Becoming a Tour Director

When I left South Carolina in 2016 I gave myself one year to travel; in my head, this was enough time to see what I wanted to see and do what I wanted to do. I just didn't realize how fast a year would pass. Four months in Thailand, a week in Cambodia, a month in Rome, a month in Croatia, three months in Germany, three months in the U.K, and weekend trips everywhere else.

The year make approached and it was time for a reevaluation of life. It's 2017. I am pet-sitting in London and I am having a bit of a crisis. Was it time to go "home" and get a "real" job or should I continue teaching online, pet sitting for my accommodations, and traveling around Europe? The answer should have been simple.

I poured a glass of wine and began job hunting online. I can't remember what exactly I searched for but I landed on 'Tour Director' and began reading. The job seemed ideal and perfect for me: seasonal, travel, talking...why not apply I thought, and so I did.

The interview was more like a conversation with an old friend. We laughed, I told some wild travel stories, and before I knew it the interview was over. A few days later I was asked to create commentary for a second phone interview. I had to speak about Arlington National Cemetery in D.C.

I hadn't been to Arlington, yet alone D.C since my 9th-grade trip. Being nervous was an understatement. I researched the topic, watched a ton of Youtube videos, and wrote out what I wanted to say. When the phone interview started I paced as I spoke, telling the story of Arlington. When I was done she said she would let me know in a few days if I were to get an offer to come to D.C for an onsite interview.

It didn't take long, a week maybe. They wanted me to come to D.C to do the in-person interview. At this point, I was less nervous about the interview; I was having second thoughts about leaving Europe. In some people's eyes, I was living the dream.

Arriving in the U.S was a shock to the system. I certainly had reverse culture shock and it, for lack of a better word, sucked. Settling back into the 'American way of life' was not easy for me. I was uncomfortable and not truly comfortable to this day. In casual conversation, I have to restrain myself from saying things like when I lived in Rome...people tend to think I am bragging. Sorry, I digressed. Simply put, I arrived at this 2-day interview not fully whole, uncomfortable, and a little sad.

The first day was a meet and greet with the other people who are applying for the same position. I was terrified and intimidated. These individuals had years of experience, went to a school to get certified as a Tour Director; something I had never heard of until this moment. In my head, there was no way I was getting this job.

We loaded on to a coach to begin the journey through D.C. Each person had to talk about a specific monument, historical structure, or museum. Speaking in front of your peers is hard. Speaking in front of experts in the field is even harder.

On day two it was my turn. The sun had set over the National Mall. I took the group over to the Korean War Memorial and talked about the 'Forgotten War'. I spoke to the group as I would if they were students. Gave high fives when questions where answered correctly, spoke loudly, confidently, and told a story.

Five minutes later it was all over. I had flown across the ocean on a chance that I would get this job. It would take a couple of weeks to find out if I made the cut. When I got the email I was ecstatic. I had no clue how much my life would change at the point.

Two seasons into being a Tour Director and holy cow I can't believe this is my career. I crossed the ocean to do something that had a massive chance of not working out. It's not until this moment that I have actually thought about what I would have done if I hadn't gotten the job.

The career is not easy. It is physically and mentally demanding, challenging at times, and stressful. It's uncertain but I wouldn't change for the world. The future is bright for me as a Tour Director and even a Tour Operator.





It's about the journey, not the destination: The Road to Hana

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. There is no better saying than this to describe the road to Hana. The journey starts in Paia about 20 minutes from OGG airport. Paia is a historic beach town with streets lined with wooden buildings left over from the plantation days and fences made of surf boards. Here you will find gourmet restaurants next to beach bars that offer everything from local seafood to sandwiches. You can stock up in this town to begin the 10-12 hour journey to Hana.

Hana is only 64 miles away but the twists and turns in the road on the way will slow down traffic, especially for those who are not use to it. There are over 600 curves and 59 bridges. The numbers are impressive but so are the MANY stops along the way. We used the GyPSy Road to Hana app to help us navigate where we wanted to stop. If we stopped at all the spots the drive would have taken two days instead of hours.

There are paid attractions such as The Garden of Eden, it is a lovely stop but around $15 per person. This is private property, you are literally just walking through the families well manicured gardens. The views are amazing and so is the plant life and foliage.

Further up the road you will find landscapes like no other. The volcanic rocks in the sea look alien and watching the waves crash over is stunning. The rocks are jagged and slippery. If you decided to traverse them be careful of rouge waves or falling. The church in the distance is worth a look. You can just walk across the field to view this 150 year old church which has a tragic history. While in this are stop to get some banana bread…it was AMAZING.

After this area we continued on and found ourselves at the road side restaurants. Robert and I both love food so it was perfect. The slow cooked ribs and fresh fruit were to die for. Make sure you bring cash and your appetite. After we are well feed it’s time to keep moving. We go to the black sand beach which was filled with people. Robert and I like a good adventure so we just kept going around the blow hole to the other side of the trail. Below a small cove with crashing waves greeted us, we just had to find a SAFE way down. Once we found the way we sat and enjoyed the view for a while. The sand is black as night and rocky but what a tranquil spot!

Along the way there are more places to stop such as the Lava Tube, more beaches, and the rainbow forest. We had spent so much time at overlooks, and the other stops we decided to keep moving. Once we made it to Hana we found the red sand beach which took a little skill to get to. You will have to hike a bit and climb a few large rocks. I am short so reaching some of the rocks alone would have been difficult without a helping hand. After our little hike we sat by the water and had a snack. By this time it was getting late; we needed to get back to town before sunset, just to be safe.

On the way back we stopped and played in a road side waterfall that we passed on the way it; the water was ice cold but totally worth it. We made it back to Paia in time for the sunset. We went to the lookout, watched the surfers, hung with the locals, and cracked a cold beer. The Road to Hana was simply beautiful, a perfect way to see the island and spend the day.

Hiking Diamond Head.

Diamond Head State Monument…we decided to walk from the hotel up the extinct volcano. I didn’t realize how far we would have to go; google didn’t give me miles only the time it would take to walk. We began our journey passing posh designer stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany. Street vendors asked us to sign up for tours. The streets are quiet because it is early; besides Robert and I what tourist in their right mind would be up so early?!

As we walk the seaside path past the zoo, up hills, past locals getting in their morning runs and dog walks,
we stop for a break and water. Just over the hill begins the climb up. We see trolleys coming down with people, cars, and walkers. But we are still not at the main entrance. At this point I am wondering what I was thinking and why didn’t we take an Uber.

Another 30 minutes passes, we get to the first parking lot and continue up through a tunnel where you have to hug the side of the wall so the on coming cars will not hit you. A few meters ahead is the main parking area. By this time is it around 9am and the lot is full. There are lines at the juice stand and plenty of people ready to hike this iconic volcano that is the back drop for Oahu. At this point we have we had walked 5.5 miles.

There are water filling stations and restrooms; I suggest you use both before the climb. This is a strenuous climb, signs say it “only” takes 30 minutes. In my opinion if you are in peak physical health you can do the climb in 30 minutes but the average American can NOT do this in 30 minutes.

As you walk the slow turns quickly become switchbacks that ascend the mountain quickly. The once wide paved path turns narrow with uneven stones and pavement. There are areas along the way; a place for you to rest, regroup, and assess your life decisions. In no time you will an amazing panorama view of Waikiki, the blue-green ocean below, and multimillion dollar homes.

After these views the real work begins. Stairs, upon stairs, upon stairs. I don’t know how many stairs there are, but it feels like thousands. As we passed a set of stairs that we opted not to take I took a quick photo. I captured the moment a couple was in disagreement and looking a little red in the face. Not sure what they were arguing about but I think it was if they should continue on or not.

Around the bend is another look out, a climb, and more stairs. At this point you are almost at the top! Depending on the time of day, season, or month will depend on the amount of tourist doing this climb. Expect delays, people taking photos on the small staircase, and once you reach the top you will have to wait your turn to get a selfie or a photo of the magnificent views. Once you are at the top the entire experience is worth every single step.

Oahu is a beautiful island and from the top you can see for miles. The hike up Diamond Head on the very first day set the tone for our trip. We worked hard and played hard! If you are on Oahu, challenge yourself by hiking Diamond Head.

Hiking Diamond Head

Sarah Winchester and her Mystery House

Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, the heir to the Winchester fortune, a fortune that came with a cost. The Winchester repeating riffle. This never before seen weapon made its debut in 1866. Its unique feature, for the time, was it did not have to be reloaded after each shot. Instead a simple pull of the trigger caused many rounds to fire one after another. This weapon was said to have “won” the west.

The Winchester Repeating Rifle Company was a family business; William was the treasurer up until his death in 1881. At this point Sarah had outlived her daughter, Annie who died at 6 weeks old in 1866 and now her husband. Left alone in Connecticut with a massive fortune Sarah turned to spiritualism which was a common practice of the time. Her spiritualist guided her to move to west. Sarah was told the spirits of the people killed by the Winchester Rifle were angry with her and the family.

Sarah did as instructed, she moved to San Jose, bought a Victorian farm house, and began to build. She began to build with no blueprints to follow; construction on the Victorian mansion which began as a simply 2 room farm house, lasted day and night for 40 years. There are stairs that lead to no where, doors that open to brick walls, and cabinets that open to other rooms. The number 13 can be seen throughout the house. 13 window panes, 13 pillars, 13 drains in a sink, 13 coat hangers in a closet. The mansion eventually reached 7 floors, 10,000 windows, and 2,000 doors. With all of the twist and turns the house that make no sense, Sarah added state of the art components to the house. One of the first hydro Otis Elevators, a greenhouse on the second floor with removable hard wood to allow pots to drain into the garden below and its believed the floor boards where also heated for the chilly winter nights, which was uncommon for the time.

Sarah was one of the wealthiest women of her time. She held 50% of the Winchester Rifle Company and $20 million (equivalent to $519,241,379 in 2018) from her husbands estate. Even though Sarah never had to work, she used her new property to create a business. The acres around the Winchester Mansion were turned into an orchard. The fruits were dried, canned, sold. It’s said that she made more money with this business than off her inheritance. This thriving business and ever expanding house needed employees. The house had 24/7 staff which either lived in the house or if they had a family of their own Sarah purchased a home for them. She provided all meals for the employees and paid them a fair wage. What she asked in return was nothing more than pure perfection.

She was a business woman first and foremost with a reputation of eccentricity. She was well educated, well traveled, and was held in high standing in the social elite. She came from a background of architects, and was even named after one. Mental illness ran in the family which could answer a lot of questions about Sarah’s unique building style and character. We will never know why Sarah kept building, used the number 13 throughout the house, and left the home to no one when she died.

Her niece go the money and the heirlooms but the house stood without an owner for many years, until a private investor purchased the property and made it into what it is today. Construction is still happening on the house, repairs are being made daily, and rooms are still being discovered. Even after Sarah’s death the house keeps growing.









Yunquiyu: Paradise in Puerto Rico

I live on ‘The Enchanted Island,’ Puerto Rico, but I still have to make money. I had been sitting in front of the computer for almost 6 hours. My eyes were tired and my back hurt. I can see the blue-green waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the kitchen table, and I can hear the white caped waves crashing on the beach. A storm is coming. I get up to shut the windows. To nap or not nap…that was the question. My phone dings, the text reads, ‘Let’s go’. My mood isn’t what it should be especially for someone who lives in this paradise, and for someone who’s office has million dollar views. I pull up my big girl panties, put on my sandals, and walk out the door. As the door closes a voice in my head whispers, ‘get your camera.’ Seriously…this happened. 

We are in the car headed to into Rio Grande a town between San Juan and Luquillo. PR-3, the main highway is jammed with traffic. You never know how long it will take to go 5 miles on an island, and never trust google. It could be 10 minutes or 30, such is island life. My friend who is driving arrived in town just a few days ago, she  moved back to Atlanta a few months ago with hopes of coming back to Puerto Rico one day. I haven’t noticed, but she is impressed with the amount of new business that have opened up since she left; she has only been gone a few months. A year after Hurricane Maria people are still rebuilding their lives. 

We make a left at El Verde aka machete chicken. A local restaurant that would make Anthony Bourdain (may he RIP) antsy with anticipation. You can buy a whole roasted chicken that is cute up with a machete, hence machete chicken, or get ribs that fall off the bone, and melt in you mouth. The sides are local vegetables that put southern cooking to shame. I may have to go there for lunch after writing this. 

So yeah, it’s a left from Luquillo, past El Verde up into the rainforest. The roads become more narrow, drivers dodge pot holes that look like black holes; if you hit one you may disappear without a trace. Sharing the road is just a thought; a concept lost on many drivers here. On coming cars whip around the turns like it is their own race track. At this point I still have no clue where we are going. All I know is we are going to see my friend’s friend, whom she refers to as the bushman but his real name is Fire. We make a left and a right; we are climbing higher and higher into the jungles of El Yunque Rainforest. I asked my friend how the hell she found this place she said, “Girl, with step by step instructions”

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Out of nowhere the land opens up and we are there. I notice the sign it reads ‘Yunquiyu’ which is the native Taino’s God of light and life; which is totally understandable after seeing this place. We park and walk down a grand palm tree lined path. A sweet German Shepard mix follows us, he is the care takers dog, the man we are coming to see. 

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At the bottom of the hill there is a wooden cabin. It’s tucked away, almost hidden by the palm trees. The view is stunning. Mountains rise behind the tiny building, there is green foliage at every turn. Lemon grass taller than me lines trails down to the river. Flowering plants and trees cover the ground all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. There is also a garden spread throughout: banana trees, passion fruit, avocado, just to name a few. This scene is overwhelmingly beautiful. I can’t believe a place like this even exist. 

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A man walks up, his white shirt is covered in soil, his work boots in wet grass. His dreadlocks wrapped tightly in a black scarf.  He is quite but has smile could melt the heart of an Ice Queen. For 10 years he has been helping build this landscape, and taking care of the cabins. We are introduced, without saying much he starts to lead us around the property. We stop for a second and he pull a frown off of a plant. He crushes it between his fingers, hands it to me and says, “Lemongrass”.  

This is not the Lemongrass you find in the botanical section at your local Walmart. This plant is about 5 feet high with a massive circumference, its everywhere. There are plants that I have never seen before. Tiny green flowers with white in the center; they look as if someone took a paint brush to the center and just swept it across. There are large red plants with thick leaves that line the base of the palm trees; these plants will eventually climb the tree like a vine. The Elephant Ear plants here look pre-historic, something out of Jurassic Park. 

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Fire takes us to each cabin. The cabins are one room with a full bed, stone floors, and a mini kitchen; they smell of freshly cut wood. The back walls are double doors that open up to a small porch with a table and chairs and a breathtaking view of the rainforest. You can hear the river below, birds in the distance, and the native frogs singing their songs.  The bathrooms are connected by a waist high bridge opposite the main room. The shower comes from the ceiling with more views of the rainforest from the window which are half the wall and open up to the outside. There are no screens in these windows, making it feel like you are showering under a cascading waterfall.  


Fire leads us down the carefully laid path, under fern trees, past colorful flowers such as Birds of Paradise and Hibiscus to the deck that sits on the bank of the river. At the bottom a massive deck with tables and chairs is low to the ground. A stone path leads you to the river where the water rushes over massive boulders then slows down to form a small pool, where I am sure you can float for hours uninterrupted. High above the river you can see the cabins dotting the landscape above. 

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Surrounded by the river, trees, and mountains it is easy to forget that we are only 25 minutes to the ocean and “city” life; the best of both worlds. I can easily see myself living here (Puerto Rico) the rest of my life; creating an oasis of my own, just like Yunquiyu. The tour isn’t over; the three of us head back up the path; winding back through the palms, and low hanging leaves, passing the tropical flowers; stepping carefully on the strategically places stones. Fire shows us the newest cabin. It has high ceilings, granite counter tops, and will eventually have two porches that will lead you down to the trail and the new restaurant, which is set to open sometime in December 2019. The menu will have vegetarian options, locally sourced food from the surrounding area, and a garden on site.  

I am grateful to have learned of the existence of Yunquiyu and I am thankful for having the opportunity to meet Fire and gain some of his insight on the local flora and fauna. Call Yunquiyu what you will, paradise, or an oasis. To me it is magic; a place in Puerto Rico that calls to you to stay, rest, and relax. I am looking forward to my next visit and I hope that you will be able to experience Yunquiyu very soon. You never know what will happen when you leave the house

10 things you need to know about Puerto Rico

Traveling to a new place can be scary. Especially if it's to a region of the world you have never visited. Coming to Puerto Rico is no different. Since Hurricane's Maria and Irma things have changed just a little bit, not much, but you need to be prepared for your visit! The following is a quick list of things you need to know before you visit Puerto Rico. 

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5 budget friendly travel tips!

Budget travel has never been easier. The internet along with social media provides you with everything you need to learn or know to put together an amazing trip all on your own. The down side is, it takes time and a lot of it. Since I have been traveling I have learned so much about travel, planning, and resources that fit the way I want to see the world. Here are 5 ideas for the budget conscious traveler. 

 

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budget 

travel 

tips!

1. Flights: If you are flexible with your dates you will find cheaper more accommodating flights. I booked a direct flight from San Juan to Frankfurt last minute for $200 every other day was over $500. Try using the +/- 7 days filter to find less expensive offer. 

2. Accommodations: There are an assortment of places to stay from hostels to hotels and airbnbs. There are places to stay for fee. I have been petsitting around Europe. I take care of peoples houses and pets while they are away, in return I get free accommodation. I must say some of the houses have been spectacular. There are also places like workaway, where you help around a farm, hostel, or with a family for free accommodations. 

3. Public Transportation: Learning the public transport system will save you so much money. Think $2 one way instead of $20 for an Uber or Lyft.

4. Entertainment: There are so many ways to entertain yourself. From parks to museums you can get away with saving a ton of money. By using Groupon you can cut the price of eating out in half along with theater and tours. I paid $6 for a 4 hour walking tour in London. 

5. Food: Book a place that offers breakfast and sneak an apple or a banana in your bag as a snack. Find a street vendor for lunch and splurge on a good dinner. 

2018 Wander Woman Workshop in beautiful Faro, Portugal (edit: This trip as been postponed)

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It’s 5 am, you are up checking emails, planing your day, and before you know it it’s 9 o’clock at night. If you run your own business you know exactly what I am talking about. Everyone thinks  running your own business is rainbows and unicorns each and everyday. What they don’t see is the behind the scenes work that you put in to build your business. It hard work, believe me, I know. 

For years I have been a professional photographer doing the daily grind; being everything from sales and marketing to accounts receivable. I would say 90% of my business is getting and maintaining clients and 10% is actual photography. After years of this I decided it was time to take a break. This is when I decided to leave the U.S and travel the world. It’s been a years worth of adventure and was totally worth it. 

Since leaving I have learned so much about how to travel better, I have been able to focus on the type of photography I love, and the best part is I’ve been able to help others with their own business by teaching them the ropes of social media and photography. Because of this past year I am so excited to share my knowledge of travel, photography, and social media. 

This September I am planning the very first Wander Woman retreat in Faro, Portugal. I am combining my love of travel with my love of photography and social media. Six women will join me in the lovely country of Portugal. While here we will go on adventures such as hiking, kayaking, and walks. We will also have workshops each morning that will help you with your business goals; you will learn photography skills that will grow your social media following. During this week long retreat you will grow as a business woman, connect with like minded individuals, and learn valuable photography skills that will take you to the next level in social media. 

We hope you can join us on this journey. The following is what is included. If you have any questions email Liz to find out more. liz@travelwanderwoman.org 

Find out more

Let's talk about what's included: (subject to change due to availability)

  • Accommodation (7 nights) villa house with a pool or on the beach (TBD)
  •  3 excursions: Sunset Kayaking, Wine Tour, and Hiking.
  • Breakfast and dinner plus 2 professional catered dinners by a local chef. 
  • Free time to enjoy Faro, the ocean, or the pool.

Morning Workshop: workshop exercise book, professional training and teaching, one on one sessions with your instructor.

*Photography for your business

*Social Media Marketing to grow your business

*Doing better business. Tips and tricks to gaining customers and keeping them. 

COST: $2,000 per person airfare NOT included

Deposit due: February 15, 2018: Non-refundable $600

 

The evolution of the hostel and why you should start staying in them!

What do you think about when someone says they are staying in a hostel? Do scary images come to mind about a sorted building in a dark, foggy city where no one speak English which is filled with 20 something backpackers making their way around Europe. Well, when I tell people I am staying in a hostel I can see it on their faces, confusion, which is most likely followed up by questions like, “ Why do you stay in a place like that?” or “Aren’t you to old to be doing that?”. This past year I have been petsitting around the world, but there have been times when I needed a place to say for a few days or wanted to see other parts of a country but didn’t want to break the bank. 

There has been an evolution to the hostel experience; still budget accommodation, hostels offer up common spaces for strangers from around the world to gather, talk, and rest. Now with the internet and cable tv you can find free Wifi and in some cases computers are available for public use. It’s like your living room but shared with people from all walks of life. While staying in an independent hostel in Cornwall, England, the age range was 18-81 years. The guest were literally from all over the world, a virtual revolving door of culture. We chatted around a fire pit at night and I had the ultimate pleasure of introduced the grand old American tradition of making s’mores. Hostels aren’t just for 20 somethings anymore! 

I am currently in a hostel in Washington, D.C; yesterday, upon my morning arrival I was greeted with a complimentary breakfast of pancakes, cereal, toast, tea, orange juice, and coffee. The kitchen is fully stocked with all utensils needed for cooking, two refrigerators, 3 dish washers and two sinks. You can go to the store up the street, bring back your groceries, and keep them safe in the kitchen, which will save you loads on food cost while traveling. While this hostel has a kitchen others may have a restaurant and bar for their guest. Depending on what you want to get out of your stay, there are so many options. 

Traditionally, hostels have multiple rooms with a lot of bunk beds filling the space. This still holds true but now you have more options for your stay. There are mixed bunk rooms with male and female guest, but you can also get rooms that are just for females or males, there are also private rooms with ensuite bathrooms that compare to hotel rooms but at half the cost. Also some hostels even have family rooms, so cut the cost of family travel in half by staying in a hostel. 

My absolute favorite thing about hostels is the location. Hostels in big cities are most likely located near the city center, public transport, and close to the tourist attraction. Instead of spending $150 or more for a hotel room or $50 on an Airbnb you can spend as little as $10 a night; this was the case for me when I had an early flight out of Shannon, Ireland. My hostel was near the airport, $10,  shared with two lovely girls traveling through Ireland together, and the bathroom was in the room. 

Hostels have evolved from dodgy budget accommodation to places that have a life all their own, they can enhance a persons travel experience by providing fellowship and a safe, comfortable place to lay your head and rest before discovering a new city.