Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Checking in with Cary Allyn

Director of the Vanderbilt Travel Program

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

With a total enrollment of 12,700 students, Vanderbilt University has 135,000 living alumni with 41 alumni chapters worldwide. The alumni association offers 20 to 25 trips a year as educational enrichment opportunities for its members.

Born: Nashville, Tennessee

Education: B.A. in art history at Vanderbilt University

Employment: Allyn worked as a travel agent and a group coordinator for large companies and special-interest groups for 25 years before beginning her work at Vanderbilt in 2001 as the director of the alumni travel program.

Family: Cary and her husband, John, have two sons, ages 23 and 27, who also live in Nashville.

Hobbies: Flower arranging, entertaining friends, gardening and travel

A few years out of college, Cary Allyn faced a wall of uncertainty around what do to with her life. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in art history, she sensed she could either go back to school for a master’s degree or strike out into unfamiliar territory.

When she found a job opening for a local travel agency receptionist, she decided to give travel a whirl. More than 30 years later, she’s still thrilled with her choice.

“I started as a receptionist and then became a travel agent,” said Allyn, director of the Vanderbilt Travel Program. “It took off from there. I started before there were computers and you had to call the airlines to write tickets.

“It was a very good learning experience.”

Her quick connection with travel went hand-in-hand with her love of art history, since she studied numerous destinations’ artistic highlights. She continues to use her love of learning to construct educational tours attractive to her Vanderbilt alumni members.

Learning Curve

With Allyn’s expertise in the travel industry, the job coordinating the Vanderbilt alumni trips seemed a perfect match. As an agent, she had planned numerous individual, group and corporate tours.

“Because of my background, I knew the trends in travel, what the hot destinations were and how to get there,” said Allyn. “I knew how groups priced things and where the profits were.”

Because Vanderbilt’s alumni travel program focuses on educational outreach, Allyn’s new challenge became creating educational trips attractive to alumni.

“What I do now is different because we select tour operators that are primarily education focused,” said Allyn. You wouldn’t have these trips available for a normal retail person.”

The other trick became figuring out how to pair a Vanderbilt professor with each trip, an encouraged policy for the alumni association. Allyn struggled initially to fit a traveling professor into the group’s costing scheme.

“Now that I’ve been here 14 years, I’ve learned which professors are popular and who are the best with adult alumni,” said Allyn. “I match the professors with trips that we think will be a good seller.”