Peggy Markel

Get ready to have your wanderlust ignited and to feel your stomach growl. Today's leading lady is Peggy Markel, director of Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures, a company that designs and directs culinary tours in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

From Elban fishing villages and Moroccan markets to the homes of Tuscan artisans and chefs, Peggy has spent more than 20 years exploring culture and cuisine. During her own early journeys, she looked for culinary and cultural programs that would connect her with local artisans and food traditions. When she didn't find any, she saw the opportunity to create and lead her own.

Now, Peggy aims to give people a meaningful travel experience by immersing them in a foreign culture through food, food artisans, hands-on cooking and traveling. The bonus: Her daily work usually means immersing herself in the same. Just read her example of a "typical day" and see if it doesn't make you want to book a flight.

Don't hold yourself back.

How did you discover your current job?

I created it. I was following my own passions -- for the Italian language and cultures of the Mediterranean, for food and the genuine relationships that arise from working next to someone in the kitchen or sitting around a table. When I first arrived in Italy, I looked for culinary and cultural programs that would put me in touch with local artisans and food traditions. When I couldn't find any such offerings, I decided to create my own.

What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?

My aim is to offer individuals a meaningful travel experience by immersing them into a foreign culture through food, food artisans, hands-on cooking and traveling. This means that my daily work usually entails immersing myself in these very same things, making new connections and cultivating long-standing relationships.

For example, here's a glimpse of my typical day on my sailing program along the Amalfi coast in Italy:

Pull away from the dock. Secure the galley. Hoist the sails. Sail four hours to the island of Ventotene. Dock. Visit the fish market. Buy a fish. Keep it cool while swimming in azure waters in a Roman wave pool. Get fish, bring it back to the boat. Make lunch. Everyone participates. Chop tomatoes, peel garlic. Clean fish. Make a guazetto with island-raised garlic, tomatoes and basil. Salt and pepper. Set the fish in. Cover. The fish juices mingle with the aromatics and make a rich broth. When the fish is firm to the touch, take out and serve with crisp white wine on the deck. Dock again to explore the island. Take a hike. Shop for local fare, wild fennel, tiny capers, fresh bread for dinner. Visit a wine maker. Taste. Come back to the boat for aperitivo. Prepare dinner. Read poetry to start the conversation for the evening. Dine. Sleep.

During my programs in Morocco, you might find me collecting fresh eggs for a class on the Berber omelet cooked in a ceramic tagine. Then, riding camels on a deserted beach with a caravan pulled together at a nearby guesthouse. Or teaching my guests how to use a vegetable knife in the most beneficial way, before throwing all of the ingredients into a wood-fired oven.

When I'm not in the field leading my programs, I spend much of my time designing new programs or updating the itineraries. The winter and summer months find me at home in Colorado, answering emails and organizing dates and itineraries blow by blow -- it helps to plan ahead, but I must always make sure to leave plenty of space for unexpected magic.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?

Most rewarding: Watching people open up to their own curiosity and push the edge of what they thought was possible. Bridging cultures for people with my language skills and cultivating relationships.

Most challenging: The rare but occasional difficult guest. My programs thrive on taking advantage of unexpected opportunities, but sometimes the unknown brings challenges of its own: volcanoes, terrorist attacks and global financial crises have been arduous to navigate.

What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?

Being far away from my home in Colorado and from my family for months at a time.

What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?

The more relaxed I am, the more relaxed my guests are.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?

Fearlessness. Forging through into foreign countries in foreign situations with confidence.

Who are your role models?

-The Dalai Lama
-Arlene Burns, Adventure Traveler
-Rebecca Wood, Author, Chef and Educator
-Vanessa Redgrave, Actress
-Beryl Markham, Aviatrix and Adventurer

What are some of the rules you live by?

Be of benefit to others as well as yourself.

"Trust in God, but tether your camel first."

What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?

Be creative and brave. There's a lot of competition, but if you're moved by your own particular interests and sensibility, you will stand out.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Putting the final touches on my book; a memoir about the places I've been and the people I've known. I also see myself working less in the field and spending more time training and orchestrating a new breed of trip leaders dedicated to excellence in transformational travel. I'd also like to research and design new programs in at least two new countries.

What are three things you love aside from your job?

Writing. Speaking Italian. Poetry.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Don't hold yourself back. Be sure to always listen to and follow the smallest inclinations that are calling. (I followed mine to Italy and have been in business doing what I love for 20 years as a result.)