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  • Writer's pictureDespina Karatzias

Reflections of a Hot Air Balloon Girl: A Journey of Adventure and Friendship


Colourful hot air balloon flying over Yarra Valley, Victoria at sunrise.
Sunrise hot air balloon flight over Yarra Valley, Victoria

Twenty years ago, I embarked on a journey that would change my life forever. Little did I know that my passion for aviation, travel adventures and the desire to share it with others would lead me to what is now Victoria's largest hot-air ballooning operation and a career in industry training and development. As I look back on the journey so far, I can't help but feel a sense of awe at the intensity of the learnings and the incredible experiences. Most importantly, the people I have met along the way.


Brunette wearing glasses sitting at the desk and smiling at the camera
Despina Karatzias 2003 at Global Ballooning Australia office in Richmond, Victoria

In 2013, celebrating my 10th anniversary at Global Ballooning Australia, I penned a book titled 'Adventures of a Balloon Girl.' It was my humble attempt to capture the essence of the challenges and opportunities that small tourism businesses face in running their operations. Little did I know that this book would become a guiding light for many others venturing into the tourism industry. Now, twenty years later, the hot air ballooning journey continues to enlighten and inspire many of my senses.

Despina hugging and pointing respectfully at Kiff, both sitting and smiling at the camera in front of a Global ballooning Australia hot air balloon basket.
Despina Karatzias with Kiff Saunders, June 2023 at Global Ballooning Australia Operations HQ

Hot air ballooning journey

However, the true beauty of this journey lies not just in the balloons that dot the Melbourne, Yarra Valley and Mansfield skies but in the relationships forged along the way. This month, the opportunity to jump back in a balloon after three years, I was reminded of one such relationship that has blossomed and grown dear to my heart, with Global Ballooning Australia owner Kiff Saunders. Kiff and I have traversed the highs and lows of business and life together, and although we come from very different worlds, our shared love for the ballooning, travel, tourism, business and adventure world was a breeding ground for a great friendship. This a testament to the many bonds that can be formed with like-minded humans amidst what can feel like chaos and excitement of pursuing dreams and dream teams.

After a three-year hiatus, I couldn't help but reflect on the adventure and marvels of hot air ballooning, and I am struck by the profound lessons it has taught me about life and work. Here are five invaluable insights that have helped shape my perspective:

Embracing uncertainty

Hot air ballooning is a dance with Mother Nature herself. The winds, the weather, and the ever-changing conditions teach us to let go of control and embrace uncertainty. In life and work, we cannot always predict the outcome, but by adapting to change and embracing the unknown, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and unforeseen joys.


Finding balance

Ballooning has taught me the delicate art of finding balance. Just as the pilot adjusts the burners to maintain the balloon's equilibrium, we, too, must find equilibrium in our lives. Balancing work and personal life, adventure and tranquillity, ambition and contentment is essential for our well-being and success.


Trusting the process


In hot air ballooning, there are times when you must have faith in the process and trust that everything will fall into place. From inflating the balloon to soaring high above the ground, there are intricate steps involved. Similarly, in life and work, we must trust the journey, even when faced with challenges or setbacks, knowing that each step is leading us closer to another layer and higher ground that gives a new vantage point to navigate our goals and desired destination.


Embracing serenity

Floating gracefully amidst the clouds, I have learned the importance of embracing moments of serenity. The tranquillity of the skies, ever so gentle and graceful movement with the wind, reminds us to pause, breathe, and appreciate the beauty around us. In the midst of a busy-ness world, finding inner peace and cherishing the present moment can be a powerful source of inspiration and rejuvenation. A reminder that is always present in the stillness only experienced in a balloon.


Young boy pointing and looking out of a hot air balloon basket flying across Melbourne, Australia
My son flying with me on a hot air balloon flight across Melbourne

Nurturing Relationships

Ballooning has not only connected me with the vastness of nature but also with incredible individuals that have taught me the value of nurturing relationships. Just as the success of a hot air balloon ride depends on teamwork and trust, so does our personal and professional growth rely on fostering genuine connections with others.


Reflecting upon the adventure-filled years that have shaped my life and career, I am grateful for the lessons learned and the friendships forged. The journey and Adventures of a Balloon Girl have been one of profound self-discovery, resilience, and love. The winds may change, but the spirit of adventure and the beauty of human connection remain constant. Continuing to embark on new adventures and navigate the ever-changing landscape of the tourism industry, I am reminded of the importance of supporting small businesses through industry training and collaboration. It is through organisations like the Australian Industry Tourism Council that I have had the opportunity to not only get back in the balloon but also to share another important part of our story, a darker one that I know will help others stay safe online in their tourism building endeavours.

So, let us embrace the adventure, celebrate the wonders of nature, and support one another in our shared pursuit of happiness and success. Whether it's in the sky or on the ground, the spirit of entrepreneurship, friendship, and gratitude will forever guide our path.


Here's to the next chapter of our journey, and whatever your vessel, whether it is a hot air balloon, helicopter, bus, car, bike, boat or hotel. Or maybe your vessel is your expertise, passion, content, ideas, or experience that doesn't exist yet. Whatever your vessel, let us rise above the challenges, reach for the stars, and weave a tapestry of unforgettable experiences for those who dare to dream and seek the thrill of adventures in business.



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