SIGRID CARTER'S LIFE STORY IS WORTHY OF BECOMING A MOVIE. This was true before she even turned 30. As an adventurous girl in her 20s, she and two girlfriends from Germany hitchhiked from Colorado to the Pacific coast of Mexico, where the trio took a canoe into the ocean, got lost and found themselves surrounded by sharks, just as bad weather set in. Somehow, they survived. The tide carried them to the shores of Peru, where they spent time living with Indians in the Amazon and working for biologists researching the rain forests, one of whom later became Carter's husband.
A Peruvian filmmaker did, in fact, turn the ordeal into a television movie, but Carter professes not to know the title or release date. She has no time for such things—she's too busy continuing to live a life most of us can only imagine.
It was her adventurous spirit that led Carter to set up her agency, Envoyé Travel, in 1971 in Lubbock, TX, where her husband has established himself as an associate dean at Texas Tech University. Lest you think married life and operating a 36-year-old business has tamed her, Carter kayaks every morning, and a few days after we spoke she was on her way to a polar bear expedition in Churchill, Canada.
"Whatever you do in life is a big commitment, so it needs to be fun," says Carter, who's been to all seven continents. "I love this business. There is nothing more fun in life than talking about destinations."
And Carter has a lot of stories to tell—so much so that she landed the cover of Travel Agent in 1992 and in 1995 self-published a book, Travel Like a Millionaire Without Being One, which is being updated for a second printing.
Her zest for life is infectious. She personally runs select small group trips, leading people on a pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain, and taking others to the Arctic Circle to stay with Eskimos. Many of the local operators she uses have been discovered—and vetted—through her own travels.
"Wherever I go, I make friends," Carter says, who also works with such suppliers as Abercrombie & Kent, Butterfield & Robinson and Clipper Adventures. "I went to India and my goal was to experience yoga with the best teacher there. I checked the prices and it was $850 a night! I thought, 'I'm not going to spend that kind of money.'"
She left for India and on the way met a yoga teacher who invited her to dinner. "It turned out that the family is the number one yoga family in India—even the Clintons have studied with them," Carter shares. "They live very, very basic, but the simplicity of their lifestyle is something that we all can learn from."
Enthusiasm Is What Sells
When it comes to hiring agents—her office currently employs nine people—she looks for people who are enthusiastic and have a good attitude. "That is more important than experience," she says. "I ask them to describe a local landmark, and if they do a good job, I figure they can describe anything."
Carter also insists they skip the small talk. "We jump right into it. Consumers are very time-oriented, so I don't want to waste their time with questions about what the weather is like today," she says.
Carter doesn't have time for such things either. And why would she, when every minute of life is like a movie?