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Travel Q&A

With Rock & Roll Travel Agent Eric Vetter

When Eric Vetter was mapping out his business plan, the rangy proprietor of Portland's Orbit Travel knew his destiny was to work with rock and rollers. "Nobody had a travel agency geared toward smaller and medium-sized bands," Vetter explains. "The big bands got served by their labels, but there was no one for small bands to turn to. Besides, I get on well with the rocker set. Even though they can be demanding or spacy, I understand them."

You don't have to be in a band to enlist Orbit Travel's aid, but if you are, the business is a godsend. Vetter schedules flights, finds accommodations for touring bands, and keeps his vast mental Rolodex of cool things in cool places up-to-date. A self-described "nice and funny and weird and mean kind of guy," Vetter is exactly the kind of person you'd want to guide you through the labyrinth of travel possibilities. Let's check in for some advice!

What are your guidelines for traveling with musical instruments?

If you are in a band that is going to be traveling in an airplane anywhere, you absolutely, categorically must invest in flight cases for everything. Otherwise there is no conceivable way to control what happens to your stuff. The baggage handlers do not care. If they're not smashing it, they're stealing it.

Do rockers miss their flights at a rate exceeding the national average?

We never put bands on crack-of-dawn flights. They never make it! Our slogan is, "You go where and when we say!"

Do you help bands find lodging on the road?

Yes, but the days of touring in a van and sleeping somewhere other than the van are dwindling. It's shocking how expensive everything is now. Staying in a hotel in New York, even a shitty hotel, is going to cost $200 a night. But there are always ways to find other options. For instance, if you're cool with not staying in Manhattan, you can find a cheaper place in Brooklyn.

Are online travel services any good?

The nature of the online deal is that you can't change anything. They're not really interactive yet--so if you have any sort of problem, there is no one to talk to. You just give them your credit card number and hope to God everything goes smoothly. A good travel agent doesn't waste your time by putting you on a hellish, hellish flight just so you feel that with all that punishment, you're saving money. Red eyes are not necessarily cheaper. Neither is changing planes. You know, saving 20 dollars isn't worth it. It's penny wise and pound foolish. If you're smart and good at doing this job, there is no reason why someone on a budget can't be on the same flight as someone with a lot of money to spend. It's a matter of knowing the ins and outs of how these airlines price their shit. But I do like the Alaska Airlines website. There are real deals, and the flights are actually there.

Is First Class really better?

Oh, absolutely! But nobody pays for First Class or Business Class tickets. You get them with mileage upgrades. Rarely does someone actually pay for it.

What happens when you call an airline to make arrangements for, say, Paul McCartney?

There's a whole protocol for that. If you notify the airlines that they're dealing with a celebrity, they'll make special arrangements, like boarding them last or holding the plane. There are also security issues. A band like the Smashing Pumpkins has an entire security protocol for their hotels. There has to be a specific security rating or they can't stay there.

Is that to protect them from us or us from them?

Sadly, from what I've learned, it is to protect them from us. I've had people call and pretend they are from a band's organization to find out where they're staying. But I always know who I'm dealing with, so I can tell when it's bullshit.

What's the furthest someone can get from civilization?

Not far enough! Escaping from civilization is expensive. Realistically, you could go up into Alaska or go down into Mexico and get really far out.

Where do you like to travel?

My idea of a good time is Vancouver and San Francisco and Los Angeles--places where I can hold hands with my boyfriend. But I also like lying on the beach and being really warm. I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for a long time, and it's fucking cold here!

Can you suggest a couple of rock and roll vacations?

Vegas is cool right now because you can drink 24 hours a day and can smoke anywhere. You can even smoke in Starbucks! Lying in the sun, drinking, gambling--some people are really into that. Some people want to stay in a hut in Tahiti. Some people are still cornball enough to want to go to Sonoma for the weekend and get their chakras aligned. My advice to anyone is plan ahead. It gives you the variables so you can get exactly what you want.

Do you get calls from people that are afraid of flying?

All the time, and I'm one of them! I dislike flying. Isn't that great?

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Orbit Travel (503) 239-4050

 

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