This is a subject that I had to research pretty extensively before jumping into myself. If you are sitting there, pondering what to do with your life, and think that something in the travel industry might be for you, please continue. I am in this boat with you. I decided to start with some job shadowing at local travel agencies. I never realized how many careers there are in the travel industry! There are cruise ships, airlines, rental cars, hotels, just to name the major players. So where to start? I know that I personally want to be in the thick of it. I talked to several people, and found 2 agencies that would let me come in: a traditional travel agency and one that was a motor coach tour operator in addition to being a traditional travel agency. And when I job shadowed at a tour operator/travel agency, it seemed as perfect as a job could be for me.
Job Shadowing With the Tour Operator
The place was a little place, with only 3 employees total. But as I talked with the travel agent, she told me there were 2 sides to their business. The first was a traditional travel agency: making bookings for customers on airlines, cruises, hotels, car rentals etc. Basically a desk job, for which she makes an hourly rate. The second was as a motor coach tour operator. She put together group tours (mostly for retired seniors, as they have the time and money) from the US, Canada, and internationally. She books them, down to the last detail. This can be quite a hassle for a group of 20+. But once she gets it all planned, and gets people to book the tour, then she herself gets to go on the tour! She guides it along with what they call “hop-on, hop-off” tour guides. Her expenses are paid for the trip and she gets paid a flat rate per day, plus any tips from the customers.I could tell this is what I want to do! I already can imagine a dozen trips I would love to put together. But how to get such a job…
The Best Place to Start is ASTA
So I asked her what she recommended for a person with no previous experience or real knowledge. She recommended some kind of formal education, and said that I could find some reliable information on the ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) website. So I did just that, I went on the site and looked up some really great articles. They also have a travel school directory, which lists some schools in the US that offer educational programs. Most states have a college that offer some kind of program as well. Unfortunately the one in Missouri is located many hours away from where I live, so I opted to go the online route. The main online one that ASTA recommends is Travel Leaders of Tomorrow (http://www.travelleadersoftomorrow.com/). This is the one that I decided to go with. It is all online, which I was really nervous about at first, but has been so great! However, it is not accredited. So if you are a student, you cannot use FAFSA to cover the cost. I had to fund this out of my own pocket.
Time and Costs
It was really easy to contact Travel Leaders of Tomorrow. I called and they answered all my questions. The program is made up of 4 modules, or sections. The first one includes your books and cost me $675. The second module (which I am currently on) is about $250. I was told the total for the whole course would be about $2500, and it takes less than 6 months to complete. This includes the books, modules, and a voucher ($90 value) for the TAP (Travel Agent Proficiency) Test that would take place afterwards.On a side note, the TAP test was developed by the Travel Institute and ASTA, and is the equivalent of certification. This is what most agencies and companies in the travel industry use. For me, having gone through traditional colleges, this doesn’t sound too bad. So far in the program, we have covered some basic geography of the USA and Canada, including tourist attractions and interesting facts. We have now started learning about airlines, rental cars, cruise ships, and lodging. I have learned so much since starting the program. My goal at the end of this is to eventually become a tour director, that is to go on, guide, and create tours for people. I will be finishing the program in April 2015 and then taking my TAP test. I am hoping to continue writing more information as I make it further along. If you have any questions, I will try to answer them as best I can. Thanks for reading and happy travels!