I realized just how much I wanted to work in the travel industry during a study abroad trip after my sophomore year of college. I packed my bags for a month on the French Riviera at the Cannes Film Festival, hoping to be discovered for my lack of acting talent.
If you’re not familiar with the Cannes Film Festival, you should know that there are certain levels of badges. There’s the I’m-So-Famous-You-Don’t-Need-To-See-My-Badge. There’s the Market Badge, which gets semi-important people into most of the screenings. Then there’s the Cinephile Badge, which I was given. While most people think the word “cinephile” means movie lover, in French it actually translates to, “You cannot get into this screening, stupide. It is not possible.”
The badge also means you have to take any means necessary to find your own tickets. So, I joined my group of 25 peers on the Croisette with hand-written signs that begged, “Une billet, s’il vous plaît?”. Translated, that means: “One ticket, please.” However, many French men misunderstood this for, “Of course I would love receive payment as your personal escort this evening!”
The first ticket I obtained was by accident: as I leaned down to pick up the sign that I’d dropped, the wind blew my dress up. By the time I composed myself and turned around, an eager guy was holding out une billet to the world premiere of Disney’sUp. The irony that I received a ticket to a children’s movie by flashing someone is not beyond me.
However, because I wasn’t willing to do this every night, I faced heaps of rejection, and I do not handle rejection well. I realized just what it would take for me to break into the industry and my moral compass led me in a different direction – it led me directly onto an overnight train ride to Venice, Italy.
The festival barreled into my life like a hurricane, leaving me with a disoriented future (NO ONE picked me off the street and tried to hand me an acting career) and little to lose, which can make for some very spontaneous decision making. Mix in the influence of six other disillusioned peers and one will easily hop a train to any surrounding country, especially if that country promises an abundance of wine, fresh pasta, and tiramisu.
My friends and I took a day trip to Vintimiglia, Italy, a little town about an hour East of Nice, where we fell in love with the warmth and generosity of the locals. Although we had originally planned on day tripping around the area, we made a pact to venture further into Italy for the weekend. Armed with only my giant shoulder bag and a pair of high heels for our intended stop in Monte Carlo, I happily forked over the 50 Euro it would take to get me from Vintimiglia to Venice. What a steal!
What we weren’t told prior to our departure was that the last leg of our trip, a four hour train ride beginning at three in the morning from Verona, was overbooked. This meant that seven fully grown college students would have to share a 2×5’ hallway. When we arranged our bodies on top of one another, snuggled as close as newborn puppies, we realized that our home sweet hallway led to the restroom. Every time one of the other passengers felt the urge, we had to stand and hug the wall, allowing them enough room to squeeze by, smell up our end of the hallway, and return to their cushioned seats. By the time we reached Venice, we were miserable wrecks going on about 27 hours without sleep.
We stumbled out of the car, running into walls at the train station before realizing that the outside world was a straight shot in front of us. When we finally walked outside, I took in the most magnificent view of the sunrise, dancing and reflecting off of the Venetian canals, illuminating the city in a way that I could never capture in words. While my group argued over a game plan of whether to find a hotel or explore the city, I forged ahead and watched the sparkling sunrise. How incredible would it be, I thought to myself, if I could do this for a living? What if I could discover the world around me in a way I never thought possible?
My group spent the majority of our morning trying to find a hotel that would allow a ragtag team of mangy college students into their lobby, much less to stay in their accommodations.
By the time that magnificent Venetian sunrise had turned into a midday sun, we had made little progress in finding a room, refueling our tired bodies, or, worst of all, seeing the sights. I realized, staring longingly at a tourist-trap gondola, that I wanted to travel the world but Inever wanted to do it like this again. I wanted organization and rest. I wanted guided tours and five-star hotels. I wanted to ride gondolas and feed pigeons and to sit comfortably in train seats.
With that longing, I realized that I had an eye to plan and execute travel, not only for myself, but for others as well. My Venice trip marked the first and last spontaneous, under-planned adventure. Granted, in college, we all need to make those terrible decisions to shape our futures. However, as adults, who wants to risk missing out on the real joys of each city you’re fortunate enough to visit, just because you didn’t take the time to plan? That’s what inspired me to become a luxury travel consultant – everyone owes it to themselves to travel and to travel well.
Q and A with Lindsey Epperly
You were deemed as one of the top 30 agents under 30 years old worldwide by Travel Agent Magazine; what’s your secret to planning the right trip for the right person?
My secret is forming a relationship with my clients –I refuse to look at travel planning as just a transaction. I view it as a chance to get to know my clients on an individual basis and match them with the perfect place. I do my research – meaning that I travel at any given opportunity. When I go on trips, I’ll see a resort and say, “So and so would LOVE this!”. It’s like having a personal shopper for your vacations.
You definitely appreciate the finer things in travel, and who can blame you, but do you ever think luxury can get in the way of the genuine experience?
I believe there is a fine balance where luxury can heighten a genuine experience. For my clients, I know they want to feel comfortable and secure when they travel. I work with trusted companies around the world that can ensure their ease of travel without sacrificing the overall experience. If culture and genuine immersion is what they want, that’s exactly what they’ll get!
Where is one place that you’ve traveled that made you feel the most pampered, in that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening kind of way….
Hands down, French Polynesia. Nothing will ever compare to the feeling of walking into your own overwater bungalow – I literally screamed with joy when I saw mine. You can open the coffee tables and feed the fish swimming below! And if you’re brave enough, you can jump through said coffee table – but I don’t necessarily advise that.
With so much online information and easy booking sites, how do you promise an experience someone can’t find on their own?
You partially answered this in your question – when you’re searching online, there is SO MUCH information that it’s overwhelming. Online booking engines aren’t going to match your interests and personalities with the best destination – they’re going to show you the cheapest thing first and hope that you don’t research it too much to find out it’s not really paradise! The expertise and connections I’ve obtained from my time in the business, plus my own travel experiences, really allow me to take care of my clients – and that doesn’t even mean spending more money. People are often surprised to find out that it costs the same to work with me as it will to book online!
If you had to trust a celebrity to plan your vacation, who would you choose and why?
Jake Gyllenhaal because I’d buy anything that man was selling. I also try to mention him in anything I’m quoted in so that maybe he’ll take notice of me one day.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about going camping?
“I wonder what camping is like?”
HA! I genuinely have never been. I’m not the most outdoorsy of girls and would much rather have an adrenaline rush than spend the night in the woods. I’m going to South Africa in May – so I will have swam with sharks (if I get the nerve) before I’ve ever camped!
I would panic about planning someone else’s vacation; I can barely manage myself. Do you worry about your clients while they’re gone?
YES! I get so close to my clients that my worry is as genuine as worrying about a friend who’s traveling – I just want to make sure they’re having a good time and all is going well. Just in case, I give them my cell number so they can call me in case anything goes wrong – I’ve had people call me from a delayed flight at the airport at 5 in the morning before and I hop out of bed to help them. That’s one of the benefits of working with me, I’m not going to let my clients down in their time of need.
Do your friends’ and family reap the benefits of having such a travel savvy trip planner in their lives?
Absolutely, probably too much – my mom is my best travel companion and she’s trying to keep me from getting married so I don’t replace her with a man.
How much traveling do you get to do with your job, ‘cause it’s kind of seeming like a dream job?
It is a dream job – I am really, really blessed. I began my job during college so I built up a good amount of knowledge over the years. I just graduated this past May and now I’m at a point in my life where I’m not tied down to a family or a 9-5 job, so I’m taking advantage of my travel opportunities as much as possible. I get to travel about once every other month, or as the opportunities arise. It’s never free, I still invest a good bit to go on the trips, but they’re such great learning experiences that I have a hard time turning down a chance to test out the products!
What do you always advise your clients to avoid—your motherly travel no-no, so to speak?
It depends on the country – don’t buy a timeshare in Mexico, don’t wear camouflage in St. Lucia, don’t accidentally smuggle mini souvenir rum bottles into the United States if you’re underage and then report it on your claims form (yours truly made that stupid mistake on my first international business trip at 20 years old).
In all seriousness: I tell my clients to keep their wits about them. Travelers don’t realize that they stick out like sore thumbs in some countries, which sets them up for being the target of theft or other incidents. Always make a copy of your passports and credit cards, leave your itinerary with someone you trust at home, and never assume that just because you’re on vacation that the bad guys are, too.