Travel advisor works on a full turn after cancer diagnosis

Debra Harris had just retired from a 27-year career in federal law enforcement and was preparing to start a second career as a travel consultant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 51.

A type A character at heart, Harris said she got stuck in her tracks due to a cancer diagnosis in 2013. It was like hitting a brick wall. I had all the questions anyone diagnosed with cancer would ask: Why me? What did you do? What is the universe trying to tell me? “

Harris was enrolled in a professional travel certification course and was deciding how to structure her unborn business, Life’s Journey Travel, LLC, when she had to hit the pause button. For about a year, she paused her business dreams while focusing on her health.

After recovering from the necessary surgeries, Harris moved from Washington, D.C. to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and then undertook the evaluation. “I said, Well, I have this. Now how can I share this path, this journey, with others?”

Awakening to her mission
The cancer experience has changed Harris in big ways, including by opening the former “fact-only detective” to her more creative side. “That was my awakening,” she said.

She also changed her plans regarding her travel business. “This whole crab was like a long dream. When I woke up, I had better defined what I wanted to do.”

“What the Cancer Journey has told me is that I really need to find the people who need to take advantage of this. Some of them are baby boomers, others are very busy top-rankers, who just check the box when they travel. But life is not about Checks a box, and does travel.

“I feel like my job is to help people slow down and savor life. Use all your senses. Know what’s important. Take the moment. Breathe.”

for the joy of it
The Sweet Place of Harris is an immersive trip for a small group. “I enjoy food, wine, and immersive experiences. Learning and insatiable curiosity is what drives me when I travel, and those personalized experiences, those little things you’d have either working with me or traveling with me.”

“There are people calling me who want to do 10 countries in 10 days. This is not my traveler. I want to work with travelers who are interested in staying longer, diving a little deeper, getting to know the place.”

Joy now acts as a guide for Harris when deciding if you’re planning a trip for a client. “I need to enjoy the journey you are taking and send you to a place where I know you will find happiness.”

Find their clients
She has succeeded in attracting new clients from her involvement with local groups that nurture her personal interests. She’s a member of wine clubs, gastronomy club, and garden club, all of which are neatly aligned with her preferred style of travel.

She’s also collaborating with a genealogy researcher who made her own family tree to explore ways to combine ancestry research with travel, and plans to add genealogy research travel to her show next year.

When qualifying clients, Harris draws on the high-level interviewing skills she gained as an investigator with the United States Postal Inspection Service.

“For me, the most important question is why, and from there to continue with the open questions and dive a little deeper. It’s really just figuring out what their dreams and ambitions are on a journey and qualifying around that.

“If I have something I can add that adds value to their cause, that’s where I feel happy.”

Harris will only work with clients that it feels connected to. “My relationship with my traveler must be real, authentic, and real. It cannot be just because I see the commission check.”

“I want that relationship. This is the part that really brings me happiness. If it doesn’t bring me joy then it’s one and done. Life is too short.”

She said the focus on building authentic relationships with clients helps set her apart.

The importance of support
Harris credits the training support she has received through her host agency, Gifted Travel Network, with helping her redefine her business vision and articulating the unique “medicine” it has to offer.

She encouraged other travel advisors to surround themselves with “a supportive and collaborative community in the industry that you can bounce ideas off of and seek advice.”

“On the Cancer Journey, there are a lot of support groups. You need that in the travel community too. This is another thing that cancer taught me.”

Leave a Comment