Despite having grown up in the family travel agency, I never thought I’d be a part of the travel industry. Yet here I am; and I really enjoy it. Before we get into the meat of the TRO Travel Agent Diaries, I want to give you a little background about myself and how I came to work at Travel Quest, my family’s host agency.
It’s a common story—I helped out with the family business growing up and then I flew the coop and set myself on a completely different course. I love the outdoors, learning about all aspects of the environment and the causes and effects, and I love teaching. So I pursued a degree in Liberal Studies and Environmental Studies, graduated from the College of Saint Benedict, and that’s where things got a little foggy. What do you do with that degree anyhow?
So I research eco jobs on the Internet and moved to Colorado to work in a wilderness therapy program for adjudicated youth. We liked to refer to it as “Hoods in the Woods.” For those that know me, I am the last person you would envision working with kids in jail since there was a great likelihood I would get eaten alive, but somehow it worked. If you ever saw Brat Camp on television, that was the Ritz-Carlton version of my job. My company was more like the Motel 6 of the wilderness therapy world. All that aside, I loved it—I was outdoors 24-7, working with kids, and being paid.
That was my entry into the outdoor education field where I stayed for 5 years. My stints included teaching astronomy and physical sciences in Southern California, escorting groups of teenagers on summer trips throughout California, and educating the youth of Silicon Valley during their one-week of nature camp.
After years of doing this, I started feeling bored and unstimulated. I decided to really kick things up a notch and did what any sane person would do–I took off to Uganda to volunteer. That did stimulate me but I came back I pretty spent. I moved back to Minnesota and started working at the family business–Travel Quest.
I thought I would hate a desk job and I had always thought cubicles were very similar to jail cells. Oddly, I loved the toss-up. I had regular hours, a computer that actually worked, and a water cooler! What more could a person want?
It took a month or two to get up to speed on how things worked and learn how travel worked with a more in-depth understanding than I had before. I learned enough so that I could hold my own; and then I decided to work on building our host agency since it had great potential but needed a lot of work. As a previous outdoor educator, the business terms were foreign to me and there were many moments where I would nod as vendors tossed out acronyms only to go to my computer immediately after they left and let Google explain what they were talking about.
Almost 3 years later, I am still enticed by the daily challenges. It has been very rewarding to watch us grow from 30 agents when I started, to over 200 today.
I will be documenting the growth of our business with the Agent Diaries column. Our goal is to grow the number of agents to 400 over the course of the year, learn to work with suppliers as our revenue grows, and be able to add more programs and benefits for our agents. Who knows, maybe as we grow, it will open the door to a whole new set of acronyms. Until next time…
Stephanie Lee works in Operations at Travel Quest, a host agency out of MN with over 200+ home-based travel agents. She graduated from the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University with a degree in Environmental Studies/Liberal Studies. She was awarded ASTA Young Professional of the Year in 2008 and was named one of Travel Agent’s “30 under 30” in 2009. She can be reached at Stephanie@TQagents.com, via Google+, or 800.392.6484. For more information on Travel Quest visit www.TQagents.com or www.facebook.com/TQagents
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