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Alumni Stories: Lauren Mathews '84

It's a Small World After All by Lisa Birzen '03


At the time of her FSP in France during the fall of her sophomore year, Lauren Mathews could not have imagined that immediately after graduation she would embark on twenty years of traversing the globe and expanding her horizons, literally.

Hailing from Manchester, CT, Mathews practically "wore Dartmouth diapers as a baby," thanks to her father, a proud alumnus himself. Attending summer camps in Lyme, NH, watching Dartmouth football games and frequently passing through campus, Mathews felt early on that Dartmouth was a "comfortable place to go."

Fashioning her own major at college, Mathews diverged from the myriad of already established concentrations, something she would repeat in a few years when it would come time to choose a career track.

Graduating in 1984 with a major in International Relations and course work done in International Economics, French and Comparative Politics, Mathews thought she would shortly start work at an unpaid internship at the Visitor's Center of the State Department, assisting visiting diplomats and politicians.

At her roommate's suggestion to respond to a job ad in The New York Times, Mathews would soon find herself traversing the globe through E.F., a travel agency based in Greenwich, CT.

"You have to be at the right place at the right time. So many people think they want this but it's hard to break into the industry," she cautions.

Mathews began at E.F. in entry-level sales and in the course of seven years moved up to Vice President of the Language School Division. When Mathews joined E.F. in 1984, it was still a "growing company" but would later open offices in Cambridge, MA and, with Mathews' help, in Toronto, Canada, the company's first Canadian branch.

Through E.F., Mathews worked on organizing, managing and supervising group trips. Since most of the company's clients were schools, Mathews had the task of trying to accommodate large groups of people on the limited budget schools normally had at their disposal.

Mathews admits that she "did not have a grand scheme of working in travel." In fact, she "tried a couple of times to leave," she says with a laugh, but "the perks were never nearly as good elsewhere." Once she "got accustomed to the lifestyle" of a frequent flier, it was hard to leave that behind, she says.

Despite the appeal of the work, Mathews eventually felt "ready to move on" to another organization, in part due to an unwritten company policy that "unless you are Swedish, you only go up to VP."

Through another friend, she found work at High Country Passage, an agency based in San Francisco, CA. Here, Mathews helped to "organize educational tours for non-profit organizations," such as the Dartmouth Alumni Association, National Audobon Society, American Museum of Natural History and the California Academy of Sciences, to name a few.

Whereas her earlier student trips could be described as "a lot of volume on a low budget," these trips were the complete opposite: small groups and very expensive.

"These trips were more in-depth and geared towards retired people who have some money, don't want any hassles and are happy to sit back and let someone else do the work" of creating an itinerary and booking reservations, she explains.

Most of Passage's clientele were alumni divisions of large organizations wishing to create a group trip for their members and families.

Such trips "create stronger bonds between the traveler and the sponsoring organization," Mathews explains, adding also that the organization's hope may be that "perhaps when it comes time to writing a will, the traveler will remember the organization," since the organization doesn't make any money off of the trips themselves.

In 1989, Mathews helped to organize and lead one such trip for the Dartmouth Alumni Association. With the appealing destination of a safari in Kenya, the Alumni Association "sold this trip out twice with only one brochure mailing," an impressive feat which speaks for itself. The trip was a "really good product ...that you can't find it anywhere else," Mathews says.

Having led numerous trips throughout her years in the business, Mathews comments that "in the beginning, it gave me more confidence to go to the same places." After some time, however, "I didn't want to lead a group if I had led it before," Mathews added, finding this new challenge motivating and exciting.

After three years of "having learned everything" at High Country Passage, Mathews left to work with Siemer and Hand Travel, another company based in the Bay Area.

Mathews got a "lot of satisfaction" from working in this small company, primarily because one would "work on a tour from beginning to end." For any given trip, Mathews would research the destination, plan the itinerary, compile the brochure, send out welcoming packages, train the Tour Manager and mail out evaluations at the tour's conclusion, an involved process that she found very fulfilling.

Whereas the world of group travel has offered Mathews much fulfillment, she cautions that this line of work is not for everybody.

"Even if all your friends are doing it or if it may be the career de jour, it may not be for you," she says.

The field of group travel involves a lot more than simply traveling around the world with a group. Mathews warns people to know of the other aspects to this business, such as the hours spent on the phone and in front of a computer, emailing and researching on the Internet.

"People think that the trekking part of this job is glamorous, but even when you are trekking, it's not always that glamorous!" Mathews comments.

She suggests shadowing someone for a day in a field you think may interest you. "It's an honest glimpse of what the job may be like...before committing to the work," she says.

Most people who speak to Mathews about group travel are "burnt out of the idea of what they thought they wanted to do...and really want to travel," she says.

However, such a desire is not enough to succeed in this business.

"One needs to be well organized and detail oriented, able to multitask and be personable, enjoying people and talking to them," Mathews explains.

She further emphasizes the need to be good at "trying to keep track of it all because you may have twenty trips in the works at any one time."

Despite the "personal satisfaction and great life experiences" of group travel, Mathews admits that she "doesn't have a big bank account." But, she adds, "there are things money can't buy."

She's had friends with "more traditional jobs who travel for work and only saw airports and boardrooms," whereas her experiences abroad include sightseeing, exploring and home stays.

Mathews recently took advantage of another perk of her job. When she was ready to have a family, she found that she could "very easily put [her] career on the back burner...with no qualms about it."

"Many women are so invested in their careers that much of their identity is what they do from nine to five," whereas Mathews enjoys spending time with her fifteen month-old son and working part time from home, currently designing new tours to Argentina for alumni of the UCLA Extension program.

Everywhere she traveled, Mathews made friends and contacts whose support and concern truly showed itself in the days following September 11, 2001.

"It was incredible how many people reached out," she recalls. The numerous emails and faxes she received from people in countries such as Spain and Syria, "made the world feel like a much safer place than the headlines made it appear," she says.

The world truly has become Mathews' oyster, and if you heed her pearls of wisdom, it can become yours too.

Last Updated: 6/21/12