Published On: Sun, Jun 18th, 2017

Meet the Nomadic Travel Agent

PHOTO: Susan Butler embarked upon a year-long adventure to learn more about the places where she’s traveling. (photo by Susan Butler)

When Susan Butler is done traveling, she doesn’t have a home to come back to.

She gave up her place in Houston, Texas, downsized her belongings and put everything but her clothes and computers into storage so that she could travel as much as possible this year.

“I’ve had the idea to live more minimally for a while,” said Butler, founder of The Travel Butler, an affiliate of Travel Experts, who recently traveled to Portugal, Germany, and Austria. “I’m just finally doing something about it.”

Butler once lived in an almost 4,000 square foot home, but it didn’t make her happy.

“I’m really not a “stuff” person,” she said. “I appreciate a thoughtful gift, but experiences, people and animals are what give me great joy.

“My 20-something self would have thought I’d be married and have two or three kids by now, but since that is not how my life has unfolded, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to really explore destinations in depth, live more like a local when I travel and stay in places for a more extended period of time.”

As a travel agent, she still has to manage her client load while on the road, but she allows time to be able to learn and also work.

“This can be a tricky balancing act, although [I’m] not sure any career in this industry is truly ever balanced,” she said.

Don’t ask her about a plan though. The nomad in her will take it as it comes.

“I don’t have a set plan as it is formulating as the year goes on,” said Butler.

Next up is Turks and Caicos, then South Beach and Houston, where she will stay with her cousin for several days to do laundry and repack for an adventure and hiking trip to Peru.

READ MORE: How Travel Agents Can Thrive in Uncertain Times

Fiji, Italy and France are on her radar for August, and she’ll be in England for September to see different hotels and try out various guides for her clients.

“I will join my parents and one of their best friends on a trip through England and Scotland,” she said. “October is looking to be Greece or Croatia, or a combination of both.”

November will be all about Spain and Butler will be attending EMOTIONS Barcelona. She embarked on such an adventure to learn more about the culture, food, people and history of the places she travels. She will showcase some of what she learns on social media.

“It will hopefully inspire others to see destinations in a new perspective and perhaps introduce my followers to places they may have never considered before,” she said.

“Of course, I will be doing lots of hotel site inspections and getting to know my colleagues in-country better, trying out various guides and other suppliers to see who the best fit is for my clients. Ultimately my goal is to bring the best experience to my clients when they travel. They are always top of mind and, in many regards, my clients are like family. I get as excited or more so than they do, and I truly want the best for them. “

This trip helps her to become a better travel agent.

“There is no replacement for experiencing a destination in person,” said Butler. “I need to touch and feel and taste to fully understand and explain a destination to my clients. The biggest value any agent can provide his/her clients is the firsthand experience and knowledge. Many travelers go to one city—Paris, for example—and say they’ve been to France. While technically they have, if that is the only place they have been to, they have not fully understood what France is all about.”

Many of Butler’s clients are also adventure travelers.

“Many of my clients prefer to explore the world in unconventional ways, whether that means through amazing culinary, historical and cultural experiences, active pursuits or soft and extreme adventures,” she said. “When I say “adventure travel” what I mean is I am a travel advisor that is inspired by traveling in an impactful way, and I want to bring these opportunities to my clients.  

Butler said that she has a vested interest in the sustainable development of tourism so that many can enjoy these places for years to come: 

“Travel and tourism is the world’s largest commercial service sector. As such, the industry has a significant impact on the economic well-being of people and the environment. Adventure tourism is predominantly comprised of small businesses working in rural areas and wilderness environments, which are even more dependent on human and nature capital. I view the protection and promotion of these resources as central to our industry’s success.”     

READ MORE: Best Money-Saving Tips from Travel Agents

Butler didn’t go to college to study the travel industry, however.

“I went to college to be an accountant, got my Masters and Undergrad from Texas A&M and worked for one of the big four accounting firms and eventually worked on the industry side,” she said.

But Butler never liked it and, after seven years decided travel was her strongest passion but also a field where she could add value to her clients as well as make a living.

 “Life was too short to continue to go to work merely for a paycheck and nothing more,” she said. So, she quit and reached out to a Virtuoso agency in Houston.

They wouldn’t hire her without experience, so she worked hard to network and met mentors, worked her first luxury travel trade show and changed the trajectory of her life.

“My background in accounting has served me well as a business woman, but also my attention to detail and ambitious nature has been key to surviving and thriving in this industry,” she said.

What advice would she give to other travel agents who want to specialize in this area? 

“Invest the time and money to travel to places and try out experiences that are what you want to sell,” she said. “You can’t sell travel well if you don’t travel yourself. I wouldn’t want a doctor who wasn’t keeping up with the latest technology, medicines and medical advancements.”   

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