Travel Specialist, Mary Jean Tully, on How To Travel With Purpose and Give Back


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Planning a vacation? Here’s how you can make an impact wherever you go. 

Mary Jean Tully has led an incredible life. A woman of the world, she specializes in creating unforgettable, unique experiences for her roster of elite clientele through her business, Tully Luxury Travel. A private dinner in an Icelandic volcano? No problem. Gorilla trekking through Rwanda? Let’s do it. Lunch along a closed-off section of the Great Wall of China? What time? 

For those looking for the extraordinary, they look to Tully to get the job done. That’s why her client roster includes an impressive list of VIPs that range from royal family members and world-conquering popstars to media scions and billionaire entrepreneurs.

But what makes her life remarkable is not only in the sights she’s seen and people she’s worked with, but the impact she’s been able to make along the way. For Tully, travelling is an opportunity to make a difference and continues to be a part of her social mandate. 

“You’re in the most fascinating and exciting places with these beautiful hotels, and then you go out and see people that are barely existing,” she says. “It pulls at your heartstrings and makes you ask what you can do. Most people have goodness in their hearts and when you open your eyes, you open your heart.” 

For Tully, travelling with a purpose is a combination of awareness and meaningfully giving back. 

What inspired you to build a social mandate within your company?

I remember I was on a cruise to India. Seeing the poverty there was profound. I met a woman that was just the happiest person, and she had nothing. She was trying to sell stuff in her village but didn’t have any resources. I bought her a sewing machine and a six foot table that I paid about $250 for. This was seven years ago and now, she employs 11 different people and has created her own business. It’s incredible and has inspired me. 

How do you encourage clients to be more socially conscious when they travel?

Crystal Cruises has a wonderful voluntourism program called “You Care, We Care”  where they support non-profits. Clients are given opportunities to spend an afternoon or even a couple hours to go into communities and help out, while also allowing them to learn more about different cultures. Even a company like Sandals, which is an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, gives out information on how to pack with a purpose or volunteer when you are travelling. 

There is a lot of confusion around animal conservation and welfare, particularly in tourist destinations. What do you warn your clients against?

When you go to Thailand or India, don’t get on the back of an elephant. We don’t participate in those things anymore. People are starting to become more aware and it is my responsibility, both personally and professionally, to lead by example. I rode elephants, painted with them, went in the water with them—I thought it was the greatest thing. But then I found out what they go through and how babies are ripped away from their mothers. They are tortured in order for people to interact with them that way. It is not normal. In Thailand, I went to Tiger Kingdom and was laying with the tigers. I had no idea. These animals are drugged and used for our entertainment, and people don’t realize it. Any time animals are involved, you have to be more critical.  

You encourage packing with a purpose. What do you usually take with you?

I always bring Luci lights. They’re these little solar-powered lights that we give to all of our clients when they’re travelling to any of these places. They last between 18 and 22 months, and are also waterproof. It makes all the difference in the world when it’s pitch black at 6PM. There are thousands of places around the world where communities live half their lives in darkness because they don’t have the means or inhabit remote areas. Kids that go to school can read and work on their education. Reading glasses are great, as well as soccer balls. The inflatable ones don’t last very long but you can buy them locally. It keeps kids happy, which is so important.

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