My husband and I have a big, big trip coming up. It’s going to take a lot of planning and coordinating and travel documents and money … essentially it would take a lot of time to plan.
Instead of using up what precious free time we have to ourselves to plan this trip (and potentially miss some important necessary travel documents that would of course keep us out of the Galapagos Islands, the place that’s been on my bucket list for the past 12 years) — we opted to use a travel agent instead.
You might be asking yourself, “A travel agent? Do those still even exist? And who uses them in the age of Expedia and Orbitz and Travelocity and … you get the gist?”
The decision to use a travel agent will of course be a personal one, and to be honest this is the first time I’ve opted to do so. But for me it boiled down to a couple of very specific things:
- The overwhelming number of places we want to travel to in a relatively short period of time, and the strict budget we have with which to do so.
- The fact that there is a lot to learn about the proper documentation necessary to travel in some of these places.
- The fact that every time I started trying to research, my head started spinning and I was getting very confused and I immediately wanted to stop.
What I wanted, essentially, was to go on the trip — not plan it. Enter our wonderful, knowledgeable travel agent. The thing to know about using a travel agency before going in is that some charge an upfront fee (and potentially even more along the way if you end booking with them), while others are paid through the places they recommend, and therefore require no additional costs on your end. (Ours is the latter.)
The cons with using someone in that second boat, of course, is that your agent will most likely only work within a limited selection of places when planning your trip — those that work with travel agents and compensate them. It also leaves you open to missing some other potentially amazing stops/tours/hotels/etc. that you may have discovered had you done the research on your own.
We’re only in the very beginning phases of planning our trip with our travel agent, but so far here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Always ask up front about the costs. You don’t want your travel agent to come back to you with a fantastic trip itinerary, only to have him drop a huge bill on you for his services that you were unaware of from the start.
- Be open and honest with what your budget is, and whether there’s any wiggle room.
- Have plenty of details ready to share with your travel agent, and it’s always best if you can be a bit flexible, especially if you’re on a strict budget. (“Sure, we’d love to go skydiving over the Great Barrier Reef while we’re in Australia, but if it’s out of our budget, it’s definitely not a ‘must do’ activity.”)
- Don’t just take what your agent comes back with at face value — do a little back-up research of your own. Search around on TripAdvisor for reviews of the hotels and tours she mentions, and don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you aren’t satisfied with the first go-round.
Essentially what it boils down to is if you’re the kind of person who loves sifting through tons of material to find that perfect gem of a hotel in that off-the-beaten path spot for your vacations, then you probably don’t need a travel agent’s help.
If the idea of piecing together a multi-destination trip stresses you out though, or if you just don’t know where to start … well speaking to a travel agent, at least one who doesn’t charge up front, might offer just the help you’ve been hoping for.
Cheryl Lock is a personal finance writer at and former editor at LearnVest and Parents magazine. When she’s not writing, she enjoys travel, which she blogs about at wearywanderer.wordpress.com.