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Many people occasionally travel for work.
But for some, travel is at the heart of their jobs.
CNBC Travel spoke with people from four industries about occupations where working from home — or an office for that matter — isn’t an option.
A year of travel
Name: Sebastian Modak
Job: Former New York Times “52 Places Traveler”
Modak was one of 13,000 people who applied for a role that sent one person to every destination on The New York Times’ “Places to Go” list in 2018 — the first year the newspaper hired for the position.
He didn’t get the job.
“A year later I figured, why not give it a shot again,” he said. “This time it worked out!”
As the “52 Places Traveler” for 2019, Modak traveled to a new destination every week — from Bulgaria to Qatar and Uzbekistan to Vietnam — in a year he described as both thrilling and grueling.
“I often say it was one of the greatest experiences of my life … but also the hardest,” he said. “I didn’t have a day off for a whole year, and the constant pressure of deadlines was hard to cope with.”
Modak, who is now the editor-at-large for travel publisher Lonely Planet, said his advice for aspiring travel writers is to admit you know nothing. “The first step to finding and telling compelling travel stories is asking questions and admitting that you have so much to learn.”
Source: Sebastian Modak
Modak said the job requires someone who can “do it all,” from writing articles and posting on social media to shooting photographs and videos, he said.
“It was a lot!” he said. “Besides storytelling skills, they were looking for someone with the stamina to get through the whole year.”
He mostly credits luck for getting the job, but he said he believes his upbringing and enthusiasm for travel helped. Modak’s father is from India, and his mother is Colombian, he said, so “as a cultural compromise, they essentially decided to move constantly.” As a result, he grew up in places like Hong Kong, Australia, India and Indonesia, he said.
Modak said the job — which has been heralded as the quintessential “dream job” — was exhausting, stressful and even scary at times, yet one of constant growth and adventure.
“I wouldn’t take it back for the world,” he said. “It blew my mind wide open, introduced me to people on six continents … and cemented my love for going to a place and seeking out a story.”
Name: Sandra Black
Job: Communications specialist for the United Nations
Black’s job doesn’t take her to typical travel spots, and her work trips are anything but overnighters.
Since 2008, she’s lived and worked in Senegal, East Timor, the Central African Republic, Iraq and, more recently, Mozambique, in roles that last from several months to years.
“Each [place] has its cultural highlights and warmth,” she said, while noting that living “where movement is restricted due to security concerns” is the most challenging part.
Since October 2021, Black has handled external communications for the Mozambique office of the United Nations Populations Fund, an agency of the U.N. that focuses on reproductive health and rights and which is entirely funded by donations, according to its website.
“I personally feel driven to support those in greatest need,” she said.
Sandra Black (left) with women participating in a carpet-making project in a resettlement site after Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique in 2019.
Source: IOM/ Alfoso Pequeno
Black wrote about people who were displaced by Cyclone Idai in 2019 — one of the worst hurricanes on record to hit Africa — while working for the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration. She recalled meeting a woman named Sarah who climbed up a tree with her baby after her house collapsed from flooding. The woman said she was rescued seven days later.
Originally from New York, Black speaks French, Spanish, Portuguese and a basic level of Wolof, the national language of Senegal, and Tetum, a language spoken on East Timor. She said her language abilities are partly why she’s been urgently deployed to cover humanitarian crises.
“At night, I type until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, and then start again at 6am the next day,” she said in an interview for the U.N.’s “humanitarian hero” campaign in 2014.
“The most meaningful part of humanitarian communications is to provide a platform for people affected by conflict and natural disasters to tell their stories,” she said. “Many sincerely want the world to know what happened to them and their communities.”
From chef to captain
Name: Tony Stewart
Job: Yacht captain
Stewart said he expects to travel for nine months in 2022 at the helm of the 130-foot tri-deck “All Inn” motor yacht. He’s already moved from the Caribbean to Central America and Mexico. From the West Coast of the United States, he’ll go to British Columbia’s Inside Passage and on to southeast Alaska, then fly to Florida and finish the year in the Bahamas, he said.
That’s slightly longer than a “typical year,” he said, partly because of an increase in charter business this year, he said.
Stewart said he started out in the yachting industry as a chef in 1998, and “immediately fell in love with the lifestyle, work and travel.” After a year and a half of cooking, Stewart made a career switch.
Tony Stewart has captained three motor yachts since 2006, he said, including the 130-foot Westport tri-deck yacht named “All Inn.”
Source: Fraser Yachts
“I decided I wanted to work towards getting my license and become a captain, at which point I took a job as [a] deckhand and started my journey,” he said.
The job requires strong problem-solving skills, organization and a high tolerance for stress, said Stewart. Captains do “a little bit of everything,” he said, from trip planning and accounting to “HR duties” for the crew and golf bookings for guests.
As to whether it’s a dream job — “it absolutely is,” said Stewart.
“We endure long days, and sometimes weeks without days off,” he said, but “I couldn’t imagine doing this … and not loving it.”
Italian villa expert
Name: Amy Ropner
Job: Head of villas at the U.K.-based luxury travel and villas company Red Savannah
Of the 300 villas that Red Savannah works with, about 120 are in Italy, said Ropner. She estimates she’s visited about 80% to 90% of them.
She travels from London to Italy to assess the company’s collection of “exceptionally high-end” villas and to evaluate new homes to add to the company’s roster, she said. During a recent trip, she traveled from Milan to Lake Como, down to Tuscany, then further south to the towns of Amalfi and Positano, she said. Her next trip is to Puglia, she said, “because it’s beautiful and rugged and really popular at the moment.”
Red Savannah’s Amy Ropner said her work mainly focuses on Italian villas, but also rental homes in Greece, Spain and the Caribbean. “I’m always ready to go at any point … we’re always moving.”
Source: Red Savannah
Some 90% of the houses are privately owned, said Ropner. She meets owners and analyzes everything from the size of the pool decks to the beds (“there’s a difference between a British king and an American king”).
Most bookings involve children, so she checks that staircases and balconies are safe for all ages; if not, the company notes this on the website, she said.
“We need to [know] whether there’s cats on the estate, whether it’s down a dirt track … which obviously takes a little bit longer to get to … where the sun rises, where the sun sets,” she said.
Ropner often stays in the villas, which rent for $5,000 to $200,000 per week, she said. She also explores local areas, so she can advise on restaurants, boat rentals and new services such as e-bike trips and gelato-making classes, she said.
“I think people think it’s all glamorous [but] it’s a lot of work,” she said, noting that she once saw 50 villas in one trip.
“It is glamorous,” she said, “but it also can be tiring.”