Biography

Quebec, 2018

I’m Anna – a real person behind those fabulous trips I hope you love!  I work extremely hard to help you experience the life-changing benefits of travel, and I always plan your trips with the same care I’d plan on my own.  But what makes me, me?  Why do I have this business?  What else have I done, or do, in my life? Let me take you on a genealogical adventure…

International Beginnings

My mother’s father, my grandfather, had a distinguished diplomatic career that took him from London to central Africa to Paris at the end of World War II, to Washington DC, to Southeast Asia, and finally as Portuguese Ambassador to Sweden, Pakistan, and Chile. His father, my great grandfather, had a similar career and was the consul general of Portugal in Shanghai, New York, London, Tanger, and Amsterdam.

My grandfather married an Argentinian,  my grandmother,  who herself came from a diplomatic and military family in Buenos Aires and who were part of the group of generals who tried to overthrow Juan Peron.  My grandmother met my grandfather in London, when she was living there with her father, working on behalf of the Argentinian government and later flew to what was then the Belgian Congo to marry him without friends or family present. 

My mother, grandmother, and aunt in 1954, about to set sail from New York to return to Europe

My father was American who left his small town in the rural USA to join the Navy at age 19 and retired after 25 years with tours of Vietnam,  the Gulf War,  and work with NATO,  where he met my mother in Lisbon, Portugal, when he was setting up the NATO headquarters there.   I was born outside the USA and didn’t even move to America (PA) until I was almost 11.   I hold both American and Portuguese passports and love both my countries!

Cascais, Portugal, 2017

The 2005 Riots in France 

After completing a semester of study abroad in Italy, I applied to study abroad in France with the International Partnership for Service Learning.  I studied at a university in southern France for the fall semester of my senior year and was required to have 20 hours of volunteer work each week. 

My volunteer placements were with Pharmacists without Borders as well as a middle school as an English teaching assistant.

I studied there in fall of 2005, and by October and November,  France was in flames with the 2005 French riots, a three-week period of riots in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities that involved the burning of cars and public buildings at night.   The riots resulted in more than 8,000 vehicles being burned by the rioters and more than 2,760 individuals arrested. It was the first time since World War II that a curfew had been enacted, and being there as a young person to see the simmering xenophobia and socio-economic dissatisfaction that is still part of French society even now in 2018,  was very impactful.  This experience would begin to affect the trajectory of my life in ways I could not yet predict. 

 At the middle school where I volunteered,  a young girl invited me to her home’s Christmas Party.  I say home because I found out she lived in a group housing run by social services for children whose parents were no longer able to take care of her.   Being the only person who came to this party on her behalf began to get me thinking about the influence of adults on young people and what her life would have been life if she hadn’t been born in the “Arab” neighborhoods of the city. 

What was her life like that the only person who she invited to a Christmas party was an American study abroad teacher?   This experience led to my decision a year later to work with youth in the inner cities through an AmeriCorps program. 

A Year with AmeriCorps 

I wanted to continue having an impact on the world,  and I knew that travel and global adventures would come my way later.   It was important to me that I stay in the United States for my service year,  because I’d seen in France the effects of a disengaged youth population. 

Community service day

So my sister and I moved to Philadelphia to become City Year corps members.  City Year teams are made up of 18 to 24 year olds, who provide student, classroom, and whole school support, intended to help students stay in school and on track to graduate high school.   You’re placed on a team of corps members who may or may not have a college degree, who may or may not come from severe socio economic disadvantages,  and who may or may not have completely different experiences based on their race or gender than you do.   You have to navigate all these differences while trying to also serve the students in the schools that you’re placed. 

The high school where I was placed was Fels High School in northeast Philly,  and in 2007 when I was there it was listed as one of the most dangerous high schools in Pennsylania for several consecutive years.  

I had never been exposed to the types of hardships faced by ordinary Americans in the inner-city. I still wonder in my head if I did enough to help. I worked with high schoolers developing career preparatory and financial literacy after-school programs,  as well engaging students with college/career assistance and organizing community service activities.   My international interests were also served by working with the refugee and English as a Second Language students in the school as well.  

Appearing on “In Focus” on myPHL17 (a subsidiary of NBC) in my City Year uniform to talk about our work

The Peace Corps 

At this point,  I still thought I was going to grow up and become an international aid worker or a diplomat.  Most job listings called for two or more years of development work on your resume, and the Peace Corps was one of the best ways to obtain that experience.  So after City Year wrapped up,  I joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Togo, West Africa,  where I extended my service to a full 2 1/2 years living and working in a very small village in the south of the country.

 

I lived in a small village without electricity or running water where my assignment was to promote women and girls’ education and empowerment. I designed and executed several student and community trainings on peer education, HIV/AIDS prevention, life skills, computer usage, and literacy.  

Funny story — the computer literacy training was done without computers: we used flipchart paper to replicate keyboards and buttons and to imagine the computers.  I helped design seminars focused on reducing the school dropout rate for females.  I worked in primary schools leading group sessions the importance of education, self-esteem, and civic engagement.  I taught adult learners French,  and I worked with apprentices on income generating activities.  During my time in Togo,  I also traveled to Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger.   

But it was the relationships ultimately that changed my life,  and it was the relationships that helped make me open to other adventures in my life outside of being a diplomat, which I had assumed was my family destiny. Working in developing countries is very stressful as well,  and when I finally did leave the Peace Corps,  I knew it was the safest and healthiest decision I could make at that time.  I haven’t shut the door to either the Foreign Service or working in international development again,  but at that time , in 2010,  I knew it was not a good option as I needed to reflect on my experience living in West Africa and to heal from the emotional and physical hardship of village life.

When I think of my time in the Peace Corps,  it’s not the number of women I taught to speak French,  or the number of babies that I weighed, or the number of moms I educated on the importance of vaccinations.  It’s the relationships that matter,  and I think that that lesson affected my career path which then took me into secondary and higher education for a few years.   The letters that the women and children of my village gave me when I left,  letting me know the impact I had had on their lives,  will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Building an international career based in the USA 

When I moved back to the USA, I worked as an international advisor, issuing immigration documents for students, at a prestigious sports boarding school in Florida.  I interacted with international students every single day and it opened my eyes to the possibility of careers I’d never even considered before. 

After a student presentation in Guangzhou, China

A few years afterwards, I moved to Pittsburgh to serve as the Assistant Director of International Admissions at a well-ranked private university.   I worked in the Office of International Programs for 5 years,  traveling all over the world and recruiting students to come to school here, and developing my global marketing skills and program management skills.   

I got to hike the Great Wall of China,  horse back ride in Argentina,  eat yummy food in Hong Kong,  visit alumni in Kuwait, and present at conferences in the US and in Europe.   

I discovered a love for marketing and for innovation, piloting programs in my field to improve our communication strategies with new students and to train our partners across the world.  

Argentina, 2017

Moving into the non-profit world

After working in international marketing and student recruitment for five years,  I transitioned to directing public programs at a non profit focused on global issues .where I coordinated our engagement efforts, created speaker programs for international experts on global affairs, and helped bring greater awareness of international affairs to the Greater Pittsburgh area.  I also recently helped lead a 3 week university study abroad trip to Europe.  This was my last “office” position before I successfully transitioned to running my travel agency full-time, even though I had been a travel agent for several years prior.  

A travel agent since 2010

A cooking class in Morocco, 2018

When I first moved back to the USA from living in West Africa,  I was giving a new friend some tips for travel to Europe and she commented, “You should be a travel agent.”  It sparked a rabbit-hole of research and I thought, Why not?  I had no idea what was involved,  but I spent the weekend researching, and within a few days I had signed up with one of the best host agencies in the country,  Cruises & Tours Unltd, as an independent contractor,  even though I was enjoying my day-job.

I spent hours taking online certifications for various cruise lines and country destinations.  I poured over business best practices and discussions on how to serve clients better.   I used my own travels to start to build a repertoire of itineraries, trip suggestions, and recommendations.   And slowly I started to build up a base of satisfied customers, even while I was progressing in my other careers.  

As I became more and more experienced, I discovered I had a knack for fitting all the pieces of a complicated trip together.  My own travel style helped me send itineraries to clients that carefully balanced the touristic necessities with time for individual discovery and relaxation.  I problem-solved before the clients even knew there was a problem,  and became bolder about urging new clients to adapt their travel plans to an agenda that I knew would ameliorate their experiences.   And I started getting the best gift of all – clients referring their friends and family to me, knowing I’d do my absolute best to design a fantastic trip.  My ‘hobby’ that started in 2010 quickly became a full-fledged business. 

Ecuador, 2015, standing on the equator line

I’m updating this in 2019,  and I’ve now had a travel consulting business for 9 years.  I’m proud of my repeat clients,  and the successful business I’ve built up.  My clients have traveled all over the world to Greenland,  South Africa, Tanzania, Colombia, Belize, Japan, Portugal, Italy, Australia, and more.  I’ve put together 100+ person group cruises, and customized honeymoons and special occasions.  I’ve answered client emails while I stay in hotels in Ecuador, Honduras, France, and Hong Kong, continuing to educate myself about what’s best in the tourism industry. 

I invest hours into each trip I design,  and I know my life background and the wonderful careers I’ve had make me an even better travel agent.   And I’ve stayed true to my international interests and my family heritage. 

Thank you for letting me be a part of your travel adventures!

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