It’s true. Most travel agents don’t have a Ph.D… And my story and career path are as unique as I am!
When I started as a travel agent, I had been teaching for 11 years. I’d worked hard for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and I had recently started my Ph.D. with the intent of spending the rest of my life as an educator.
I have always felt like teaching is in my blood. My mom was a teacher and administrator (and so was my dad, even though I did not know him well). Connecting with students and helping them to learn and grow – it seemed like what I would always do…
My teaching career shifted and changed. I shifted from teaching high school to community college and then online – eventually as an assistant professor teaching Political Science full-time for a major online university. Teaching online didn’t feed my soul in the same way that traditional teaching did, but it allowed me to spend more time with the trio and have more flexible hours. And I felt passionate about being an educator. I truly thought it was what I would always do.
And then I found travel…
One of my best friends from college was a travel agent and I had booked a few trips with her. One day she messaged me and said she thought I would be a great agent. I had never really given it any thought, but she mentioned I could save some money on travel, and that intrigued me. So before I had even really thought about it, I was a travel agent.
It took me over a year before I felt comfortable calling myself a travel agent. The agency I started with did not provide training, so I spent hours researching, learning, and asking my friend countless questions. As I learned, my confidence grew. I started traveling more and I quickly figured out I wasn’t comfortable sending my clients to destinations and locations where I didn’t have firsthand experience. By the end of my first year, I was loving this “side-gig.” I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy connecting with my clients, helping them find the perfect trip for their needs, and the process of learning more and more about travel.
It wasn’t until I felt confident in what I was doing that I even began referring to myself as a travel agent – but with lots of qualifiers.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an assistant professor of political science and I’m a travel agent on the side. Oh yeah, and I’m a writer and editor. And I’m working on my PhD. And I’m the mom of three elementary school students.”
More time passed, and I realized I was a darn good travel agent. I really loved what I was doing. I cared about my clients and their trips and I wanted to do everything to see that magic in their eyes in the photos they would send me after their trips! There is still such a rush from booking a vacation, knowing exactly how to make it perfect for my clients, and how to add just a dash of extra pixie dust. Nothing makes me happier than traveling with my own family and being able to share that joy — it’s priceless.
Even though I was only selling travel on the side — I quickly became one of the top agents where I was working. While some of my fellow agents were selling travel as their full-time job, I was busy doing all the things — and still hitting top numbers. I remember saying to one agent, “I really thought I was just a hobbyist, but apparently I’m not.” I’ve always known that my work ethic is crazy high, but this became even more apparent…
I was also shocked by the monetary reward. I remember my first few commission checks thinking, “Wow! Free money!” I was enjoying what I did and it didn’t feel like work and now I had extra funds to travel more. I had always worked salaried teaching jobs where it didn’t matter how hard I worked (very hard – I love teaching), I would receive the same paycheck every two weeks. And while there is simplicity and comfort in a salaried position, by selling travel I realized my income potential was limitless. The harder I worked, the more money I earned. The happier my clients, the more people they referred to me. I’d never had a job where I felt like the income I made correlated with the effort I put in, and I loved this revelation.
That said, working in the travel businesses isn’t all sunshine and roses. Customer service has a whole host of challenges I hadn’t encountered (at least not in the same fashion) as an educator. I need to be connected and responsive to my clients and my agents nearly constantly – which can be challenging to juggle. I’ve also encountered individuals who don’t value my services. I sometimes feel like a broken record trying to explain what I do, how travel agents are paid (free to the client!), and explaining to friends and family why they should use my services.
The day before my 7-year stint as an assistant professor ended, I was talking with a friend and the question came up as to why I was still teaching, as I was so passionate about travel. The answer was the salary. It’s hard to let go of a consistent and regular salary, even once a side-gig has started earning more. A part of me also struggled with the idea of no longer being an educator, after years and years of education, and pursuing my Ph.D. The next day, the university I worked for had a reduction in force of almost half of their faculty and staff – and I was one of them. I was shocked. And within 24 hours, my shock changed to relief. I needed a push and this was it.
I am still an educator. I will always be an educator. Most likely, I will teach and speak in a classroom setting again. I’ve even half-heartedly applied for a few part-time positions to keep my feet wet with all of this COVID chaos. But the truth is, I love travel. I want to pursue owning my agency and being a travel agent as my full-time career. I want to grow the agents working with me and train them to have the success I have found. I was ready to be a full-time travel agent. I just needed a shove to make it happen.
I rushed to finish my dissertation and defended it on January 5th. My last day teaching was January 6th. There is nothing quite like finishing a Ph.D. and then announcing you’re a full-time travel agent. The judgment. The looks. From both sides of the fence… It’s obvious many people think that I’ve lost my mind. And from a logical perspective, I’ll admit that it makes zero sense. But I still feel that it is exactly where I am meant to be.
2020 continued to throw curveballs, as it has done for many of us this year… I had never really considered being an agency owner. I loved selling travel. I loved helping clients. I loved researching trips. I loved training my agents. But I wasn’t so sure about all of the backend aspects of owning my own agency. Another turn of events gave me another shove and suddenly I was opening my own agency at record speed. There were days in February I barely slept as I built my own agency from the ground up within days. All of those years of education and jumping through hoops proved useful. Turns out, I’m actually pretty good at the backend of running an agency too… who knew!
Just as we were getting our feet off the ground, COVID hit, rocking the travel industry. What I had projected to be a gangbuster year for myself and my agents suddenly shifted. Luckily, I’m the type that always has too many irons in the fire. I ramped up my writing and editing position to cover the losses from travel and to keep our agency running smoothly.
Now, travel is slowly starting to pick back up and I’m so ready. I’ve continued to travel and learn during this crazy time. I am continuing to work hard and build our agency as I know we have an amazing future ahead. I work with a hand-selected group of agents that make me smile every day. I am so excited about what Pineapple Escapes is becoming. I’m in awe of the phenomenal team that I am building and am blessed to be able to work with each day. And I can’t wait for the entire world to be traveling again!
Now, when someone asks what I do, I say, “I am a travel agent.” And I’m proud to be an amazing travel agent – teaching agents and helping clients. And loving every minute.