If you think the big bad Internet was the death knell for the travel agent, peek into a little shop in Overland Park.
Gerry and Mary Buckley will prove otherwise. The gentle Irish lilt heard by visitors to The Complete Traveler when Gerry introduces himself gives a hint of his area of specialty.
“A lot of travel agencies went away after September 11, but we saw an opportunity,” he says. “We have a trip-planning service. We plan a lot of trips to Ireland, England and South Africa.”
And on many occasions they’ll go right along with you, as tour guides.
“We’re big on personal service,” says Mary, noting that they offer the whole package, starting with a retail store that offers essentials like luggage, travel vests, European adapters, converters, European rail passes and currency.
One of their best-selling products? Underwear that touts on the package: “17 countries, 6 weeks, one pair of underwear. (Ok, maybe two.).” The secret, says Mary with a chuckle, is that they dry quickly after a washing.
The two, who met in Ireland in 2001 and were the focus of The Star’s “Love Story,” bought the business in 2003. Neither had owned a retail shop before: The Irish-born Gerry was in clothing manufacturing in England, and Mary was a real estate appraiser.
Their shop has been in existence since 1976. “The previous owner was tickled when we asked to buy the shop,” says Gerry with a laugh.
Tom and Mary Dawson have done Scotland and Ireland, as well as South Africa, in small-group tours led by the Buckleys.
“What draws people is that when you go on trips with them, you become their friends,” says Tom Dawson, who is planning to take several more vacations with the agency’s aid. “They’re personable, open, and they really know the areas you’re traveling through.”
Though they have handled larger batches, most of their groups are between a dozen and 20 people, and those are the tours Dawson has enjoyed.
“They get the group together a couple of times to plan the itinerary, and you get to know each other, so it’s not a group of strangers traveling together,” he says.
They work to keep travel mishaps down.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is they try to do too much with too little time,” Mary says. “They come to us with an itinerary, and Gerry looks at it and says, ‘You’ll be exhausted if you try to London, Dublin and Paris in five days.’”
To really see the passion the two have for their business, watch their expressions when they pull out a photo album.
“Take a look at that sign,” Gerry says, pointing to a photo of a “hippo crossing” sign in South Africa. His love for the country, where he lived for many years, is revealed when he talks about everything from the people who live there, to the striking countryside.
“I think one of the greatest privileges is to be at one with nature in Africa,” he says. “I tell people who go there that it won’t be their last visit. It calls you back.”
The Complete Traveler
Address: 7321 W. 80th St., Overland Park
Contact: 913-648-1560; completetrav.com
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Nearby shops: Images Art Gallery, 7320 W. 80th St., 913-232-7113. Beadazzler, 7315 W. 80th St.; 913-642-3237
Nearby restaurants: Lemongrass Thai Cuisine, 7316 W. 80th St.; 913-385-5566. The Other Place, 7324 W. 80th St.; 913-652-9494.