Whether you’re a novice traveler or a seasoned see-it-all-before-you-die kinda person, the question of whether to plan a trip on your own or hire a travel advisor has probably surfaced. We’ve done both — and both have been successful in allowing us the flexibility to travel and see the world. But lately, we’ve come to know the joys of engaging a knowledgeable, yet practical, travel advisor.
Full disclosure: We initially contracted a trip arranged by a travel advisor because we knew the agent — our goddaughter, Lauren Medley Gunnels, owner of Ortelius Travel Advisors. Her unique ideas for what we could see in our allotted time coupled with her willingness to work within our budget has made the conversion from planning trips totally on our own to a collaborative effort matching our ideas and her expertise for memorable vacations. Although we haven’t completely ditched “on-our-own travel,” we’re currently using her services exclusively for global excursions. Here are seven reasons you just may want to let a seasoned planner advise you on your next trip.
1. Convenience — When you work with a travel advisor, every detail can be built into the plan — from who picks you up at the airport to what you should do next based upon your time, money, and preferences. Because most travel advisors work with a network of agents throughout the world, you have access to locals planning your stays, your itineraries, even your drivers and guides. For example, Ortelius Travel Advisors networks with numerous agencies in areas requested by clients. As a result, you receive a customized itinerary noting departure times, pick-up arrangements, knowledgeable guides and local, highly rated experiences all conveniently planned, grouped and managed for you. Their good planning eliminates much of what you would have to search for on the internet: airline flights, connecting travel, hotels, times for events and celebrations, and restaurants. That network of experts does the legwork of planning and booking — a convenience you’ll fall in love with!
2. Background info — First-time travelers often want to know the history of the sites they’re visiting or interesting facts about places and people. A good travel advisor can include notes on each site on the itinerary so you can focus on your selected sites and process information pertinent to your visit. Recently, this info came in handy. Even though I’d taken a course in Greek Archaeology in college (many years ago!), I didn’t remember the finer details of the site I longed to see in person: Mycenae. With notes included on the itinerary about the Lion Gate, we were able to understand more about the times, the people, and the findings of this fabulous place in the Peloponnese.
3. Unique experiences – Yes, most of us know the not-to-be-missed sites in just about any locale. (Who doesn’t want to see The Colosseum in Rome, the tannery in Fes, or Paris’s Eiffel Tower lit at night?) But a travel advisor can put you in touch with new places and different experiences that you might not have considered. Like a bike trip in Cambodia — pre-arranged with bikes, guides and touring route. Or a wine tasting in Athens, Greece, where a local sommelier discusses wines of the region and pairs them with foodie delights. During the last few years of agent–planned trips, we’ve enjoyed a bamboo box supper while cruising the Mekong River at sundown, wandered through Carrieres de Lumieres in Les Baux-de-Provence, and ridden camels in the Sahara — all at the suggestion of our travel advisor who had read positive reviews from previous tourists and added the experiences to our itinerary.
4. Customization — A good travel advisor listens and listens well — to know what you like to do and see. But an astute advisor also knows how long you want to spend on all that seeing and doing. If most tours of famous buildings usually take three hours but you’re just not into modern art, for example, an advisor can customize your experience, working with the guide to allow for more time looking at what you hoped to see on your own. In Romania, for example, we hummed through our tour of Bran Castle and, with the help of the guide and the flexibility of our pre-arranged schedule, we were able to add a serendipitous drive through the countryside enjoying a relaxed afternoon of pastoral scenery.
5. Pricing — It may be hard to believe that hiring a travel advisor can actually be good for your budget. But, in many ways, it can be. Because travel advisors have access to special deals on airline flights, cruises, hotels, and train travel, they pass the savings along to you. Our travel advisor, Lauren Gunnels, has come back several times to us with a lower-priced flight than we could find online through aggregate sites like Expedia or TripAdvisor or airline direct booking sites.
In addition, Lauren knows our preferences for lodging (boutique hotels rather than chic resorts) and restaurants (locally owned mom-and-pop’s rather than notable high-end affairs). If you talk openly and honestly with your travel advisor, she’ll get to know your travel style. And if saving money is a priority, be sure to speak up. Pricing options abound even if you’re a luxury travel enthusiast, and she has found many hotels that offer value as well as comfort, service, and proximity to sites we wanted to see. As Lauren explained to us, “The bottom line is that the travel I plan is client-driven, based upon clients’ preferences and budget.”
6. Information and traveling tips -With the experience of many agencies at their disposal, a travel advisor can give you tips on a variety of subjects — all to help you travel like a local. Most often, you’ll receive info on passports and visas, travel insurance, currency of the country you plan to visit, weather concerns, adapters for the electricity available, tipping suggestions (in country as well as for drivers and guides), phone calls and internet access, and where to meet your guides. If you have mobility issues, your advisor can discuss alternative routes or other means of travel when you’re faced with quaint towns with steep stairways or long walks to museums, etc. Quality pre-planning and a plethora of good information means you’ll have a safe and efficient trip — leaving the enjoyment totally up to you.
7. Troubleshooting — Lauren reported to us that she has fielded numerous calls from clients wanting to cancel or re-route their trips due to outbreaks of the coronavirus. And understandably so. Her time spent altering itineraries and even whole trips has paid off for customers who have litle or no experience dealing with trip insurance or changes in airline, hotel, and cruise ship arrangements. If you want or need an expert in times like these, a travel advisor can be an invaluable asset.
With so many choices in travel today, an advisor just may be your ticket to a safe, happy experience!
Rusha and Bert Sams