CapeWomenOnline - Where Cape Women Shine

Your local venue for the women of Cape Cod to share their ideas, experiences and resources while inspiring each other in their life's journey

Inspire . Encourage . Network . Share

Sign up for FREE Subscription and Event Updates
Working Women banner

A Passion For Passports

Working In The Student Travel Business

by K.S. Mueller

By the time this is published, we'll be opening our home in Eastham after another long winter's absence. That means it's spring – a very hectic time in student travel, where I've enjoyed a 30-year career.

Most people do not know about the niche we call "student travel". It's usually assumed, incorrectly, that we arrange student exchanges or semester-abroad programs for individual teenagers, ski trips, sports or music event tours, or the dreaded "spring-break" group tours to tropical, beach-party destinations.

Here's how I describe what we do at Passports Educational Group Travel: The French class goes to Paris (and Normandy, and the Loire Valley) for a week with their teacher. (The Spanish class goes to Spain or Costa Rica, the German class goes to Berlin, the art class goes to Rome… you get the idea.)

Even though I did study Travel and Tourism in college, and earned a certificate as a travel agent, I do not book tickets, hotels or travel services. Someone else does that.

I also hardly ever travel myself anymore. But I've been to some amazing places over the years, and, most importantly, I've been a part of helping thousands and thousands of American high school students, from all over the U.S., enrich their lives by taking a trip to Europe (or elsewhere) as part of their education.

Initially, I was hired as a computer "geek", operating two huge mainframe computers, each of which took up an entire room apiece, at the old Worcester Municipal Airport. I also did data entry, customer service, answering phones and accounts receivable.

This was back in the '80s: hair was spiked, clothes had a lot of zippers and shoulder pads, Madonna and Bon Jovi ruled the airwaves.

Eventually, we relocated the company from Worcester Airport to a 100-year-old converted farmhouse and barn in the central Massachusetts countryside.

In a so-called "lateral move" (translation: not a promotion), I became executive assistant to the marketing director. I continued in that position for a while, but then was offered a promotion back to my original department where I became office manager in charge of billing, customer service, computers and accounts receivable, and supervised six clerical workers.

Around this time, the student tour industry was in bad shape. Terrorism jitters, hostile takeovers and the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbee, Scotland were just too scary for parents to even consider sending their children on a trip overseas with a local teacher sponsored by some company way over there in Massachusetts.

As if that weren't stressful enough, I went through a divorce, the death of my father, and joined a 12-Step recovery program. The travel company disbanded, and I took a year off.

I collected unemployment for about five minutes, and then I worked "temp" jobs throughout central Massachusetts. I gained tremendous work experiences, and look back on that time with fond memories.

About eight months into that year, a bunch of us got together and began to re-build the original company under a new name. I worked in my spare time, for no pay, while "temping" paid my bills. Eventually, one travel group signed up, and then another, and another. Before we knew it, we were back in business!

At that point, individual job responsibilities went out the window. I did my "old job" and also helped with writing and marketing. I cleaned toilets, paid the bills, balanced the books, shoveled the front steps, fixed leaky faucets, purchased office supplies, and was co-director of sales. One thing I didn't do, and still don't do, is book travel services.

Eventually, we hired many employees, I supervised them all, and I was able to delegate. All the managers at the company, myself included, are working managers. We're not afraid to get our hands dirty, and we do.

That, along with our dedication to personalized customer service and our collaborative management style (think Ben & Jerry's) is the secret to our ongoing success. We also provide a superb tour package - teachers routinely give us A or A+ grades on their post-trip evaluations.

One day, I realized that I had delegated away my favorite task: data entry. Most office workers hate data entry. I adore data entry. I type super-fast, and enjoy the way a keyboard has become almost like an extension of my fingers, perhaps like a pianist would feel.

I decided to un-delegate data entry. Each day, I keep it off to the side on my desk and "save it for last," like a kid saving their favorite side dish on a plate. Dessert.

It's a return to my roots.

Going up the ladder is exhilarating (and hard, and lonely); you have to get down on the ground once in a while. Check that the roots are still firmly planted. Go back, so you don't forget from whence you came.

After three decades at the same company getting grounded is more important than ever. It's too easy to get complacent, wrapped up in the drama, angry, fed up, or burnt out.

It's good to remember how it all started, and how fun it has been – no two days have ever been the same, and I can't remember ever saying "I don't want to go to work today." I wouldn't have all this, I remind myself, if I hadn't done that.

And so, late in the day at the office, I pick up a pile of papers off the edge of my desk, I crank up the Bon Jovi… and I type.

K.S. Mueller writes short stories about dogs, cats and other topics during her spare time from her "real job" as a travel executive with Passports Educational Group Travel.

Mueller lives part-time in North Eastham and the rest of the time in the farm country of central Massachusetts, with her significant other, Gil, their three dogs, Hobie, Charlie Brown and 3-legged Cooper; and three cats: Cali, Tux and Newman.

Mueller has shared her life with dozens of dogs and cats since childhood, and volunteers for several animal-related non-profit organizations, including the Eastham Dog Owners Association, where she is a member of their board of directors.

In 2010, she discovered a box of letters written by her late parents during WWII, and is currently publishing those letters in a three-volume biography of the Mueller family.

Visit her web sites at:
and www.fibroworks.com