HR & Management

From traveller to vendor: One couple’s story of searching for the perfect travel accessories

6 min read

10 August 2015

Urbane Traveller was born during a 12-month, round-the-world honeymoon. Such was the enthusiasm of its founders that the website project started while they were still away.

Listen to enough motivational speakers and you’ll hear one piece of advice repeated over and over again: you’ve got to love what you do. It was even voiced by Steve Jobs during a famous 2015 speech in front of Stanford graduates

He said: “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

He also noted that success was all about connecting the dots. And let’s face it, the most disruptive ideas always seem to be borne out of frustration. Co-founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp created Uber because they couldn’t find a taxi in San Francisco. Similarly, Richard Branson went on to create Virgin Airlines because he hated the passenger experience he received at other airlines. He even announced in a 2011 CNN interview that the primary thought leading to the concept of the business was: “Screw it, I can do it better than you.”

The same could be said of married duo Richard and Clare Barrell when they founded Urbane Traveller. The pair of business consultants loved travelling so much that they decided to fly off on a 12-month honeymoon, during which time they spotted a gap in the market.

While planning for the trip, they found all too often that technical travel clothing was not as stylish as they hoped.

“All travel clothing seemed to be in khaki and multi-pocketed,” said Claire Barrell. “Do you really need 400 zips and pockets in your clothes when you go travelling? The straw that broke the camels back was a money belt. The inconvenience, discomfort and permanent self-consciousness from carrying one led to the realisation that there had to be an acknowledged better way.” 

Of course, it didn’t help that their purchased travel accessories did not work as well as they were supposed to – or were not as essential as they first thought.

As a result, Urbane Traveller was established while still on the go, and soon they thought they had cracked the travel industry wide open. It certainly comes to show that they loved the business idea.

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“In addition to making travel easier, technology and apps have made setting up a business a lot easier too,” said Richard Barrell as he explained how they had set up Urbane Traveller abroad. “The name was conceived and company registered online from a hotel room in Asia. The website was built over discussions on Skype from the side of our pool in Mexico and we wrote the business plan on 20-hour bus trips in Argentina.”

Many of the products the company imports from America and Australia today were spotted during their travels. Clare Barrell explained that they had tried to make the most of the hours of downtime gained from travelling around the world on a budget to kick-start the business, so that when they got home all they had to do was source the products, finish the website and then take the first order.

“These days people have grown beyond ‘shoestring, roughing it’ adventures,” Richard Barrell said. “It’s not just gap year students who want to see the world and what it has to offer. They want to do exciting things but don’t want to slum it. People do like a bit of luxury while still getting an authentic experience.

“Many people take multiple holidays per year and are looking for new and different experiences and they want to continue to undertake this type of travel into later life. People in their mid-70’s are trekkers still out there scaling hills. The grey pound is more adventurous than during their grandparents era was and there’s more freedom than there’s ever been at that age. With the baby boomers now kid-free, the market is only set to grow for at least this generation.”

According to the Barrell’s, they’ve approached the big travel market from a different angle. High street competitors were borne off the back of the big camping boom in the UK. Nice design and a pleasure to use wasn’t necessarily available at outlets such as these.