Busy farm mom cultivates a career in travel

Hollie Schmitt of Memory Making Travel in Bermuda.
Hollie Schmitt of Memory Making Travel in Bermuda.

Hollie Schmitt, owner of Memory Making Travel in Rubicon, Wis., lands in places like Machu Picchu still shaking the dust of the family farm's back 40 off her hiking boots.

Going the distance for a wedding client

Hollie Schmitt was ASTA's Extra Mile Award winner in 2014 for her response to one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls no agent wants to get. Read More

She's the type of person who can book a destination wedding in Jamaica and then use her school bus to drive the wedding party to the airport when middle-of-the-night flight cancellations wreak havoc with travel plans.

Before heading off on to sail the Norwegian Breakaway for the ASTA Global Convention last fall, she canned "only" 50 quarts of salsa made with tomatoes she had grown in her garden.

Work and family are intertwined for this wife and mother of six. The names and birthstones of her husband and their children are tattooed on her left foot. Whenever she's on a beach, she takes a photo of her toes in the sand and texts it home.

"You're here with me every step of the way," the text says.

Travel was always in Schmitt's blood. She grew up on a dairy farm but spent the summer between her sophomore and junior years of high school in Iceland as an exchange student. After graduating, she worked as a nanny for a family in Philadelphia who traveled all over the U.S. Upon returning to Wisconsin, she attended travel school in Milwaukee, then went to work for Trans World Express in Madison, checking in passengers, handling bags, waving in planes and cleaning them.

Then the older brother of her best friend from high school asked her to sub on his volleyball team. Seven months later, they were engaged, and nine months after that they were married. 

Schmitt on the family farm with her husband, Paul, and daughters Jordan (foreground) and Sheridan.
Schmitt on the family farm with her husband, Paul, and daughters Jordan (foreground) and Sheridan.

Her husband, Paul, had two children from a previous marriage, and the couple added four more to mix, along with 65 head of dairy cattle and 140 acres. A few years ago, they switched from dairy to a smaller herd of beef cattle, giving them time to travel.

On a family vacation in Puerto Vallarta in April 2011, she met two Canadian travel agents and shared with them her dream of becoming an agent herself.

"But I can't do a 9-to-5 job with all the kids and everything," she told them.

The two agents told her she should consider becoming a home-based agent, an option she didn't know existed. Two weeks later, back at home in front of her computer, she found the host agency KHM Travel.

"I liked what they stood for, so I thought, what the heck! I'll try it for a year, and if I don't like it, I'm out $495," she said.

She now has some 400 clients, building her business the old-fashioned way: family and friends, repeats and referrals. 

She was KHM/Funjet Agent of the Year in 2012 and 2013 and now has an assistant agent working with her. Last fall she was honored with ASTA's Extra Mile Award.

Schmitt is constantly juggling responsibilities. Last year, just before she left on a weeklong fam trip to Jamaica, her husband asked her if she could rake one of their hay fields so he could bale it.

"I hadn't packed yet, but I couldn't say no, because I was leaving for a week," she recalled. "I always tell the kids, 'We're a family, we work together, that's what we do.'"

Her kids help with the business, typing, filing and doing errands around the house.

Her schedule is jam-packed. For example, she had a one-day turnaround between the ASTA convention and an Aruba fam trip. As soon as she got back from Aruba, she was scheduled to work the Baskets From the Heart booth at a church festival to which she contributed a gift certificate for luggage and another for travel.

She has a frenzied schedule as a mother, juggling her kids' baseball, basketball and volleyball schedules. She had to cut back on her school bus driving, limiting it to taking teams to games.

And then there is the farm. On a recent afternoon she had to call her husband, who besides farming, works full time for the city of Hartford, Wis., to help her catch a steer that had escaped through a fence. Then she went back to her desk, booking an Aruba trip. If she's away from her phone, it might be because she's tossing wood into the stove that heats their 1892 farmhouse.

Meanwhile, she keeps wracking up the destinations: Peru; a Christmas market cruise on the Rhine aboard the AmaCello; Punta Cana; Cancun; the Riviera Maya; Cabo San Lucas; St. Lucia; and Antigua, among others.

It's essential for her to know the places she's booking for her clients. She said she can see the relief in their faces when they realize she has hands-on knowledge of a destination. Australia, Alaska and Hawaii are next for her.

Her oldest daughter is following in Schmitt's footsteps: She's spending her senior year in Spain.

As for Schmitt herself, "My bucket list's getting longer, not shorter," she said.


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