The (un)Travel(ed) Agent

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The (un)Travel(ed) Agent

The 1970s style office displays vintage font encouraging words about the value of a travel agent, saving clients time and money.

The 1970s style office displays vintage font encouraging words about the value of a travel agent, saving clients time and money.

The 1970s style office displays vintage font encouraging words about the value of a travel agent, saving clients time and money.

The 1970s style office displays vintage font encouraging words about the value of a travel agent, saving clients time and money.

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Hung on a wall in my house is a massive world map printed onto a styrofoam board. In the drawer of my father’s desk are different colored push-pins, which have, for many years, been intended to be pushed into the styrofoam map in order to display where each family member has traveled. The pins have remained in their plastic box, unable to keep up with the international travel we have done individually and as a family over the past decade.

While I was visiting the most exotic corners of the globe, hundreds of thousands of people went on a tour of a place that I’ve never seen: “I’ve been to Washington D.C., I went to the White House. I have gone to certain areas there,” Jasmine Laws proudly recalls.

I guarantee that her styrofoam map would have a pin stuck right into the U.S. capital within minutes of arriving home from the trip.

She could place another few pins in Hawaii, Montana, and the middle of the San Francisco Bay: “I’ve been on quite a few [cruise]ships. Some of them actually come into port in San Francisco. So I’ve been on quite a few, and I have taken tours of a lot of them. It’s really nice.”

At Redwood Sky Tours, located on Fifth Street in San Rafael, Jasmine is the “cruise girl.” She’s never been on a cruise, but she speaks with such dignity about her experience as a cruiser and traveler that it wasn’t until 15 minutes into our interview that I realized her personal irony: She’s an untraveled travel agent.

“Travel concierge,”  Jasmine corrects me: “I think travel agent is…the sound of that is a little outdated.”

Redwood Sky Tours brands themselves as the 2017 winner of the Pacific Sun’s “Best of Marin,” just in case anyone comes in and needs reinforcement the services are valuable.

Coincidentally, so do many people. The number of travel agents in the U.S. dropped from a high of 124,000 in 2000 to 74,000 in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The obvious reason for this drop in the popularity of travel agents is the internet. With sites like AirBnB and Expedia functioning as easy and free travel booking interfaces, who needs a real human anymore?

According to Jasmine, people who like reliability while traveling do: “We want to make sure that, you know, if there’s a check-in time at four, they can actually check in. You don’t want to book through third party sites like Expedia. Because as things go wrong, they can’t help,” she says, giggling with the air of a true insider. At this moment, she could have been Kylie Jenner informing a fan about the secret release date for the new spring eyeshadow pallet or Neil Armstrong uttering “The Eagle has landed” when he first stepped onto the moon.

But she wasn’t. She was in her fourth week working at Redwood Sky Tours: “We’re going to help you. And not only that but a lot of the times we don’t really charge…”

Say WHAT now?

Unbeknownst to me (and most other money-minded under forties), many travel agencies, including Redwood Sky Tours, don’t typically charge their clientele with booking fees. In fact, most people simply probe Jasmine for advice or use her as a middle-man between them and the hotel, tour guide, or airline.

“The other companies pay us. So if I find a hotel, they’ll pay me because I use them.”

Sounds like a good gig to me.

So if Redwood Sky Tours functions less like a for-profit business and more like a Neighborhood resource, then why aren’t they flooded with San Rafael residents at all hours of the day and night seeking travel advice?

The answer to that is layered and baked into the concrete lining fourth street, where the homeless sleep alongside gallivanting techno-lites sipping oat milk lattes. Such a mish-mosh of young and old, rich and poor, makes downtown San Rafael the closest Marin gets to Manhattan.

The older residents still visit Redwood Sky Tours, because they’re indebted to them from years of annual trips on the Celebrity or the Cunard cruise line.

Truthfully, however, a lot of San Rafael residents (especially the millennial, start-up-y ones) don’t realize the value of utilizing human resources, rather than online ones. Or, as Jasmine puts it: “people are spending too much money and they don’t realize it.”

Walking past the office on Fifth Street, however, it seems that the sign displaying “Best of Marin” and a window sign welcoming Jasmine to the office saying: “Real Travel Agents. Real Knowledge.” would be hard to miss.

Around here, Jasmine is on billboards. She’d be famous if anyone looked!

Yet, they would have to look up.

A lot of things appear too bold, big, or beautiful to glaze over if you’re standing right in front of them. But take my family’s untouched styrofoam map, for example, and it becomes clear that sometimes some of us become too busy, too distracted, too inundated with life to even look up and appreciate that it happened — or is happening — all around us whether we went on a trip or not.

“I’m a wealth of information,” Jasmine says about her travel expertise. While it may produce a laugh at first, it becomes clear that she, as untraveled an agent as she may be, has, in fact, been looking up. Her eyes span seas and continents, even if it may be from her desktop PC, and that makes her the richest of us all.

So, where has Jasmine Laws set her sights for next?

Most imminently, probably the Starbucks on Fourth. But this August or September (fingers crossed) she could be in South Korea or China, seeing the Great Wall with her mother or boyfriend.

Ironically, she won’t need a travel agent. She’ll use her personal experience for that. And she’ll be sure to pin it on the map when she gets back.