A great Travel Agent: The smart Traveler’s best travel tool

“Not all who wander are lost.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

A smart traveler’s best travel tool can often be an experienced and trusted Travel Agent.

In full disclosure, not all of our travel has been with the assistance of a Travel Agent. In fact, our earliest travels were ones we planned on our own, and on occasion, we even traveled without reservations. (GASP! I know! We were young…but it was sort of fun!) And while some travel plans don’t always require assistance, you should know that some travel can be even better with the help of a Travel Agent.

Let’s go to Banff National Park!

Think of your travel as an investment

Let me give you some food for thought: most people will seek out a real estate agent when purchasing a home or a dealership when investing in a new car. For us, the biggest purchases in life are usually made with careful research and the use of an expert. If you think of your travel as an investment in which you want to get the biggest return on your investment, a travel professional can be a wonderful resource.

The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

A Travel expert can be the best place to turn

In addition to helping you with reservations and plane tickets, an experienced and trusted travel professional has resources and relationships with travel vendors that can enhance your trip, and a great Travel Agent can take your broad travel plan and fill it in with great ideas and experiences that create a trip to remember. Your travel professional can help you to estimate the cost of your trip, do their best to help you stick to your budget while you plan, and will offer resources that could upgrade your trip in ways you might not have known about on your own.

How can you find a great travel professional and what you should expect in terms of cost?

The best travel professional will have great referrals from happy clients. Seek out a word-of-mouth referral from friends, family, or even work colleagues who travel.

When you first make contact with your new professional, be sure to start the conversation with the fees they may charge for their services, and be aware that the answer to that question will vary from agent to agent. Always be a savvy, informed consumer and ask lots of questions.

Travel Agents are paid a commission on the products they sell by the vendors they are working with such as a cruise line or an all-inclusive resort. That commission may be paid to them directly from the vendor or through a host company. Be aware that some agents could charge a consultation fee which could run up to $250 while others will not charge this type of fee at all. If there are fees being charged, be sure you understand what services you will receive for that expense. If that extra $250 doesn’t fit into your budget, keep looking for an agent that charges less or none at all. A great travel professional wants you to have a great experience and is not out to nickel-and-dime you. If you’re a happy client, you will likely refer your family, friends and be a return customer, right?

Beautiful Ireland

Before you call your travel professional

A great Travel Agent will be a busy person so before you talk with him/her, it’s a good idea to do your own research and be able to answer these basic questions:

—When and where do you want to go? How do you want to travel? Do you want to go on a cruise or land-based vacation? If it’s land-based, are you driving, flying, or considering an all-inclusive? If it’s all-inclusive, are you looking for a family-friendly or adults-only resort? Do you want to sit on the beach and catch up on your reading or do you want to go to Italy and see the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Try to have something in mind so you can get your Travel Agent working quickly on a plan for you.

—What budget do you have in mind for your trip? You can do some research online and get a feel for what type of budget you should be prepared for. Determine a ceiling for your budget and understand the need to be flexible.

—How many people will be traveling with you?  Will you have children traveling with you and how old are they?  Do you have anyone traveling with you with special needs?

—Do you have anything specific that you want to do or see on your trip?

—Have an open mind. A Travel Agent might make suggestions for your trip that you had not yet considered such as High Tea at Harrod’s in London or a hike in Yellowstone. Be willing to try something new to enhance your experience.

Why should you consider seeking out the help of a Travel Agent?

A Travel Agent is, or should be, an experienced traveler and ideally, have first-hand knowledge of where you want to go. On top of that, a good Travel Agent will know the current trends in travel and will have a working knowledge of travel vendors and resources that a lay person, like you or me, would not otherwise have knowledge of or access to.

What if you opt to plan without a travel professional? Sure, you could do it. You might even find a “really low price” for your trip online somewhere but what are you getting for that “cheap” price? Roger and I always agree with the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” What if something happens during your trip? Will your online source be there to help you? Is there even a resource to reach out to if you need help? Maybe, but probably not. If you plan on your own, you will also be on your own to figure out a solution if your travel plans are interrupted. Some travelers just make do but why not let a travel professional smooth the way for you?

A great Travel Agent is your advocate. When you plan your trips with a Travel Agent, you have someone you can reach out to if something unexpected pops up along the way (be sure to ask your travel professional about his/her availability while you are traveling). If your travel results in a missed or canceled flight, or perhaps the hotel has your reservation but they have no room to go with your reservation you need only reach out to your travel professional. When your travel professional has a relationship with a vendor, your concern may be easily fixed if there is an issue. However, keep in mind that your travel professional is not a miracle worker. He or she will do their best to work out whatever the issue might be but you may have to be flexible and understanding when the unexpected arises.

New Orleans, Louisianna

 Do you need travel insurance?

A good Travel Professional will most likely recommend travel insurance. Again, travel is an investment. What happens if you have an accident on the way to the airport and you miss your flight? What happens if you are sick and hospitalized and can’t travel? What do you do if you get sick and are hospitalized in a foreign country? What happens if your trip is two days away and you have a death in the family?

Many travel vendors have strict policies about refunds.  Be sure to understand what those might be upfront.  No matter the reason that you might be prevented from traveling as planned, the purchase of travel insurance could result in some, if not all of your expenses being covered. 

As an example: you are on a cruise and you don’t feel well and you seek out the services of the ship’s doctor.  I have heard of a fellow traveler who sought out medical attention aboard her cruise ship and received a bill for $4,200!  $4,200!!!!   That’s a whopper of an unexpected expense, wouldn’t you agree?  She probably didn’t pay that much for the whole cruise! Luckily, my fellow traveler had purchased Travel insurance which kicked in to help with this out-of-pocket expense.

During several cruises, we have watched in horror while our cruise ships have slowed and unfortunate fellow guests have been helicoptered off by the U.S. Coast Guard for serious medical issues. While I have made my husband promise that he will not allow me to leave a cruise ship in that way, I can only imagine how terrifying that experience is, never mind much it might cost! I can only hope that the folks that left our ships by helicopter are well and had great insurance! 

Travel insurance is something Roger and I always purchase, without question. Life happens and you never know when a curve ball could derail your travel plans. We consider travel insurance an investment to guard against the unknown. An investment in our investment!

Westminster Abbey, London, England

When should you travel and how far out should you start planning?

Spring break and summer vacations are huge travel times, of course.  When you start thinking about travel, depending on the time of year you plan to go, you could be vacationing with thousands of your closest new friends.  My husband and I prefer to travel in the off-season when at all possible.  Consider too that traveling during the off-season might be cheaper, depending on where you are going.  Finally, if you’re like us, we don’t like to travel when it’s blazing hot or freezing cold.  We are “Goldilocks” travelers.  We like the temperature to be just right!  If that’s you, consider the time of year and what the weather might be in your desired location.   

Understand, that some vacations require planning and reservations to be made well in advance to get the trip you want. For example, I wouldn’t recommend calling a Travel Agent and asking for a trip to Disney within two of the spring break season. Waiting until the last minute for a Disney vacation will limit the experience you have due to limited availability in the most popular resorts, parks, and activities. Most travel professionals will recommend planning 8 to 12 months out or longer whenever possible for a Disney vacation.

Whether you are a long-range planner or a spontaneous traveler, these are basic timeframes for making reservations to keep in mind as you start to plan your vacation:

-Nearly all cruise lines will post their cruises 1 to 2 years in advance. 

-Resort vacation packages with airfare take reservations 10-11 months in advance.

-Group tours such as Trafalgar or Globus start planning 18 months in advance. 

-Disney Vacations are released in June for the next calendar year.  You can book a Disney hotel 1 year out but can’t book other trip components until 6 months out.  Give yourself time and plan in advance when looking to go to Disney.  Your travel professional will know tips and tricks to help you. 

**This timing is always subject to change, so consult a travel professional.

Call your travel professional today and get out there and make some wonderful memories! 

I’m going to get my suitcase out and start thinking about what I need to take on our next trip! 

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