The Notting Hill-based agent made her last booking in September as she retired after 48 years. Now she’s catching up with ex-colleagues as she writes her memoirs ‘A Path Well Travelled’. By Samantha Mayling

Q. What prompted you to retire in September?
A. My decision came following a couple of difficult years. My two best clients passed away and there was Brexit uncertainty. More tour operators and airlines were undercutting agents, and package travel regulations made us less competitive. The market became flooded with new homeworking agents and more clients were using me to get information and then book direct. British Airways went on strike, then Super Break went bust, leaving me with a group booking to sort out. Nothing seemed to go my way after that – then Covid hit.


MoreRetired agent writing memoirs of 48-year travel career


Q. When did you start in travel and how did your career evolve?
A. My first job was in 1972, working for Kenning Travel, a sideline of the car hire company. I earned £11 a week sorting business travel for tyre companies. I went to Pickfords in 1976-77 and temped at OCL and American Express in Knightsbridge. After that, I worked for British Airways in reservations and staff travel at Heathrow.

I had a few years off with my two girls, then I decided to return to work. I went to the job centre prepared to do anything in retail, office work or admin but a part-time job at Thomas Cook caught my eye. I worked there until 2006, except for a brief spell at First Choice in Hounslow. After being at Thomas Cook for 21 years, a friend who worked at Travel Counsellors recommended them to me and I spent the rest of my travel career with them.

“I went to the job centre prepared to do anything in retail, office work or admin but a part-time job at Thomas Cook caught my eye.”

Q. What are your main memories?
A. I’ve had some amazing experiences, travelled the world and met some wonderful people. Although my travel career has ended, my memories haven’t, so I want to share them – things like using manuals and telexes in the 1970s; selling £59 holidays on viewdata in the 80s; the JMC fiasco in the 90s; going through the Gulf war and 9/11; and adjusting from working in a shop to being my own boss. I witnessed the growth of low-cost airlines and the internet.

Q. What do you miss?
A. The fun of working in travel. It was fun, social, interesting and challenging. Money has never been my motivation – I loved going to work, whether in the office or at home.

“Although my travel career has ended, my memories haven’t, so I want to share them – things like using manuals and telexes in the 1970s.”

Q. What are your favourite destinations?
A. I’ve loved most of the places I’ve visited – very few disappointed me. I return most often to Crete, Cyprus, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. I also loved Singapore, Australia and Peru. My most memorable holidays were Orlando with our daughters in 1986, California in 1988, Texas in 1990 and the Carolinas in 1993. We did a few river cruises and I won some amazing prizes, including cruises and holidays to the Caribbean, Australia, Peru, India, the Philippines, Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi, Mauritius, the Seychelles – places I could never have afforded.

Q. How have you been keeping busy in retirement?
A. I am very busy with my new art and craft business, The Baubleist, working from home in Notting Hill. I seem to be busier than I was in travel, but without the stress. I enjoy making people happy again but I do miss my friends in travel. I keep getting new ideas and the level of interest has been amazing and encouraging. I’ve had a lot of testimonials, referrals and repeat custom. Many have said that I have been an inspiration – I’ve lost a stone in weight since August, started a new business and have just tried to make the best of this terrible year.

“I am very busy with my new art and craft business, The Baubleist, working from home in Notting Hill. I seem to be busier than I was in travel, but without the stress.”

Q. How have you adjusted to life out of travel?
A. I miss my travel friends and want to meet them again, but I don’t miss the politics and uncertainties of the travel industry. I’ve completely changed my focus, business strategies and even my approach to social media. It’s been a learning curve but it’s great to make people smile again, like I did as a travel consultant.

Q. Do you have any travel plans for 2021?
A. First of all, I plan to see my daughter in Amsterdam and I want some winter-sun in the Canaries as soon as possible.


Cathie-O'Dea1

Tell us about your memoirs

My book will be called A Path Well Travelled. I have written a good chunk of it already but I still have lots of people to contact. I have a handful of friends who helped and supported me over the years; people who laughed and cried with me.

“I’ve had my memory jogged about a few funny little incidents from the past and we’ve laughed over a few that they had forgotten but that I had remembered.”

Those are the memories I want to treasure and share in my book – memories that older travel agents can remember and younger ones can laugh about. I will self-publish the book. I know several people who have already done this so I will ask for their help. It is likely to come out by the summer. Several people in one of my business networking groups are writing books, so we’ve set up a support group to help each other. I have most of the structure of the book in place already but it will take time to contact everybody I plan to include. I’ve had my memory jogged about a few funny little incidents from the past and we’ve laughed over a few that they had forgotten but that I had remembered. I need to catch up with more people in person.

MoreRetired agent writing memoirs of 48-year travel career