achieve. If you love something enough allow it to consume you. Give yourself the time to manifest whatever you are passionate about, simply because your life would not have been fully lived if you don’t.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your life?
I have have been very fortunate to have met many inspiring people on my travels, but the biggest influence on the way that I live my life are my parents. Their emphasis on being kind and living life with gratitude and in moderation has always helped to keep me grounded and centered. Even though I come from a big family (six siblings!) we were all seen as unique individuals and loved for who we were not for what we did, while at the same time were always fully supported in whatever we set out to achieve in life.
If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large number of people what would your message be?
Don’t underestimate the power of your innate wisdom. Everything about today’s society is about looking outside ourselves for a sense of belonging, and for the sources of lasting contentment. Yet we are already complete in ourselves and the wisdom of recognizing that is always readily available. There is great freedom in being truly comfortable with oneself, whether in active engagement with the world or in silence and self-reflection.