Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Sally Black, a professional teacher of travel! Sally, tell us about yourself.
Sally: Full disclosure, I am not a traditional teacher in a classroom. Rather, I teach parents to learn to travel with their kids, among other travel styles. To any professional teachers reading this, I thank and salute all of you wonderful educators out there who dedicated to growing our next crop of world citizens. (They grow up so fast!) I am truly inspired by what you do each and every day, so please keep up the great work!
Hmm, about me? It took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. In the meantime I’ve been a single mom to three great kids, a Registered nurse specializing in Pediatrics, delivering babies, and taking care of premies (and especially their parents).
Life and divorce separated me from a career that I loved. Fate turned me into an internet pioneer for a dot com travel start up company with no indoor plumbing. This was at a time when the World-wide Inter-web consisted of AOL, you had snail mail, and nobody would ever dream of booking an airline ticket online.
I climbed the ranks to Director of Marketing and Product Development, a fancy title for sourcing and creating unique vacation products, and then telling the world about it. I circled the globe a few times, and knit some movie costumes along the way.
After 6 years, our little start-up was sold for $51 million, and I found myself without a job. After all this hard work, I finally decided that “vacations” are something I do REALLY well.
In 2000, I decided to create one of the very first “home based” travel agencies, Vacationkids. As the name implies, our company is dedicated to creating customized family vacation experiences. Nurturing and helping parents and kids comes naturally to me. Admittedly, I often get to use my psych nursing skills to help over-worked, stressed-out parents and kids reconnect with one another.
For years, folks listening to my stories laughed and said, “you should write a book!? I try to listen to others and so, I wrote a book. It’s called “Fearless Family Vacations, How to Make Everyone Happy Without Losing Your Mind.” [Lillie’s note: This article contains some affiliate links, providing a small commission upon purchase, at no additional cost to you.]
My book is pretty much where I get to teach parents “how to travel” with their children at every age and stage. The title also pretty much explains what I do for my clients every day.
Recently, I’ve been faced with a very fortunate problem, I’ve been in business long enough now that many of my loyal vacation “kids” are all grown up and asking me to create their “adult only” destination weddings, meetings and other travel events for grown ups. To help grow this side of the business, I’ve started the website VIP Group Travel Events.
TT: Fascinating! Which was your favorite trip from your own travels?
S: Wow, that’s a tough question, that’s like asking which of my children do I love the most! My old company decided to open a branch in London, so I was tasked with setting that all up. For two years, I commuted across the Atlantic from Newark to Heathrow, bouncing between home and a London Apartment, living like a local, which is my favorite type of “travel”.
Weekends were usually spent exploring the UK, particularly the Scottish highlands, which is my “happy place”. My current husband and I honeymooned there, and we’re excited to be celebrating a milestone anniversary here this year in November.
But it’s SO hard to choose, weaving in Peru, Temples in Thailand, ghost hunting in Germany, my recent trip in March to the Galapagos where I swam with sea lions, penguins and blue footed boobies, decisions, decisions.
TT: Hah! So, how do you find your travel opportunities?
S: Of course, being a travel agent and writer, travel opportunities often “find” me. I recently auditioned to become an “Ambassador of Change” for the Tour Company, G Adventures, and was selected as 1 of 7 Ambassadors from over 300 travel agent applications.
Admittedly I was equally thrilled to have the opportunity to meet G’s founder, Bruce Poon Tip, as I was finding out that I would be traveling with G Adventures to explore the Galapagos Islands.
G Adventures is an amazing company that not only creates wonderful, life changing vacation experiences, but in turn has created around 30 different “social enterprises” to help local people all around the planet.
I’m a HUGE fan of Bruce’s NY Times best-selling book, “Looptail” which is a must read for any travel-loving adventurer. Not only is it an amazing story about his journey in the travel business, but it also explains how social enterprise works to sustain local people and communities via the proper investment of tourism dollars.
When we met, Bruce was surprised at how many dog-eared pages my old copy of Looptail had, and all the different colored highlights. When I first read this book years ago, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined hugging Bruce, meeting a Blue Footed Booby or having the chance to swim with sea lions, turtles and penguins!
TT: Magical! Now, can you teach us your top tip for planning travel?
S: Great travel opportunities are not found, they are created. I’ll switch gears here and talk a what a travel agent does for their clients. In most cases, people don’t know what they don’t know.
Imagine a trip to France: a stroll around Paris, a visit to the Eiffel Tower, maybe a few days in the French Riviera… but what do you spend your time doing or thinking about at home, and what does a perfect day at home look like to you? It is important to connect to those passions during travel, too.
Recently, I had a young woman who told me she was a gardener who loved roses. I planned her France travel dates according to bloom times. She visited a rose farm at harvest that has been instrumental in the perfume industry since the 14th century, the only roses used by Coco Chanel.
She toured the local perfumeries, learned how the “noses” there (yes that’s what they are called) blend scents. In Paris, besides all the other typical sightseeing, the woman visited a perfume shop for celebrities where custom fragrances start at over $1,000 per ounce… and she’s heading back next year for the lavender harvest!
Itineraries like these are life changing experiences, especially for children, not just a family vacation. Customized itineraries like this can be affordably put together around any passion or interest. You can even experience holidays around the world for kids — in person! The key is combining the new and foreign with the foundational experiences of living life well.
TT: Such a great point. Now, how do you find the money to fund your travels?
S: Group travel holds the key for many of my clients to make their travel dreams come true. You can do this through an organization like G Adventures, as I mentioned, or through creating your own opportunity.
Step up and become a group leader! Pick the destination of your dreams: a place you want to visit. Better yet, work with an experienced travel professional to customize an itinerary like the example above, and create a vacation event, something unique, an “un-shop-able” experience.
Simply by inviting family, friends, colleagues and social media followers to join in on the fun, sometimes the group leader travels for free. The more people that join your trip, the more freebies you earn, so that family and loved ones can join you.
Teachers have an additional advantage – They can “teach” while on this trip. Create a program that others will find creative, informative and insightful. Now you can monetize your knowledge and experience in addition to free travel perks. Think about that for a moment, you can earn money by taking free trips! This money can be used for your own income or even turned into fundraising opportunities!
Better yet, if these events are handled properly and your guests have a wonderful time, they will want to travel with you year after year.
TT: What interesting advice for creating free travel opportunities! Such a configuration never occurred to me, but I see how it could work.
So, tell us more about a memorable time during your own travels.
S: Indeed, every teacher will agree that travel is fun and educational, but travel is truly transformational, a traveler sees and relates to the world in new and different ways, seeing the world with new eyes while walking in ancient footsteps speaks to our humanity. This is why I LOVE my job, and consider myself to be extremely fortunate to be able to impact others in this way, especially children.
And then there was that one night in Berlin, Elvis, Genghis Kahn, and a bagpiper walked into a bar at the precise moment when my friend from Madame Tussauds reached into her suitcase and pulled out the head of Queen Elizabeth. Let’s just say if there is ever any trouble about, trust the bagpiper to save you!
(Seriously?you can’t make this “stuff” up and yes, it really happened at the ITB Travel conference.)
TT: Hah! Now, how have your travels impacted you as a person?
S: Storytellers are the most interesting people in the world. I believe the one who dies with the best stories wins. Travel gives you the very best stories! Kids love to hear amazing stories , it sparks their sense of adventure and turns them into curious learners.
This brings to mind and interesting/contrasting story?
I remember my son had a very difficult time in High School with his English Lit teacher. He was never the type to get into trouble, and I got a call that he was in detention for an outburst in the classroom.
I arrived after school and spoke with the teacher before I saw my son. They were starting to read the Canterbury tales. The teacher announced to the class that Canterbury was located in Northwest England. My son raised his hand and corrected her by saying Canterbury was in Southeast England.
Apparently the teacher took great exception. After ranting about my son’s “know it all attitude” she asked how he could “possibly” know that. That is when he lost it and went off on his own Canterbury tale about his visit to the cathedral, the life of Thomas Becket and how her class was like a sword in his skull.
I made my son apologize for his outburst and I shared my concerns about this teacher with the principal. I was so very thankful that Jared had traveled and experienced England for himself and that his brain had soaked up such knowledge even while his nose was in a graphic novel.
As it turned out he was “relocated” to a class taught by a man from St Albans England (ironically) who was also a world traveler. He took Jared on some deep and amazing literary adventures for the next two years.
That said my heart often breaks for all the remaining students in that class: How that class could have been make so much more engaging and interesting, if only the teacher had educated herself with a little bit of travel.
TT: What a powerful illustration. Thank you for sharing that story. So, what closing advice do you have for teachers dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
S: If you’re dreaming, then dream BIG. It’s a big world with big adventures!
Lead by example (actions speak louder than words to inspire kids), and get out and become a group leader.
Don’t go it alone! Group travel can be a very complicated business, so you’ll want an experienced partner, not just someone who understands all the fine print, but rather someone who can handle all the heavy lifting.
Group travel arrangements can quickly turn into a full time job and become overwhelming. Also, successful groups need strong connections, communication and camaraderie. Here are some of my tips on building strong and successful groups for my group leaders.
Stronger, well traveled teachers mean smarter, inspired and curious kids. That’s the kind of world I want to live in!
If I can help make that happen, I invite potential group leaders to reach out by leaving a comment below, or contacting me through my site, and let’s schedule a chat or a video call. Personally, I love making dreams come true!
TT: Thanks so much, Sally! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational cartoons. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!