How a Counterterrorism Expert Launched a Rewarding Career as a Travel Advisor

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The Modern Travel Agency


    a woman in a white dress and a baseball cap laughs on a beach

    Image courtesy of Claire Herzog

    Claire Herzog was always the go-to friend for the best travel recommendations, especially when it came to restaurants. She keeps detailed lists of where she intends to go, often organized by food type (espresso martinis, bakeries and coffee shops, restaurants, bars and then experiences). She doesn’t succumb to trends, and feels no shame in claiming a famous restaurant as overhyped. 

    She printed itineraries for her travel companions, as well as for guests coming to visit. Regardless of where she was living, friends and family members knew she always had plans at the best insider, under-the-radar gems.

    Claire’s mother repeatedly told her that she would make an excellent travel advisor, but Claire didn’t see how she could make that work financially. Plus, it seemed like an incongruous jump from her successful career in counterterrorism in Washington, DC. But when she learned about Fora, she decided to apply and give it a shot. 

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    “It was just kind of a natural progression as something I loved separate from my career,” Claire said of travel advising. “And it's just international relations of a different kind — slightly more fun, slightly more safe international relations.”

    She quickly fell in love with the work, and in the process discovered a new community that shared her joy.

    “If I was at another agency, I wouldn't be in like seven different Whatsapps. I wouldn't be texting other colleagues. I wouldn't be calling other colleagues to ask for recommendations or to catch up on something,” she said. “Fora has fostered all these people from different walks of life, but who are passionate about the same thing.”

    A quarter-life crisis

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    Images courtesy of Claire Herzog

    Claire’s path to travel advising was indeed a circuitous one, but in retrospect, everything fell into place organically. Claire attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in Peace, War & Defense, which, she said, was basically the university’s version of international relations, public policy, political science and history. She focused on counterterrorism and national security.

    She interned on Capitol Hill during two summers of her undergrad career, and moved to DC immediately after graduating. She worked for a government contractor that did counterterrorism training for the Marine Corps, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police academies and other organizations involved in national security. 

    “I always like to clarify: I was doing theoretical training, not physical training,” she said. “Because if you see me in person, I'm 5'2” and not scary at all, so they would not have me doing physical training.” (Though she may not be physically imposing, she’s wickedly smart. She’s even a published author in the field of theoretical training.)

    Every four years, as another election looms, Washington experiences a shake-up, Claire said: government employees either are out of a job or join the incoming administration. In 2016, her bosses opted for the latter. She worked for one more year in DC.

    Around this time, she spent New Year’s in Aspen with two close friends, both from Denver. 

    “I was like, Colorado, here I come. This state is amazing,” Claire recalled.

    In 2017, she quit her government job and headed west: “I was just excited to come to Colorado and have a totally different lifestyle with work-life balance and nice weather and people who didn't care about politics at all.”

    She worked in government regulation, but ultimately didn’t find it fun or fulfilling. She even dabbled working in sales at an Amex-affiliated travel company. Then Covid-19 hit, and by 2022, she said she was in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. 

    Then, Fora popped up on her radar. She submitted her application, got accepted and kicked off her career as a travel advisor. 

    When Claire first joined Fora, she still had her full-time job in government regulation. Claire describes herself as very Type A, so she made it work. She was working a ton, and doing travel advising before and after work. But maintaining a full-time career on top of her travel-advising one was becoming untenable. She sat down and calculated how much travel she would need to sell to be financially secure, set herself a sales goal based on that figure and hit her goal by the end of the year. 

    “I was like, all right, we've hit the do-or-die moment,” she recounted. “I can't do two full-time jobs anymore. I'm going to burn out. So I'm just going to go for it and hope that it works.”

    Will travel for food

    a woman in an apron cooks at a kitchen table

    Images courtesy of Claire Herzog

    About a year later, it’s safe to say it has more than worked. Not only does Claire continue to hit her sales goals, but she finds the work deeply rewarding and enjoyable. Now, she gets to share her expert recommendations for a living. 

    Part of having the best recommendations, of course, comes with extensive research. Claire plans all of her getaways around food, because that’s her favorite type of experience. As a self-described extrovert, she’s comfortable asking anyone around her — locals, strangers, plane neighbors — for their top recommendations. 

    She especially loves tapping into the wisdom of the hotel concierge, and urges them to go beyond their oft-used restaurant hit list. She gravitates toward more fun, local, intimate finds.

    “If I had foam one more time,” she joked about a recent trip to Italy, “I was gonna freak out.”

    Still, Claire is not opposed to elevated gastronomy. One of the most memorable meals she’s had was at Passalacqua, a dream villa on the shores of Lake Como. She dined on a bowl of handmade spaghetti crowned with caviar, paired with a glass of red wine the sommelier had selected for her. After dinner, in her resplendent room, a dessert awaited. The whole experience, she said, was sublime. (Another one of her favorite meals: a turkey-avocado BLT on sourdough from Merritt’s, in Chapel Hill.)

    Claire’s love for culinary experiences also informs her trip-planning prowess. The restaurants and experiences she recommends for clients are those she’s experienced herself. 

    In Santorini, she’ll send clients on a wine-tasting excursion followed by a cooking class where they make Greek salad, lamb and tzatziki. Afterward, they enjoy the meal on the island’s black-sand volcanic beach. In Italy, she recommends a Food & Nude tour: marveling at Michelangelo’s David followed by a tour of the local Florentine market, sampling prosciutto, olive oil, produce, gelato…

    “And to me, that's just like, living,” Claire said.

    Making something special

    a black plate of toast covered in cheese and shave black truffles

    Images courtesy of Claire Herzog

    Claire said she didn’t expect travel advising to be so rewarding. She loves when clients try her recommendations, and then come back raving about them afterward. In a way, Claire lives vicariously through them. She’s actively sharing what she loves. But the feeling goes beyond that.

    “You're spending your time and money, which are two resources that are obviously super precious to people,” Claire said of her clients booking vacations. “That alone makes it more rewarding than I thought planning travel would be, just knowing that you're the person who takes that time and that money and turns it into, hopefully, something special.”

    Most of Claire’s clients are honeymooners, and she also plans lots of proposal and engagement trips — momentous events in anyone’s lives. 

    “Getting to grow up with my clients like that and see them as they continue on the next journeys of their life has been really fun,” Claire said. (Claire also joked how Henley Vazquez, Fora’s co-founder, has called her “the baby maker,” since so many of her clients get pregnant on the trips Claire plans for them.)

    Planning stellar trips and helping craft these important memories is rewarding in itself, but Claire also relishes the friendships she’s made through Fora’s community. She’s traveled with fellow Fora Advisors, and often taps into the community’s knowledge as part of her sleuthing for additional expert recommendations. 

    She’s also found Fora’s community helpful from a professional standpoint. She’s learned a lot about different destinations, business operations and travel planning best practices. At the end of the day, she’s thrilled she gets to do what she does.

    “I never really thought that work could be fun. And obviously we all know this is a hard job. There are days where I'm like, I just need a break,” she said. “But this job is so freaking fun.”

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