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16 November 2020
The entire Lifestyle Wimmera Edition 6 is available online. READ IT HERE!
By Sarah Matthews
As a child, Emma Coburn was captivated by a box of postcards her mother had collated from family members traversing the globe.
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Emma would pore over images from faraway destinations, dreaming that one day, she too would travel to the most magical of places.
At the top of her to-do list was, of course, the happiest place on earth.
“My mum’s aunties and uncles had sent us postcodes from various places, particularly from Disneyland and California, and I remember seeing them and thinking I wanted to go there one day,” Emma said.
Emma was well and truly bitten by the travel bug from a young age.
While Disneyland was her number-one goal, her first international experience came courtesy of a student exchange program in high school.
In year nine or 10, Emma started looking into opportunities to head abroad.
She got her wish, spending the summer between years 11 and 12 living with a host family in Nice in the south of France.
Emma loved the experience. While it was daunting being away from her family and travelling alone, she revelled in the chance to immerse herself in another culture, speak another language and feel ‘like a grown up’.
After graduating high school, Emma had no desire to follow her friends to university.
A bit of a homebody, she was content to remain living in Ararat, but she also wanted adventure.
“Dad was listening to the radio at work one day and he heard about a travel expo in Melbourne,” Emma said.
“He drove me down to it and that’s when I found out about Camp America. I signed up there and then.”
Emma had the time of her life at Camp Winding Gap in North Carolina.
She made lifelong friends from across the globe, including England, Ireland, Malta and Germany.
“We just had our 20-year reunion, online. It was hard to find a time to suit everyone, but so good to catch up,” Emma said.
“Travel really does give you an opportunity to meet the most interesting people and forge lifelong relationships.”
Emma finally made it to Disneyland in 2004 and years later, considers the United States like a second home.
She was supposed to spend a month in Arizona with friends in June before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the world’s travel plans.
Emma has been harder hit than many by the shutdown of Australia’s travel industry, both internationally and domestically.
In 2019, she launched Eat Pray Love Travel from her home in Ararat, which she shares with her husband, James, and their children, Lani, 14, Dexter, 7 and Pia, 3.
After planning trips for friends, family members and work colleagues ‘for fun’, Emma decided to turn her passion into a business.
“When I was a Telstra business manager, I organised everyone else’s travel, from A to Z. I thought, this isn’t really what I want to be doing, so I looked into doing my Certificate III in Travel and Tourism,” Emma said.
“It’s funny, because when I look back, Mum said to me when I finished high school I should become a travel agent.
“I said, ‘no thanks Mum, I’ll be right’.
“Twenty years later, here I am. And I love it.”
Emma established Eat Pray Love Travel and had it ‘running nicely’.
Before February this year, about 90 percent of her work was international.
“Then the pandemic happened and I’ve spent the past six months cancelling, refunding and crediting holidays,” she said.
“There are a lot of changes in the industry and there is still a lot of unknown. It’s a waiting game. It’s a bit depressing, but in the long-term scheme of things, I’m hopeful.”
Emma is an advocate of group tours and had been busy planning international escapes to Ireland and the United States.
In 2018, Emma organised a girls trip to Oahu, Hawaii, with three of her sisters, their mother, Emma’s godmother and two friends.
“They are all still raving about it,” Emma said.
“I think that holiday really helped it sink in that this was something I wanted to do for myself and that I could turn this passion into a business.
“Hopefully next year, group tours will be able to go ahead again.
“I’m also hoping we might be able to take a family trip somewhere in Australia by Christmas. We are all going stir-crazy not being able to go anywhere. I really feel for people in Melbourne.”
While Emma has travelled to several countries, one of her most memorable trips was closer to home.
“I’m one of eight kids, so growing up, we didn’t go on many holidays and if we did, we didn’t go far,” Emma said.
“A few years ago, I organised Mum’s first holiday to Queensland. It was a family holiday and you should have seen the look on her face when we got there.
“It was always a dream of hers to take us kids to the theme parks.
“That was a special thing to be part of. I absolutely love making people’s dreams happen – and it’s a bonus if I get to go, too.”