The face of travel: Carolann Ouellette

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I’ve always wanted to be considered “well traveled”. To walk into a room and have an abundance of travel tales to tell. I want to look like a traveler, walk like a traveler, talk like a traveler, and – sorry, what? What does a traveler look like? A traveler looks…well traveled?

My goodness, without a poster child for travel, how am I to know when I’ve achieved “well traveled” status? I’m fresh out of college and trying to make a living as a writer! With the exception of a brief trip to Portugal on a class trip, I am very much a newbie traveler.

Then it hit me, travel needs a face – no, it needs faces.

Along with my photographer partner, Filipp kotsishevskiy, I plan to put a face to travel. We’re searching North to South and East to West to put a face on travel – from the business travelers to the mile runners and adventure seekers; from the leisure travelers to the reluctant and downright fearful travelers.

Since we’re based in Portland, Maine we decided there is no better place to look than our own backyard, and it is here that we found THE QUINTESSENTIAL TRAVELER.

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Carolann Ouellette has hiked the Himalayas, secured her private pilot license, guided rafters down the Kennebec River in northern Maine, and has seen the Berlin wall, revisiting it 25 years later. And that was all just for fun, folks.

She flies for her job as the director of the Maine Office of Tourism, usually to the UK, where she works alongside Discover New England, a marketing collaborative formed to promote all six states to the overseas tourism market.

“I think travel and tourism are in my DNA,” she says, laughing over the phone, “My father was was a pilot for PanAm and Delta. When he retired he worked for Hawaiian Airlines as one of their VPs for years.”

Born in California, Ouellette’s first plane ride was at three months old, traveling from Los Angeles to New Jersey, where she grew up. Ouellette recalls that the many trips throughout her childhood were based around her father’s PanAm schedule, “I’ve been so fortunate because of that opportunity. I think of different places that I’ve seen well ahead of getting into travel and tourism myself because my father was a PanAm captain. You know, the world was at your finger tips.”

At 12 years old Ouellette flew to Japan to visit a friend from school, and her eyes were opened to a culture and people very different from her own. Having stayed with the family, Ouellette was welcomed to many places where, “other visitors weren’t always going”.

And that’s what seems to have stuck with her ever since. Culture, people, and experiences are what make Ouellette tick and if the resources to travel aren’t available for herself, she is fulfilled by helping others do so. “I think that’s one of the reasons I got so involved in travel and tourism, because there were times when I wasn’t going anywhere, but I was providing the experience for a lot of different people, which still exposed me to new people, new cultures, and new ideas.”

A graduate from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration class of ’84, Ouellette didn’t waste time before taking the chance to travel, and took a job as a PanAm flight attendant for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. “That was the first time PanAm had hired in awhile, so we were pretty junior. The glamorous idea of flying off to exotic places didn’t happen at that point in my career,” she quips.

After a year with PanAm, Ouellette made her way north to Jackman, Maine, where many of her childhood summers were spent. There she took on another adventure and worked for the New England Outdoor Center as a rafting guide.

By mid conversation I realized I was no longer really interviewing Ouellette. I was really, really listening to her, taking it all in. It was like when a cousin or older sibling brings a new person to Thanksgiving, and their lives seem so awesomely far fetched that they become your new favorite person. Yes, I did just revert back to my fifteen-year old self, but when I’m talking to a woman who’s rafted the Ganges River, how couldn’t I?

Not only does Ouellette have a ton of those tales I mentioned earlier, you know “…from the West to the far East”, but she’s not even close to the end of her bucket list. “There’s just so much out there that I have yet to see. I was just at a travel show in London called World Travel Market and I went around and picked up a brochure on skiing in Bulgaria. There are so many places to see and go. We live in an amazing world and we live in an amazing country.”

Hearing Ouellette describe the US as being on her bucket list, I asked her what advice she would give tadpole travelers. “It goes to the opportunities that present themselves and taking advantage of them to the best of your resource ability. For someone who is younger, I think it helps develop your personality as you move to adulthood.”

As for seasoned travelers, “Taking that time to take a break from work. Making time for leisure travel. Really trying to incorporate that based on your resources. It’s an important component to keep as part of your lifestyle mix.”

Ouellette bases her flights and travel on rates rather than the airline itself. “I get to travel a lot of airlines and…We are fortunate in the US because the airlines follow fairly strict standards. You have a lot of security when you’re on a US carrier in many ways as far as training and maintenance. Foreign flag carriers, in many ways, reflect that country’s culture – what’s great about all the airline alliances is that you can experience a foreign carrier and still get points with your preferred US carrier loyalty program.”

By the end of our conversation, I had a pretty good idea of what “well traveled” looked like, and that I had quite a ways to go until I would be anywhere near the likes of Carolann Ouellette.

A day or so had passed since we spoke when I got an email from Ouellette. Our conversation had obviously resonated, and it felt good to know these weren’t just answers she fires off when faced with another interview. She genuinely contemplates her travel and work, which together are her lifestyle. She came to this conclusion, “Travel brings history to life. Places provide tangible evidence of past civilization and evolution of different cultures. Stories and symbols reflect changes in societies from generation to generation.”

Ouellette has inspired me and perhaps passed on the travel bug. She is an adventurer to admire and is the first feature on my face of travel.

Photo credits: Filipp kotsishevskiy

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