We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristen Bykowski and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kristen, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I always had the desire to run my own business. Since I was in my early twenties as a freelance writer and reporter, I knew I wanted something I could call my own, something I could be proud of, something I could work for knowing I was the only one who could make it a success.

I started my current business – a Luxury Travel Agency/Advisory – while operating another “side business” (high-end corporate gifting), and working a full time job in New York City.

For years I had worked as the Assistant to two predominant Real Estate executives in New York and had spent countless hours perfecting travel plans for them around the world. I realized after years of working with a Travel Agent, that surely I could make connections with these properties and tour operators myself… why was I working with a middle man?

I spent the next two years, re-introducing myself to luxury hotels and operators all over the world as a Travel Advisor, rather than just an Assistant. I knew the client better than anyone, had spent almost ten years anticipating their needs and desires… it was a no-brainer. And it worked.

After introducing myself and my brand, White Rabbits Travel, to the industry, I launched my business and became an official Travel Agent/Advisor to not only assist the gentlemen who I’d worked for full time for so many years, but to others like them. Individuals in need of travel advice, research and planning now had a trusted Advisor with their best interest at heart.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?

The path I took to get here was filled with a lot of work learning the intricacies of high end travel and the needs of luxury clients. Couple with my love of travel, it seemed like a no-brainer when it came to “what I wanted to do when I grew up.”

Getting to where I am today was surely not easy and took more work than even I thought was possible. However, the payoff of owning and operating a successful Luxury Travel Agency that I can call my own was worth every early morning call, every late night meeting, every one of the thousands of emails sent and every moment of stress and hard work to get my Agency to the level it is today. Some days I would arrive to my office at 6am, before anyone else, so I had 3 uninterrupted hours of work before starting the day. I would work until 11pm some nights, just to make sure I was maximizing my time and reaching out to as many new clients and new partners as possible. All while working another job (and part of the time… pregnant!).

I had spent years at my “9-5 job,” planning trips around the globe for my two bosses – stays at the finest hotels, intricate itineraries, complex plans that took weeks or months of planning. I knew how their minds worked and was able to plan remarkable trips according to their specific preferences. I also traveled extensively around the world personally, and knew it was something I found enjoyment in.

Taking that knowledge, creating a custom database of all of my contacts and relationships and then applying it to every client has been something that helps set me apart from the rest. Being small, and remaining small is another important part of my business that I believe helps keep the quality of my work at the highest levels.

I pride myself on treating each and every client I work with, like they are the only one. To do that, I spend my own time on each client’s research, trip planning and execution. There are no weeks or even days of waiting for information… I believe strongly in a 24 hour turn around time on communication. When someone is excited about travel plans, they want them handled yesterday and they want them handled perfectly. I am not only aware of that, but I’m used to it!

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges and lessons to learn along the way – there are plenty! I started this business right before I found out I was having a child so it was even more important for me to build something I could show my daughter was all mine. I loved the idea that she would grow up with parents who started their own businesses and worked hard to build something in their own name.

I find that learning the hard lessons, making mistakes and figuring things out as I go has helped tremendously to build me into a better owner, operator and partner to my clients. Especially in the volatile times we now live in when it comes to traveling in a world riddled with constant changes due to COVID.

The current environment has also helped change my industry and my business for the better. Not only are we able to understand flexibility in travel far more than ever, but as a Luxury Travel Advisor, I serve as the main resource of information and guidance for every one of my clients before, during and after they travel with their most precious cargo – their families.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.

I moved to Big Sky, MT from the New York City area in December 2020 so one week in Big Sky, MT… there are endless things to do! In Winter, Big Sky is one of the best locations for outdoor adventure in the country, with enormous terrain, national parks and some of the best skiing in America.

For a proper week in Big Sky, I’d plan for some sort of outdoor activity every day. From skiing or snowboarding and cross country, to snow shoeing, snow mobile tours of Yellowstone National Park, and dog sledding – we could do something different and equally exciting every day. Depending on weather, I can even arrange a Hot Air Ballon ride (year round).

After each day full of activities, I would want her try a new dinner location each night. I’d start with a dinner in Town Center to get a feel for the town. It may be becoming one of the most popular places in the country to visit, but it’s still got a small town vibe! There are many restaurants, each with a personality all it’s own. Blue Buddha Sushi has fresh, delicious sushi with a great lounge-like atmosphere, Ousel & Spur has delicious pizza, and Niseko is a fantastic spot for Ramen. For something a little outside of Town Center, Lone Mountain Ranch is a true Montana Ranch with great dinners and a really fun bar for pre-dinner drinks. They’ve also got a Sleigh Ride dinner through the forest to a secluded cabin… definitely an unforgettable Montana experience! And last but definitely not least is the new Montage Big Sky is an incredible new Luxury Hotel (the only one in the area) with multiple restaurant and bar venue offerings.

For after dinner – the Drunken Monk and The Standard in town have amazing cocktails and each their own funky vibe. Tips Up is a ski bar with live music, pool and shuffle board – a more relaxed vibe, and The Montage has Beartooth Pub with a bowling alley connected.

There’s no shortage of things to do in my town!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout dedication goes whole heartedly to my husband, Phil. Not only has Phil stood by my side through the very best, but he’s been there through some of the most trying and difficult times as well.
About a year after officially launching the business, COVID hit and the travel world all but disappeared. With over 100 trips planned and new clients on the books, my business completely came to a grinding halt. It was difficult to see a light at the end of that tunnel, but with his help I stayed the course and once travel came back… so did my business. Even stronger! His love and support helped me to push through even the biggest fears.

Website: www.whiterabbitstravel.com

Instagram: @whiterabbitstravel

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristen-bykowski

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