We’ve all seen those incredible, looks-like-paradise vacation spots filling our Instagram feed, wishing we could just go there now. It’s the stuff weary moms dream of, but for Nicole Gilbert, our NJMOMprenuer of the week, it’s a way of life. At her travel planning agency, Bound for Travel, she not only plans those enviable dream vacations for clients, she goes on them too (research people!), all while having flexibility to spend time with her 2 teenage daughters. We chatted with Nicole about how her love for travel turned into a full-blown business, the most amazing trip her family has ever taken and the New Jersey spots where she goes when she wants to feel very, very far away.
Owner of Bound For Travel & NJMOMpreneur Nicole Gilbert
NJMOM: Where do you live and vacation in New Jersey?
Nicole: We live in beautiful Ringwood, just 30 miles from the George Washington Bridge but a world away from the craziness of New York City. As much as I love to travel, our backyard is one of my favorite places to relax. However, if we’re heading to the shore, Cape May and Asbury Park are our favorite spots.
NJMOM: What does Bound for Travel offer and why does it stand out?
Nicole: I plan vacations for many different types of people with various travel styles and budgets. The key to doing this successfully is to really listen to what they want and to be respectful of their budget. But I’m also brutally honest—if clients have champagne taste and a beer budget, it’s my job to explain that and to set realistic expectations. My goal is to have happy repeat clients that refer me to their family and friends.
Being my own boss affords me a lot of flexibility to take off when I have to. Of course, that means playing catch-up during the evenings or weekends, but I wouldn’t trade it for a 9-5 office job.” — Nicole Gilbert
NJMOM: What inspired you to start your own travel agency?
Nicole: My parents saved for two years to take my younger sister and I to Europe when I was 16. We visited a total of 8 countries and countless cities, towns and villages in the span of 3 weeks. I vividly remember sitting in the back seat of our rental car with a copy of “Europe on $20 a Day”, folding pages and taking notes on points of interest. That trip was life-changing for me and I’ve been passionate about traveling ever since.
NJMOM: How did your background help you get to where you are with your business today?
Nicole: I have a BBA in Marketing from St. Bonaventure University and an MBA from Pace University. Before my girls were born, I held marketing positions in corporate America at both Hertz Car Rental and Starwood Hotels and Resorts (now part of Marriott). After I became a mom, I wanted a way to make a little extra money. I figured I would plan trips for friends and family and make a few bucks in the process, more of a hobby than a job. To my surprise, my clients began referring me to their friends and family and my little business took off.
NJMOM: How do you juggle being a mom and businesswoman?
Nicole: Being my own boss affords me a lot of flexibility so I’m able to bring Ana to an orthodontist appointment at 3 PM, or take a day off to visit colleges with Madeline. Of course, that means I’ll be playing catch up during the evening or weekends if necessary, but I wouldn’t trade it for a 9-5 office job.
NJMOM: Where is your favorite vacation destination that you and your family have taken since starting Bound for Travel?
Nicole: We’ve taken some wonderful trips to Jamaica, Mexico and Spain but my favorite was Alaska in 2017. We combined four nights in Anchorage and Seward with a seven-night cruise from Seward to Vancouver. Alaska is so beautiful, and the highlight was definitely the helicopter ride to Godwin glacier. We got to play with sled dog puppies and then a ride on the dog sled—an unforgettable experience.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about running a travel agency?
Nicole: I love planning all types of trips but I especially enjoy working with people who haven’t traveled much outside of the US. They understandably are nervous about leaving the country and require a lot of guidance but they typically return home full of excitement about their vacation.
NJMOM: Where is your dream vacation? Have you already been there?
Nicole: I am very lucky to have traveled to so many wonderful places, but there’s still so many places on my list. I have a milestone birthday coming up in a few years and I would love to spend it in Croatia. The islands, the national parks, the walled cities—I want to experience it all.
NJMOM: What’s the hardest part about running Bound for Travel?
Nicole: I’m home-based, which is a gift and a challenge. The fact that I don’t have to commute in northern New Jersey traffic is such a gift, but I have to fight the distractions at home, like the dog, the laundry and what to make for dinner.
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Nicole: I have to laugh, because when I posed this question to both of my daughters, they said, “You lay everything out there, mom!” I am a pretty open person. But here’s something most people probably don’t know: I remember my dreams. Every. Single. Night. How’s that?
NJMOM: What can we expect from you next year, personally and professionally?
Nicole: I have been expanding into various types of travel experiences that combine a passion with travel, like wine and culinary. I’ve been working with a few wineries and wine shops to put together trips for their clients to places like Bordeaux, France and Tuscany, Italy. I’ve also started putting together some yoga retreats for studio owners. The goal is to do several of these a year.
NJMOM: What charitable cause are you most passionate about?
Nicole: Night to Shine is a prom for people with special needs, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. Each prom guest gets matched with a “buddy” and they enjoy dancing, karaoke, a photo booth plus a sit down, catered dinner. The highlight of the evening is when each guest is crowned King and Queen of the prom. It’s an amazing night for everyone.
NJMOM: Do you have a quote that you live by?
Nicole: “Life begins outside your comfort zone.” This reminds me to push myself and to take on challenges that may not come naturally to me.
NJMOM: What do you like to do in NJ with your family?
Nicole: In the summer, we love getting lawn seats at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel and seeing a concert together. My older daughter is a big soccer fan so we try and get to Red Bull Stadium in Harrison to see the Women’s National Team when they’re in town. My younger daughter loves the water and she really enjoys kayaking at the Monksville Reservoir in Ringwood, which is just 5 minutes from our house and feels like you’ve in another world . And we all love skiing at Mountain Creek in Vernon, which is easy enough to go to for a day trip or a weekend and a great value compared to other area ski resorts.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Nicole: I have 2 beautiful daughters, Madeline is 18 and Ana is 15. They each have very distinct personalities and are very different people but in the past year or so, they’ve become the best of friends. I really couldn’t ask for anything more than that.
NJMOM: What are the local spots you tend to visit regularly?
Nicole: When my kids were younger, we would visit Abma’s Farm in Wyckoff to feed the animals and have lunch. I also like Van Saun County Park in Paramus; it’s great for little kids and we hosted many playdates there. If we’re craving Spanish and Portugese food, we’ll head to the Ironbound section of Newark to one of the many local restaurants for some authentic paella and sangria. I also recently discovered Balic Wines in Clinton. They produce some interesting fruit wines that are really good.I met the owner at a networking and wine tasting event and we’re working to put together some beautiful trips for her customers. Lastly, I love our Ringwood Public Library, it’s pretty big considering the town is relatively small. And they offer some really cool events and workshops for both kids and adults.
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur starting out?
Nicole: Don’t expect instant results. Building a business requires patience and perseverance!
NJMOM: Anything else you’d like to tell moms in New Jersey?
Nicole: Your kids won’t remember the “things” you bought them but they will definitely remember the vacations you took!