Being a travel advisor is the best career for a working mother. Or, is it actually the worst?
On its face, it doesn’t seem particularly conducive. Travel is often seen as the enemy of the working parent, especially when that parent is the mother.
Childcare duties traditionally fall to women, and mothers are usually first to quit their jobs to take care of their kids. They are often seen as the “default parent” due to various reasons, ranging from cultural and societal norms to the gender pay gap (women earn 82 cents to every dollar men make).
At the height of the pandemic in April 2020, 45% of mothers of school-age children were not working. And by September, women were leaving the labor force at four times the rate of men. It’s unfortunate, but the data suggests that moms — more so than dads — would struggle to travel for business.
There is also the fact that advisors these days act as a concierge of sorts. Even if they are not traveling, agents manage minute details and service clients around the clock.
Flexibility Is a Necessity
Nonetheless, there are a lot of women “making it work” as travel advisors. According to U.S. Census Bureau data often cited by the American Society of Travel Advisors, two-thirds of travel agencies are owned and operated by women.
Some are mothers, some are not. Some might want to be one day, but are not sure how their travel career will affect their new role.
Also in the mix are new-to-the-industry advisors, some of whom were previously stay-at-home mothers.
Chelsee McClintock of Anywhere. Everywhere. Travel., an independent agent of Coastline Travel Advisors, was a stay-at-home mom for years. But when her kids got a little older, she decided she needed something for herself.
I love service and I love people, so finding a career where I could blend those things was essential for me. But I also needed something I could do on my time and not be locked into a typical 9 to 5.
Despite the data — about women dropping out of the workforce during the pandemic — and the fact that the travel industry was in a depression, McClintock joined the industry in August 2020.
“I love service and I love people, so finding a career where I could blend those things was essential for me,” she said. “But I also needed something I could do on my time and not be locked into a typical 9 to 5.”
According to the IRS, independent contractors (ICs) decide “what will be done and how it will be done.” For many moms, this kind of flexibility is a necessity.
“Prior to working as a travel advisor, I worked remotely on a company that I started with my husband in 2008, which was a Mexico-based tour operation,” said Maria Diego of Diego Travel, an independent affiliate of Departure Lounge. “I needed a career that would allow me the flexibility to always put my kids first, especially because at that time, my husband was still traveling to Mexico every week.”
Samantha Hammond, who has been the owner of Jus Adventures Travel Services for seven years and a mother for one year, was not always sure she would have kids, but knew that if she had a family in the future, “being a travel advisor would be a great career choice because I could work around my family life if I needed to.”
However, flexibility does not mean working part-time — especially if you are an agency employee or an owner of a host agency.
“Being a new mom is a lot, especially when you add the fact that I own my own host agency with more than 80 agents,” Hammond said, adding that she maintains her full-time hours as a travel advisor specializing in destination weddings.
I had clients in about seven countries on the day my daughter was born. I slowed down slightly, but did not take maternity leave.
Heather Christopher, founder of Heather Christopher Travel Consulting, agrees that being a travel advisor can be very demanding for mothers, depending on an advisor’s role, where they are in their career and “the state of the world.”
Indeed, balancing work and life can be difficult — especially these days, says Blaire Kochar of BPK Travel. The independent affiliate of Brownell Travel had her first child last year around the same time Europe was reopening.
“I had clients in about seven countries on the day my daughter was born,” Kochar said. “I slowed down slightly, but did not take maternity leave. Looking back, I don’t think that was the best decision, but a lot of my reasoning was because the world was finally reopening and my clients were so excited to travel, and I wanted to be a part of executing their delayed dreams.”
Be the Boss — With Boundaries
Ultimately, travel advising is a job that lets moms be in the driver’s seat.
“You can put as little or as much into this career as you want,” Diego said. “You are in control of your schedule, and how you allocate your time for both work and family life.”
Diego admits that setting boundaries so that work did not negatively impact her time with her family was difficult for her, but concedes that this is the plight of most working mothers.
It’s taken me two years to understand the importance of setting rigid office hours, completely shutting off on weekends and prioritizing the right things at the right time.
“It’s taken me two years to understand the importance of setting rigid office hours, completely shutting off on weekends and prioritizing the right things at the right time,” she said.
McClintock says it can be challenging to not take one more phone call or finish one more task as the work day ends.
“I have had to get very clear on my priorities and stick to them no matter what,” she said. “Not everyone can tackle both, but if you can, it’s such a rewarding career.”
Mom Guilt and “FOMO”
As a mother, you are always susceptible to the “fear of missing out” (aka FOMO) — whether you take the trip or stay at home.
“Someday I will get to travel again at the drop of a hat, but it can be tough to see colleagues jaunting and feel the pressure in our industry when you’re at home figuring out how to go or take the baby,” said Christopher, who added that three- to four-night trips are her sweet spot. “It’s just a season, none of it lasts forever.”
While Kochar has had to cut down on her “one international trip per month” business plan since having a daughter last year, she does still travel, thanks to a supportive husband and two sets of grandparents nearby. Like Kochar, Hammond is a first-time mom and says that she has been able to travel for work due to her in-laws’ help.
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Securing back-up childcare is harder than ever due to the pandemic. But even with childcare sorted out, both women say that they are much more selective about their travel now. They, too, don’t want to miss out — on witnessing their baby’s milestones.
Someday I will get to travel again at the drop of a hat, but it can be tough to see colleagues jaunting and feel the pressure in our industry when you’re at home figuring out how to go or take the baby.
“In order to be away from home, I must really need to experience that destination, and I’ve identified it as a hole in my business knowledge,” Kochar said. “And a longer trip of one week or more is just hard to take right now.”
Do It For the Kids
Feeling guilty when traveling without kids — or while working long hours at home — is real, but moms say that advance planning and lots of FaceTime help.
“I also like to leave them little notes to find in the drawers or under their pillows to remind them throughout their day that I’m thinking of them,” McClintock said.
And ultimately, there’s a lot to gain. For one, moms who are advisors are instantly relatable to fellow moms — many of whom are tasked with planning their family’s vacations (women make 70% to 85% of all travel decisions, according to several sources).
And while advising moms don’t have to exclusively sell family travel, they can certainly add it to their repertoire.
It’s similar to when you travel to a destination and you are able to speak to the specific experiences there — now I can speak to the necessities for traveling with kids.
“It’s similar to when you travel to a destination and you are able to speak to the specific experiences there — now I can speak to the necessities for traveling with kids,” Kochar said.
Whether or not being an advisor is a good career for a mother, McClintock says she chose it in large part to benefit her kids. She wants them to become global citizens.
“Travel as a young girl changed me,” she said. “My eyes were opened to the immeasurable blessings I had, and I was humbled to see the beauty in celebrating those different from me. I want that for my kids and for yours.”