Taking Travel to New Heights

It's part of the job description for AAA Travel Agents to explore the world, gathering knowledge of destinations near and far to better serve members. With AAA constantly adding newer agents to the robust pool of travel resources, many tenured agents enjoy meeting and sharing their knowledge with the new kids on the block. Imagine their surprise when two agents realized after first meeting that they shared the same travel adventure, albeit 22 years apart. 

Two in AAA's Winston-Salem office, Mark Holmes and Allie Tate, stand out among the most adventurous agents, having trekked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The experience, they said, led them to their careers at AAA. They also picked up critical skills.

“What I learned in planning on the trail helps me as a travel agent,” says Holmes, who made the trek in 1995 with his wife, Janet. 

The couple were in their 40s when they quit their jobs to undertake the five-month hike, which was cut short just 200 miles from the 2,200-mile official end when Holmes broke an ankle. Until then, they had been having a relatively smooth time of it, although the trail could be a slog on days when they faced up to 20 miles of walking through dense forests in heavy downpours.

Lots of planning went into it. They had to determine when to stock up on food and where to seek shelter, including in inns when they tired of primitive trail shelters. One day, after a grueling stretch in Virginia, the couple took refuge in a bed-and-breakfast inn. They became friendly with the proprietor, a relationship that resulted in a big move. 

A few weeks after finishing the hike, the couple accepted the proprietor's offer to help run the B&B, jobs which lasted 10 satisfying years until the inn was sold. Holmes then joined AAA, happy for another opportunity to meld his love of travel and people. He and Janet still explore the world, enjoying three or four trips to Europe and several in the U.S. each year. Although their hiking days are mostly behind them, Mark retains the spirit of the trail.

“I tell my clients not to put off adventures — especially with older clients, who sometimes tell me they will think about a trip for next year. I tell them, do it while you can.”

Allie Tate, who recently began working at AAA, hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017 with her boyfriend, Louie.  After majoring in architecture at Clemson University, Tate said she realized she didn't want to be an architect. 
She met Louie during their stints as Episcopal Service Corps volunteers, and the two decided to undertake the hike both as a challenge and to figure out their potential career paths. After about two months on the trail, Tate said it became clear.

“It was Louie who pointed out to me that I speak most passionately about travel and perhaps that's the field for me.”

The couple persevered through colds and nagging blisters on early stretches. And, there were rainy days on end when they had “nothing dry left to wear,” she recalls.

Ultimately, the seven-month experience gave her the perspective she needed. “When you're hiking eight hours a day it's a lot of time to be in your head, to go inward. It's a lot of time to think.”

Tate, who was impressed with AAA when she used it for her travels, returned from the adventure and applied for the AAA Travel Agent training. Now, she looks forward to using the skills she learned, including from the hike, to plan members' vacations. She says two thoughts from the trail will always stick with her.

“You can plan for all sorts of things but there's always something, like the weather, that may change your plans,” Allie shares. “I also learned that you set a goal, and then you just take it one step at a time.”  

Whether you’re an outdoor explorer or an indoor observer, your AAA Travel Agent can match you with your ideal itinerary. For more information, call 800-750-5386.