This post originally appeared on my friend Caryn’s blog a few months ago. Other than my story about getting hit on by teenagers, I haven’t really shared much about my former life as a travel agent. Since I really liked how this post turned out and I’m hoping to make travel a key part of 2013, I thought I would re-post it incase you missed it the first time.
Travel has always been high on my list of priorities. When I graduated university in 2004 with a degree in Anthropology all I wanted to do was travel the world and experience all of the places I had only read about in textbooks. However, after 4 years of working multiple jobs and taking out student loans to put myself through school, I was completely broke with hefty loan payments looming in the very near future. What’s a broke girl with globetrotting dreams to do? I needed to find a job that would pay me to travel, so when it came time to look for my first “real job” I turned to the travel industry. After a very brief stint as a flight attendant for a Canadian airline, I realized working in the sky was not for me and I gladly accepted a desk job with a international company that specialized in educational travel.
For 3 years I had the best and worst job in the world.
I worked in a department that sold and produced international educational tours for high school students. If your high school ever did one of those “Go to Europe for 10 days and see 5 countries!” class trips, there’s a good chance that my former company was responsible. My job specifically was to sell these tours to teachers and then work with them throughout the booking process from recruiting students, booking the tour and following up with any “issues” once they got back (I’ll explain about that last part in a second)
The big upside to my job was that I got to work with some of the best people ever (many of whom are still good friends) and once a year I got to go on a free trip. In the three years I worked there I travelled to Germany, Paris, The South of France, Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Naples and spent 17 days in Greece taking in Athens and the Islands.
The downside? Most of this travel involved actually travelling with high school students. Yes, high school students – as in actual teenagers. From my experience, when you mix students and travel, crazy shit inevitably happens. The other 50 weeks of the year when I wasn’t traipsing around Europe, I was at my desk for 10 to 12 hours a day trying to “fix the crazy.” From exploding luggage, sinking cruise ships, bizarro teachers and stolen snowmobiles, to bus accidents and students giving birth on tour, you haven’t experienced “crazy” until you’ve worked in student travel. Anything that could go wrong, usually does at some point and you have to fix it. Yes you. The recent graduate who’s making 27k a year.
Here’s 10 life lessons I’ve learned from travelling and working in the industry:
1. Roll with the punches. This is true in both life and travel as both are totally unpredictable. You can prepare all you want but there’s always going to be something unexpected that happens. If you’re travelling, stay calm and work it out. Don’t let the fact that things aren’t absolutely “perfect” ruin your trip.
2. Your hotel room doesn’t matter. Ok, so I hope none of you ever have to have the following conversation with your travel agent: “So, that hotel you booked us into in Rome has blood stains on the wall” (true story) but at the end of the day, as long as your hotel room is clean and safe the rest doesn’t matter. It’s always amazing to stay at a super luxe hotel, however in my opinion, if you’re “doing travel right” you won’t be spending much time in your room anyways.
3. Not everything is going to be like home and that’s a good thing: I remember sitting in a restaurant in Nice with a group of students and chaperones from South Carolina, eating a plate of roasted chicken and fries that the waiter had just served us. As one of chaperones bit into her chicken she screamed out in horror: “This ain’t Southern Fried Chicken!” No, no it’s not – BECAUSE YOU’RE IN FRANCE. Although sometimes regional differences can be unsettling (this chicken did taste pretty weird, dude) try to embrace them. If we wanted things to always be the same we’d never leave home.
4. Drinking Absinthe in the shower is a very bad idea: This sounds like it should be yet another story about me making a drunken fool out of myself, but for once it’s not! Two of the students I travelled with purchased a bottle of Absinthe in Rome and decided to spend the evening drinking it in their hotel room. In an Absinthe fuelled haze they thought it was a good idea to turn on the shower, promptly forgetting about it for the rest of the night. In the morning they woke up to a flooded hotel room. The lesson here: don’t consume strange alcohol or substances in foreign places, or at least not while you’re bathing.
5. Some people have a very bad sense of geography: Don’t assume that just because someone is booking a trip with you that they have any clue about where they are going…even if they’re a teacher. For example, “Monocco” isn’t a real country, nor is “Budapest” a country (and no, there’s currently not a war happening there). You can’t take a “quick ferry” from Costa Rica to Puerto Rico and driving from London to Athens isn’t “an easy day trip.” I know these things because I am Canadian, don’t live in an Igloo and have access to these things called maps.
6. My knack for attracting weirdos is an international phenomenon: While walking through a square in Florence I was stopped by a man who claimed to be a modelling agent. He asked me if I wanted to go out that night and “party with some of his girls” I’m pretty sure by “modelling agent” he meant “pimp” and by “party” he meant “recruit me into the white slave trade”. Lesson here: trust your gut. If something seems “off” – run in the other direction.
7. If you’re going to engage in questionable behaviour, always lock the door: This goes out to the group of students who thought it was a good idea to make a homemade porno during their class trip to Italy, only to have their teacher walk in on them while filming. If you’re going to do something creepy like that, at least have the curtesy to lock the door. Your teacher now has that traumatic image burned into her brain forever, as do I.
8. Every travel experience changes you: No matter where you go, there’s always value in travel. I can’t think of a single trip I’ve taken – even if it’s just a weekend getaway – that hasn’t given me a new perspective of some kind.
9. Be nice to your travel agent: It’s bad karma to constantly complain and yell at her until she cries. If you don’t she might enact her silent revenge by specifying that the airline serve you “baby food” when it comes time to order your airplane meal. (That guy never complained again.)
10. I’m stronger and more capable than I ever thought: I’ve consoled a crying father who hadn’t been able to get in touch with his son when the London subway bombings took place. I’ve also dealt with a tour that had to be evacuated from a sinking cruise ship and re-booked a group of 30 students who were stranded in Miami from the darkness of my living room at 3:30 AM. While I was doing these things, I kept saying “I’m clearly not equipped to deal with any of this” but the truth is I am and that’s something to be proud of.
What have you learned from travelling?