Joyce Brooks Travel

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Photo by Jon PattilloHow does a poor country girl manage to fulfill her childhood dreams of traveling around the world? It took a long time and a lot of work, assisted by some "windows of opportunity", but Joyce Brooks has visited over 100 countries and sailed on 36 cruises.

My story begins when I arrived on this earth during the depression in 1933 on a farm and ranch in Central Texas. As I was seven years older than my only sibling, brother Delbert, I had to help with the care of the livestock and my most dreaded chore – working in the fields. I did not mind riding horseback rounding up the stock, but chopping that cotton and picking that corn was not my idea of fun, and something I vowed to get away from as soon as possible. As this was the days before television and there were no nearby neighbor children, I spent all my free time reading.

As I read of the far away places I dreamed that someday I would actually see them. My top three desires were to see the Taj Mahal in India, Paris, and the wild animals in Africa. But how would a poor country girl ever get out of Texas to do this?

The first window of opportunity was at the age of 16 when I entered an essay contest in a farm publication and won first prize in the girls’ division. The prize was an all expense paid trip to New York City and Washington, DC plus $100 in cash – a fortune in 1950! As I boarded that propeller powered American Airlines in Dallas, this girl decided that this was the way to go. This trip fueled my wanderlust, but how would I be able to travel unless I could find a millionaire to marry and I certainly did not know any prospects.

After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, my first job was Woman’s Editor of the Big Spring Daily Herald, an outpost in desolate West Texas. Here love interfered with my travel plans, and I married the paper’s hotshot reporter (definitely not a millionaire, in fact, was only making $55 a week), and my dreams of world travel changed to owning a chain of newspapers. We started with a broken down weekly paper in Ohio – starved out there, and then worked on a paper in New Mexico, only for it to fold three weeks later. This took us to Marfa, Texas near the Big Bend area, where my husband worked for the weekly paper and I found a job as secretary to a retired judge. Nine months later, that paper shut down, and once more we had to travel, but was not the way I had dreamed. This time to Temple, Texas, where my husband worked as Sports Editor and I found employment with Scott and White Hospital fund raising. After a short time there, my husband was offered the position of managing editor back at Big Spring, where we had started five years before. Here I was a program coordinator for the local YMCA, and later became the head of the publicity department for the local junior college. In between I had a ceramics business and birthed two children, Heidi in 1963 and Corky in 1966. In 1970 Heidi became very ill with allergies so common in West Texas, and the doctor advised us to move. My husband found a position with the City of Austin, Texas, and I was hired by the local Public Television Station to manage the Auction and Fund Raising.

Here I was 37 years old and the only places I had been other than our work misadventures were car trips through the western United States from Texas to California. But I was too busy with my children, my work and trying to pay the monthly bills to let my travel yearning be a big factor. After three years in Austin, my husband and I were divorced and I had to face the reality that I was a 40 year-old divorcee with a seven and a ten year old to support, and survival, not travel, was uppermost in my mind.

Then the second window of opportunity popped open in the form of Keith Brooks. We met on a blind date through mutual friends six weeks after my divorce was final, and two weeks after our first date he asked me to marry him which I did five months later. Keith, a widower, had a ranch at Evant, 100 miles west of Austin, and had come to the city looking for a wife and thank goodness, he found me. He not only was a great husband and father for my children, and although not considered wealthy, he provided me financial comfort I had not experienced for 17 years in my previous marriage – and an extra plus – he liked to TRAVEL! I continued my job at the PBS station where I had two months off in the summer, and during this time we took one big annual trip that I planned in detail. One of the first places we went was Paris.

After ten years as Auction Manager and Fund Raiser for PBS, I had total "burnout" and here I was 47 years old and still had just barely scratched my "itch to travel". I went to work for a travel agency – taking a cut in salary, but hoping that the "perks of the trade" would make up for the financial loss. I was not happy in this career move. I would work diligently on other people’s tours, but saw little opportunity for Keith and me to travel. I called on a local bank that had a travel program that was very popular in Texas in the 1980’s.

Here another window opened wide. The bank president offered me the position as the bank travel coordinator, plus handling the publicity and public relations. This was the beginning of my dreams coming true. I started off slowly with one and two-day bus trips to build my following. I guess a bus trip is one of the hardest jobs in the field of travel. At least the way I did it. On the day of the trip Keith and I would be up at 5 am before an 8 am departure. We would stop off at the local bakery for donuts, then rush to the bank and ice down sodas, wine and beer. I would make coffee at the bank kitchen. If it were an earlier departure – 7 am – I would pick up breakfast tacos from a nearby café. I would frequently bring crackers, cheese and grapes – popcorn, cookies, candy, etc. to occupy the time on long rides. I became the bus attendant, serving the entire way. My specialty was pouring wine from a three-liter bottle into a small cup on a moving bus without spilling a drop. The only casualty was bruises all along my legs from the bus seats.

My people seemed to like the little extras I did for them, and soon I had a core group of followers, and was gathering more all the time. We advanced to trips throughout the United States and then abroad. I loved to plan trips around special events and for the Statue of Liberty Celebration in New York City in 1986 I had a group of 132 – three busloads with only Keith and me as the leaders.

I scheduled at least one group trip a month, while keeping up with my duties at the bank. My faithful following usually went along on the trips I scheduled, therefore I was able to see the world as I worked. In 1988, the bank was bought by a large national holding company, and my travel program was not in the norm for the system. I survived for another two years, but the stress and also being tired, I retired from the bank in 1991 and we moved out to Keith’s ranch in Evant, Texas. Not ready to give up my desire to travel, I knew I had my devoted clientele. So I just set up shop at home with a computer, FAX machine and an 800 number and continued with "group travel" as usual. When I was unable to sell exotic trips to such destinations as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, Keith and I were able to swing the trips with the aid of Frequent Flyer Miles and travel trade discounts. We also went on many FAM trips (discounted or free trips for travel industry personnel to acquaint them with the destination).

I grew tired of taking "40 people" all over the world, and decided to quit in 1996. When Collette Vacations, the wholesale company that I had been using frequently for my group tours, discovered this, they offered me a job as a sales representative for West Texas. As we had seen the world, but not all of Texas, I decided to give it a try. Selling tours to other group leaders was not my bag. I preferred to take people all over the world, and in the past twenty years had been on every continent except Antarctica and led over 200 group tours. When I turned 65 I decided it was time to really quit and write my book.

My final window of opportunity materialized for me when The Intrepid Traveler agreed to publish my book, "Around the World in the Middle Seat."

For two years I made the rounds of book stores, book fairs, etc. to promote my book. I wanted to write my second one, this time focusing on the seven continents and including material that could not go in the first book. I had been to all except Antarctica, and again another window opened.

Orient Cruise Lines generously gave me a free cruise to the continent at the bottom of the world and I had frequent flyer miles to cover the airfare. Keith did not want to go, so this was the first long trip I had taken without him. The trip to Antarctica has to be my most exciting adventure - maybe because of the thrill of finally realizing my childhood dream and stepping on my seventh continent, but the awesomeness of the great landscapes of ice and snow and the darling penguins completed the satisfaction.

When I returned, I was ready to write my second book, but since "Around the World" was published, we had the terrible event of 9/11 and travel publishers were having a difficult time. My publisher said he could not handle this one, so I had to seek another route. I was speaking to the Austin Women's Club and told them I was looking for a publisher, when a lady came up to my table and laid her card down and said: "Bring us your manuscript." She was with Eakin Press of Austin.

So "Seven Before Seventy: One Woman's Quest for the Seven Continents" was released in 2003. (Reason for the title, I was 69 when I stepped on my seventh continent.)

Now I devote my time to speaking to groups all over the United States (see list of references).

So my dreams have come true through hard work and determination. I spend my time now promoting my book and having fun with my six grandchildren, plus Keith and I still like to travel, just not taking any more of those long flights across the oceans.

I hope you will enjoy my worldly adventures as much as I did experiencing them and telling you about them. I would love to hear from you with any questions regarding personal travel or how to become a Group Tour Leader. Just go to contact on my home page.

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