As word spreads about my impending lifestyle and career change, I am faced with having to offer an explanation as to why I am giving up what I have for the unknown. The question is simple but the answer is complex. The question is why? Why give up the stability you have to pursue a career in travel? In my attempts to respond to this question, I have usually ended up giving an answer like this: Because I can; I’m young, unattached and willing to take risks to find what truly makes me happy. That answer is the truth, but it’s just a small piece of the whole truth. My real reasons go much deeper than this, and that is what I will try to explain today in my first post…
I was lucky to have recognized my passion for travel early enough to be able to take advantage of combining my pursuit of higher education with living abroad. I lived in England for more than five years while obtaining my Masters and a PhD, and during this time I was also able to visit more than 20 other countries. While the degrees were rewarding in and of themselves, it was the experience of living and traveling abroad that made the biggest impact upon me. When my studies were complete, I moved back to the US mostly because the stress of completing a PhD had overwhelmed me, and because moving ‘home’ seemed like the logical decision at the time (I use ‘home’ like this because both Bethlehem and London now feel like equal parts my home).
After moving back to Pennsylvania, I initially found pursuing a career and buying a house exciting. I was becoming a different kind of independent, earning real money, and surviving with real bills to pay. I was proud of myself. But deep inside there was a hollow space where the truth lived; I missed my former life in London. The truth knew that I had traded in my potential for the traditional model of success.
After two years of striving for happiness in this traditional model of success, I realized that I am not ready to ‘settle down’, and while I enjoy owning a home and I appreciated having a stable job and being close to my family, I needed a change. So I decided to chase the idea of finding ‘more’, because I realized that it was really the only authentic decision I could make for myself. My inspiration for this drastic career and lifestyle change grew out of my passion for education, research, maintaining an active lifestyle, and travel. I was unsatisfied with the routine of my life and craved a lifestyle and a career which not only challenged me academically, but also satisfied my sense of adventure and my desire to make a difference in people’s lives. Tour directing just seemed like the right fit.
A lot of people think of my upcoming travels as a type of paid vacation and so their minds quickly conjure up lazy days on the beach, afternoons spent in museums, and carefree evenings roaming through ancient, romantic cities. What they don’t understand is that while this is a quest to find personal fulfillment, it is most importantly a job. The role of a tour director was best described to me on the ITMI website (http://itmitourtraining.com) and I have included their description here:
A Tour Director is…
Business Agent: You are there to see that the tour company gets what they contracted for and the tour clients get what they paid for. You represent the company in the field. You are the ‘face’ of the company.
Source of information: You prepare commentary and briefings that are well organized, interesting, and relevant. You know when to talk, what to talk about and when to be quiet. You provide a balance of information and entertainment. You know the answers to the most frequently asked questions on any tour.
Set the mood: Each tour has a certain theme or focus. Whether it is the relaxation and leisure of a Hawaiian vacation or the wildlife adventure of an African Safari, it is your job to get the group into that mood.
Congenial host: Your priority is to meld the group together into a happy family of travelers. You help everyone become part of the group and have a good time.
Motivate / Generate Enthusiasm: It is your job to help people enjoy their vacation. You motivate people to stretch and grow and do things that they might not do without your suggestion. Encourage them to try new foods, learn a few words of a new language and participate in the customs or culture of a foreign land. This is where you put your “signature” on the tour by being creative.
When I read through this description of what a tour director is, I relate to it. I see a focus on educating people, on the necessity of being informed through research, of leading an active lifestyle, and of course on travel; the four things that I am most passionate about. That is why I have decided to travel as a career and not just take time off to travel independently. I believe I can find personal fulfillment while helping others discover their passion for education, culture and travel.
I’m sure that as I begin my training, book jobs, and more fully experience this lifestyle my views on it will change. However, I am confident that this is the right decision for me at this point in my life. I have no idea where this decision will take me, either physically or mentally, but I am excited and ready for it.