What was meant to be a short Spanish immersion trip to Guatemala for Californian Chelsea Glass turned into a travel love story and a new career. Now she shows travelers the splendors of Latin America and gets them to fall in love too.
Guatemala. Peru. Ecuador. Mexico. Cuba. Costa Rica. These are some of the countries adorning many of our bucket lists. Or, at least, they should be.
Steeped in culture and beauty, these exotic Latin American destinations are home to ancient ruins, breathtaking landscapes and waterfalls, scrumptious cuisine, incredible people, and historical richness.
At 19 years old, Chelsea Glass stepped onto Guatemalan soil for the first time. It was the start of her first solo journey into the world and what was to be a series of countries on her itinerary. With youthful excitement and zeal, Glass explored the country’s wonders, immersing herself in the culture and starting the journey of learning Spanish through interactions with native speakers.
Little did she know that Guatemala was to change her life and be the start of an education and a passion that would reword the script she had originally planned to write for herself. “Something about Guatemala got under my skin,” admits Glass as we speak to her more than a decade since that life-changing encounter on foreign soil. And although she’s travelled to many parts of the world since then, she still confesses that Guatemala remains her most loved travel destination (along with Cuba, where she met her husband – another travel love story!).
Glass stayed longer than anticipated in her beloved Guatemala. After being offered a job in a travel agency, she began assisting people from around the world to visit the country and its surroundings.
While working in the travel agency, Glass became aware of the aspects of the industry that did not sit well with her. “There were many people who were profiting while the people who were doing the actual groundwork were not seeing the fruits of their labor,” she explains. Glass also realised that there were many negative perspectives around traveling to Latin America, especially amongst her fellow US citizens. Her experience was contrary to what she was reading about in the media and hearing from people back home.
Inspired to create change, Glass formed her travel company that focused on changing perceptions of Latin American countries, and empowering people – both foreign visitors and local Latinos. She founded Heart of Travel, a boutique travel company to create connections, experiences, and opportunities for people.
Heart of Travel was born out of deep love and passion for travel, art, history, food, nature, culture, and adventure.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” writes Mark Twain, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” This quote, which Glass says she lives by, forms the essence of Heart of Travel. Fundamental to her travel business is the belief that she is creating moments of education and enlightenment by inviting travellers from around the world to shatter what misconceptions they may have and, instead, experience a world of diversity, richness, and beauty.
Heart of Travel is 100% female-owned and operated and proudly so. “You don’t find many women-owned travel agencies, at least here in Latin America,” says Glass. “Everybody who is full-time on our payroll is female. We work with a ton of women-owned businesses, as well.”
“We have people of different sexual orientations, sizes, and colors working at Heart of Travel. It is really important for us to make sure that we are diverse, and not just for marketing purposes. On our payroll, we want to ensure that we have a very diverse and inclusive group of people working and sharing their stories,” adds Glass.
With her passion for empowering people, Heart of Travel also pays their freelance guides and drivers at least 20 percent above the industry standard for their services. In addition, the company does not take commission payments from artisans in exchange for sending their clients to a specific vendor. “Our philosophy is that we pay our guides enough, so they don’t need to take commissions from our artisans. We want to take our clients to meet an artist or visit a small business because we believe it will be an amazing experience, not because it results in a kickback.”
With complete peace of mind that you will be well looked after, you can choose from different types of trips at Heart of Travel. You can enjoy an introduction to a country, spending a recommended 11 nights and 12 days exploring different parts and experiencing the culture and history of the region. You can also do a private tour if you want to explore anything specific.
Perhaps the most fascinating offering is the Spanish immersion trip, which allows you to explore a country and learn Spanish simultaneously. Dotted amongst the activities on your busy travel itinerary, you will also have daily Spanish lessons each morning. Your afternoon activities are then conducted in Spanish so you can continue your proficiency as you take in the country.
The Spanish immersion itinerary is inspired by Glass’ own experience learning Spanish, which she is now completely fluent in. After more than a decade immersed in the language, along with her post-graduate studies in Spanish at CSU Sacramento, Glass is an experienced language instructor and is passionate about teaching others.
When asked what advice she would give to travellers wanting to visit Latin America, her immediate response is that they should learn some Spanish before their trip. “Latinos tend to be very friendly and welcoming,” says Glass, “and in most places that you’re going to travel to, there’s going to be people who can speak English. But if you speak a little bit of Spanish and people see you making that effort, it often opens up a little more of that human connection. It could take you on an adventure you weren’t anticipating!”
To get visitors to Latin America ready, Heart of Travel offers Spanish lessons on their website, ideally suited to give you a good grasp of understanding before you jet across the globe.
For more about the fantastic adventures on offer, click here.