Last year I wrote a post titled “Why You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job to Travel“. It went mini-viral, generating a lot of feedback from readers who were inspired by advice on how to travel more while working full-time. I still believe in that post and continue to travel a LOT while working 9-5. But the truth is, I don’t really love my job anymore. I spend my days day dreaming about a life of travel and hope to one day trade my cubicle for a backpack and a nomadic lifestyle. And I know I’m not alone.
There are many of you out there, dreaming of traveling the world, crippled by the big scary question, “How could I ever afford it?” No matter how much you save, no matter how cheap you travel, eventually the funds will run out and you’ll find yourself on the plane back home. But what if we didn’t have to take that flight back home?
Welcome to the “Work and Travel Abroad“ Series! In this series, I feature weekly stories of travelers who have managed to find ways to earn money while traveling by working jobs that don’t resemble a typical 9-5 routine. They share their experiences, give their advice, and hopefully inspire many of you to believe that paying your bills and saving for the future while traveling the world IS POSSIBLE!
Today, I’m excited to share my Q&A with Hanna from Hanna Travels, who shares her experience working as a Tour Guide and an owner of her own Travel agency, Hanna Travel.
Q: Who is Hanna? Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a blogger based in Poland (I blog in English and in Polish, too) and I have my own freelance travel company. I’m also married and have a flat with mortgage, so I’m not full time traveller but still my work requires a lot of travelling.
Q: What was your life like before you started Hanna Travel? Where did you work?
I used to work in travel industry for 5 years before I’ve started my own company. I was a tour leader for various tour offices and later I’ve worked a bit more than a year as a travel agent. After that I came back to tour leading.
Q: What inspired you to start your own travel agency?
Oh, many issues! But I guess without spending one year in the office I wouldn’t know that 😉 I am very confident person with strong sense of independence. Moreover, I get bored easily and monotony can literally kill me. I need to feel that I’m improving myself and learning new things. In tour office I worked by desk and did the same things every day. After one year I burned out and wanted to do something new. And I hated this feeling when I wanted to go somewhere and my boss didn’t let me take a day off!
I’ve realized that I don’t want to live that way. I had an idea of my own company but still I was afraid that I don’t have experience (oh, those fears in our minds!).
And one day I started to recieve emails from female readers of my blog that what I do (solo backpacking) is really amazing but they wouldn’t dare to do this alone and nobody wants to travel with them. And that was the signal – Hanna, there are girls who need you!
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the travel agency, Hanna Travel? What kind of travel do you specialise in?
I organize tramping tours for women. There are women in the world who want to try backpacking but they are afraid to do it alone and have nobody to go with them. So my offer is for them. We travel in small groups (up to 8 people) so it’s easier to integrate people and the atmosphere of the tour is just different, more friendly and less anonymous. A tramping tour is when we travel with our backpacks, we use all the local transportation, eat in cheap restaurants and sleep in family guesthouses. Sometimes we make reservations ahead and sometimes not, it depends on the place.
I want to organize up to 4-5 tours a year but the destinations will change. Soon we are going to Sri Lanka, later to Georgia and Armenia (I want to organize Georgia and Armenia around August-September in English, too!). I also have some ideas for trip in Europe, like few-days hiking in Arctic Circle, but that’s only a plan at the moment.
Q: What does running your own tourism company actually entail? What is your day to day job?
Well, my job is actually many things in one.
Most of all, it’s about organising tramping tours for women. Before the tour I need to make all the reservations and itineraries so it’s like working by desk but still it’s much more pleasant when you do what you love to do. What is also great for me is that I work at home so I don’t waste time for commuting and I can have weekend on Wednesday and a working day on Saturday if I want.
I lead my own tours so it’s also about travelling. However, I don’t treat it as dream job “I travel and I get paid” because it’s still a job. I’m a professional and it’s my tourists’ vacation and not mine – they suppose to have fun and I need to do my best to organise everything for them and let them feel safe and sound.
However, I also do some other stuff – I lead tours for other tour office that I’ve known for a long time already (I lead for them school trips around Poland) and I write book guides. 🙂
Q: What are some highs and lows of running a tour company?
The lows are that you cannot predict everything – a volcano may erupt and the flights are cancelled, or the tourist can be robbed or hurt himself / herself so you need to take him / her to the hospital. Of course this happens extremely rare but you need to be ready for everything.
But highs are better than anything – you travel! Every day is just different 🙂
Q: How do you find clients?
At the moment my tours are only in Polish but, as I’ve mentioned already, I will organize my first tour in English around the end of summer.
I mostly have clients from my blog, I’ve been also invited to give an interview in big Polish portal and in the radio and it helped me a bit with new clients but still I’m very new person in the industry. It takes time for people to know me and trust me but I believe that with every next tour I’ll have more and more tour reports and opinions that will encourage people to travel with me. 🙂
Q: Is the pay enough to cover your living expenses? Are you able to save anything to continue traveling?
It’s hard for me to say now as I’ve just started my company and it doesn’t bring the money yet. Every price includes margin but it’s really not much. I also get money from other tour offices for tour leading and from book guides I write.
The good idea is to earn money in stronger currency than you have at home.
If you want to start earning really good money you have to travel a lot (all the time – where is the time for private life and private travels?) or have a lot of experience so the expensive companies organising luxurious tours may employ you. However, the client there is much more demanding!
Q: Does your work schedule allow you to travel much?
Unfortunately, not at the moment. I’m doing too many things by myself, but maybe next year, when the company starts to work well, it’ll be better!
Q: What sort of training/experience did you need to become a tour leader or to run your own tourism company?
There are some features of character that every tour leader should have:
- stress resistance, as really everything can happen – from an accident to very restitutionary tourist!
- leadership skills, because the tour leader really rules, there is no democracy in the group (can you imagine that everyone wants to do different things at once?!)
- diplomatic skills – when you have to explain the tourist that what he wants is really impossible to make…
- like to work with people and be a social butterfly and has sense of humour – nobody likes antisocial people!
- be very well organised – when you need to keep an eye on the time so you’ll not be late for the train, and at the same time count the money to pay for the reservation and be sure that you didn’t lose any invoice for services!
- be erudite and know really a lot about the country’s history, culture, cuisine, geopolitical facts…
Does it sound like a tour leader is almost a superhero? There is some truth in this… however, if you really love this job, it all comes with the experience! But you need to have a passion for it from the beginning!
Q: Would you recommend this job to someone who wants to quit their 9-5 routine and explore the world? What advice would you give them?
I really don’t know. You cannot do this job, only because you don’t want to spend your life in 9-5 job and you are looking for something else. You have to feel it from the beginning. It’s like working with children – if someone doesn’t like children, working with them will not make him or her happy (neither the children!).
But if someone is social person, has leadership skills and is stress resistant, I would recommend it. For me it’s like a mission – I show the world to people who wouldn’t go somewhere without me. And the best prize you can get afterwards are thanks from your tourists and their opinions! It motivates you to be better and better!
Q: Where would one start if they wanted to follow your path of being a travel agent/running a tourism company?
I would recommend to start first in someone’s company. Observe and learn how it works. Gain some experience.
And if you are sure that you really want to do this, collect some money for the beginning. Unfortunately, tourism is an industry, where companies grow very slow – if your client comes back, he or she will do this probably next year or in two years (if ever; who knows how his or her life may change during this time?).
And if you feel that you really want to do this – never give up! It’s full of tricky and stressful moments but satisfaction is huge!
Q: What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2015?
I really feel that 2015 will be very special for me. In March I’m going to Travel Trade Show to Berlin and I hope I’ll make some relations with people who will help me to organise more tours in the future to different countries!
After that I’m going on my first tour to Sri Lanka with 5 amazing women and in April/May I organise the tour to Georgia and Armenia.
In the same time, I want to start offering tours in English, as I’ve been travelling already and had some other activities (that lasted about one week or more) in international company and that’s just great how well it worked out! I loved this cosmopolitan atmosphere and that’s what I want to do!
And I have head full of ideas of other tours! I’m thinking about hiking in Arctic Circle in Lapland, visiting Cambodia and Tanzania, some other places in Europe… Just don’t know if I have enough time! But I don’t worry about it as long as I have all those ideas and dreams to fulfil! 🙂
What a great story and an honest insight view into Hanna’s life as a Travel Agency owner and a Tour Leader! Huge thanks to Hanna for taking the time to answer my questions and share her experience with us! Follow Hanna’s adventures on her blog Hanna Travels, or connect with her via Facebook, and Twitter
Does being a Tour Leader sound like something you might want to do to help you travel the world? If not, why not check out other posts in the “Work and Travel Abroad” Series
Have any other questions for Hanna or want to share your own experience working while traveling abroad? Leave your comments below!