A desire for adventure and an eagerness to learn spurred Kelly Brady to choose a career as a travel agent.

“Did I choose travel, or did travel choose me? I’ve never been sure … I have always loved adventure, meeting new people and trying new things,” she said.

As a small child, Brady was inspired by her “amazing grandmother” Thelma Musslewhite, who taught history and geography in the Omen school district until it consolidated with the Arp district in 1947.

“I was the youngest of five grandkids. While they were at school, I stayed with her. We would both enjoy looking at her world globe and maps,” said Brady, who grew up in Arp.

“I was intrigued with the stories and history she told about these magical places, which led to my determination to work in the travel industry. It is easy to fall in love with the beauty and history of a culture that is different from your own,” she continued.

Brady graduated from Arp High School, moved to Dallas and worked in property management. There she discovered the American Airlines Travel Academy. After graduating in 1993, she joined American’s reservations division.

As an employee, Brady used her discounts to see different parts of the world.

She moved back to East Texas and worked at Carlson Wagonlit, a Tyler travel agency.

“Mark Bedgood, Vicky Taylor and Velma Tollison were the owners and managers. They helped shape me into a full-service travel adviser,” Brady said.

Taylor “took me under her wing,” she said. “(They) trained me about leisure travel, sent me on trips to learn how cruises work and taught me what I didn’t learn in school.”

In April 2015, Brady started her own company, 5 Star Escapes, and became an independent contractor. She chose Altour as her host agency because of managing director Randal Limbacher’s “commitment and passion for East Texas,” she said.

Altour “gives me power in the industry to help serve my clients with buying power and discounts,” she said of the international travel firm.

Despite 28 years in the turbulent industry, Brady’s passion for giving her customers “life-enriching experiences” remains.

“I love to craft destination trips and bucket-list adventures, as well as all types of cruises, including lengthy flight itineraries, for all sorts of groups: honeymooners, multi-generational families, golden-agers, girl getaways, missionaries, etc. I book everything from airplane tickets to round-the-world tours,” she said.

Brady saves her clients’ money by setting up each part of their trip separately.

“I put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Instead of using one company, I do everything from the time they leave the house until they get home,” Brady said. “In the travel business these days, you really have to go the extra mile. It means late nights. I don’t stop until I build a trip for a client that I’m proud to put my name on.

“A travel adviser is your advocate when you’re traveling … If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is the value of a good travel adviser,” Brady added.

When COVID-19 shut down airports and international travel, people were stranded. Some waited five or six hours on the phone trying to rebook their flights.

“That’s what happens when you have thousands of people cancel all at once,” she said. Those who had booked through travel agents had help redoing their itineraries.

“We worked tirelessly to get money back for our clients — out of pure professionalism and because we care about our clients,” she said, noting that agents “don’t get paid if people don’t travel.”

Brady suggested that would-be travelers develop a relationship with an agent because, “During travel, stuff happens.” When asked about booking trips through websites or apps, she said, “You can’t call the internet when you’re traveling.”

The pandemic has also shown travel agents which companies are strong, have values and will help resolve problems.

“Travel is (agents’) expertise. They research information for you. They have destination knowledge. … There is no way you can buy that,” she said.

Brady is a certified travel advisor and destination specialist and a member of the American Society of Travel Agents. Her clients, who live all over the world, travel to Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, French Polynesia and throughout the United States.

“They let me share a small part of their lives that will create precious memories and fulfill their dreams. They trust me with their most precious assets, their valuable time and their family,” Brady said.

“I love the business, I love people. I have the best clients ever,” she continued. “I feel that I make a difference in their lives. Life will happen, but they will have me to call.”