I originally wrote this article for the May 2007 Wide World Books & Maps Newsletter. If you click on any of the links in the article, you will find yourself at Wide World's site where you can purchase the books and accessories or read about things going on at the store. -Terrell
Ten Things I Learned from Working in a Travel Store
The time has come, Iím afraid, for me to leave the store. Family duty calls. As I look back on the last five years, I thought you might like to hear some of the things I have learned from working here.
There are no bad destinations. Iíve talked to people heading off to vacations in Paris and Mali, Vietnam and Patagonia and Oaxaca. Iíve talked to aid workers leaving for Sierra Leone and Afghanistan and Sri Lanka right after the tsunami. I talked to a woman on her way (reluctantly) to spring break in Detroit because her teenage daughter wanted to see its treasure trove of vintage buildings. Over the years Iíve come to the conclusion that thereís nowhere in the world that doesnít have something to offer a traveler with an open mind. Iím going to try to keep that in mind while Iím living in Dallas.
No, there not a best guidebook for [fill in name of destination]. Lonely Planet is really comprehensive, Rough Guides are well-written, Eyewitness has great illustrations and Rick Steves has insider tips. Time Out does wonderful city guides and Bradt has a cool, quirky point of view. My dad used to say that any college has more to teach than any student can learn and something similar is true about guidebooks. Each one has their strengths but you can learn a lot from any of them. The trick is matching up the one that best suits a customerís needs. Which is where those nice booksellers at WWB come in.
Travel ďaccessoriesĒ make life easier on the road. Just think. If I had never come to work here, I might never have discovered packing cubes. And packing envelopes. And my universal sink stopper and those neat little Woolite packets and travel towels and my wonderful travel pillow from Thermarest andÖandÖ
Tours can be a good thing. One of the great things that happened to me here at the store is that Simone gave me a chance to go to Turkey (and I mean gave in the most generous sense) with Melitour. I not only found a country I love and a new friend in Meli, I also figured out that a well-run tour can be just as good a travel experience as kicking around on my own. After listening to years of Tuesday night presentations by Matthew and Kurt and Sandy and all the rest, I know that having a tour leader who is knowledgeable and energetic and connected to the local people is a valuable thing. And having someone else to carry the luggage is priceless.
Parents who travel with their kids are doing them a favor. Taking your kids along for the ride teaches them all kinds of good things. It teaches them about other people and places. It teaches them the discipline required to sit still on a long plane ride. It teaches them that there is good food that doesnít come from golden arches. It teaches them that hanging out with your family can be fun. It teaches them that we share this world with a whole lot of other people. And I think it teaches the parents a few things, too.
One man can make a difference. And his name is Rick Steves.
Maps are totally cool. OK, I loved maps before I came to work here. Any piece of paper that can convey so much information in so little space is bound to fascinate an odd brain like mine. Since coming to work at the store, though, I have come to see the endless variety of maps available and to appreciate the complexity of the task of producing these wonders. Iíve had National Geographicís map of Italy on my kitchen wall for four years now and I still find something new on it every day. Speaking of which, I better buy a new map of Dallas before I leave.
Even in a specialty store like ours, there are always more books than I have time to read. One of the things Iíve tried to do in my tenure at the store is introduce more non-guidebooks. My background in general bookstores convinced me that there is plenty of ďtravel relatedĒ literature that would be of interest to travelers. Beyond the hundreds of great travel essays, weíve added more novels, mysteries, current events and histories. And I have found myself in the enviable position of having to sort through dozens of new books each month trying to pick the one I most want to read. We donít carry every book in the world, but we carry some of the best. And lucky for you guys, youíll now have Holly, she of long experience and great judgment, choosing what makes it to our shelves.
We use 110. They use 220. If I never have to explain electrical converters and adapters to another person again, it will not be too soon.
Travelers are hopeful people. When people ask me what itís like to work in a travel store, I always say itís nice because the customers are usually happy. And I donít think that itís just that theyíre excited about planning a trip. I think travelers in general are hopeful, happy people. We are people who see something good beyond the horizon. Weíre open to new experiences. Weíre ready to learn. We believe that the future can bring something wonderful. So I set out on this journey with hope for my future, and gratitude for what I have learned here.