It all sounds like a dream come true – Jon Downes has lived and worked in some of the most beautiful places in the world. As we chat on a chilly Chester afternoon, his sentences easily cruise from penguins on the Falkland Islands to quaint villages in Spain and onwards to Saint Lucia’s lush rainforest. If I started this interview thinking that a Travel Counsellor was going to be a type of psychological therapist that could help me get over my travel addiction… I was very wrong.
Jon now uses his own passion for seeing the world to help others book their ideal holiday. It’s the best of both worlds for him. With Travel Counsellors, he works independently whilst also enjoying the support of a company that he finds to have a friendly and positive ethos.
We meet up to drink coffee, and discuss the adventures of both worldwide travel and freelance life in Chester.
What was the first experience that gave you the travel bug?
The first holiday I went on without my parents was with friends. We went to a Greek island called Aegina where two of my friends had lived the previous summer. They’d worked in a restaurant and they knew everybody on the island – I thought that was quite exciting. So, the next year, I quit my job at a big hotel in London and went to do the same. I started by island hopping for about six months and then got a job in a restaurant. That was the first time I thought – wow, I don’t just have to have a nine to five job, I can go travelling if I want to and I can fund that by working. I think from that point on, I’ve always embraced opportunities.
What made you decide to go independent?
I wanted to run my own business. I’d worked for other travel-related companies and even though I’d loved it, I wanted to do something for myself. And, it’s completely different. I manage my own time, my own hours, build my own client base. I’m doing my own marketing, finding customers, researching destinations. I didn’t realise how much I’d enjoy it.
What does a typical day look like as an independent Travel Counsellor?
I get up about 7am, have breakfast and then I walk my dog. One of the things I couldn’t do when I worked for a company is have a dog, so we got one just after I started my own independent business.
I’m usually at my desk by around 8.30am. I’ll spend the day researching and planning itineraries, talking to different suppliers, and preparing quotes. I’ve been getting some really exciting stuff come through since I started – I’m really lucky with my client base. I’ve done everything from safaris to ski trips. My customers can contact me at any time, so I could get people message me on a Saturday night – but I get other time off during the week.
Do you prefer luxury? Or Off the Beaten Track Travelling?
I like both. Off the beaten track is exciting and interesting. It’s often where your stories and memories to tell the grandchildren will come from. But at the same time, I do sometimes love a nice simple, luxury holiday where I can just relax, read lots of books, eat lots of food, drink some nice wine and not have to move much. I think there’s an occasion for both.
What’s been your most surprising travel experience?
When I worked on the QE2, we went to the Falkland Islands. We got off the ship and walked down to the beach and I was quite surprised to see thousands and thousands of penguins rushing towards me. I like quirky place like that – it’s the kind of experience you can’t plan for.
If you could go anywhere this year, where would you choose?
My bucket list always had a handful of places on it – but, now every time someone phones me for a holiday enquiry and I start researching, I’m like – oh, I think I’d really like to go there too. Suddenly my bucket list is getting longer and longer. I’m just in the process of booking a three week New Zealand campervan trip and that’s gone onto the list. I’ve been there when I worked on the QE2 cruise ship, but I’ve never explored as much as you can in a campervan.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud that I’ve finally taken that step to run my own independent business. Lots of my friends and family work for themselves and I never thought I’d take that leap of faith within myself. I want to build up a really good business, and a repeat clientele – people who don’t just come to me for one holiday. I want to help them with their holidays for years and years.
Of course, I’m also really proud of all the travelling I’ve done because I wanted to do it and I’ve managed to. You need to have the guts to just go for it sometimes. It would’ve been quite easy not to do it. When I look back on my life, some of the best things I’ve done I was really scared of. I remember walking to get my job on the QE2 – I had to get a plane to meet the ship in Mombasa and I was petrified. It would’ve been so much easier to stay at home, but that was ultimately one of the best things I ever did. Sometimes you just need to be brave.
What brought you to Chester, and where do you like to go to relax?
I just opened up a map one day at work and thought – Chester looks good! I’d grown up on the other side of Manchester, moved to London when I was 18 and then obviously travelled around a lot. We lived in Brighton for many years then wanted to move back up North. Chester looked ideal being located close to Manchester and Liverpool. I’m still finding my way around, but I’m a member of a running club – The Chester Road Runners – and that’s helped me discover the city. I run along the river, the canal and through the town centre. It’s a beautiful city.
If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you carry on what you’re doing?
That’s a good question – I think I would continue with my passion for travel. I’d probably stay involved with some kind of business in travel or a charity that helps other people to be able to travel. I’d want to be able to help others achieve that.