Been awhile since you did any major traveling? Us too. Because it’s been so long, it seems like a great time to share a different “major” travel experience. In the not-so-distant past, I majored in travel while traveling the world! That’s right, I received my graduate degree in a travel field.
Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I’ve written a focused blog post about my degree or the direct learnings on this blog. Sure, I’ve infused sustainable bits here and there, but an actual post? Not for some time…
When I submitted my final project and was done with my degree, I was exhausted. I needed some time to decompress, process, and recover. Like… over a year…
I am a huge proponent of education. But, as enriching as it may be, it can still wipe you out. It is even more tiresome when you are a non-traditional student and all-the-while somehow manage to maintain a robust travel schedule on top of everything else. But, it has been worth it in the long-run.
As cliché as it may sound, I have a deeply rooted belief that stems from this.
Travel and education are the only two things you can buy that make you richer.
Shifting gears from the more typical content on By Land and Sea, I wanted to take the opportunity to wax nostalgic about my experience with my readers.
Because we were doing a lot of traveling during the two year period, it was quite the adventure, literally and figuratively! I made it a point to take one photograph per class that would serve as a reminder of the experience.
My first class, Sustainable Tourism, was all about the environmental, economic, and social aspects of tourism development. In no time at all, I was hooked with the topic. It struck a nerve with me and would have long lasting impacts on many overall life and travel changes. Topics included climate change, consumer demand, corporate social responsibility, carbon footprints and more.
The timing of my coursework meant I would spend the summer at home for the duration of this 6 week class. This allowed me to get back in the swing of school and adjust to the accelerated pace I would operate under for the next 2 years.
Sustainable Thinking I and II
These next two classes started digging in to the complexities of the industry. Many systems are intertwined and impacts, both negative and positive, are far-reaching. Tourism has the ability to completely change communities, landscapes, social structures, the environment and more.
I contemplated the philosophical and ethical components of tourism and sustainability on a much deeper level and started looking at the trade-offs I was willing to make in terms of travel. It occurred to me that not all travel experiences are the same and we have a choice in how we interact with the world around us.
Not long into my second class, we were off to a much needed vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. It is is amazing to me to notice my views of this travel niche already beginning to shift. This was one of my first, biggest changes in travel experiences. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the deeper I would get in terms of my sustainable thinking, the more our travel style would continue to change in the years to come.
Learning how to measure, assess and plan for sustainability in tourism industry was a key component of these early classes. In turn, I also began to contemplate the impacts of our own travels as we were jetting around quite a bit at this time.
Sustainable Destination Planning and Management I and II
We looked at economic and regional development concepts and theories to destination planning and management and meeting community needs. To be a great host destination, community involvement is huge!
These courses focused on applying sustainable economic and regional development concepts and theories. This was a great first look at destination planning. There is a wide range of stakeholder involvement and meeting community needs to consider when developing a tourist destination.
After that, considerable course work, including my combined class project, was impacted by our recent trip to Jamaica a few months prior. I was stirred by what I saw there. This country’s economy is largely focused on tourism. Employment in the industry is high, but wages can be low. So, I focused on developing outcomes for residents that would allow for employee advancement and ultimately, higher income.
This class was a great overview at the significance tourism plays at an international level. I began to have a much broader understanding of how different tourism looks based on the geographic region. I grew a deeper appreciation and understanding for these global differences. I also enjoyed case studies of some of the most popular destinations in the US and abroad.
Advanced Tourism and Recreation Studies
This was an emphasis on relevant practices, theories, and concepts. It was interesting to learn from others. But, this was the only class in my program where I had an actual text book. I also had to take quizzes. Yuck! I much preferred things like case studies and concept development.
During this course, our community was able to play host to one of the biggest events in the country. We were directly on the center line for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. Previously, I had written a paper on the sustainability of this event. It was interesting to see not only how my concerns played out, but also how our community did as a host. We provided a lot of great activities and experiences for everyone!
By working ahead in this class, we were able to depart on our fall tour of New England without having to lug homework along too. It was a nice break and a practice we would both recommend whenever possible. While it’s totally possible to do school while traveling, it is really nice not to have to worry about it!
Sustainable Food Management
In case you haven’t noticed, food and tourism are a major thing. They go hand-in-hand and are gaining popularity all the time. But, on a global scale, food systems have many challenges. Tourism has the power to impact this in many ways (imports/exports, leakage, sourcing, and more). Food is a huge component of the travel industry!
A good sized chunk of this course took place during a trip to Costa Rica. I was really excited to learn about sustainable food practices. It was great to see so many things I was learning about in action while we were away.
Luckily one of the places we stayed was an eco-lodge. The hotel manager was happy to sit down with me to be interviewed for an assignment. I learned so much about how they source their own food. I even got to tour the private greenhouse and see the hotel’s food being grown!
Our trip to Costa Rica would also inspire my final project for graduation from my program 6 months later. It is amazing to see how travel inspires and influences people’s lives, sometimes without even knowing it!
Managing The Sustainable Tourism Business
In no time at all, I was deep into my final class all-the-while embarking on a backpacking train trip across central Europe. This was my least favorite class. I really had a hard time finding interest in the content, but I persevered. This class was obviously very heavily focused on business operations, models, and management.
To make this work, I did as much homework as possible while commuting. It didn’t matter if I was on a flight, a train, or even waiting in the Customs and Immigrations line at London Heathrow. I was going to spend downtime on school so I didn’t have to miss a thing during our tour.
After this class was done, I had a much-needed break before it was time to start my final applied project. I took some downtime during a trip to San Antonio, Texas to relax and even contemplate what I might focus on to finish out my degree.
Many programs refer to the program culmination as a “capstone” or a “thesis”. Because my school wanted to see a wide range of creativity from their students, they offered an “applied project” option.
In the early stages, I got stuck. I wanted to do something totally different for this project. This was my master’s degree – it was time to truly follow my heart instead of taking the familiar path. Our travels influenced this decision greatly.
Little did I know that my applied project inspiration would later come to me while reflecting back on our earlier trip to Costa Rica. It came to me in the form of a set of brown eyes that stared up at us as we grabbed some food near the Nicaraguan border. Yes, a sweet little stray dog, a “zaguate”, inspired me. And, yes, I am a major dog lover. So, I wrote my final paper on the premise that the way a country treats its stay dog population has a direct impact on tourism.
Truth is, I couldn’t have been more proud of my choice and its final outcome. I hope anyone who comes across this document has their eyes opened a bit to the multiple ways the tourism industry intersects and intertwines with so many elements of daily life. And, if you want to read it, please let me know in the comments below and I will send it directly to you. Perception is everything in tourism, even when it comes to little dogs roaming foreign streets.
At the end of my program, I cried. I know that’s not the typical reaction of many frazzled students. But, it was my reaction. I cried because I was proud. I was the only person in my immediate family to complete grad school. And, at the time, I was the first (and only) person in my State with my particular degree. I had finished an advanced degree at one of the country’s top university’s with a 4.0 GPA.
I also cried because I was sad. I loved my program so much! I knew I would miss my instructors and the content and the inspiration and challenges. But, it was time to move forward.
Since finishing, we have made some changes to our personal travels. I’ve also done a bit of teaching. Sadly, I’ve also watched the tourism industry fall apart recently. It feels like so much of the work that has been done to make it sustainable has gone out of the window due to the pandemic. Yet, I remain hopeful.
The Tools I Needed To Be Successful
Whether you realize it or not, graduate school requires a lot of tools.
- An acceptable GPA in my undergraduate degree
- Outstanding application materials
- Excellent reference letters
- Substantial support
- Access to multiple forms of technology
- Strong reading, writing, and analytical skills
- Considerable time management skills
- An open mind
I am a firm believer that the industry will rebound in due time with many new, exciting, sustainable innovations to share with the world! Until that time comes, opportunities like this are just another way we can travel the world in other forms!