CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You can join the Navy to see the world. Or put in 30-plus years as a travel agent and go just about everywhere imaginable.
Bitten by the travel bug as a New Jersey teenager, Catherine DeMarco eventually realized her globe-trotting dreams as an international travel agent. The tailor-made work took her to all sorts of exotic places -- expenses paid and a salary to boot.
Highlights in her been-there-done-that story range from celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall to scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. She did it all in a golden era of airline travel when airlines pampered their passengers, particularly agents responsible for booking trips.
In 1996, marriage brought her to Charleston where she settled into a desk job as state travel manager. No more lavish trips. Oh, well. The grounded Ms. Gulliver can nourish her wanderlust with three decades of worldly memories.
"It used to be fun to fly. Back then, I would never think of going to the airport without wearing a dress, high heels and stockings. The airlines would never upgrade you if you looked like a slob.
"Before frequent fliers got all the first-class tickets, they let travel agents sit in first class. I got very spoiled. When I went to Calcutta on coach, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It was a 16-hour flight!
"I loved the Third World countries, the ruins, Pompeii and my favorite museum, the Prada in Madrid. I've been to Hong Kong three times and Italy seven times. I've crawled through the pyramids, scuba dived on the Great Barrier Reef, visited Lenin's Tomb in Russia, sailed down the Nile, stood on the Great Wall of China, partied at the Berlin Wall three days after it fell. They were still partying.
"In Communist Moscow, cars were very rare because no one could afford them. We were told if we wanted a cab to just hold a pack of Marlboros up because nobody could get Marlboros. They couldn't get anything. We left gratuities for our housekeepers, Tampax and deodorant, things they couldn't get in stores.
"There were lines for everything. They were in line for clothing irons and meat. When I went back and it wasn't Communist, there were lines, and they said they were waiting for Barbie dolls. It was so different.
"Travel is your best education. When my son graduated from college, I gave him an open ticket from Newark to London and a Eurorail pass. I told him, 'Knock yourself out. Do everything and see everything you can.'
"That's back when a passport meant something. You were safe. If you ever got stopped by a policeman, all you had to do was take out your U.S. passport.
"One day in high school, I saw a picture of Jamaica. I had been at the ocean all my life and had never seen water that color, the blue, clear water. I vowed that I would go there someday. That's when I got the travel bug.
"I was born in Atlantic City, a Jersey girl. We were at the beach every day. That's what I miss about living in West Virginia -- the shore.
"My dad was vice president of the Atlantic City Electric Co. Mom was an RN.
"I wanted to be an illustrator, but I got married too young. I wasn't even 21 when Jason was born. So that changed my whole course of life.
"When I had Jason and the art thing fell apart, I had started college, but it was too much. So I went to my next passion, which was travel. I went to travel agents' school for six weeks.
"We didn't have computers. Before deregulation, old fares were in a big, thick book called the ARC. If you wanted to go from Charleston to Atlanta, you would look in that book for the fares.
"We typed itineraries on a typewriter, picked up a phone and called the airline and booked your reservation.
"I worked at Travel-Rite in Hightstown, N.J., about three years. Then I got a corporate position. Travel agents don't make that much money, but the Fortune 500 companies subsidized your salaries to get good agents to work on their accounts.
"The company was Travelco out of Philadelphia. They were opening a branch office in Princeton, N.J., at RCA. I opened the office to service the RCA account. I was branch manager for eight years. That's when I got the bug for the international side of travel.