Becoming a travel advisor was not a career I always dreamed of. I’m not what you would call a “natural born traveller”. Those who know me might be surprised by that fact, but nonetheless, it’s true. I wasn’t jet-setting around the world from infancy (like my own son). The extent of my travels, included family roadtrips, and the times we had to move because my parents were in the military. I wasn’t enamored with life on the road. I was a more of a reserved kid, with a big imagination. I loved the safety of traveling through books. I preferred skipping out on recess, and sitting cross-legged on the floor of my school library, flipping through the dog-eared pages of old National Geographic magazines. I was obsessed with Africa. The Great Migration. Endless herds of elephant, wildebeest, zebra being stocked by prides of lion splashed across those pages. But as much as I loved getting lost in those scenes, never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would travel there. Other people did that.
Or so I thought.
Fast forward a few years to one fateful day when I was strolling down the street and a glossy window display caught my eye. “Everything is better in Havana.” The advertisement practically shouted at me. I was intrigued. I had graduated high school a few months earlier, and unlike many of my friends who had taken off for Europe or Australia to trot around before Uni started, I didn’t have the funds to go on such adventures. But a quick little beach trip? I could swing that.
I breezed through the doors of the travel agency and was met with four sets of eager eyes. I was beginning to feel my palms sweat. “Hi,” I squeaked. I was just wondering about that ad on your win-” and before I could finish my sentence, they simultaneously replied, “I can help you here!” I slid into the closet chair to the door (in case I had to make a quick escape, lol). Turns out I didn’t need to escape. Because Sandra, my travel advisor, wasn’t just there to sell me a trip, she made it her business to make me fall in love not only with a place I had never been, but a place that was never on my radar.
Sandra knew Cuba like the back of her hand, and took upon herself to write out every not-to-be-missed activity she could think of. She told me what to eat, what to drink, what not to eat and drink, the climate differentiation from the mountains to the beaches, where the best dance clubs, hidden museums and daiquiri bars were, and how to escape the rowdy tourist hoards. She was a walking travel guide. She regaled tales of learning Salsa in Santa Clara, and taking a pottery class in Trinidad de Cuba. She told me where I could catch a Cuban ballet and gave me the name of a local guide who could show me underground art exhibitions. And to this day, I will never forget what she said: “Cuba isn’t fancy. It’s not there for you to be dazzled, it’s there for you to feel, to be moved by, to appreciate for what it is in this moment in time.” Sandra wasn’t just a travel advisor, she was a storyteller. And I wanted nothing more than to be a tiny An hour later, not only did I walk out of that agency with a trip booked, but a planted seed that would later flourish into a sixteen year long consulting career, a travel writing career that included an editing job with The Lonely Planet, nearly 80 passport stamps and a degree in anthropology. I guess that makes me a full travel convert.
So why am I writing about becoming a travel advisor at a time like this? I mean, who in their right mind is looking at anyone working in the travel industry and thinking they missed their calling? NO. ONE. And I’m not going to sit here and pretend life is currently awesome. It’s been an endless tsunami of cancellations, disappointed emails, phone calls and messages, and obviously, devastating economic loss to my family. We as an industry are struggling. Yet I still think it’s the best job in the world.
In any given year, 98% of my job is making dreams come true. That isn’t the case for every travel advisor. Many of all of us started in brick and mortar shops, selling products we weren’t necessarily in love with, working for very little pay, working with clients that didn’t necessarily value our work. This career isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to earn your stripes. But when you start building those relationships, earning that trust, planning those family holidays, honeymoons, reunions, special occasions, you have a very unique window into people’s lives. They come to you to create, inspire and deliver something completely intangible, and incredibly memorable. Other than their loved ones, you are the one person in the world they turn to when they want to do something that makes them happy. If that isn’t a reason to love your job, I don’t know what is.
Now, is it all rosy? No. Does it always go perfectly to plan? Absolutely not. That perfect hotel you hand chose may have let its standards slip since you were last there. Or that flight you booked with the amazing connection ended up being the flight from hell because of some sort schedule delay or substandard food, or lost baggage. Or, the virus of all viruses strikes, and everything to do with tourism grinds the entire world to an abrupt halt. No, this job isn’t perfect. So far from it. But I still love it. My clients are incredible, and they need me. They need me to stay positive, to keep my chin up, to keep inspiring them to travel, to encourage them to push their own boundaries by being an ambassador of sorts. We may all be grounded now, and this experience may change the way we travel forever, but becoming a travel advisor is a decision, that even in these trying times, I will never regret, and I cannot wait to get back to designing dreams.