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Cash In on Your Travel Bug

a woman works on her travel business by the sea


Get paid and satisfy your wanderlust by starting a travel-related business.

Have you been tethered to your desk for most of your working life and are eager to pull up anchor? Have you fallen in love with an exotic location? Are you a world traveler who wants to use your experience to launch a new venture? All of the above?

Whatever siren song is luring you into uncharted territory, know that you are not alone. Travel ranks high on the list of many people's retirement goals, but the high cost of travel can make that trip to the Galápagos Islands difficult to realize. A travel-related business, however, might just afford you the opportunity to cross a few things off your bucket list. While it's a lot of work, it is possible to turn your love of far-flung locales into an encore career. We talked with six people who did just that, and their advice may surprise you.

1. Leverage your previous work experience.

While it's nice to pivot 180 degrees away from your previous career, don't discount all the skills and experience you are bringing to your new venture. Ruby Montana, 69, sold her Pinto Pony collectibles shop in Seattle in 2000. She then relocated to Palm Springs, Calif., and opened up the Coral Sands Inn, a 1952 motor lodge filled with her curated collection of kitsch. She brought with her boundless energy, a loyal following, a distinct brand and her extroverted nature. "I'm a 10 on the social scale," she says.

Focus on your ultimate goals and decide how much time and money you're willing and able to put into your business. "I made the decision early on to do travel writing as a way of branding, marketing and promoting myself," says Don Mankin, 75, a psychologist, former academic and travel writer who brands himself as the Adventure Geezer. "I do public speaking and consulting work now, and still do a little academic stuff." In other words, he's not in it for the money, and he doesn't need to be.

2. Research your destination(s).

If you plan to relocate to a new city or country to start a business, get the lay of the land by spending significant time there before taking the plunge. Will the climate suit you year-round? Are you going to experience island fever or feel landlocked? Can you afford it? Use this time to collect intel and to cultivate valuable relationships for when you actually relocate and set up shop.

Montana found that she could adapt from rainy Seattle to sunny Palm Springs just fine. "The weather in Palm Springs is almost always fabulous, except for two months of hellish heat," she says. "I wanted to start a new chapter and learned that it's 70 to 80 degrees here most of the time. I was born to live in shorts and flip-flops for this section of my life."

3. Keep your costs low.

It's great to bring a "go big or go home" attitude to a new business, but experts say to start small and build from there. Before founding Sixty and Me, a website to help women over 60 live happy, healthy and financially secure lives, Margaret Manning, 68, channeled her love of India into an import company. She invested $1,000 in textiles, found a storefront and hired a manager — but she kept her day job at Microsoft. She got great press, developed a small but loyal community, and was able to travel to India twice a year. But, as she puts it, how many scarves do you have to sell to make back your investment and business expenses? It turns out, more than the demand, and she eventually shuttered the business.

"Don't put love of a foreign country above your business," says Manning, who lives and works in Switzerland. "Do what you have a passion for but make sure you have processes in place." Rather than opening a brick-and-mortar store, for example, consider creating an online shop and hosting trunk shows in boutiques or private homes to build a client base.

4. Expand your network.

Depending on the nature of your business, join professional organizations, regional chambers of commerce and travel organizations that can offer resources and networking opportunities. For example, the Adventure Travel Trade Association serves more than 1,000 members in 100 countries and can assist with locating tour operators, specialty agents, tourism boards and anyone else focused on adventure tourism.

When thinking about your network, make sure to build your following and your online presence as well. Sixty and Me has an engaged community of 350,000 women, and Manning is able to leverage that audience into complimentary accommodations and cruises for herself. "In Bali, I got to stay in beautiful hotels, with the understanding that I was going to tell my audience all about my experience," she says.

5. Find a helpful partner.

If you are moving to another country, particularly one with a different native tongue, you should research and pinpoint trusted partners. A Rick Steves' Europe tour guide, speaker and travel consultant for 20-plus years, Reid Coen, 59, founded Imprint Tours to take American clients to foreign destinations. "With that in mind, the most important factor is choosing the right foreign partner, and then letting them guide you through the intricacies of local laws, restrictions and statutes," Coen says.

Even if you plan to run a travel business from your current location, it's a great idea to find a like-minded person at the same stage in his or her life to go into business with. Heather Murchison, 56, and Marta Rabins, 59, started Ponte Travels after discovering their love of travel, shared philosophy and peripatetic backgrounds. "Fortunately, we have complementary skill sets. Heather focuses on tech issues, and I take on marketing. As partners, we cover each other," Rabins says.

6. Put processes in place.

You might start a travel business because you enjoy the spontaneity and informality of a young company. However, it's still a business that might require systems and procedures to run smoothly. Even though contracts with associates in different countries might not be legally binding, it's a smart move to draw up contracts or agreements that spell everything out in detail so things don't fall through the cracks because of cultural differences or assumptions.

7. Be strategic about your tech needs.

Staying connected is a chief concern for anyone traveling in 2017, and it's particularly important if you are working far afield. Murchison and Rabins have mobile phones with an international calling plan, keep all client info on a cloud-based system so they have access to files when traveling, and carry Wi-Fi hot spot devices to connect securely to the internet. When traveling, they advise never transporting electronic equipment — including power and USB cords — in a checked bag. Instead, always carry your devices with you on a plane.

Manning prioritizes Wi-Fi availability over just about everything (except safety) when booking accommodations. "Don't be afraid to go to hostels and places catering to millennials because they are geared for digital work and know younger guests won't stay somewhere if they can't get online," she says.

The bottom line: Any start-up business requires significant energy and commitment. While many adventurous souls make a living working in the travel industry, a love of travel and people is usually the primary motivation, not financial gain. As a part-time career, however, it can be a wonderful way to subsidize your seeing the world. "It's a great activity for someone who's older, financially independent and semi retired. It keeps you engaged psychologically, mentally, emotionally. It keeps you from getting old," Mankin says.

Whatever your path, bon voyage and bonne chance!


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