OK, so I turned out to be a pretty rubbish blogger. I mean, this is my third post in the last eight months, not exactly what I had planned in the beginning. I’d like to excuse myself by saying that I spent four of those months living in a single room in a less than fancy hotel where the wi-fi didn’t quite reach all the way to the back of the building. These housing arrangements were one of the many factors which contributed towards a decision which I’m going to blame for the rest of the time that I spent not posting. It’s a decision which has meant some fairly drastic lifestyle changes, by which I mean that everything in my life has changed. After spending many years working overseas as a holiday rep, I decided that it was time to come home.
Tell this to your friends who are already at home, and they’ll think you’re crazy. Why would you give up a life of year-round sunshine, beautiful beaches, crazy landscapes, free sightseeing trips, free drinks, the chance to rub shoulders with people from every cultural background imaginable?
I have three reasons. The accommodation sucks. The money sucks. And the job? It sucks.
We do the job because of all of the aforementioned perks, and don’t get me wrong, the opportunities to travel, broaden your horizons and generally live your life that this career path offers really are fantastic. I don’t regret a single day of my time abroad, and would encourage anyone of any age who is tempted just to give it a try for a season. But the perks come at a price. It’s not a paid holiday, and it is not an easy way of life. When the guests in the five star hotel you rep complain that nobody brought them clean towels until the afternoon, you’ll bite your tongue to stop yourself from retorting that you spent the evening washing your uniform in your bathroom sink because the one washing machine that you share with thirty five other staff members is broken again. When your parents come to visit and comment favourably on your weight loss, you’ll have to try not to point out that it’s because you don’t have any cooking facilities in your dingy hotel room and the mini-bar sized fridge doesn’t hold more than an apple and a can of coke anyway. And when you’ve spent twenty seven hours straight in one of Europe’s smallest international airports, you’re really not going to be too fussed about the clients who give you a hard time because their flight arrived two hours late.
If I’m really honest though, none of that really matters. Yes, there is an awful lot of being shouted at and/or vomited on. Yes, a typical working day ranges from nine to sixteen hours in length, and the majority of this time is spent running around in forty degree heat in what is basically a suit and high heels. Yes, you will spend a ridiculous amount of your spare time handwashing your clothes in a tiny basin in your bathroom (note, a friend of mine gets around this by wearing her clothes in the shower). But at the end of the day, if you are prepared to get the most out of it, this can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. I had many, many bad days as a rep, but every one of them was worth it.
The problem is, that unless you want to dedicate your life to the travel industry, you can’t do it forever. And a career rep really does have to be prepared to give up everything. Most companies will have rules about couples working for one another, so once you reach management level, a relationship with a co worker is pretty much out. Add to that the likelihood of being continually placed, season after season in the same resort as your partner (slim to none). And we all know how long distance works out. Nowadays, it’s also the norm for companies to have a policy about the length of time a worker is permitted to remain in the same resort, or even the same country. This rules out any settling down, marrying a local, buying a house and having a family. Once you start seriously climbing the ladder, you have to accept that if you want to remain overseas, you will probably be making a lot of sacrifices in order to fulfill your career goals.
I’ve reached the age where, whilst I’m still young, I’ve realised that I’m not going to be for that much longer. Having stayed at the same level for the past three years without ever seriously thinking about trying to move up, I finally had an epiphany. I am a smart girl. I want to make something of myself. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget the future when you work in the travel industry. So much is changing, all the time, that you don’t notice the time slipping past. Somewhere between jeep safari in the mountains and the last sunshine catamaran cruise, I passed from mid to late twenties and had to wake up to the fact that if I continued to do nothing, I would end up with nothing. It was time to take stock.
I had to admit that I’d become disillusioned with the job. I was proud of myself and my team, for the long hours that we put in, for the issues that we solved, for the way in which we went above and beyond in order to……..in order to what? That, essentially, was the problem. I was proud of the way in which we did our jobs, but not proud of the job itself. I didn’t feel that the end goal was worth what we put in. The long hours, the harsh working conditions, the low pay, the constant verbal abuse, and for what? To make people’s holidays a bit nicer. There were times when I felt differently, when individual guests made me feel that they were worth any and all of my efforts: soldiers on leave, the terminally ill, single parents, and even just the occasional really nice person. On the whole though, holiday makers are not ‘really nice people’. They are ordinary people just like the rest of us. There are a lot of them, very close together. They are far from home and thus out of their comfort zones. They are spending much more time than they are used to in close proximity to the rest of their families. They are sunburnt and probably a bit drunk. They are pains in the behind. After all these years of expending roughly the same amount of effort as a volunteer in Africa does into building a school on making sure that these charming folk enjoyed their fortnight in Costa-del-Doesn’tMatterWhereCosIWon’tLeaveTheHotelAnyway, I finally had to hold up my hands and say that I didn’t think that this was absolutely the best way that I could be using my time.
What had kept me so long was the travel. Now, I truly love travelling. Getting to experience life from so many different perspectives has taught me so much about various cultures; the differences between societies and the similarities between people. It’s helped me to understand a lot about why people are the way they are, and I hope that it’s made me into a more tolerant, open minded, open hearted person. However, something that I came to appreciate as a rep was just how far it is possible to travel without leaving home behind, especially when home is Great Britannia. When Brits go on holiday, we go for one reason, and one reason only – the sun. We want to be warm, and quite right too, after all of the weather that we’ve been forced to suffer through at home. The only problem is that in order to get to the sun, we have to go somewhere that is not Britain. Well, alright then, but we don’t want to see, hear, eat or even smell any foreign nonsense whilst we’re there. The result is that British holiday resorts tend not to offer too much in the way of an authentic immersion experience. Instead, there are Full English Breakfasts, Sky Sports and X Factor. And Lidl, for some reason. In sun soaked coastal towns the world over, there is a Lidl. They are all built to the same design, and laid out in the same arrangement inside, which makes you feel a bit peculiar after a while. British guests don’t want authentic, they want hot. They even complain if a hotel’s clientele includes local guests. What I’m getting at is that working in a British holiday resort, for a British company, with British guests and British colleagues doesn’t afford quite the cultural opportunities that the words ‘travel industry’ might suggest.
When I talked to colleagues, particularly the older ones, I discovered that quite a few had come to feel the same way as I did. The thing is, that once you’re in, it’s very hard to get out. Working as a rep usually means free accommodation, free electricity, free water, which is fantastic. Whilst your salary is much lower than normal, you have no bills to pay, so that anything you earn is your own. This is wonderful, all the time that you are there. However, when you want to leave, it’s not so great. The low salary makes saving up very tricky indeed, and once you quit, you are of course homeless. The fact that right up until you quit, you will be overseas, and therefore unable to view potential housing, attend job interviews etc is the thing that really makes it tricky. We are not overseas as in Tokyo or Milan, with working internet connections, plush apartments, good transport links. We are in tiny villages on sun-drenched coasts where we won’t disturb too many locals or put too many local shops out of business. It is very hard to actually get anything done in the real world when living in holiday land, so preparing for the big move is a nightmare. Unless you have somewhere to go when you get back to the UK, it can be terrifying. A surprising number of the people I spoke to didn’t leave the business simply because they were scared. If they’d been in the job for a long time, this was doubly true. The fear was that the world had moved on without them whilst they had been away. They would be unable to find work, they wouldn’t be able to afford rent, and, the biggest one, they wouldn’t know anyone.
Surprisingly, hearing their misgivings actually swayed me in the opposite direction. It made me realise that the longer I dawdled, the more likely this was to happen to me. I am by no means ready to give up on travelling, but I do want some financial security, and whilst I don’t have any great ambitions to climb the corporate ladder, I do feel that I could achieve more. I also don’t want to give up the idea of some day having a family. In short, I want to make a success out of my life, instead of just drifting through it.
There was no doubt about it. I needed to go home and grow up. Travel isn’t over for me, but the travel industry probably is. The next time I head out there, I want to experience everything. No generic hotels, no roast Sunday lunches. I’ll have what they’re having. Before then though, I need to make some serious decisions about the direction that I want my life to go in. I also need to get sensible about money.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t have an adventure though. When it came down to it, I just couldn’t face heading back to my hometown. It felt like admitting defeat, as after all this time away, I’d be going back with little more than I left with. Besides, as much as I love the place, it’s a small country town and the employment opportunities there are very poor indeed. So, I decided to do things properly. Yes, I’m taking on the capital, let the London Games commence!
Problem is, now what?