People & Stories

Recognising women in business: Trafalgar's Mary Lee

To recognise International Women’s Day 2020, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the incredible women who make up the Trafalgar family. Whether leading teams in our offices around the world, or helping to deliver the very best travel experiences on the road, the women of Trafalgar challenge gender stereotypes, champion each other and pave for the way for other women within the travel industry, all whilst being supported by a business that has celebrated and recognised women for 100 years – The Travel Corporation.

In this three part special, we’ll be showcasing 3 extraordinary ladies who have seen their lives changes and blossom whilst working for TTC. Ladies who lead by example, and who inspire others through their tenacity and passion. 

In this edition, we sit down with Mary Lee, who has been a Travel Director for both Trafalgar and Costsaver, for over 9 years…

Trafalgar travel director Mary Lee

What does your daily job entail?

I am a Trafalgar and Costsaver Travel Director in the USA. I guide our guests through some of the most beautiful and fascinating areas of the United States, and share my expertise on geographical, historical and cultural highlights. I also work hard to customize the travel needs and interests of each individual guest, whilst always ensuring the safety and security of the group I am responsible for.

What has kept you with TTC for so long?

It’s a great honor to be part of such an exceptional, hard working team.  We have so many talented people in the TTC family. Being a leader in the industry, TTC offers me the opportunity to challenge myself and to grow as a Travel Director. 

RELATED CONTENT: Celebrating women in business – Trafalgar’s Rita Kelly

How has TTC given your career the chance to flourish?

In so many ways! From annual meetings to training sessions, TTC really strives to have the best team in the industry. TTC is an absolute trailblazer for offering memorable, thoughtful travel experiences for our guests. In turn, this means a higher level of thought and effort placed in our own professional development. 

How does TTC support women and offer them the chance to grow professionally?

Traditionally, the travel industry is a male-dominated profession.  I think that it is extremely important to have female Travel Directors to offer their voice, insight, and face, especially given today’s gender inequality.  Every year, I have been so happy to see growth in the number of female Travel Directors hitting the road. I am also proud that the TTC team includes female executives, such as our Trafalgar USA President, Melissa Da Silva.

Mary and daughter

How have you seen female travelers change over the course of the trips that you run?

To help answer this, I would like to share a story that really struck a chord with me and made me realize how we as Travel Directors impact lives.

A couple of years ago, I was leading a Trafalgar Wild West, Cowboys and Buffalos Family trip through the West (an incredible trip that visits Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse), and I had the pleasure of traveling with a young woman, whom I will always remember.  Now, she wasn’t exactly the most “time aware” guest, meaning she frequently ran late for our departures because she was carried away with taking photos. This was a little challenging for me because timeliness is important in ensuring that all guests have a smooth journey.

However, at our Farewell Dinner, I learned from her aunt that her niece’s mother had recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. 

Her mother never had the chance to show her daughter the places she loved most – Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  It turns out that this young woman was always a little late because she was trying to take in all the beauty of the National Parks that her mother dearly loved.

You can imagine the tears and hugs after I heard this touching story. Aunt and niece were so grateful to share these places together, and as their Travel Director, I was so grateful to be part of a deeper, more enriching narrative. 

Why do you think it is so powerful for women to meet and bond with other women whilst travelling?

Women today come from so many different backgrounds and roles: the working moms, retirees, business owners, and everything in between.  Women can be more tribal, so we tend to gravitate toward one another – we look for transformative journeys and it can be extremely rewarding to share these journeys with other women. I once heard it referred to as “femship” and that is a great way to describe this support – travel experiences can be very empowering for women, especially for solo female travelers.  When you are around other fabulous women, the fabulousness can make you feel that way too!

Do you get many Mum & Daughter duos on your trips? How does the travel experience bring them closer together?

We definitely get mothers and daughters traveling together! Being an only daughter, I have a strong relationship with my mother, and we have been fortunate to have traveled the world together. When I see a Mom and Daughter traveling together, I see a bit of us. It is powerful and transformative to have a different way to relate to one another after a new adventure – you might learn something new about your mom that could surprise you, and it will certainly give you a newfound appreciation for someone you have taken for granted all your life.

Of course, it is more than just mothers and daughters- we have aunts and nieces, sisters, grandmothers and granddaughters, all sorts of familial relationships connecting through travel. Whatever generational differences may exist, travel strengthens the bonds and forges a deeper friendship with shared food, drink, and laughter. It was my Mom who shared her love for San Francisco when I was a teenager, and San Francisco is still one of my favorite cities in the USA.

Why do you think it is so important for women to travel and meet other local women around the world?

As a huge advocate of volunteerism and having had the opportunity to serve in leadership roles in women’s only service organizations, I have experienced the power of positive change that can happen when a group of women come together.  Travel raises awareness about the different ways women may thrive, or just survive, in their communities. 

These encounters can motivate women to make changes in their own lives, or make ripples on a global level and help other women socially, politically, and economically far away from home. 

We can change the fabric of the global community, however slowly, by listening to stories of women from different regions. In Peru, the women literally weave these stories into textiles – not only are they preserving their cultural stories and customs, but it provides them with an economic tool to support themselves. Discovering a diversity of global perspectives helps to increase our attitude of gratitude, and in doing so we raise our happiness levels and bring out the best in those around us. 

RELATED CONTENT: The secret ingredient – Bea Tollman shares her thoughts on International Women’s Day

How has travel changed you, as a woman?

Travel essayist, Pico Iyer, says it best: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” While Pico Iyer might be a man, I think it reflects the magic behind travel, regardless of your gender!     

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