What is your favorite travel memory?
I would have to say it was a trip I did to the Philippines in 2015. We went up to the northern tip of the island of Palawan, to a place called El Nido. It involved 3 flights, an overnight stay in Manila and a 6 hour van ride to get there but it was so worth it!
Not only was it a stunning place but the laid back nature of everyone who lived in the town just changed the way I looked at life. At the time I was working in a very stable job with a great salary, slowly climbing the corporate ladder - but I was hugely unhappy.
In El Nido I saw families who were self-sufficient, dad worked as a tour guide, uncle made boats, mom ran the kitchen at the hostel, grandma ran the shop selling $0.75 beers on the beach. Every evening they'd gather to watch the sunset, talk about their days, laugh and watch the kids play simple games like knocking a bike tyre down the beach or swing from a rope hanging from a tree over the water.
It made me remember what was important in life - kindness, peace, space to breathe, actually living. No amount of money could buy this happiness for me.
A couple of months later I'd quit my job, started my own consulting business and finally ended up joining the TravelBud team to help people from all over the world have similar experiences to mine.
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I've learned to look at the actual people we're helping travel the world through teaching English. It's easy as a marketer to just see numbers but working for TravelBud I've been able to go out to meet many of the teachers we've placed across Asia in particular and hear the deeply personal stories behind each of their decisions to make this leap.
TravelBud is a company which takes very seriously the personal connections we make with each applicant.
It's also a company which is serious about the relationships between each of the team members, I've never worked with such a polite and friendly bunch of people. I've had to shed that awful corporate habit of barging into an email conversation without even saying 'Hello, how are you doing today? How was your weekend?' first. It's these small things which make a difference.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
It's so hard to single out just one. I think for me what stands out in general is how much teaching abroad changes the lives of the people who take on this adventure. This is particularly true for those teaching in Thailand where they teach in public schools and are often the only westerner in their town.
So many report how they had to abandon their uptight western ways and expectations and just learn to live life on a lower ebb and in a much more trusting way. You learn to just trust in the goodness of humanity around you.
Whether it's the lady in the market helping them with their pronunciation for the word for 'tomato' or their fellow teachers who invite them into their homes to feed them incredible meals - this experience takes them out of their comfort zones and surprises them every day.
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
I would probably choose teaching English in Vietnam. I absolutely love Ho Chi Minh City! It's terrifyingly busy on the surface but the moment you've got your feet on the ground it very quickly becomes clear that there is a lot of order in the chaos. It's an effortlessly cool place in a hip, underground way with all it's trendy cafes, restaurants and bars.
The people are generous and welcoming, kind, and love to show off their country. Within a week of visiting I'd already been invited on two local holidays by some of my new Vietnamese friends! I also loved all the greenery and of course there's a wealth of stunning countryside, historic sights and exciting neighboring countries to explore.
And on top of that all Vietnam offers some very good pay for the job you do along with an insanely low cost of living! This is makes it a great place to save up some cash for future travels.
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
I think it's that we take such an interest in each and every applicant. The experience is deeply personal to us all as everyone from the founder to the MD, sales manager, accounts and even me in marketing have personally experienced the teach abroad adventure in one way or another.
We understand exactly what we're selling and why it's so important to the lives of those who sign up through us.
We're still a small company, but I think it's there that the difference lies: we're not processing applications, we're building and maintaining lasting relationships. Just check out the reviews!
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
See the applicants you sign up as humans with real stories behind those names. If you're able to understand why people are going to take on this adventure, you'll be able to sell better to them, service them better, support them better. All this pays it forward and eventually it comes back to you as a better business.