Meet Quest Maker Harriet Carroll
Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who've declared
"now it's my time," and then set off on their own journeys to realize their dreams. Every month a Quest Maker is featured in the FREE e-newsletter, Your Next Quest Chronicles. Click here to enjoy archived issues.
Quest Maker Harriet Carroll
From trainer to "concierge on the ground"
"My goal is this: To help women become more confident travelers, not just tourists. I want them to come home with new friends, lots of stories, and the confidence to take a daughter, granddaughter, or niece on another adventure."
What do you get when you mix a passion for London and a love for travel planning with losing your job at age 52? A happy confluence of events and Harriet Carroll’s quest called Harriet’s London Club. As “a concierge on the ground,” Harriet plans highly personalized trips to London for women travelers based on their desires and interests.
At what point in your life did you decide to embark on your quest?
It started when I was in my early 50’s. You see, I had always loved to travel and had been a travel agent for about 15 years. Now that my kids were grown and I found myself with 5 weeks vacation every year, I decided to develop a little side business. Every year I’d use two weeks of my vacation to take small groups of family and friends on trips to London.
Then in 2006, the call center where I was a trainer closed and I was out of a job. That freed me to explore what I really wanted to do with my life—start a travel business. Except, I had a problem. I was good at planning trips and not good at running a business. In my visits to the unemployment office, one of the counselors told me: “All you talk about is travel, travel, travel. Do I have the class for you!”
The class was an entrepreneurial training program that involved 10 weeks in the classroom and an additional 10 weeks in a mentoring program. I left with the tools, the knowledge and the confidence to get Harriet’s London Club going.
I take between 4-8 women on a trip. No two trips are ever the same. Ahead of time I get together with the women travelers who are going on the trip. We talk about their desires and interests beforehand and I learn what they’d like to do or visit. Then I can crystallize the trip they desire.
What is the one essential quality that you'd tell women to pack for their own journey?
I’d say it’s essential not to listen to negative people or those who ask: “Can you really make a living doing that?” Or, “When are you going to get a regular job with benefits?”
Instead, I’d say it’s essential to spend time with people who understand the path you’re passionate about, who believe it’s the right path for you, who offer “is there anything I can do to move you along on your path?”
Can you describe how you dealt with any obstacles on your adventure?
The biggest obstacles are from families and friends who can’t get a handle on my entrepreneurial spirit. They don’t understand why I’d go out on a limb without the security of a job. I’ve dealt with these obstacles by discussing my business plan with my family and by having other sources of income while Harriet’s London Club is starting up. Right now, I am augmenting my income with temp work as well as freelance contract work that uses my training skills.
Yes, I want enough money to live on but I’m at a point in my life where job security is not that important. I feel as if I am returning to my 20s when I wanted to take chances. I had lost that and now it’s coming back!
Looking back, what's one thing you wish you had known as you set off on your path?
I wish I’d known myself better, especially how much I can procrastinate. I can plan trips all day long but I’ll procrastinate on doing the day to day tasks. Now I am more self-aware of what I need to do in order to stay focused on the nuts and bolts, such as developing my website. The Internet is extremely important in the travel business, as more and more travelers move away from the “brick & mortar” travel agencies to search the Web for interesting, value-filled travel experiences.
How did you make time for your dream?
For me it’s not even so much how I have made time for it because I’m always thinking about it. It’s in my head all the time. I’m continuing the work I need to do and I’m planning the next trip for the next group at the same time. It’s almost like both are happening simultaneously, or “simmultaneeeously” as they pronounce it in the UK! It’s two trains of thought—the one I need to do and the one I want to do—and I can jump back and forth between them.
I can work on my business at home or anywhere else that I can take my laptop because I purchased an Internet service for my laptop. I also allot at least two hours a day, usually in the morning, to working on travel related items, such as writing copy for the next brochure or working with my logo designer.
What has helped you stay on your path?
A lot of it is making a physical space for me, a regular work area in my home surrounded by all my travel things. I can look at my December to March planning calendar for my next two trips as well as a British calendar reminding me of all the places I’ve not seen yet. Behind me in my bookcase are all my travel books about Britain as well as my travel scrapbooks. I make one for each trip I’ve taken.
What's been the secret to reaching your goals?
It’s keeping my business plan from the entrepreneurial program right beside me. I read it once a week to remind myself of why I’m doing this. It keeps me in touch with my ultimate goal which is to get women out there and teach them how to travel.”
“Girlfriend getaways” was coined to describe this kind of trip and the fact that men and women very often travel differently. While we may love to travel with our significant others, sometimes the point of our getting away is to share experiences such as shopping, theatre, spas, etc., with ladies who love these things also. We want to get off the tour bus and explore, meet the local people, have an experience that creates memories, taking as much time as we want, to go with the spontaneity of the moment. There are many, many women out there who have either never traveled or who’ve spent their vacations going to Disney World and Santa’s Village.
Now it’s their time to travel, and they are concerned about traveling to somewhere they haven’t been to. I will be their teacher. Together we’ll prepare for the trip and then experience the places together. The trips may not be perfect, things will go wrong or plans will change. My travelers will learn how to deal with these and become more confident travelers, not just tourists. I want them to come home with new friends, lots of stories, and perhaps the confidence to take a daughter, granddaughter, or niece on another adventure.
What's the best advice for your quest that you've ever received?
"Know your own worth.” One of the biggest issues for me was how to price my trips. Women tend to back off on money, don’t we? At first, I was figuring out the price by what it cost me so that’s what I planned to charge travelers.
During the entrepreneurial training course, however, I learned that I was undervaluing myself. I was undervaluing the knowledge and time I put into planning the trips and for being what I call a “concierge on the ground” during the trip itself. For example, if it were raining on the day we had planned to go Windsor, I’d make changes right then. The course helped me see that I have something of value to offer women and a trip’s price needs to reflect that.
Is there a particular quote, a movie, a book or a person that has sustained you?
For me it’s a place. London sustains me. Whenever I return, the city renews me. Sometimes, I feel as if I were born in the wrong place or that maybe I lived in London during a previous life. If I can get to London regular basis, I’m the happiest person in the world.
Do you have a new quest around the corner?
It’s attached to this one. I’d like to set up an organization to help women who believe they’ll never be able to afford to travel yet are dying to go. I haven’t figured that out yet but somehow I’m going to get women like this on these trips..
From March 5-15, 2009, Harriet will lead a theatre trip for women who love the theatre. They’ll enjoy Judi Dench in Madame DeSade, Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night and also make a day trip to Stratford on Avon to see The Tempest. Before leaving for London, travelers will choose the additional plays they’d like to see. (Limit: 3 women) Why so small a group? On Harriet’s last trip to London, that’s how many tickets she was able to purchase for the almost sold-out two London plays.
From May 16-24, 2009, Harriet will lead a trip for up to 10 women to take in the Chelsea Flower Show and to visit other famous gardens. Travelers will also enjoy theatre and concert performances of their choosing
To learn more about these and other trips, visit Harriet's website or call her at 781.223.0039.