My name is Annie Collins, I’m the owner of Freedom Travel and I’ve been in business for 28 years.
It was a long, long time ago and I was the executive director for the Oriental Rug Retailers of America. I needed to come up with a membership benefit for them, so I thought and thought and I kind of put myself in their position. I was like if I owned a rug store what would I most want from my association and I thought I want to go to see where the rugs are made. I want to see where they’re created, I want to see the artistic value, I want to see the people, I want to see the food. I want to completely embrace the origin of these rugs. I thought it would be a great idea to take the rug dealers to Turkey.
So off we went 21 of us and a photographer and we went to Istanbul and then all of the small rug weeping villages that were just nobody goes to. Dirt roads and donkeys and all sorts of stuff and it was fabulous, and it was just such an exhilarating experience for everyone. So, after that, I said well let’s do that again. So, we did that again and then I said well let’s see if it works for rug dealers might it work for painters because I was painting at the time and I thought that would be great fun. So, I took a group of people to the South of France and we went painting as a group and then I said well if that works let’s go to paint Portugal. I did about a trip year until about 2006.
In 2006 I left my cushy job at the Museum and decided to go out on my own and really blow some life into Freedom Travel. It was Freedom Tours then what is now Freedom Travel and I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to jump off and do my own thing. What I didn’t realize was that we were on the edge of a major recession. I also didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the internet was blowing up with places that individuals could go build their own trips and design their own trips and everyone is having a grand time of that. I’m completely oblivious to this, I, you know blinders on this is going to work and…
…and I just kept at it. It was, it was a struggle. I will say that it was a big struggle and it took a long time for me to figure out my, my real niche. I did not want my company to design travel that was based on any of the other platforms or any of the other formulas and that is a day here a day here a day here. If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium. Where I didn’t want any part of that, I wanted a lot of freedom and what I found, through my own experience, and through my client’s experience, is that when you allow people to have that freedom, they find their own wonderful experiences and then they make it their own. So, instead of me telling them everywhere they need to go they had the freedom to wander independently, to find that one person who is going to help them when they got lost. They’re going to come back with a story that’s going to be awesome. They’re going to eat in a cafe that they think no other American had ever eaten in and so, so my formula is every other day is an organized day. So, we’ll have a say a morning tour structured just to give an orientation or to give some sort of structure and then afternoon and maybe the whole next day free with suggestions of things to do. I call them freedom days and they are full days to explore independently and unleashed.
I think about where I want this company to go and what I’d like to leave behind for my children my grandchildren and if anything, it would be that traveling is not a vacation it’s an experience. It’s exploration! If I can leave my travelers with anything it is that they have changed their world, they’ve changed their lives by simply getting on that plane and traveling abroad. Seeing different people, how they eat, how they work, how they live, and I believe in my heart of hearts that once we get out into the world and we mingle with our fellow human beings that we will live in a more peaceful world because we will understand better how others perceive and how we are perceived.