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This post is brought to you by a few of Greg and Betsy’s travel must-haves: MacBook Airs and iPhones for work and communication and Trekology Trekking Poles for hiking.
This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!
Betsy and Greg were both college professors who loved to travel and now run Euro Travel Coach full-time. They have a wonderful nomadic story of WWOOFing, housesitting, and exploring some of Europe’s best wine regions.
Thank you for sharing your story with Freedom Is Everything, Betsy and Greg!
Key takeaways from Besty and Greg’s interview:
“Traveling full-time has only increased our love for it. The more people we meet and cultures we experience, the more we are convinced that our similarities are much greater than our differences. Most people just want for themselves and their families to be happy and safe. Despite the political landscape of the last several years, we still believe this to be true.”
“We love the nomadic life. One of the best things about it is the many people we have been with and new friends we have made. Our best advice is to greet people with a smile on your face and be open to a new relationship. Learn how to at least say hello and thank you in the native language of places you visit. Ask lots of questions and be genuinely open to the culture and traditions of your surroundings. There is so much to learn and see. Curiosity and genuine interest will open many doors.”
“It just seemed natural to start a travel company. We really believe travel can and should be an enlightening experience, and Betsy had created so many enriching trips for the family and her students, it just seemed right to share our love of travel with others.”
Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?
We are Greg and Betsy Ball. In 2017 we left our college teaching positions in Texas to travel full time. Greg taught music for 30 years, and Betsy taught International Business for 15. At that same time, we started a travel company, Euro Travel Coach, that focuses on creating Custom European Itineraries, offering travel coaching, and leading Small Group Tours in Europe. Before the pandemic, we would travel Europe for nine months of the year and spend our summers at a family cottage in Quebec, Canada.
We extend our travel budget by participating in WWOOF, WorkAway, and TrustedHousesitters. We sold our house and most of our stuff when we left Texas, so we are true nomads. We spent a good portion of this last year with our daughter and son-in-law in Madison, WI, and Greg’s family in Wooster, OH.
We did take a couple of extended road trips in 2020/2021. Highlights include hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, as well as a seven-week house sit on Orcas Island, WA. We are currently dog sitting in the UK near Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey.
What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?
We both loved our jobs at the university, but we loved traveling as well. No matter where we traveled and for how long, we were never really ready to come home. Our daughter was already living overseas, and our son was nearing college graduation. We decided it was time to make a change in our lives.
Traveling full-time has only increased our love for it. The more people we meet and cultures we experience, the more we are convinced that our similarities are much greater than our differences. Most people just want for themselves and their families to be happy and safe. Despite the political landscape of the last several years, we still believe this to be true.
Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your business.
We took our first trip to Europe in 1990. Betsy had just finished her MBA, and Greg was still in graduate school. We traveled for the entire month of our Christmas break. We loved it and couldn’t wait to go back. After our children were born, Betsy started planning trips abroad for the family. Our first trip with them was to Scotland and London. Our daughter was seven, and our son was five. Family trips to Thailand, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, France, The Czech Republic, Austria, Greece, Belize, Denmark, Belgium, and Norway followed.
We both took our university students abroad. Greg did several trips with his bands, and Betsy was quite involved with Study Abroad trips with the business department. Betsy also has a background in hospitality as her undergraduate degree is in hotel, restaurant management.
It just seemed natural to start a travel company. We really believe travel can and should be an enlightening experience, and Betsy had created so many enriching trips for the family and her students, it just seemed right to share our love of travel with others.
What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?
One of our primary goals, when we left our teaching positions, was to take part in a grape harvest at a winery in the Piemonte region of Italy. In both 2017 and 2018, we spent a month at an organic winery in Dogliani and absolutely loved it. The Langhe area includes Dogliani, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero and is home to some of our favorite wines, food, and people. We are now leading trips there, and we just can’t get enough.
We spent five days exploring the southern coast of Iceland in January of 2019. We hadn’t really planned it, but we were flying Icelandair and took advantage of their free stopover option. While we only had about 5 hours of daylight each day, we were overcome with the landscape, waterfalls, and glaciers. Touring ice caves was amazing! We definitely want to return with more daylight hours!
We toured Sicily for a month and absolutely loved it. We hiked up Mount Etna with a guide, visited several wineries, toured archeological sites, and picnicked on beaches. With amazing food and wine, stellar scenery, and beautiful people, Sicily has it all. A month was not long enough.
What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone that wants to travel with a similar style?
I suppose we are somewhat unique in that we started doing this in our mid-50’s. It is also unusual that people our age participate in things like WorkAway.
Some of our most enriching experiences have been in work exchange situations where we volunteer in exchange for room and board. Besides the amazing times we have spent on the winery in Dogliani, we spent a month at a boutique hotel in the New Forest, UK, with a bunch of 20 somethings from all over Europe who were working on their English, we helped renovate a kitchen in a historic home in the Lake District, and built some storage space and sold things on eBay for a nice lady on an island in the Thames. We have also house sat at some wonderful homes with the best dogs and met the neighbors while we were there. We felt like we were immersed in the local culture because we were actually living there. That is difficult to experience as a tourist, and it is part of what makes travel so amazing for us.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?
We love the nomadic life. One of the best things about it is the many people we have been with and new friends we have made. Our best advice is to greet people with a smile on your face and be open to a new relationship. Learn how to at least say hello and thank you in the native language of places you visit. Ask lots of questions and be genuinely open to the culture and traditions of your surroundings. There is so much to learn and see. Curiosity and genuine interest will open many doors.
Our biggest concerns when we travel are how comfortable the bed is and what the bath is like. We often stay in a place for weeks at a time, and we’re old enough that certain creature comforts are important to us. I’m not talking extravagances, but a comfortable bed and a clean bathroom are important. Still, when these are subpar, we don’t let it ruin the experience.
We were somewhat worried that in some of our work exchange programs, we would be working alongside much younger people who might not appreciate having “old people” around. Instead, when we were in these situations, the younger volunteers embraced us as equals or treated us as adopted parents. It was always positive. We were also surprised on the winery not to be the oldest ones there.
We were also somewhat nervous about the living conditions at some of these locations. While we have heard some “horror stories” from other travelers, we have been quite comfortable in all of our situations. Most of the work exchange platforms have review sections. Do your homework before you commit.
Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain customers and scale your business?
First, photos and stories of our own travels generate interest in Euro Travel Coach. Sharing those on social media, as well as getting stories about our adventures in our local newspapers was a start.
Blogging has become an essential part of what we do. The blog is part of our website for the business, and good content, strong SEO, and the use of keywords generate traffic to the site.
We have also used HARO (Help A Reporter Out) a great deal. Shortly after beginning to submit ideas through HARO, we had a feature article written about us in Kiplinger. Since then, we have contributed to articles in USA Today, Forbes, and MSN, as well as other people’s blogs and podcasts.
Betsy was also one of the first participants in the Travel Beyond the Obvious course, which trains Destination Experts on how to create their businesses. This is now a full-fledged organization with video segments, support groups, and certification. This has been an enormous contributor to our ability to be efficient and effective in what we do to find and best help our clients have amazing trips.
This has all helped us slowly build a customer base and greatly increased our site’s Domain Authority, so customers are now finding us through Google searches.
We also have a Host Agency that allows us to book cruises and selected other travel services, although our business plan is not dependent on commissions. We want to be able to choose accommodations, transportation, guides, and activities that are selected specifically for our guests, so we charge fees for our services rather than being a commission-based company. We discuss our fee-based system in our blog Europe Trip Costs Planning Fees Vs the Travel Agent Model.
What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?
We slowly built our business over three years. We began with travel coaching and building custom itineraries and thought that would be the bulk of our business. When we tried adding a Small Group Tour, which we lead personally, it generated more interest than expected, and we started adding those to our schedule. Our guests loved it and helped spread the word! Finally, Betsy got certified as a travel agent and started booking cruises which has become another good and unexpected income source for the business.
In January of 2020, we were very busy and felt like we had finally turned a significant corner. We had three Small Group Tours filled, we had several top-level custom itineraries in the pipe, a dozen or so coaching sessions lined up, and over a dozen cruises booked. And more inquiries were coming in all the time. 2020 was looking like a very good year for us.
And then the pandemic hit. We were actually in Northern Italy in March 2020 and made a quick return to the States when countries started closing their borders. We had to personally cancel or postpone everything we had booked. We are now postponing a couple trips for the second time. Quite honestly, it has been devastating for the travel industry as a whole and a disappointment for us personally.
We are encouraged, however. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and people are anxious to travel safely again. We have trips planned for fall 2021 that we hope will get to go. We are getting calls for trip planning for summer 2022. We will make it through this.
Tell us about a deep passion of yours! What has your journey been like, and what advice/resources would you recommend for someone interested in learning more about this topic?
Wine! We love wine! We began just buying different Italian wines before a trip. As our passion grew, we started reading books about winemaking and wine regions and studying free online sources from Wine Spectator and more. Finally, we enrolled in WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) classes through the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and we are now WSET III certified. We are still contemplating the diploma program. It would be a huge next step.
For someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur in your field, what’s the best advice you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?
When we started Euro Travel Coach, Betsy scoured the internet looking for business models. The one she most liked was Italy Beyond the Obvious, and she reached out to its creator, Madeline Jhawar. She has been very helpful in getting us started and has been a great source of advice and inspiration along the way.
She is the one who offered the Travel Beyond the Obvious class described previously, specifically for destination experts. That class and the associated community have been very beneficial. During the pandemic, Madeline and her business partner, Devin, developed the certification for destination experts. Betsy was in the trial class and is one of the very first Gold Level Certified Travel Experts.
From our own experience, we would say to pursue your passion and keep learning all the time. Always look for inspiration from your peers. And finally, don’t give up. Like any job, it takes a lot of time and effort, but living the lifestyle you choose is worth it.
What digital tools do you use for your work/business?
We built our website on Squarespace. We find it relatively easy to use, and customer support has been great.
We also use keyseach.com to help with our SEO and keywords for blogging. Google Analytics is important as well.
We use Mailchimp for our email newsletter, QuickBooks for bookkeeping, and Axus to share travel itineraries with our clients.
Tell us about your content creation journey and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!
Ugh, blogging. We actually quite like writing, but SEO, keywords, formatting, etc., is a constant struggle. We have gone through an enormous learning curve to get where we are, but there is still a lot to learn. We are very DIY-oriented and do all the work ourselves to keep costs down. We are a small, lean organization, and that has been a big help to us.
Our early blogs were mostly documenting our decision to leave our jobs and start being nomads. When we started our first nine full months traveling in Europe, our blogs followed our experiences during those early trips.
As we learned more about blogging, we became better at “answering a question” or “solving a problem.”
We attended a TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference that was a big help. We’re still learning!
If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?
Be kind to people and help when you can. Experience as much of the world as possible.
What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?
We pack light and are not gear heads. Our primary tools are our MacBook Airs and our iPhones. We’re not trying to be an Apple ad, it’s just what we use.
Other than that, we love our Trekology Trekking Poles. They fold down and fit into our carry-on size luggage and have held up great over the last few years. We love to hike!
What’s your favorite book and why?
Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves. Betsy used this book in her International Business classes, and it has really helped shape our philosophy of travel.
How can people learn more about you and your work?
Euro Travel Coach says it all. It is the name of our website as well as our handle on social media. Our blog is on the website. We are most active on Facebook and Instagram. Follow us and send Betsy an email. We just love to help people travel!