Alumni in Action: A ‘peak’ into Carrie Hartsfield MacLean’s ’16 life in Patagonia

Elon alumni rise to the challenge every day in many ways, but MacLean is reaching new heights, quite literally with her travel agency, Venture Patagonia, based in Puerto Natales, Chile that prides itself on cultural immersion and life-changing experiences.

MacLean ’16 (right) with the Phoenix and her friends at an Elon football game.

Carrie Hartsfield MacLean ‘16 attended Elon University after learning about the school from a friend. She ended up visiting campus before applying and that was all that it took for her to fall in love with the university.

She applied early decision because she knew from the start that Elon was the right place for her. As an undergraduate, she majored in sport and event management and minored in both business administration and Spanish. She was also very involved on campus, serving on Elonthon’s executive committee, Elon’s largest student-run philanthropic event that benefits Duke Children’s Hospital. She also dedicated a lot of her time to Greek life as a member of Alpha Omicron Pi and served as their philanthropy chair.

MacLean ’16 (left) with a friend, holding the flag for their sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi.

Following graduation, it was not long before MacLean made her move to Patagonia. Initially, as a graduate, she worked for half a year with a destination management company she interned with as an undergraduate called Capitol Services, Inc. She decided early on that learning Spanish would be crucial to her excelling in the event industry, and out of a desire to become more fluent, she felt that immersion was the best way to make that happen.

“I originally moved to Chile with the intention of improving my Spanish for six months then moving back to the U.S. and jumping back into the destination management career. I sincerely had no hesitations, I knew if it didn’t work out I had enough money saved to find something else to do and return to the U.S.,” said MacLean.

MacLean ’16 and friend hiking in the Patagonia peaks.

She chose Chile as her destination of choice because they have a stable government and more of the infrastructure that she was accustomed to, and she felt that it would be an easier transition to accomplish her goal of learning Spanish.

After being there only a short while, she fell in love with Patagonia and decided to stay. In March 2017, just ten months after graduation from Elon, she started her own travel agency called, Venture Patagonia.

“We are based in Puerto Natales and organize personalized all-inclusive trips throughout Chile, Argentina, Patagonia, Antarctica and Easter Island. I wanted to give my guests the freedom to stay at the best, most unique accommodations, travel in private vehicles with a private driver, pick and choose their own excursions, and go to places more remote and culturally deeper than most tourists can go,” explained MacLean.

MacLean ’16 and others riding horseback across the Patagonian peninsula.

Starting a business in another country was no small task though, especially because she had to make it happen by utilizing a second language. She explained though that she always had a “can do” attitude and mindset, believing that she could do anything she set her mind to.

“It took me around two months from my decision to start my business to open. This included beginning the operations office in Chile and the sales office in the United States, setting up a bank account, creating a logo and defining the company name, designing the website, starting social media accounts, itinerary planning, marketing plans, financial goals, accounting and more,” explained MacLean.

Travelers with Venture Patagonia biking the peninsula.

When asked about the most challenging part of building her company, she said it was building a great team to work alongside. This is something that just takes time, she said, but is important. In the end, she feels it is her amazing team that defines the quality of their services because they help her to accomplish her goals day in, day out.

When she first started the business, MacLean was living in Chile for most of the year but was returning back to the U.S. as well. She said that the transition to Chile as her home was gradual.

Carrie MacLean ’16 with her husband and three children in a field of lupines near Puerto Natales.

The first two years she was living in Patagonia for a little over half of the year and then she would go back to the United States for the “off-season,” which for her was May through September. During this time in the U.S., she would visit family and friends while also working for her business by making online reservations for the following season.

“When I returned to Puerto Natales my third year, there was a notable change. I felt like I was returning home after a vacation and that was the life-changing moment when I decided this was my place,” said MacLean.

MacLean’s daughter on the family’s ranch in Patagonia.

She began looking for her own land to purchase to build a new home there, and shortly thereafter she met her husband who is a fifth-generation Patagonian rancher that has lived in Puerto Natales his whole life. He ultimately introduced her to the ranching culture. MacLean said that she now loves riding horses and helping on the ranch; they also have three children together. “I never expected I would be running my own company, married and raising a family in another country, but where I am now is infinitely better than any life I ever envisioned for myself,” said MacLean.

MacLean ’16 talking to a local in Puerto Natales.

MacLean’s primary goal for her company is to help travelers gain a cultural perspective from their travels. “Most people, myself included, fall in love with the idea of traveling to a place from pictures we have seen of the landscapes or cute cities. It’s easy to plan a trip solely based on the landscapes, but what I always remember from a place is the culture, the people I met, the experiences I had. Those experiences should be authentic and enriching,” said MacLean. This is what is at the heart of her company, and what she feels sets it apart from other travel companies.

Her favorite part of her business is meeting with each guest and helping them find transformational experiences. She loves to speak with guests after their trip to hear all about their time with Venture Patagonia and how it has changed their life. She’s even had the pleasure of traveling alongside fellow Elon graduates as they explored Patagonia for the first time through booking with her company, allowing her time at Elon to come full circle. 

MacLean credits Elon for preparing her well for the difficulties that she would face both abroad and in building her company. While she was a student, she participated in two winter-term study abroad trips, one studying in the European Union and the other in Peru.

MacLean ’16 as a student at Elon on a study abroad trip in Peru, posing with a llama.

She credits these experiences with giving her more confidence to move alone to a new country and for shaping her mindset about travel. Her travels as an undergraduate also taught her what type of trip is ultimately transformative for people — being focused on deeper concepts than simply visiting a location, but also gaining cultural awareness.

Her entrepreneurial spirit was fueled by the opportunities that she had outside of the classroom. “Serving on Elonthon’s executive committee provided a lot of real-life experience managing a team, creating budgets and implementing logistics to achieve a common goal,” said MacLean.

Carrie Hartsfield MacLean ’16, pictured right, at Elonthon.

Elonthon was her favorite tradition from her time as a student; she loved seeing students come together for such a great cause and successfully hold a large event every year for the greater good. She also credits her internship experience from her time as an undergraduate for preparing her for her career because she had the opportunity to work with Events DC. This internship gave her the hands-on experience that she needed to successfully begin her own travel company in another country.

One of the things that MacLean loved most about Elon when she was applying for college is that the Office of Admissions really focused on how much Elon values community involvement, leadership and extracurriculars in addition to academia. This is why she feels Elon has such successful alumni. “I believe this creates a very engaged community of individuals within Elon who are excited and motivated in their interests. I think that makes students pursue their passions and be well-rounded,” said MacLean.

MacLean ’16 hiking through an ice cave in a glacier.

As for her future, she plans to continue what she is doing, raising her family and furthering her business in Chile. Venture Patagonia is constantly working to have sustainable practices and support the local community, said MacLean. They just built a fossil museum and research center, the first of its kind in her region of Chile, and they also recently opened a store in Puerto Natales that sells handicrafts made solely by Chilean artisans, benefitting the local people. She hopes to continue these initiatives and expand her company’s itineraries throughout southern South America, building more experiences for her travelers. 

Carrie MacLean '16 (left) with Katie Zell Kelley ’03 (right) holding a Venture Patagonia flag in front of the peaks.
Carrie MacLean ’16 (left) with Brianna Raymes ’16 holding a Venture Patagonia flag in front of the peaks.

For students that are interested in starting a business, MacLean encourages them to focus on defining their market and niche, two things she felt were crucial in starting her own company. These two things, along with willpower, are most important she said, “don’t wait until you are ready or you will never start.”

To learn more about Venture Patagonia, or to travel with them, check out their website.