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Traveling passion leads to side career for Cassie Goodwin

Once upon a time – that’s how all the great classics begin, and it’s how Cassie Goodwin’s story of becoming a travel agent begins, too.

Once upon a time, Cassie Goodwin was a middle school English teacher with no thoughts of having any sort of side business. A Moulton native, Goodwin and her family had moved to Russellville when husband Jason was named assistant principal at the high school in 2015.

It was when planning a family vacation to Disney World that Goodwin decided to seek the services of a travel agent. She was referred to Jennifer Casselman, owner of Joyous Adventures out of Tuscaloosa. “She planned the whole thing, down to our dining and Fast Passes, to a T,” Goodwin said. It was a magical way to begin their vacation at the “Most Magical Place on Earth.” “It just saved me time and hassle. Any question I had, she was right there to answer it for me or tell me where to go to find it. She was there literally every step of the way.”

They say a satisfied customer is the best advertisement, and Goodwin began to prove that idea. After her own positive experience, she said she was referring everyone to Joyous Adventures for vacation planning – and Casselman soon approached Goodwin about becoming a travel agent herself.

“I love to travel and see new places and things, but I never dreamed this would be a side job of mine,” Goodwin said. It was July 2020. She was stunned at the offer but also immediately enthused. She went through 18 hours of rigorous training over a two-day period and learned everything there was to know about popular vacation packages, including Disney, Universal and cruises. It was information overload – “I’m still learning” – but it provided the foundation she needed to start planning joyous adventures. “It’s just blown up from there,” Goodwin said. “People are so ready to travel right now because they have been home for almost a year.”

Goodwin started by organizing a family trip to Universal Studios over fall break in September. Since then she has planned more than a dozen trips for clients, even amid obstacles presented by COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions and event capacity limitations. “Anywhere you want to go,” Goodwin added, “we can get you there.”

The biggest misconception about using a travel agent, Goodwin said, is the cost – namely, that there isn’t one, at least not to clients. People who are considering using a travel agent should understand they will not pay any fee to that agent.

“Why not utilize something that’s not costing you any extra money?” Goodwin said. “I try to remind people, my services are free to them. I do get paid, but they don’t pay me.” Instead, travel agents are paid via a commission by the hotels, airlines and resorts with which they book travel. “One of the very first questions somebody asked me was ‘Why should I use a travel agent?’ And I was thinking, ‘Why would you not?’”

Goodwin said she doesn’t find it difficult to be both an English teacher and a travel agent, although it does require pulling long hours. She will work on planning trips in the early morning and late evening around her school schedule, about 20 hours a week.

Goodwin said she and her fellow travel agents know how find deals and plan a trip that will best suit a client’s needs. Through building relationships with certain vendors and suppliers, travel agents can pin down special discounts for their clients. “It’s a chase for me to try to get the best price, the best location, the best room,” Goodwin explained. “I just enjoy seeing where people are going, and they love to know where other people have gone. It’s a lot of fun.”

Joyous Adventures has eight travel agents across the state, each serving a different geographical area. In addition to serving clients, being a travel agent has stoked Goodwin’s desire to travel. “I want to travel more than we do because I feel like people don’t know where to go,” said Goodwin. “A lot of people are still scared to get on a plane right now or scared to fly out of the country.” As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen, Goodwin said she hopes travel herself to show other people it’s safe and to be able to give first-hand experience and knowledge about different locations.

Danielle Johnston and husband Robert are among the clients with whom Goodwin has worked, and Johnston said using a travel agent made the planning process so easy, they are already eager to work with Goodwin to plan a second trip – even though their first one isn’t until this summer. The Johnstons will visit St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, returning to a location they have previously visited during a cruise on their honeymoon and for a family vacation.

“Literally in about 20 minutes, she had our whole entire vacation planned – flights booked, hotel booked, transportation booked. It was the easiest process I’ve ever done,” said Johnston, who connected with Goodwin via her Joyous Adventures page on Facebook. “We can’t believe we haven’t used a travel agent in the past. It made looking forward to a vacation that much better because we didn’t have the stress of planning it ourselves.”

As a State Farm agent in Moulton, Johnston said she also enjoyed the opportunity to support a small, local business like herself, and she praised Goodwin’s Facebook page for the great opportunities she shares there. “Cassie does a really good job posting deals daily,” Johnston said. “I would see all the things she would post and all the information … She posts vacations that are financially affordable for a lot of families. That’s a big plus.”

As Goodwin continues to grow her business, she said now is a great time to be a travel agent. People are eager to travel after a long year of stay-at-home measures, and they are excited to make memories and have experiences in lieu of purchasing gifts. “It’s the experience. There’s so much to see.”