It has been an action-packed 6 months for the Travel Sisters network and that’s been good for the network and bad for the blog! We have many platforms we use to communicate - social media, our email list, Meet Up, Zooms, In person gatherings, trip specific meetings . . . but sometimes a good old blog post is just the right way to tell the bigger story of our network! Here’s what we’ve been up to:
In May, nine “Greek Goddesses” (the name of the WhatsApp group for communication) had a wonderful time exploring Athens, the Greek Isles, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Venice!
In September, seventeen “Ice Queens” had an action-packed time in Iceland! My takeaway? Iceland is like if Hawaii, Ireland and Alaska had a baby, lol - amazing volcanic land forms, glaciers and waterfalls AND remote rolling pastures filled with sheep.
We’ve sold out our Morocco trip for March 2024, received deposits, booked flights, and purchased insurance!
Behind all that was a lot of other milestones - new swag, some power lunches for input and feedback, and creating new processes for tipping, group dining, and foreign currency needs!
We also are learning what is NOT working - top of mind on that is weekend getaways. We’ve floated out three of those (Sunset Beach, Luray Caverns, NYC) and had no luck filling them. Our takeaway for now is that we will focus on longer distance travel as there seems to be much more appetite for those experiences.
We also learned that while lots of our Travel Sisters are interested in Spain, they want an itinerary in Fall 2024 that involves staying multiple nights at each hotel. We’ve decided this fall might be a good time to hold some destination-specific Zooms to gauge what people want and then build itineraries around that feedback.
We are learning that email is not going to work as a platform to “lift” significant work in the network and Zooms or in person meetings need to be very productive in terms of getting input and creating action items.
In that spirit, we listened in our last in-person meeting and decided a rough outline for where we will likely go next and here’s the rough plan:
We are scheduling the Spain related Zoom in the coming days; fill out this form if you want to be contacted / included.
I'll end with the toast delivered for the end of our Iceland adventure. That will always be a special memory for those helping to build this network - cheers!
To the Travel Sisters!
May the network grow wide, or may it grow deep,
Or may it do both!
And those gathered here keep
The story of the women
Who were fun and attractive,
But the most notable thing about them?
They are adaptive!
For they go together, and less money is spent,
So they can go farther,
And away they went!
To see the world and all its treasures,
sample its food, and gather its pleasures!
Three cheers for the women about whom they say
They truly knew how to seize the day!
Hip, hip, HOORAY! Hip hip Hooray!
-In Honor of the 2023 Ice Queens
The Travel Sisters Network had to file our taxes for the first time this month. It was a simple affair - I can transparently report we did not make any profits in 2022. You might think we are down about that, but you would be wrong. Because quick financial gain is not the goal of the TSN - building a community of women who can confidently travel together IS. And we are making great strides on that front - more on that in a minute!
There was a time we feared that once we made the Travel Sister Network concept public it could be quickly copied in other markets. That was when we thought a website would be the main driver of the network. Seems kind of silly now.
The main driver of the network is the CONNECTIONS that happen because of trips, Zooms, Meet-ups . . . all those connections are built on the same INTENTION - we want to go places! Anyone who wants to start a network like this has to be willing to commit to doing the spadework of building those connections, over time, without any guarantee of monetary gain. It suddenly seems a lot less “stealable”, right? Lol. Lucky for us, we are more than a year into that work and just as enthusiastic as ever. Joy is happening. Possibilities are blooming. And big trips are right around the corner!
This past week was a great indication of how things are manifesting on the ground. Nine of us are heading to Greece in 6 weeks and I spent a good amount of time making sure I had mastered the specialty dining options on Norwegian. I quickly realized we needed to work together fast to secure reservations for all of us who didn’t want to do specialty dining alone! And we did! Through our email group I sent out the call; within a day we all had a place at a shared table so we can all enjoy specialty dining together. Add to that how we mapped offshore excursions and extra tours and everyone has had an opportunity to craft their vacation to their liking, be it one with a lot of “me” time or one with constant togetherness- or something in between.
I also booked a trip for a Travel Sister to do a solo trip. You might be wondering how that could further our mission - we’re about traveling together, right? She found a tour with a group that pays travel agents commission for booking. While she could easily book the trip herself, she realized if she let us do it the commission could help the network cover some of our fixed costs. Same with the hotel, travel insurance, etc. In the end, the commissions from that solo trip will cover the cost of renting the clubhouse for our in person gathering May 20th! She’s the third Travel Sister that has helped “lift” the network by letting us book their personal travel! In the end, that helps grow the network and makes it more likely each of us can find the perfect Travel Sisters for the next trip we have our eye on.
A third example is different from the last one - it brought no money in but lots of joy, and having a dedicated agent on the job allows a little bandwidth for those kinds of efforts! One of our Travel Sisters went out on a limb and rented an apartment in NYC for a month in October. We agreed I would float the idea out in a network-wide email and see if we could find Travel Sisters who might want to rotate in for a week or more. It’s been so fun following up, connecting folks, hearing about how those conversations have planted a seed that is flowering. It will be so fun to think of them gallivanting around NYC this fall!
It occurs to me I am “burying the lead” by not discussing the fact that our in-person gathering at Duke Gardens this Saturday was AMAZING and our in person meeting in March at the clubhouse was EVEN MORE AMAZING?! So many women came to the clubhouse and we had such a great time?! So much food, such great “organized mingling” and conversation . . . we are definitely doing that again in May!
Duke Gardens allowed us to bask in the beauty of nature and meet a new friend at Duke Chapel - Oscar the Chapel Housekeeper. Oh the stories he could tell! At the end of our time together in Duke Gardens a number of us had settled on a picnic blanket to craft some luggage “poms.” I finally realized that just about everyone there was enrolled to go to Morocco in about a year. A whole year out we are together and having fun! Imagine the peace and excitement we will be feeling next March as we pack to head out. I can hardly wait already?!
Thanks to the investment of everyone, we may not be rich on our taxes, but we are feeling very rich in hope and optimism! Anything built on that foundation cannot be a losing proposition! Let’s keep going!
Hope to see you soon - thanks for reading along!
I was talking to a new Travel Sister on the phone the other day and she was just so excited to be a part of our network. She came to our in person event at Panera this month and realized we were going to Greece and that that was a dream she had for her 60th birthday. As we made plans to followup and everyone parted ways, she headed out to her car. To her surprise, it wouldn’t start. She realized it was the battery and she would need a service to come out and jump her car. Two Travel Sisters saw her plight, helped her think through it, and then they decided to have lunch with her while she waited! She said they had a delightful lunch and Barb and Caren were definitely the kind of people she would like to travel with. Last night our group of nine going to Greece met on Zoom to make choices and share ideas about shore excursions and it was SO GREAT to see her beaming face! We are going to have a blast!
Meanwhile, while we were in Panera, one of our very first Travel Sisters was in . . . Antarctica! She had a dream of going there and I helped her and a friend book the trip on a Viking Expedition voyage. It was an AMAZING deal?! Because she booked it with us, we will earn a commission (same price to her) and that will enable us to advertise and market the network as a whole! We are finding (duh) that . . . marketing really works!!! If we can funnel just $100 a month into digital ads we can grow the network pretty quickly. As it gets larger, it gets easier to lift “niche” trips and meet very specific needs of Travel Sisters. That’s ALMOST as cool as the videos of her next to calving glaciers and pictures of her surrounded by the cutest penguins EVER.
Did I fail to mention we filled the Iceland trip and 20 women are booked and excited?! Four Travel Sisters decided to add a post-trip to IRELAND that will be a great cost savings with Iceland Air’s stopover deals. We've picked a perfectly located 4 star boutique hotel an some great tours and high tea at the Atrium! A couple other Travel Sisters are looking at a post trip to NORWAY - cool train ride to see the fjords! Our partners on the ground gave us a great price for solo accommodations and so Sisters can opt in as solo travelers for that portion.
The goal of this project was HOPE and JOY and so far, I feel like we are meeting the mission and I could not be more pleased! Teresa and I are putting our heads together at the end of the month to put together the February newsletter - look for big trips for 2024 in that edition! In April, we will do another newsletter where we float out some weekend getaways for summer. So much fun to come - thanks for coming along for the journey!
We had a Zoom meeting last night and it was FANTASTIC! The seeds we have planted and collectively tended are starting to bear fruit!
There were about 14 people in attendance and the “regulars” are really starting to know each other and be invested in the stories we can tell. For example, one Travel Sister could tell us all about the trip to Peru we planned and it was AMAZING to hear how well it all went! I loved seeing my roomie from the Italy trip and the Italy group is going to have a reunion in January; I’m so looking forward to it! We’ve booked a trip to Antarctica for one of our “OG” Travel Sisters and we celebrated that dream becoming a reality for her. Just a lot of great updates that make it feel like our mission is really happening: the girls are getting together and GOING! More and more every season!
We also had some new faces in our meeting last night and THAT was exciting, too! I love the way people discover our group, follow all the “bread crumbs” to the meetings and then seem so pleased to find REAL people, REALLY building a functional network of amazing women that are full of energy, ideas, and hope and are busy being about that life! It’s so fun to hear their stories and interests and see how connections can be made. We launched some Facebook ads this week and we had one woman that found out about us, registered, attended our meeting last night and registered to go to Iceland TODAY! It also happened to be the week that a major life transition finalized, and so as one door closed this window on the world opened. I just love that.
Speaking of Iceland - we have just FIVE spots left! I would LOVE to fill those before Christmas and New Year’s so we could slide into 2023 with DEFINITE travel plans on the calendar. I also love the idea of women giving themselves that gift of travel. It really lays the foundation for a 2023 full of planning, going and growing. And what could make for a better new year plan than THAT?!
Hope to see you at our in person event next week if you can make it. If you can’t, just know we are wishing you a fantastic holiday and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year!
There’s usually a rhythm to the travel planning business. Spring and fall are usually very busy and summer and the winter holidays are kind of quiet, as most folks are actually traveling. Every once in a while a traveler on an actual trip has a glitch and needs some support, but, if we do our jobs right, that had been pretty rare.
Well, that model got shattered this summer. Three years’ worth of travel was trying to happen in one summer. Airports were overwhelmed and short staffed, and even the most carefully crafted itineraries got squeezed. Our clients were incredibly fortunate for the most part, and we worked hard to shelter them from any unforeseen circumstances. At the same time, lots of folks were trying to plan new trips as it became clear all the Covid restrictions were lifting. It was quite busy in the office this summer!
Early fall gave us a chance to carry our first Travel Sisters Network trip - a trip to Italy - to completion! That was an excellent opportunity to get some standard operating procedures together, like how we would present and deliver final documents, how we would tag our bags with a TSN pom to visually alert people that we were a group and to help us find each other’s luggage, and how we could create rhythms and habits while on tour to make sure everyone’s needs were met. We got some great feedback that the documents need to be much more explicit about tipping and we need more “before you go” checklists for people who are new to international travel. We’ve already started implementing those as we prepare to send women to Peru next week!
We continued with monthly in-person events and made play a priority. We met up at the NC Museum of Art for a walk, an exhibit and lunch, and we met at Drive Shack for some hilarious golf fun. In August we had a Panera meetup and in September we took a stroll around Pullen Park, attended a free community event and played some carnival games. We held monthly Zoom meetings for our out-of-towners or folks who wanted to meet up but couldn’t make it to in person events.
The focus this fall is also on getting people up to speed about our Iceland trip as an enrollment fee of $25 is due January 10th and deposits of $600 are due at the end of that month. We hope to backfill some small trips for next spring once we have that “anchor trip” firmly in place.
Serendipitously, Iceland hosted a half day conference about Iceland travel and tourism at the Renaissance Hotel in North Hills this summer! Angie was able to attend; she met with lots of great partners on the ground in Iceland and gained a much more in depth understanding of the country.
October is turning out to be a very busy time for Teresa & Angie; Angie is a former social studies teacher and LOVES elections, and Teresa's new house is getting built and she owns two new horses (?!) SO we are going to cancel our events for October and get together in November and December - twice via Zoom and once in person on December 17th. We will have a Zoom January 5th and an in-person event January 7th, right before enrollment fees are due on January 10th for those who want to go to Iceland.
A lot of activity, a lot of learning, a world of opportunity ahead! Join Us!
Wow! We had a fantastic in-person get together last Saturday, June 4th. The gathering was a perfect storm of quantity and quality. It was the exact right number of people for the space - about a dozen chairs with a few people who floated out early and a few others that floated in late. I was intentional about facilitating in such a way that we had some “news” AND we all had a chance to hear a little bit about each person and start learning names. Each person was just so authentic, thoughtful, and curious. I asked for input and we heard some wonderful ideas - this was a smart, capable, and motivated group! The meeting started at 9:30 and at 11:45 some of us were still chatting away!
The “news’ takeaways are:
In Italia Andiamo!
We had been so busy with the other trips we had actually not spent a lot of time cultivating the Italy trip. I knew Teresa had put together a great itinerary and the price seemed right. Tuesday morning we realized there were amazing women ready to GO! Teresa and I talked it over and decided we could reinvest any profit from this trip back into the project and so . . I'm going too! That way, we can start working to create a real sense of "we-ness" on these trips. We now realize that's pretty critical.
So - three "big" trips are happening in some form this year: Boston, Peru, and Italy! Maybe not as big as we hoped in terms of size, but they are a huge sign of progress! We sincerely thank EVERY woman that has helped us get to this point and we want to assure you we are just getting started!
With each of the trips we have tried to lift this spring, we have fine-tuned our processes and systems and now we can reflect on them and refine them. It is clear we need to grow this network and we need to get many more people behind a trip before we drive it forward. We need be much clearer about how "Crunch Week" works. And we need to think about how we scale up those processes. But it's been a great spring and we can't wait to send some of our "pioneering" Travel Sisters off on some amazing adventures!!
Tuesday was startling. It was "Crunch Week" for Costa Rica and we had high hopes that 15 or so women would be on their way to Costa Rica in January. Our supplier Daisy had created a great website for the group, the price was on budget, the destination was amazing - let's go!!!
And then I opened my email on Tuesday and realized all the interest was dissipating. By Wednesday we had to collapse the trip. Teresa and I were kind if baffled. What had gone wrong?
One thing that is true but has never been the goal of this project is that if we get a large group of women to travel, Teresa and I can probably bargain for a low rate that will allow us to go with the group without breaking the bank of our fledgling business. I like that idea because, in my previous life as a teacher, I know that sometimes you need a group leader who will create some norms and customs that make the group feel and act like a group. Without that, you could feel like just a random group of people who happen to have the same itinerary.
Teresa posited that maybe that was the issue. Did we need the first few trips to be big, and have us along, to create that "group vibe" and make sure the norms and customs of Travel Sisterhood were firmly established? Once established, we could let other women take the lead, having experienced it themselves. They could be the "Moms" of the trips going forward, having seen at least once what a Travel Mom does on a Travel Sister trip.
Last night's live Zoom focused on that question and we got a lot of great feedback. We realize a few things:
- Social media platforms are great for disseminating info and posting reminders but community is not going to be built and felt there.
- Email groups are great for organizing groups but community is not going to be built and felt there.
- Live Zooms are great for introductions and building community but we need separate, dedicated meetings specific to each trip.
- Until the network is larger, we need to build one trip, it needs to be be "big", and Teresa and I need to lead it, on the ground.
- For now, all our efforts, Zooms, emails and newsletters need to be driving towards that goal.
The HARD question is - what trip will garner that kind of enthusiasm?? We need like 60 women to be interested and 40 to commit and go. Is that possible? There's only one way to find out - just try! And keep trying. It's the American way . . . cue the Thomas Edison documentary, lol!
One thing that IS clear is there are a group of local women out there who understand the potential for this model and want it to succeed. And they MIGHT even be willing to take a chance on a trip / destination that is interesting if not perfect and "vote with their feet" so this project can truly LAUNCH, grow and be sustainable.
SO, we are going to start pitching ideas. One every week or so. A destination / a date/ a budget/ an itinerary. And we are going to ask you to vote it up or down. Share it with your friends, get them to register so they can vote on the next one. I gotta believe, sooner or later, we will have that critical mass to do our first big trip and do it RIGHT. Lots of excited women, lots of energy, and a true group experience.
Thanks, team. You keep voting with your feet, creating the story, helping us chart our next move. We are listening and we are excited for what is next!
We haven't had much time for blog updates as we have been working hard booking Travel Sister TRIPS! Whoohooo! Reserving land packages and booking air takes a lot of time as we work with suppliers and consider all the flight schedules and options. It's like a puzzle and every piece is important to get just right!
We've got Sisters going to Boston, Peru, and Sunset Beach! Today we just got all the details for Costa Rica (January 2023) and "crunch week" for that week is April 18th. We will move on to the Italy trip (occurring Sept. 2022) "crunch week" in early May.
We have not had a lot of time to promote our Roads and Rails trips so we will do a bit more of that in April as opposed to putting out a new newsletter. In May we will float out the "Unique and Boutique" edition with quirky and unusual travel opportunities.
Recall that next week we are taking a week off for "spring break" - no online live events and our email groups will be kind of quiet.
We've realized our in-person live event on 5/28 is Memorial Day weekend, and so we will need to reschedule that. Same with the 7/2 event on July 4th weekend. So, we will update the "ticker file" and post it widely when we do.
Thanks for reading the update - Happy Spring everybody!
Teresa and I always joked that Travel Sisters live events would get REAL comfy and casual, but last night we probably overshot the target?!
Three minutes before the meeting was supposed to start, I realized I had failed to send out the link via email. Things are poppin' at the office and I was sitting on hold with Royal Caribbean until 4:52 and then it slipped my distracted mind. A few faithful souls found the link in the MeetUp events tab or intuited that last week's link might work (it did!). It was great to see them but I can't say by the end of the meeting the feeling was likely mutual!
One of the first beautiful women who joined was greeted by me lunging to right behind the camera as my dog threw up on my bed and carpet. Then there was a series of technical glitches and delays, followed by Teresa and I going back and forth about calendar issues that really didn't need an audience. We didn't create enough space for participation and so my takeaway was . . YUCK! We gotta shape up!
In that spirit I've spent all morning mapping out the Travel Sisters calendar through the summer and created a "one stop shop" document with all the meeting links and "need to know" info in one place. We would post it on the website but we do like to keep the Zoom links behind at least one screen to increase security.
That document WILL be emailed to each registered Travel Sister today and is posted in the MeetUp group "RDU Women With Travel Dreams." Here's the key takeaways:
- We announce "crunch week" for the Boston, Peru and Costa Rica trips.
- We are planning fewer Zoom events and more in person live events.
We will be adding more Roads and Rails related info when each destination has more than 10 women interested. Right now the only one meeting that standard is the Sunset Beach trip - so look for that email group to start Monday!
Thanks for hanging in there with us - looking forward to a great spring and summer now that we've "shaped up!"