When Julie Imgrund was a sophomore in high school, her Spanish teacher presented a slideshow of a previous class’s trip to Mexico City and Acapulco.
In that moment, she was “totally bit by the travel bug,” Imgrund, the owner of Bellevue Travel in Nebraska, told TMR.
Though it took her several years after graduating from a travel agent program to get a job in the industry, Imgrund has established herself by tapping into her own travel experiences and through her love of learning.
Pursuing a passion
Knowing from a young age that she wanted to work in travel, Imgrund took a 9-month travel planning course, then set out looking for a job. But there was one big problem: By the time she graduated, airline pilot strikes were wreaking havoc on the industry.
“I took the Yellow Pages and went into every single travel agency in Las Vegas, and they all pretty much laughed me out of the office,” Imgrund said.
She instead worked in retail for about seven years before landing her first travel agent gig. Her husband was in the air force, which allowed them to travel and work simultaneously. The couple has lived a total of seven years abroad – three in England and four in Germany. They had their first child while living in Germany, and then brought their two elementary-school-aged kids to England. While living in Europe, they’d use their free time to drive around and see new places.
Imgrund’s retail sales and travel experiences guided her to success when she landed her first travel advisor job – first part-time, and eventually full-time at Bellevue Travel.
“There’s a difference when you can sell a place you’ve been to and experienced,” Imgrund said. “Clients can tell the enthusiasm in your voice, and you can share tidbits about the place that you wouldn’t necessarily know from a guidebook.”
Bellevue Travel specializes in trips to Europe, Disney, and the Caribbean, as well as weddings, family vacations, all-inclusive vacations, and cruises. Imgrund has now traveled to many different places, including France, Scotland, China, India, and Peru. She’s also embarked on a multi-generational family trip to Disney World and Norwegian Fjords and Mediterranean Sea cruises.
Though Imgrund worked remotely when she was living in England, before it was a widespread practice, she said nothing can replace working at the office. Even during the height of the pandemic, the office is large enough that she and her employee still came into the office and social-distanced.
“We take walk-ins, and I like the community part of it,” she said. “People like to talk face-to-face, and it puts them at ease when they can do that.”
After 11 years working at Bellevue Travel, the previous owner announced that she planned to shut the business down. So Imgrund stepped in and bought it in 2008 and has been running the brick-and-mortar agency ever since. Of course, this shift from travel advisor to travel agency owner was not without a learning curve.
“I don’t think anything really prepares you for owning a business,” Imgrund said. “The ownership side is different from the agent side. You learn that as you go.”
In general, the travel industry has changed tremendously since the days when Imgrund took her first travel planning course, which had included hand-writing tickets, plugging in travel codes to book flights, and other largely outdated administrative procedures.
“This is an industry that changes constantly. Even if we don’t like it and are moaning about it, it’s ever-evolving,” Imgrund said. “I can remember writing airline tickets, and I like it much better now. I like to help people find a good vacation for themselves, rather than being the order taker. We still do airline tickets but it’s not the main part of what we sell. It’s evolved, and it’s much better.”
Ultimately, Imgrund is motivated by wanting everyone to learn from traveling and being around cultures different from their own.
“Travel is the best education that you can possibly get whether you’re young, old, or otherwise,” Imgrund said. “Because it doesn’t always go as planned so you have to learn to adapt and be patient. You learn that people live differently, and it doesn’t necessarily make it good or bad – it’s just how they do things.”
“Sometimes the best times you have when you travel are when you lost,” she added. “Maybe you took a wrong turn, and you meet some good people who normal tourists wouldn’t see. So being lost isn’t always bad.”
Imgrund noted that the things people learn while traveling often make them more compassionate and understanding of how others live, which is just another reason to keep sending clients around the world.
“Exploring other countries and cultures, you’re realizing even that though we wear different clothes or have different houses, we are all the same as human beings,” she said. “You realize, ‘Wow, there is more to the world than just the U.S.’ It’s a big world.”