CHICAGO – Robin Tillotson remembers his first flight as an escape and a measure of his mother’s love.
Her father had cancer and her mother sent her and her brother to Los Angeles to spend time with her family. His mother took them first class, wanting to make sure they were looked after and cared for.
“I remember that plane trip very well,” she said. “It was the time when a pilot let the children ride.”
Her mother’s dedication to caring not only for others, but also for herself, inspired the name of Tillotson’s travel agency: This I Do For Me.
“I can always see her where she was standing, where I was sitting, where my brother was sitting,” recalls Tillotson, 62. “She said, ‘I bought a handbag. Now I am doing it for myself.
Years later, when Tillotson began to think about how she wanted to spend time after she finished working full time, she thought of that phrase. This is the name and the message behind her travel agency, specializing in travel for women over 50.
This is a group of women who could spend their decades doing a lot of things for other people – watching their grandchildren, serving in church.
“I started to notice that women aged 50 and over tend to put a lot of energy into other things,” she said. “What was glaring was that they weren’t necessarily doing something that was right for them.”
She added, “After a while, when you put that kind of energy into other things and other people, you run out of gas, and it’s easy to do and we’re all guilty of it.”
Ten years ago she looked at other women in their fifties and thought to herself, “But what are you doing for yourself?”
This idea, combined with her lifelong love of travel, fueled the idea for the business, which she launched in 2015. She also started a podcast, “This I Do For Me: Over 50, Black and Fabulous! in 2019, who recently interviewed a 78-year-old business owner and encourages black women to make their dreams come true.
“Everyone thinks you stop developing at some point,” she said. “It is not. We are constantly growing.
The AARP Travel Trends Survey in 2021 showed that many hopes to return to travel planning. The group reported that 54% of people aged 56 to 74 plan to travel this year. And for those who won’t be traveling in 2021, 57% said they are saving money for future trips.
Tillotson likes to see people who might have hesitated to travel and then thrive abroad.
“Those who have never traveled abroad tend to be very reluctant, a bit shy and even nervous,” she said. “Halfway through the journey, you start to notice a new level of confidence and comfort. “
People navigate different cultures, see things in person, like the Parthenon, which they have only seen in pictures. “They learn a lot about themselves,” she said. “At the end of this trip, the next indicator that an impact has occurred, they will ask me, ‘When is the next trip? “”
The company is a project in addition to his full-time job, working for the city of Chicago. This is what she hopes to do fully after she retires, although she hates the word. Call it refirement, as in fired up for more, or regeneration.
Chicagoan Kathleen Vanna, 74, has been on several of the trips, starting when Tillotson announced someone had abandoned a trip to Australia, leaving an extra seat. The pals told Vanna she was still talking about visiting.
“Friends said when will you go someday?” You talk about it, “she said.” I said, ‘You’re right, I’m going to go.’ “
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She did and had such a great time with the group of over 50 women that she later signed up for trips to Greece and Thailand. She appreciates that Tillotson takes care of the preparation – “it’s less stressful because she did the planning” – and that there were always options of various restaurants, or doing something alone or with a group or someone else.
In the years since the creation of the company, groups have traveled to all continents except Antarctica. They made lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam, and macaroons in Provence, France. In each destination, she searches for the theater and various restaurants and historic sites.
Her childhood travel years included numerous road trips, as well as studying abroad as a student. A year in London as part of an Oberlin College program opened up her schedule to weekend trips across Europe, visiting Paris in her twenties.
“Anyone who knows me knows how much I love to travel,” she said. “I have always been a traveler.
Every January 1, his company announces a trip and people can sign up. The groups included not only people from Chicago, but also people from Arkansas, Cincinnati, Texas, California and New York State who heard about her online or through friends.
Challenges along the way included the usual complexity of group travel and situations like a woman who realized on a ferry that she had left her passport in a hotel safe. A nice foreigner who was already flying to Athens offered to bring him there and meet them.
Of course, like everything else, the pandemic had other plans for a trip to northern Italy. They delayed it once, and again this year. They still plan to go in 2022.
And it will be a great year of travel, she hopes. They planned a trip to Ghana, with visits to three locations; One recent night, she met a traveler who had just signed up for this trip, on a Zoom with her co-trip manager, whose parents are native Ghanaians.
She’s ready to continue the journey – and tell people to take the time.
“Once you hit 50, life is just beginning,” she said.