It’s a small world

Linda Johnson

Photo By Evan Tuchinsky

Linda Johnson worked at Disneyland while attending Cal State Fullerton, so it’s only fitting that the front of her travel agency would resemble It’s a Small World. Johnson co-owns Trips & Travel with Connie Baxter, her sister. They’ve assembled quite a collection of international dolls, colorfully attired and neatly placed along a window facing Third Street in downtown Chico. The travel industry has changed a lot in the 23 years since Johnson and Baxter—both former teachers—opened their agency. They’ve weathered the challenge of Internet booking by retaining loyal clients, including some who return from trips with dolls for the display. “We never feel guilty about taking people’s money, because we’re building dreams,” said Johnson, who trains the next generation of travel agents in a class at Butte College.

Where did the idea for the dolls come from?

I have collected them over the years. I worked at Disneyland, so, of course, one of my favorite things was It’s a Small World. So I thought, “Gee, I’d like having the dolls out.” People walking by like them, and a lot of times it identifies us. People have said, “Oh, now you are the girls who have the dolls in the window?"—and we go, “Yeah, that’s us.”

Which were the first ones?

Our heritage is Norwegian, so probably the Norway Dolls.

What took you from teachers to travel agents?

The love of travel, and having the dream of having your own business. I think that’s the American Dream, and it’s a great one, but it’s a hard one.

How has the business changed now that Internet users book for themselves?

It’s freed us up for bigger trips. If people are doing a large trip, they want to come to a professional to get advice. Over and over again, it’s a thrill when they say, “I was doing it myself, but it’s so much better what you did.” We’ve done pretty well over the years with that kind of thing.

Do you get to do much traveling?

Well, because Connie was fifth in California for all sales [of trips through Hawaii World] they’re sending us to Hawaii this week. Just a short trip, so don’t envy us—Wednesday through Sunday—as a celebration with other agents. So we’ll close, and we don’t close very often. We were both high school teachers, and that’s when we traveled a lot more. Now that we have the business, we really have to stay here, because people expect us with the dolls in the window [to be] sitting here.