I’ve been back from DC for almost a week already – in fact tonight, it will be a week. Strange how fast that went. And, this means that it’s been about a week and a half … almost two weeks since I last wrote. On my iPhone, I see all these alerts which flash to show me when those I am following on WordPress have posted someting new; and I am jealous. Jealous of their time spent writing. Frustrated at how easily my life gets swallowed up by the mundane daily obligations that I call my life. It’s not that I hate my work life. It’s more about feeling desperate to find time to do what I really love to do rather than what I have to do in order to pay my bills. How ridiculous that sounds. Life keeps moving. Time keeps passing. And one day, I will die- just like everyone else. We all have an expiration date. When that time comes, if I even have an opportunity for reflection before the lights go out- will I look back pleased with how I spent my time? Or, will I feel it has all been wasted.
Dad’s encouragement a few weeks ago was touching. As I was busy getting myself together and preparing to leave for work, he said to me gently- you bring people happiness in your work. You make dreams come true. I paused my busy movements and looked at him …he smiled at me. And I smiled back. Yes, I bring people joyful memories of time spent with loved ones in far off places. And while the internet draws some to do their own trip planning, so many still come to the experts because their hard earned money and hard earned vacation time is valuable to them, and they want to be sure that the trip is well organized. While some confidently plunge into buying travel on-line, others are more careful to make sure that the end result is full of rich experiences, unique adventures and value. With my resources, I can find those marvelous deals that will help ensure that the dollar has been stretched properly and that if there are any issues at destination- that the clients have a local contact in destination that they can reach out to in order to get help. Full service. Not to mention those all inclusive resorts in Mexico or the Caribbean and their accompanying 30 different room categories- what do they all mean? I help figure it all out. I do enjoy putting together that miracle trip that will bring families together from various parts of the country to celebrate reunions, weddings or other mile marker moments of joy.
I think back to the time when I stepped out of the travel business gig and tried my hand at other things- not such a great end result. The grass seemed greener. The truth is I know the lingo the connections, the hidden tricks- and travel is my language. I have been traveling since I was six months old and can’t imagine life without a trip coming up in the near future. This passion for discovering new places and people and natural wonders filters into my daily work life as I plan amazing get-aways for all who seek my counsel. The best trips that I have planned have generally been those for which the client gave me full reign. Those that hold on to the straps too tightly, question every suggestion and let cynicism or doubt cloud the process- those trips are not that fantastic. The reason is that the trip is pulled apart and disected and trampled on. So there are dangling moments of goodness but mostly clawed together pieces of angst. Those moments are not very satisfying. Nor are those that are created from poor planning on the part of the client- calling two weeks prior to their flight departure for Paris with grand plans of driving around Provence and staying near a niece’s school where she is studying for a year. Then drop the car and train to the coast to spend a couple of nights on the Riviera and they list a large array of activities they want to accomplish in 48 hours- then train back to Paris for a week of highlights in the city of lights. Sounds fine but what they don’t consider is that the train tickets are not electronic (more and more they are becoming electronic- but not all tickets are electronic) so we must factor in time to receive the tickets from the train company by rush delivery. And, they don’t factor in that the itinerary proposal once presented will be reviewed by the family and more than likely- family members will want a rewrite with their opinions considered.. change this hotel, more nights here, less nights there, remove that tour- add this tour instead. Prefer first class instead of second class. Prefer this town instead of that town for the overnights.. Oh, and about that train- can we save time by taking an overnight train between cities? Oh and our budget is half of the cost of the trip you presented- can we do the same trip for less? Never mind that they claimed not to have a budget. But the truth is that everyone has a budget. It amazes me how many people do not want to reveal their budget. “Do you have a budget in mind for this trip- the total cost you plan to spend for flights, accommodations, ground transportation and perhaps a few key sightseeing or soft adventures experiences while in Scandinavia?”. The most common answer: “I have no idea”. Yet, once the proposal is presented- miraculously there is a budget. Indeed, they do know what they are not willing to spend. And after all that time has been invested- Eureka- we have a figure. So the process goes back to the drawing board to craft a revamped itinerary that more closely matches their budget… remove this tour, eliminate a transfer (taxi – pay that locally), downgrade the hotels to more basic economy class with only a breakfast room and several blocks away from the center of town. Sacrifices must be made to meet that budget.. the answer is no- we can’t do the exact same trip for less money. Can you buy a BMW for what a Hyundai costs? Not likely.
All of these kinds of steps take time to work through and two week prior to departure for a complex trip is just not enough time. So this becomes frantic travel planning pushed to the top of my to do list and push aside other people’s requests who had come to me with plenty of advance notice. That seems unfair. Those that plan ahead are moved aside while those who don’t plan are nudged in. Cutting in line. And generally, those that procrastinate are the worst when it comes to being indecisive and thus, they make the final details a stressful bruhaha of annoyance and frustration. There- pphhhhh .. ugh. When I first started this gig, a colleague of mine had a marvelous plaque in her office- it read: Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. Boy wouldn’t it be great if I could vocalize that to certain clients that are bossy and pushy and rude through their last minute trip requests.
And then, I remember that sometimes- these same last minute people that are bossy and pushy and rude are this way because within their own lives- they have experienced certain stressors and sometimes, life disasters. So they are merely acting out of their own sense of desperation. Like the woman who called last Spring for a June trip to Europe for her family of four. It was a Thursday- midafternoon. It was a cold call transferred to me from the front desk as a result of my specialty: Europe. I took the call but was in the middle of multiple tasks that I had to finish by end of business for other clients. I listened to the list of four countries she wanted to visit in three weeks with her husband and two children, ages 9 and 11. They wanted to see England, France, Spain and Italy. She stressed the importance of acting quickly since air space was filling up. I hid my irritation at this statement- of course time is of the essence- you are calling in May for a June trip- I thought to myself: we will be lucky if we can even get space without it costing your family thousands of dollars just for the air tickets. And then, she dropped the bomb. Her high pitched voice softened completely – she sounded like a different person. “I am sorry about this last minute request- but you see, we have to get to Paris so that my daughter has a chance to see the Eiffel Tower before she loses her vision- she has cancer and we just learned that she is going blind.” I could hear her voice quiver. My breath caught up into my lungs and I crumbled completely. My eyes filled with moisture, my pulse raced. I held my breath to steady myself in order to answer professionally and with care. My system went into high gear: “Of course I will do my best to present the proposal as quickly as possible. I will try to have something for you by close of business tomorrow- I am so sorry to hear about your daughter and will work on this for you right away”. As I hung up, I looked at my desk litered with dozens of other client folders- and I spent the next minutes emailing each of them to let them know that their trip research for their itinerary would take another 1-2 business days to complete and that I would have something for them sometime early the next week. I offered that I appreciated their understanding. And to myself I hoped that they would in fact understand and not jump online and blow me off- and book their own trip. I pushed all of those clients aside and got to work for this precious family of four. I had the completed itinerary done by the next day and this mother paid for the program in full and purchased her air tickets before end of day on Friday. It was all secured within 24 hours of her initial call. And the miracle was that the trip was within budget, and featured awesome apartment style hotels throughout Europe with a kitchen and included breakfast in the restaurant …giving them flexibility for snacks and other meals but also the convenience of not having to prepare breakfast if they didn’t want to. I learned while they were on the trip that they had to change some trains because the daughter was so sick in the morning from being off of her chemo during the trip- and that they had to shift some other things around. It all worked out in the end and the mother was so gratefulfor my support and for all I had done to help her family enjoy their trip of a lifetime. They all saw so many amazing things together and did this all in time prior to the vision loss. And, now- even with the continued illness and vision loss- they are planning a trip to Tuscany next year. Plenty of advance notice this time, and a more relaxed stay in a villa somewhere for maybe two weeks… just to hang out and enjoy the Tuscan Sun. These moments are rewarding and a reminder to not judge, to understand- that in this human life, we all have those desperate moments that might turn us into stressed out people that cause others to feel stressed out. Carrying with us some understanding of the human condition, bringing compassion and mercy to each exchange- remembering that life can be a challenge for us all. This is what helps us get through it.
And for me- writing is bliss. Arranging travel pays the bills and also brings me my own sense of joy and satisfaction. And then there is the cruise on my own calendar that sets sail from Ft Lauderdale in less than two weeks with my good friend who is flying in from St. John Newfoundland to join me on this adventure on a Mega Ship sailing the Caribbean. Fun times ahead! Travel- yes indeed, it’s a great gig.