With her kids in high school, Mylene needed to find a new pursuit. And because her husband is in the Army, she needed to be able to work anywhere. A chance to get some business advice convinced her to start her own agency; she puts her research and planning skills to good use while helping her clients realize their travel dreams—affordably.
Tell us a little about your background…
I was born in the Philippines and moved to New York when I was four, then Texas when I was 13, just in time for high school. I graduated in 1992 from the University of North Texas with a degree in Business/Marketing, then moved to Atlanta to work as a sales rep for Pitney Bowes. I met my husband, Adam, when he was at Officer Training Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, two hours away. He took a break with friends and drove to Atlanta. I was out with friends in the same bar. We started a long distance relationship before he eventually moved to Atlanta and we married.
When our daughter Sophia was 11 months old, she got very sick while in daycare. They tried calling me but I was in a sales meeting and had my cell phone off. They also couldn’t get a hold of Adam. When I got to the daycare, Sophia was listless in a crib with a washcloth over her face. She had a 105-degree fever; we took her to the hospital straight away. That’s when we decided that I would be a stay-at-home mom.
In 2000, we moved to Maine to be closer to family—my mother-in-law lived in New Hampshire and we wanted the kids to know their extended family. Since then, I have had short stints as a financial consultant for MetLife, a professional fundraiser for The March of Dimes and owner of a couple of network marketing businesses. None of them fulfilled me as much as being home with my kids, Sophia and Joshua.
When did you start to think about making a change?
My husband is in the Army and travels a lot. With our kids in high school, I needed something to keep me occupied. I wanted to do something for me, something to make me happy. I saw an ad on Facebook for military wives and female veterans: V-WISE was coming to Boston to help women like me start a business. V-Wise, Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, is a program by Syracuse University helping women veterans and military wives start businesses. I jumped at the chance.
What is your next act? Tell us about what you are doing and what you love about it.
I launched my travel business, Jetset Destinations, in October of 2015, at the age of 46. I help people find wonderful vacations. From cruises to all-inclusive trips to everything in between. I wanted to help others use their vacation time in the most wonderful ways, to help make their travel dreams come true and maybe check one or two things off their bucket lists.
I work with families and groups that are looking for a full service experience. I interview the client by asking questions such as: What was your favorite vacation and why? Where do you want to travel to for this vacation? Who are you going with and what is your budget is? Sometimes clients want to go to a specific country but really don’t know very much about what is offered there. My job is to inform them and give them vacation options.
I had a client call me on Dec 23rd. Her husband had died a month before, after a long and painful illness. She wanted to take her daughter away after Christmas. They needed a break. They needed to make some good memories. I found her a great cruise on the Norwegian Getaway that was leaving on the 27th for a week. My family and I took that same cruise earlier that year and highly recommended it. Within a day her cruise, airline tickets, hotel the night prior, and all transfers were booked. I printed out her itinerary, baggage tags and even had seasickness remedies ready for them just in case.
I specialize in vacations with families, such as Disney and the Caribbean and Central America, but also work with groups. I’m putting together a cruise with a group of high school seniors.
While you can book your own vacation on Expedia or through the hotel directly, you’ll need to spend hours researching locations, hotels, and flight options. I do that all for you with no extra cost. The fees and commission you would pay to Expedia is what I make. I have different tour companies that I can book with. With the volume of trips booked I can offer the same price or better and sometimes with enhanced amenities. I also work with air consolidators who can give great discounts for both international and domestic flights. I make my money through the tour companies, cruise lines, and hotels directly. The customer gets the same price and less work—it’s a no brainer. And if something happens while you’re on vacation, instead of calling the 1-800 number for Expedia, you call me. It’s a win-win.
There are some benefits that come with being a travel agent such as discounted travel and FAMs (familiarization trips). From time to time, cruise lines and resorts offer trips to travel agents to experience their brand. These trips are usually very busy and have very little down time but it’s a great way to visit different countries, resorts, and cruise lines.
While I do use Facebook to promote my business, I get most of my clients through word of mouth and referrals. I plan to do more advertising as my marketing budget increases.
Why did you choose this next act?
I launched my travel agency because I love to travel and I can do this work from anywhere. As long as I have a laptop, Wifi, and my cell phone, I can work remotely. As I said before, my husband is in the military and my kids will be going off to college soon so my life needs to be flexible. We’ve been lucky to have been posted in Maine while our kids were young—we have lived in our house for 12 years. My husband has now moved to NY without us so that the kids can stay in their current school. After they graduate, I will most likely move with him to our next duty station.
My family and I have always loved traveling and seeing new places. From the beginning, my husband and I made a pact to travel somewhere new with the kids each year. Some of our most memorable trips have been to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Disney, Washington DC, California, Colorado, Costa Rica, and Scotland, as well as all over the Caribbean and US. Just recently, we visited Puerto Rico; we rented a car and saw most of the island. We loved hiking, kayaking and snorkeling.
I also considered opening up a Food Truck business because of my love for food but decided it was not at all flexible and the startup costs were too high.
How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
V-Wise showed me how to write a business plan, market my business and network with others. I meet 200 other entrepreneurs going through the same thing. They helped me answer hard questions. I made sure that I was ready for the hard work of owning a business. I learned about social networking.
It was scary. There are startup costs. My husband was the only one working and money was always tight. I researched how to start a travel agency and wrote a business plan. I researched host agencies vs. franchising vs. being on your own. I chose to become affiliated with KHM Travel Group. They help me with training and marketing. They also have relationships with vacation.com, funjet, gogo travel and many others. This helps me with getting better pricing and incentives for my customers. They were reasonably priced and seemed very helpful whenever I had any questions.
KHM can also help you get training on just about anything. I’ve gotten my certifications in Disney, Princess Cruises, Norwegian CL, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean. Getting certified with cruise lines and resorts ensures that you know how they do business and how to differentiate the various brands. Once you get certified, you can put it on your business card and sometimes get better incentives for your clients. They may also give you discounted rates to try out their cruises.
The more I learn, the more confident I become. With my extensive travel experience all around the world, I feel that I’ve made the right choice in starting Jetset Destinations.
How supportive were your family and friends?
They are very supportive. My husband loves that I have a plan now. He was worried about the empty nest syndrome and wanted me to do something for me. We’ve always traveled well but now my taste in travel has been broadened. My husband and I want to see more of the world after the kids graduate. My kids also love traveling and are very excited. We are planning on a Senior Trip to the Caribbean with my daughter’s class for next year.My friends and family also help with referrals.
What challenges are you encountering?
There are never enough hours in a day. I’m learning to fit it all in. I’ve always volunteered. I’m on the Football Boosters and Boy Scouts committee for my son. I’m also a Family Readiness Leader for my husband’s unit in the military: I help families make sure they get the information they need and the resources that will help during a deployment. And I’m busy helping our kids find their perfect colleges.
I haven’t managed my time very well. I seem to be working all the time. When a client calls or needs help, I tend to drop everything and do my best to help them. As my business grows and my experience increases, I think I will be able to have office hours. The kids have been very helpful in taking care of themselves. My daughter drives herself and her brother to school and activities.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
No, never. I love my job and love my business. I wish I had more time to attend seminars and conferences. But that time will come soon enough once the kids go off to college in a couple of years.
I have learned that I am strong and capable. I learned that my life is not over yet. That life is ever evolving and always changing. I know I will miss the kids when they go off to college but I’m looking forward to having more time for me, my husband, and my business.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Take a look at your passions, your hobbies. What makes you happy? What are you naturally good at? For me, I love to travel. I love seeing new places and meeting new people. I love eating at new places. I’m good at researching and planning a trip and vacation. I’m good at traveling with kids. I have lots of inside tricks and knowledge. I know how to stretch a vacation budget.
What advice do you have for those interested in becoming a travel agent or owning a travel business?
Do you have experience or is this a new career? Research the different host agencies and do your due diligence. What kind of time are you willing to give to your new career?
If you are interested in becoming a travel agent and have always loved to travel – Do it! There are host agencies out there to help you with training, marketing, and booking. I chose KHM because they help new agents. They have a low cost of ownership and plenty of people to help you along the way.
Favorite business resources:
If you are a military wife or female veteran, look into the V-Wise program. It’s a tremendous resource, with two days of training and motivational speakers.
Go to the Small Business Administration website to help you write a business plan and marketing plan.
I read and used The New Business Road Test: What entrepreneurs and executives should do before launching a lean start-up by John Mullins as a starting point.
I also found helpful Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way . . . In Life, In Love, and At Work by Nell Merlino.
Fiverr is great. I used them to design my logo.
Favorite travel magazines and books:
Of course I love Travel & Leisure magazine; I use it like I did the Sears catalog as a kid—looking for the next big thing, getting ideas for myself and my clients.
I also love watching Rick Steves on PBS and the Travel Channel for great information.
Contact Mylene Hollick at Mylene@JetsetDestinations.com