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A Eureka moment led to Travel Essentials

Somebody once said the best travel tip he ever got was to take half the clothes and twice the money.

Bob and Nancy Bestor, owners of Travel Essentials in Ashland, offer travel advice much less cheeky and considerably more useful — along with luggage, travel gadgets, clothing and accessories — from their store at 252 E. Main St.

The couple will celebrate 25 years in business April 24-28 with special events, a sale and free refreshments. Theirs was the first travel accessories store in the Rogue Valley, and it’s still the only specialty retailer of its kind in the area.

Headlining the anniversary celebration is travel expert and author Anne McAlpin. A frequent guest on “Oprah,” “The View” and other TV shows, she will present four packing seminars, at 2 and 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 24-25.

“She will demonstrate the packing techniques that enabled her to travel to 78 countries and over 2 million miles with only a carry-on bag,” said Nancy.

McAlpin also will share travel safety tips, provide up-to-date information on what travelers can carry on airplanes, answer questions and autograph copies of her book, “Pack It Up.” To reserve a place at one of the free seminars, call the store at 541-482-7383.

There will be a complimentary wine tasting late Friday afternoon, April 26, and coffee with cupcakes Saturday morning.

Bob, 55, and Nancy, 51, were in their mid-20s with no retail or marketing experience when they arrived in the Rogue Valley after a six-month honeymoon trip in a yellow VW bus with a pop-up top.

Nancy had worked in public relations and Bob in insurance in the San Francisco Bay Area.

When they came up with the idea for a long trip exploring the U.S., Nancy envisioned it differently from Bob.

“I thought it would be fun, staying at B&Bs around the country,” she said. But Bob provided the reality check when he said they would have to stay in RV parks and campgrounds. Six months of B&Bs was not in the picture financially.

“We were looking for a way out of the Bay Area,” Bob said, “and we thought the trip would be a fun thing to do.” They weren’t sure what they’d do afterward.

Near the end of the trip, a stop in Eureka changed their lives forever. They went into a small travel-books store and found it charming — so much so, it was the genesis of an idea to open their own travel store.

“We have a lot of travel in our history,” said Nancy. “My mom was from Croatia. And Bob’s dad published a travel newsletter.” That led to trips to Europe for both.

Bob’s dad also had an Oregon connection in Coos Bay. And in the mid-1980s, Bob’s parents bought a second home in Talent. Ashland definitely was on their radar.

They found a location on East Main, across the street from their present store. Early in 1994, after their big cross-country trip — with no fanfare, no press release, no balloons, no grand opening and no employees — they opened the doors to a new business devoted entirely to outfitting travelers.

Twenty-five years later, they have two full-time and four part-time employees. Store manager Danny Frazier runs the place when they’re traveling.

They take two big trips a year and a couple of long weekend jaunts. The trips are vacations, but they’re also research for articles they publish in their travel newsletter, mailed twice a year to customers. Information from their treks also is published in a travel letter emailed monthly.

They launched a website, travelessentials.com, in 2004. It keeps customers informed on what’s new in the store, and helps bring in new clients.

“A small percentage of our business comes from the website,” said Bob. “But we have a lot of customers who look online and then come in to buy.”

Their formula for successfully competing against big-box stores and the Internet is a combination of friendly, personalized service and a broad knowledge of the business.

“We enjoy getting to know our customers,” said Bob. “We help them figure out where to go, not tell them.”

They enjoy introducing new products to their customers.

“One new addition that is very popular is an adapter plug that also has three USB slots,” said Nancy. “It’s a big plus for people who travel with multiple devices that need charging.”

The store recently was named the Rogue Valley independent retailer for the Patagonia line of travel clothing and gear. “They really take care of their customers,” said Bob. “For instance, if you tear a sleeve, they want to repair it for you at no cost.”

There always will be challenges for retailers, and last summer’s smoky season was a big one for Ashland businesses.

“We were off 15 to 20 percent during those six weeks,” Nancy said. “But our customers support us. When the holidays came around, people came in to do their shopping. And our business for the first quarter is up over last year.”

Their outlook for the future is positive.

“There are a lot of very strong businesses in Ashland,” Nancy said.

They believe that working hard, working smart and serving customers well will keep them strong.

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Coutesy photo Nancy Bestor soaks in the atmosphere at the spectacular 164-foot-high Monastery near Petra, Jordan. She and her husband, Bob, travel extensively and share their experiences with Travel Essentials customers.
Courtesy photo Travel author Anne McAlpin will present four free seminars during Travel Essentials 25th anniversary celebration.