When 51-year-old Deborah Mayer was young, she thought she had it all planned out. While still in college, she began a career in the entertainment business, juggling school with gigs at television shows like One Life to Live and ABC News.

Burnt out from the long hours of production after a season at The Cosby Show, she then segued from TV to the music industry. But as she approached her 40th birthday, she soon grew dissatisfied with her work. “It felt like I had outgrown my career,” she says. “I knew there had to be more to life than this.”

Because she loved traveling and planning  vacations and often created interesting, fun itineraries for her friends (with much success), she decided to quit her job at Sony Music to accept an entry-level job at a tour company, taking a 50% pay cut.  “Obviously, I had to drastically

downscale my lifestyle. Friends and family said I was crazy to leave behind a career with a good salary and even better perks. But I had to follow my heart and devote myself to something that brought me real joy,” she says.

Then it happened. While on a work-related inspection tour of Italy, she came up with the idea for a fashion-themed tour. For over a year, she refined the concept, developing itineraries and marketing ideas, and in the spring of 2001, she founded Shop Around Tours, customized trips to Italy’s outlets and factories (translation: fabulous finds for frugal fashionistas), as well as to the country’s famous sights. Hotels are four-stars and centrally located near the best shopping and dining each locale has to offer.

The venture was an immediate success with the first tour selling out within weeks. (Deborah calls it “a group tour for people that don’t do group tours, with plenty of free time to go off and explore on your own, yet with the camaraderie of kindred spirits in shopping.).

Less than six months later, the events of 9/11 changed the travel industry forever. Rather than retreating back to the safety of a corporate job, she decided to stick it out. She took out a home equity loan to keep herself and her business afloat. “Once again, friends and family pleaded with me to find something more stable,” she recounts. “Even I had to doubt my sanity. But patience and persistence started to pay off; the travel business began to rebound and my business once again grew, with repeat clients and new tours on the horizon. And when I see the happiness in my clients’ faces… when they book another tour with me… tell me it was their best vacation ever… refer their friends… I realize that all the sacrifices I’ve made have been worth it.”

BA50 readers can get a discount. Just enter the code BA50 in the comments section of the Shop Around Tours registration page for a discount off the price of any 2012 tour. Go to www.shoparoundtours.com/home.php; watch YouTube video on Deborah.

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