Just as the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers seamlessly converge at beautiful Point State Park in Pittsburgh, Pa., so have my three distinct career paths come together to create a thriving custom tour business called “Passport to Pittsburgh, LLC.” The path to this culmination of businesses was not as seamless and calm as the rivers appear in Pittsburgh on a crisp autumn day. The journey to realization of this entrepreneurial dream was filled with unsettling currents, distracting undertows, rocky waves, and murky waters to navigate.

Charting a course for any new business is never easy, and there are bound to be both expected and unexpected detours and obstacles to navigate along the way. Finding the path to Passport to Pittsburgh, LLC was no different.

After a life-changing divorce after 29 years of marriage in 2013, I found myself standing at the edge of a cliff and needing to build a bridge to cross into a new land. I had been an elementary school teacher for 7 years prior to the birth of my children and retired when they were young so I could raise them. I never regretted one minute of being a stay-at-home mom. That first autumn after retirement, I started a professional storytelling business called “Characters by Kim!” That business has thrived for more than 21 years! I created 12 original costumed characters that brought literature to life and inspired children to be “readers” one story at a time. The creative work brought me great joy as I was able to pursue my passion for so many years. The work, however, was sporadic.

After the divorce, a safety net of steady income was needed, so I started working as a contract tour guide in my beloved hometown, Pittsburgh, Pa. It was a perfect fit for me because I told stories to tour guests and imparted knowledge about Pittsburgh and its rich steel history. I loved the work. I trained prospective tour guides to engage tour guests and designed tours for the company at which I worked as an independent contractor. Needless to say, the pay was minimal and my passion for the work quickly started running low. Waves were rocking the boat, and the current was pulling me under. I needed to regroup, get my compass, and chart a new course to happiness.

At a very low point, in the winter of 2015—when the waters seemed their murkiest—I decided to try to lift my pathetic self out of the doldrums and take a non-credit course at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship offered at Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, Pa. Education had always been a lifeline to me, and so it was again.

The first few weeks driving to campus in the cold darkness of a Pittsburgh winter was not easy. I had to force myself to go sometimes. But by the end of the 15-week course, it was spring, and the campus looked brighter and more colorful, and so was I. The course, called “My Business Start Up,” had become a life raft in the murky water when I needed it most, and the business plan I wrote during that class became the map I needed to show me the way.

One of the most important things I realized while taking the class was that I was not alone in my pursuit of an entrepreneurial dream. So many women want to turn their passions and talents into a profitable business that makes the world a better place. I regained my confidence once I realized that my unique skill set and life experiences were valuable and viable to start my own custom tour company that incorporated all that I knew people wanted in tourism. I knew that people want to learn something. They want to be engaged and involved. They want to experience new things or even old things in new ways. And most importantly, they want to feel like it was a special day for them.

I took what I KNEW, what I LOVED, what I WANTED and brought it all together into a business plan for a tour company that was different from cookie cutter types of tour companies that had repetitive routes and scripted narration. I wanted a tour company that offered unique customized itineraries, revealed hidden gems, and allowed guests to experience something actively on the tours and not just be passive observers.

I followed my “golden rule” approach in its design to provide the kind of tours that I would enjoy and give that same type of experience to others. It was during this time that I “gave birth” (YES, I gave birth! complete with all the waiting, worrying, anxiety, pain, and ultimate JOY) to the idea for the company Passport to Pittsburgh, LLC and its Tourism Trifecta: Knowledge, Experience, and Fun!

MY dedication to learning, my creative need for storytelling, and a passion for a city I adored all came together like the convergence of the three mighty rivers of Pittsburgh. The path was uncertain and the waters rough at times, but in the end, as I look back on the journey, it all makes perfect sense. All things have aligned as they should, and Passport to Pittsburgh, LLC is doing what it does best: showcasing the fantastic city of Pittsburgh and exploring interesting destinations beyond Pittsburgh in fun and unique ways.

And speaking of Pittsburgh! AH, what can I say? I love it! I have always loved it! And I am falling in love with it even more deeply as I research itineraries for the new business. Pittsburgh continues to reveal to me her many stories, her hidden beauty, and alluring secrets. Pittsburgh is like a woman constantly changing and evolving, growing and aging with beauty and grace while constantly enticing those who think they know her to know her better. I’m proud to tell you that Pittsburgh is on many lists, and tourism is hot right now in our city! The energy is palpable! I welcome the role as ambassador for the city and love to see tourists’ expressions when admiring the view of our skyline from the Duquesne Incline and Mt. Washington.

Surprisingly though, some of my greatest enjoyment comes from helping my many customers who are long-time Pittsburgh residents rediscover their hometown with joyful unexpected surprise. Once a smoky steel town, Pittsburgh is now a high tech, cultural, delicious, cutting-edge, fashionable, diverse city that has “heart.” By “heart,” I mean that Pittsburgh and her residents have the ability to know where they came from and never forget…and to love who they are NOW and fully embrace it.

Pittsburgh’s story reads like a great novel, full of grand industrialists during the Gilded Age, industrial revolution, labor reform, and a melting pot of immigrants that melded together in the hot furnaces of the steel industry and created a hard working multi-cultural city full of grit and integrity. After the fall of the steel industry in the 1970s, Pittsburgh went through some rough waters searching for new identity!

The city needed to step back, regroup and build yet one more bridge in the City of Bridges to get to the new and promised land. I am happy to say they did! (By the way: there are 446 bridges in Pittsburgh! It is officially the city with the most bridges in the world—three more than Venice, Italy.) Oh, there I go making sure you learn something!

You see, I want to tell you so much more about this “City of Champions,” but the best way to learn is to experience it for yourself! Make plans to visit Pittsburgh and (re)discover her many charms and feel the heart of my hometown first hand. I hope that’s when you do visit, the most important thing you will realize about Pittsburgh is that she is a city of resilience and reinvention. Perhaps that why I love Pittsburgh so—she is so very much like me!

Kim Adley is the owner and custom tour designer of Passport to Pittsburgh, LLC, a custom tour design company for Pittsburgh and beyond. www.passporttopittsburgh.com. She is also the 21-year sole proprietor of “Characters by Kim” a professional storytelling business in western Pennsylvania. www.charactersbykim.com.

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SOURCEPhotos: Kim Adley
Kim Adley is the owner and custom tour designer of Passport to Pittsburgh, a custom tour design company for Pittsburgh and beyond (passporttopittsburgh.com). She is also the sole proprietor of Characters by Kim, a professional storytelling business (charactersbykim.com).