Sunday, October 16, 2022

How much does it cost to hire a travel agent?

There are so many misconceptions about what a travel agent does and how they are paid, so I thought I would try and answer some of those questions. 

First, not all travel agents are created equal. All agents will strive to get the best value for the money, but in all honesty if you are comparing a travel agent quote to the rock bottom price at Costco, the travel agent will tell you to book Costco. 

Why? One, the travel agent can't compete with the pricing Costco has. That said, Costco cannot compete with the service a Travel Agent will provide. 

For example, you booked your trip with Costco. You have a connecting flight but your first was delayed and you missed the second flight. You are now stuck at the airport with no support from Costco to get another flight to catch, say your cruise in time. 

Now, that same scenario but you booked with a travel agent. You contact your agent, and they immediately provide you support and start working to get you booked on the next flight or make arrangements to connect with your cruise should you be unable to make the embarkation port in time. This is just part of the service a travel agent provides. 

Another example for those of you that love to cruise. A travel agent is able to find options for you such as free upgrades and onboard spending credits. 

A travel agent will spend hours looking for the best lodging options, resorts or put together a road trip that you ask for. They will follow up with each reservation and confirm everything to make sure your vacation goes a smoothly as possible. 

Should an emergency arise while you are on vacation, your travel agent will be there to help you make arrangements to get home as quickly as possible. 

If there are a group of people that wish to travel together, a travel agent can also make arrangements to provide additional 'perks' and secure group rates. 

So, how does a travel agent get paid? Charging fees are left up to the individual agent and is something that you should ask about at your initial meeting with your agent. Many agents do not charge a planning fee. 

As for myself, I do not charge a fee for vacation planning. I do charge a fee for destination weddings. This is what many travel agents do. 

So, how do agents get paid? By commission. Each reputable supplier that an agent uses to book your vacation pays the agent a commission. These commissions vary from supplier and type of service. Agents are paid AFTER their client travels. 

Commission rates do not impact the price you pay. For example, if you booked a cruise directly with your favorite cruise line, the price is exactly the same as if you booked through a travel agent. The supplier does not discount the rate. 

So, please remember, when you ask a travel agent to look up some options for you, it is time they spend working for you. They get paid ONLY after you have not only booked, but after you have traveled. If you decided to go elsewhere or think you have found a better price and book elsewhere, the agent gets nothing for their time.  Many times, if you have found a better price AND you are comparing apples to apples, bring the same offer to your agent and they might be able to price match it. 

Remember, using a travel agent isn't just about getting the best deal, but about the service an agent can give you. 

That said, I would be remiss if I didn't plug a few hosted tours I have coming up in 2023.  

In January, I am hosting an 8-night Caribbean cruise! Prices start at $520/person with on board spending credit of $75! Only available with Trip Along Travel. 

My March Panama Canal cruise is SOLD OUT. 

In December of 2023 I am hosting a 12-day German Christmas market tour. This tour is December 1-12 so you will be back in plenty of time to spend Christmas at home. This tour is $1850 per person and is filling up quickly. 

Join myself and my mom (My travel buddy) on either or both of these tours and stay tuned for planned trips for 2024! 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Family Historians and Genealogists Who Love to Travel

Calling family historians and genealogists! 

I don't know about you, but I love to delve into my families past and uncover nuggets of history that I previously didn't know. Finding those connections from one generation to another are very satisfying. 

I started my journey as the family historian looking for a birth great grandfather. (Still looking but finding clues!) I started over 30 years ago and each find has truly been a gem. 

One of my favorite finds was a connection to a family in Yorkshire. We started emailing and confirmed the connection. He graciously extended an offer to visit and look at a treasure trove of documents he had. As in originals from 1500's! 

A few years later I was able to travel to Yorkshire. Unfortunately, in the intervening years he had passed away. I did however, meet with his son, another cousin! I was given a private tour of the home my ancestors continue to reside today. Did I mention they are peerage? 

It was great fun. 

I would never have had that experience if I hadn't started down that road, looking for family connections.

Making the connection on paper is a great thing, but to actually travel to those places make your own, private history, come alive. 

Imagine crossing the Irish sea on a small ship looking for the opportunity to farm your own plot of land. Or peruse the castle ruins of the long-ago king that ruled the city state that was your 15th grandfather. Or imagine the countless families that fled the potato famine by immigrating to the U.S. 

Their stories are your stories.

Traveling to those small villages might, just might, open a small chink in that brick wall that you hit. While troves of documents are available online, so many more are not and only a trip to the local parish or depository will have that one piece of paper, that one vital piece of information that you need to take that next step. 

If you have a group of people that are interested in the same area, all the better to share and bounce ideas off and research together. 

Maybe you already have a group of people interested in going to Ireland, or Scotland or maybe Germany. Or any other place that you may wish to research. Give me a call and we can put together a lovely itinerary to include sites, research options and more. Groups can be as large as 40, small as 10 or even couples or individuals. 

The World is waiting. Where will YOU go? 


Sunday, August 7, 2022

Cruise FAQ part two: What to pack

Trying to decide what to pack for a cruise can be daunting but it doesn't need to be. 

Q: How do I decide what to pack for a cruise? The simple answer is, it depends. If you are packing clothes for a Caribbean cruise you will want to pack items for the summer. Shorts, flip flops and swimsuits are a must. If you are going on an Alaskan cruise you will need to think in layers. Make sure you have at least one jacket for both.  

Check with your travel agent what the average temperatures are during the time frame you are cruising to plan appropriately.

Q: OK, we got the clothes down, do I need to pack anything else? Other items to consider is the purchase of packing cubes. I use Veken. Packing cubes. These are reasonable priced and come in a set of 6 bags. Makes packing for a suitcase easier and a snap to unpack once on board the ship. Simply hang up the items that need to be hung and leave the rest in the cubes as you place into drawers or on the shelves. Then, when time to repack for the trip home, simply zip up the cubes, replace in the suitcase along with the laundry item. Veken set comes with a shoe bag and a laundry bag. Other sets work well too, Veken is just the one I use. You can purchase online on Amazon and view other options. 

I'd also suggest investing in a hanging style toiletry bag that you can unzip and hang up. Several options available at very reasonable prices on Amazon. 

Q: Got it. Anything else? A good idea is to invest in a cruise approved cruise power strip. Make sure it is cruise approved or your cabin steward may confiscate it. Staterooms have a very limited number of outlets. I suggest getting a cube that also has USB ports so you can recharge your electronics. 

Q: Great! Have more suggestions? You may want to consider purchasing a set of magnetic hooks. The stateroom walls are made of steel. This means that you can place hooks to hang up items for easy access and yet keep off the limited counter space you may have. For example, if you have a hanging toiletry bag, you can simply place a hook in the bathroom and hang it up. Makes for quick and easy packing and unpacking too. 

Q: What about carryon bags? Anything that should go in there or should I just check all my bags at port?  Just like on a plane, you want to place any valuables in your carryon bag. Items like medications, electronics and cords, travel documents and passports. You will also want to place your swimwear and perhaps a change of clothes if you do decide to swim. Your check bag may not show up to your stateroom for some time and you will want to have these items with you. If you are a reader, you may also want to have your book with you. 

Note: Most cruise lines will allow you to bring a bottle of wine per person on board on embarkation day with a limit of two bottles per stateroom. If you opt to bring wine aboard it MUST be in your carryon. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Cruising: FAQ Part One- Activities and Dining

 I often get questions about cruising. In this post, I will address many of those questions. 

Q: Is there much to do on board? I'm afraid I'll just get bored. There is so much to do on board a ship, you can do as little or as much as you'd like. If you want to just sit on deck, read a book or people watch GREAT. If you are worried about your daily workouts, there are gyms onboard where you can cycle or treadmill or use free weights. Like to play basketball? Yep, there are courts for that too. Most ships also have walking/jogging tracks and mini golf course too. On some ships you can find bowling allies, rope courts, rock climbing walls and more. 

Q: I'm really not into physical activities, what is there for me to do? Daily options might include fancy napkin folding or animal towel creation classes. Trivia quiz competitions, mixology classes, wine tasting/pairing or yoga. Live music abounds on board! The production shows are fantastic, and some ships even have ice shows! 

Q: Music? Tell me more. All over the ship you can find different types of music on most ships. Piano bars, karaoke, jazz, disco and more. I've even found a string quartet on one ship. Music isn't confined to nighttime. Active all day in various parts of the ship. 

Q: I like to watch movies though. Ships have HUGE screens up on deck so you can watch recent released movies along with classics. AND you can lounge around in the hot tub or sit on the deck chairs sipping your favorite beverage and eating popcorn while you watch. Sometimes special screenings are offered in the ship's theatre. 

Q: But I like to eat, I don't want just burgers every day. No problem. While each ship and cruise line will have different offerings, you always have several options on each cruise. Typically, you will find a buffet for each meal, many open 20-24 hours. The buffet options change daily so always something new and fresh available. The formal dining room is something that I encourage everyone to experience at least once. It so nice to be waited on. You will select items from the menu. Most ships have a three-course dinner but know that you can have as many items as you'd like. For example, you can order 3 appetizers, 2 entrees and 4 desserts if you'd like! Some items change daily, and a few items are available every day. 

Other options vary by ship, but you will typically find pizza, gourmet burgers, BBQ, deli's and more. And of course, there is always room service. 

Ships now also offer 'upscale' dinning for an additional fee. Your travel agent can help you in booking those dining options if you are interested.

In short, there really is no limit to onboard activities. When you add on the wide range of offerings when in port, your vacation can be as busy, or as relaxing as you want.  Keep in mind that each cruise line has its own 'flavor' if you will. Your travel agent can help you in choosing the best option to fit your lifestyle. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Caribbean Cruise: Focus on St. Maarten

 In January 2023 I will be hosting an 8-day Caribbean Cruise.  St. Maarten is one of the port calls during that trip. (There is still time to plan your winter get-away and join me!) 

A unique island, this small plot of land, only 37 square miles, is actually two countries. France and Kingdom of the Netherlands, making it entirely possible to visit two countries during your port of call. 

Each of the islands has it's own local rum, but on St. Maarten is the only place you can get Guavaberry Rum. Made on the island, it is not shipped anywhere. (I always 'stock' up when I visit this island)

Beside rum and beaches, there is terrific shopping just steps away the cruise port in Phillipsburg. Did I mention shopping is duty free here? 

In addition to the gemstone and brand name offerings, you can find high quality Caribbean made items here. Souvenirs, books and resort ware can be found at one of the many Shipwreck Shops found on the island. 

Like cigars? you can find the largest range of cigars at the Casa de Habano.  

As if this wasn't enough, sunny beaches, create your own signature perfume, foodie tours and more can all be found on this tiny island. 

Come cruise with me!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Senior Travel Tips

 You are never too old to travel! There are, however, challenges as we age. 

This segment will focus more on European travel as opposed to domestic. While there are similar challenges, Europe offers some significant differences. 

As many of you know, my mom is my travel buddy and while she is approaching 93 years young, she is still ready to hit the road. At 92, I find the need to seek alternate options to make sure she has an enjoyable experience. 

First rule is to keep in mind that there is NO ADA in Europe. That means that many of the old historical parts of cities are not handicap accessible as we know it. With a bit of research, I've found many 'work arounds' throughout our travels--after all this is just one service as a travel agent that I provide. 

What does no ADA mean? Basically, it means that it is up to individual properties what handicapped facilities will be made available. 

For example, many castles in Ireland and Great Britain are NOT easily accessible. Bunrutty has a number of steps that need to be negotiated if you want to go to the banquet. There are actually two flights. One is a modern stairway that leads to the main entrance. Then you must go up (and down) original castle stairs to the traditional banquet hall for the appetizer before going back down to the hall that is now used for the banquet. You can, however, skip going up the original stairs and be brought into the hall used for the meal. (You do still need to go up the modern stairs)

If you want to visit such places as the Louvre or Windsor Castle, you can get accessible tours on top of reduced rates for entrance and free for your travel companion. Arrangements must be made ahead-and again as a travel agent this is a service I provide for you. 

When traveling abroad in particular, make sure you have all of your medications in originally dispensed bottles and have enough for an extra few days, just in case you get delayed somewhere. Meds should be kept in your carry-on bags NEVER in checked bags. 

In Europe, many of the old and historical parts of the cities are cobble stone. This can present issues for many people. The uneven pavement requires that you need to pay attention to, not only where you are placing your foot, but how. Some years ago, we were walking in Italy and I was busy taking photos and didn't pay attention to my feet. I stepped off the curb onto the cobblestone street and promptly fell. 

If you are with an escorted tour, and you feel that you cannot keep up, always let the tour director know you are leaving the group and arrange a place and time to meet back up with the tour. Make sure you understand the directions and then take your leave. If you do opt to leave the group, I'd recommend that you start to make your way to the meeting point as soon as you are rested. Once you've located the site, you can move around a bit more, take in the local sights, perhaps have a coffee or some food, do some shopping while you wait and you will on time when the rest of the group arrives. 

To help keeping sprains and other injuries at bay, I'd recommend that you wear sturdy walking shoes that are well broken in. Don't buy them a week or two before you travel. I now wear hiking boots... 

Sampling foods from different cultures as I travel is always fun, but not for everyone! Keep in mind your own tolerance for spicey and be ready! I always travel with both Tums and Imodium. If you are concerned about water quality, buy bottled water. The majority of European countries the water is safe to drink. This is something, as a travel agent, I will inform you about. 

If you have mobility issues, cruising may be an option. 

Ocean going cruise ships have all the amenities and there are accessible staterooms available upon request. Elevators on board make it easy to navigate the various decks and the different venues. Keep in mind that if they are using tenders to get to shore you may not be able to disembark. 

River cruising may be a bit of an issue. 

Most riverboats now have an onboard elevator to the to the different decks. The problem arises when you are docked. Many times there will be more than one ship docked and they are stacked, rather than individually docked. There is often only space for one mooring so the ships are stacked out into the river. This means that you have to go up the deck, cross over the river onto the next ship and then over to the dock. Depending upon how many are docked, you may have multiple ships to cross to get to the dock. 

Travel is always an experience. With so much of travel dependent upon things we cannot control like weather, the best thing we can do is to shrug, sit back, grab a favorite beverage, and enjoy the experience. 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Trip Planning

 With COVID hopefully in our rearview mirrors, and many countries relaxing COVID rules, the world is opening up once again to travel.

If you are like me, you've been chomping at the bit to get out there and get back to exploring what the world has to offer.

I've got my first European Cruise in over two years, coming up in June and already making pre-departure plans and packing lists.

You may ask, "Already?" YES. My motto is, plan for what you can, and be ready for what you didn't plan.

This means I make my dog boarding reservations well in advance. For the June trip, I've had them since last month. Since all the dogs are being boarded, the only other things I need to list to pack for them is any meds they may be taking and blankets/toys. (Unlike when they travel with me when I have dishes, food, water bottles, leashes and more to pack).

I've already checked and confirmed my passport is not set to expire anytime soon so good there. Most countries will require passports to be valid 6 months past travel dates.

I've read my go to professional tour guide for the area I will be visiting. I've read the tourism websites for each country and made a list of what I'd like to see and do. Optional excursions are already reserved and purchased.

In planning ahead,and securing any entry tickets I need ahead of travel, I can spend more time doing what I want to see/do. Yet, I'm very flexible when things happen that I didn't plan.

And that is really the trick of travel. Have a plan, but don't be afraid to be flexible and change it up on the fly. In the words of Captain Barbossa, it's more of a guideline.

When planning a trip I make up three lists. Let's call the A, B, C.

The A list is everything that I HAVE to see/do/experience or die kind of list.  An example for me is when I visited Vienna, Austria a few years ago. I am a HUGE horse fan and missing the Lipizzans was NOT an option.  I forked out $300 US dollars for two tickets in the gally directly across from where the horses entered. I bought them the day they went on sale, about 8 months before travel. Definitely and A list.

Also on the A list was the Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens.

B list items would be things you want to see if, you have enough time.  For me in Vienna, the Hofburg Palace was a B list item. (After Schonbrunn Palace, if I didn't see it, I was fine. But, since I planned things out, I was able to see it and many other places).

C list items are things that "gee it's free/near by and we have time so lets go see it".

In the days before I was a travel agent, I was on a tour my travel agent had put together. It was a Rhine River Cruise that started in Amsterdam. I suggested to my agent at the time, that she may want to offer a pre/post cruise since the actual cruise didn't include much of Amsterdam.

We went a day early. I had planned out the day so we used the public transport and took in the Jewish museum, red light district, Ouida Kirk, Church in the Attic, Floating Flower Markets, Rembrandts home, Anne Franks' hiding place, and the Van Loon museum. Made all of the A list, some of the B list and a couple C lists.

The rest of the group spent a few hours at the Netherlands Open Air Museum.

Always be ready to embrace something you may not see again. On this same trip, I was up fairly early as we glided along our way and I saw a herd of Przewalski's horses. An extremely rare breed indigenous to the Steppes of Mongolia. There are less then 2000 of these horses in the world.  The horses I saw were wading down in the river bank, drinking. I thought at first they were part of a zoo that had escaped. I found out later that there is a breeding herd maintained in Netherlands that are later re-introduced into their native habitat.

Planning is the key to a great trip. Being flexible is the key to an AWESOME  trip.



How much does it cost to hire a travel agent?

There are so many misconceptions about what a travel agent does and how they are paid, so I thought I would try and answer some of those que...