Travel the World for Free: Become a Luxury Travel Advisor

Becoming a luxury travel advisor — hard work, but you’ll see the world. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Dream jobs do exist. Unfortunately, you can’t wake up one day and decide to get paid to travel around the world.

Or can you?

Successful luxury travel advisors do just that. As part of my job reporting on travel trends, I’ve attended events around the world like Virtuoso Travel Week and ILTM (International Luxury Travel Mart) and interviewed hundreds of advisors on how they became successful — and how being a travel advisor today is different from being a travel agent of the past.

The job itself is being reinvented, and so is the job title. The term “travel agent” feels outdated and transactional, conjuring an image of sending out paper airline tickets. Today, travel advisors consider themselves integral to their clients’ lives, guiding them to make decisions on significant life journeys and travel moments.

Related: 8 Tips on How to Quit Your Job and Travel the World

A modern travel advisor is different from an old-school travel agent. (Photo: Thinkstock)

“Travel advisors manage your most valuable, non-renewable asset: your leisure time,” explained Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso. There has been a significant rise in younger advisors entering the field, managing travel for their millennial and Gen-X friends. “I’ve never seen people go from zero dollars to a million-dollar book of business in such a short amount of time,” Upchurch said. Advisors provide an alternative to a complicated, sometimes overwhelming network of travel websites.

Related: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Travel Blogger

There is a lot of hard work behind the glamorous Instagram photos of advisors swanning around the world, sipping champagne at events, and lounging poolside. “If your intention is simply to travel for free, don’t bother,” said Erina Pindar, managing director of SmartFlyer. “It may seem glamorous to work as a ‘professional jetsetter,’ but reality is, you’re staying at five hotels in five nights with non-stop meetings and working breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It will be educational, fun, and exciting, but it certainly is not relaxing.”

Still interested? Here are some tips I’ve picked up from the best in the business.

The best travel advisors never stop working. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Make Step One Happen

How do you actually start? Step one is to reach out to a local host agency in your hometown and consider reaching out to a larger consortia such as Virtuoso, Signature Travel Network, or Travel Leaders Group. Host agencies often welcome informational interviews, while the advisor networks have specific programs to help prospective and new advisors get acclimated. Read trade publications like Travel Pulse, Travel Weekly, and Luxury Travel Advisor to prepare yourself for meetings. A tip: when asked why you want to become an advisor, don’t say, “I love traveling and I love people!”

You Need The Right Support System

The ideal support system is the right consortia and the right host agency. With a larger agency, Pindar says, you’ll have buying power you wouldn’t have as a new agent, as well as the network and relationships to compete. Shelby Donley, owner of Camelback Odyssey Travel, explained how the right consortia allowed her to succeed. “I wouldn’t be in business today if it wasn’t for Virtuoso and the relationships. They matched me with other agency owners that I could immediately learn from,” she said. “I can call on a hotel on the Amalfi Coast that may not know who I am, but yet they do because of the Virtuoso connection.” 

You Won’t Make Money Right Away

You won’t become a successful travel advisor overnight. (Photo: Thinkstock)

It takes time to ramp up your business, typically anywhere between three months to a year. “Usually advisors start to see all the hard work of the first year paying off in their second year. Bookings are traveled, commissions are paid, and referrals are coming in,” Pindar said.

Know That You Are in Sales

You have to be willing to put yourself out there and sell yourself as an expert before a client will trust your ability to sell them travel. To deliver the best “wow” moments to clients, you also need to sell yourself to industry partners (like hotels and cruise lines) and develop personal relationships with those on the ground making these moments happen. This takes years of networking.

Have Contacts Ready

Let’s say you’re a career changer. You were a lawyer or in advertising, and now you want to be a travel advisor. How can your contacts now trust you with planning their travel? Donley has developed a program called Debut, which allows newbies to re-introduce themselves to the contacts they already have and explain that they are now part of a 55-year-old company with relationships to back up the business. To look at the job as a career rather than a hobby, you need to have a network beyond your family and a launch plan for how you will utilize those contacts.

Market Yourself As a Niche Expert

At the beginning, travel advisors should have a specialty. (Photo: Thinkstock)

When you’re first starting out, you’ll probably know very little about certain destinations, hotels, cruises, and tour operators. A way to rise above the crowd is to specialize in one particular type of travel. “If you build yourself as an expert, you’ll grow your business faster,” said Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Advisors. “Eventually, you can branch out into other fields, but to separate yourself from the competition, you need to have a specialty, be it the safari guru, the family travel planner, or the honeymoon expert. You could even specialize in gay honeymoons, which is a booming business right now.”

Have A Passion for Perfection

Planning trips can be about excruciating detail and following up after you’ve followed up three times. Even then, the weather might throw you an unexpected hurricane or snowstorm. You have to be incredibly resilient and know that if there’s a train strike in France, you might not get any sleep as you help develop an alternate plan for your clients. “The satisfaction we get from delighting clients is so heartfelt to us,” Donley said, “as well as the heartache when they’re disappointed.”

You’ll Have a Second Family

The travel industry is one of the closest in the world. Friendships intensify quickly at events as you watch fireworks in Berlin, ride camels in Dubai, or set sail in the Mediterranean. “I never anticipated the friendships I would forge,” Donley told me. “We’re like family because we end up in all these places together and share these moments. This work has completely changed who I am as a person and how I run my life. It has completely transformed me.”

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