Photo by Rebekah Martin Fred and Sandra Smith own and operate Adventures Unlimited Travel in downtown Hartselle. The travel agency is in its 20th year.

Selling experiences, 20 years and counting

By Rebekah Martin

Hartselle Living

Fred and Sandra Smith have built a life and career out of seeing the world and helping others do the same.

The couple owns and operates Adventures Unlimited Travel in downtown Hartselle, and they said they enjoy playing a role in helping people plan their dream vacations.

In its 20th year, the agency had humble beginnings in the corner of the Minor Furniture Store on Main Street, which was run for years by Sandra’s parents. Fred said what interested him most about opening a travel agency was being able to sell an experience and service rather than a product.

“We had gone on several trips with the furniture business I guess that is what got me thinking that that might be something I would like to do, so I set up shop in the furniture store in November 1998,” Fred said. “I was really thinking about selling something I wouldn’t have to inventory. When you have product on the floor, you have to inventory it every year, and I was tired of doing inventory on the same sofa that never would sell.

“Now I’m selling a service … This way I can sell every day, whether (someone) wants Hawaii or the next person wants a cruise.”

Fred and Sandra see people from all walks of life come into Adventures Unlimited Travel – from people who know exactly what they want out of a vacation, to others who want to know their options. The couple said their personal experiences with many of the destinations they sell have helped their business thrive for two decades.

“Typically, one of the first questions we’re asked is, ‘Have you been there?’ If we can say ‘Yes we have,’ then it gives a little bit of a sense of security because we can at least tell them what we experienced – maybe things, if we had to do it over, that we would avoid or do differently, or what we enjoyed,” Sandra said. “Only through experience we have learned that we can help direct people to what would be a good fit for them – depending on their budget, depending on their age, their interests, whether they’re beach people or mountain people, whether they like to cruise or they’re uninterested in cruising.

“It gives us pleasure to get to help and guide people toward their dream vacation.”

Self-described “people-people,” the Smiths said they have maintained friendships with many they have met through their business. “We have just enjoyed so many friendships with people we’ve met, who have gone on trips with us or people whose paths we might never have crossed,” Sandra said.

The couple hosts three or four trips a year for up to 50 people – they will leave next month on a Baltic cruise. Fred said their hosted tours fill up quickly; the Alaskan cruise for this summer was booked in only a month’s time.

Fred said a great deal of work can go into planning the perfect vacation – and he and Sandra are there to put their expertise to work for their customers.

He has a foolproof method for helping customers choose their destinations. “I just give you a dart … and you throw it at the map, and it lands in water – you’re going on a cruise,” Fred said with a laugh. “No, seriously, we get that (question) a lot: ‘I want to do something, but I don’t know what to do.’ We try to plan in a way that will lead you to the trip of your dreams. It takes a little imagination on our part, trying to get that out of people.

“If you’ve been on a cruise, and you’re hooked, then we don’t have to do much talking. We’ve been doing it for 20 years, so we’re doing something right.”

Adventures Unlimited Travel has 500 customers, a third of whom will go on a trip hosted by the Smiths every three years, according to Fred.

More years of helping vacationers and enjoying travel of their own await the Smiths, as retirement from the travel agency is not on the horizon.

Fred and Sandra have been married for 46 years. The couple has two children and three grandchildren.

Photo by Rebekah Martin
Fred and Sandra Smith own and operate Adventures Unlimited Travel in downtown Hartselle. The travel agency is in its 20th year.

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