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Why You (Still) Need a Travel Agent

By Liza Weisstuch
April 11, 2019
hands pointing to paper map
Watchara Kokram/Dreamstime
If you think you're better off researching and booking your next vacation entirely online, you may be wasting serious time and money. Here's how a good travel agent can help.

Ask Aurelio Giordano why someone should use a travel agent these days, and his reply is reflexive: “Do you have a couple of minutes?” The Brooklyn-based travel agent founded his company, Ace World Travel, in 2012 and has seen his business grow exponentially in recent years.

These days it’s easy to assume that a vacation is a DIY undertaking. At least that’s what the countless websites that allow us to book a flight, make a hotel reservation, buy insurance, and explore area restaurants and sites would have us think. Not so fast. While you might see fewer travel agency storefronts than you did 20 years ago, it doesn’t mean that the industry has gone the way of Blockbuster Video. That’s because travel agents provide a valuable service that can feel rare in our digital era: personal guidance. And that’s hardly all. According to the American Society of Travel Advisors, the top three reasons people go to an expert are to save planning time, avoid mistakes, and improve the overall vacation experience. ASTA studies show that on average people can save 3.5 hours in planning and more than $300 per trip by working with a pro. We spoke to some veteran travel agents to get a full understanding of how they can help us travel better.

The Travel Agent Industry Is Growing

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Grand Canyon? Been there. Boston’s Freedom Trail? Done that. And your parents did it, too. And your grandparents. Travel today ain't what it used to be. “Travelers these days are looking for different, exclusive experiences. They don’t want the kind of cookie-cutter trips they’d get through Expedia,” says Aurelio. “My agency has grown tremendously because people are looking for more specified and personalized itineraries." For plenty of people, time off is a rarity. It could take three years to save the time and money for a vacation, and they don't want just any trip, he says.

ASTA reports that the Census Bureau’s 2015 figures, the latest available, showed that U.S. travel agencies employ 105,085 people, an 8 percent increase over five years. It’s a growth that Paloma Villaverde de Rico, editor-in-chief of Recommend Magazine, a trade publication, attributes to the boom in younger travelers. “What I can tell you from writing about the travel agent industry for the last 15 years is that there is definitely a surge in interest among millennials and even Gen Z (the young 20-somethings) in this profession—and this in reference to an industry that everyone thought would go away due to the Internet,” she says.

Hand-Crafted, Personalized Vacations

“It all starts with a conversation,” says Aurelio (facebook.com/aceworldtravel/). “I think people miss the human connection. They wanna talk to someone, they’re tired of pressing ‘one,’ but we're conditioned to accept that as the norm. There’s a huge lack in customer service these days because everything’s so automated and accessible through the touch of screen.” That human connection is the travel agent’s stock-in-trade. The better Aurelio understands a client’s particular preferences and interests, the more exclusive and fine-tuned and authentic the itinerary will be. There’s also the fact that not every travel business sells their services or product online. Some tour operators, for instance, only work business-to-business, which means a travel agent can connect you to services that you wouldn’t find on the web.

According to Margie Jordan, vice president of the TRUE network, a division of the trade organization CCRC, a travel agent's job is best explained as a concierge service. “What I love about travel agents is the personally built relationships. The places I’m recommending are the best, say, hotel I’ve slept in. I’ve been there, I know staff, I’ve talked to them.”

The Immeasurable Value of Insider's Knowledge

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“You wouldn’t go on a DIY architecture website to build your home, would you?” says Paloma. And so it goes with travel agents. An agent spends her career learning the tricks of the trade and building an arsenal of insider knowledge, then advises accordingly. She’ll know, for instance, that the best deals for cruises are available during wave season, so that’s the best time to make your purchase.

Or consider you’re in London and you want to see Paris. A website won’t necessarily suggest that you drop the idea of packing up your stuff and staying overnight. Aurelio will tell you to simply make it a day trip—it’s only a two-hour-ish train ride, after all.

Of course, that insider’s expertise extends far beyond transportation logistics. Giordano’s recommendations are based off years of networking, going to conferences and expos, visiting hotels, going on cruises, and so forth. His vast knowledge of places and people make him a valuable resource when someone has a specific need, like dietary restrictions or a disability. Group trips can also be easier to plan when you sit down with someone who’s seen the layout of the hotels and restaurants you’re considering.

And as the travel industry grows and becomes more specialized, an agent can tailor a trip to niche interests. “What good travel agents are doing is becoming experts in one specific type of segment," Paloma says. "For example, there are travel agents who specialize in family travel, and within that you can find travel advisors who sell to LGBT family clients, or family clients with special needs. There are other advisors who sell wellness vacations, while others dedicate themselves to booking cruises, and still others to destination weddings and honeymoons (there are many millennials, for example, that dedicate themselves to this for obvious reasons)."

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Travel Tips

How to Do Greece on a Budget

Dreaming of lazy afternoons on the Aegean, and mornings spent wandering ancient ruins and quaint cobblestone streets? You’re not alone: Greece is a hugely popular tourist destination, welcoming some 30 million visitors in 2018. But even though demand is high, a Hellenic vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are three tried-and-true tips for stretching those euros as far as they’ll go. 1. Spend Up Front to Save Later A good travel agent will worry about the details for you, freeing you up to explore. (Maya Stanton) We were sipping Aperol spritzes and watching the sunset at an oceanfront café on the island of Naxos when the call came in: The ferries, shut down for the past few days due to high winds and turbulent seas, were up and running again. At this point, we’d already had to rework our itinerary, flying into Naxos instead of taking the boat from Athens and skipping our day in Mykonos, and if we wanted to be on the ferry to Santorini the next morning, we’d need to book it to the nearest ticket office on the double—a chance we would’ve missed without that alert. In most cases, I prefer to DIY my travel, but for this trip, we worked with an agent for just such an occasion: Given the probability of ferry strikes and weather-related cancellations, not to mention a serious lack of communication from the various companies about said cancellations, hiring someone to look out for your interests is a solid investment. Before you plunk down that credit card, though, contact a few places to get quotes (we used Dolphin Hellas; dolphin-hellas.gr), and pay close attention to how quickly they reply, and how thoroughly they address your questions and concerns—you want someone who will move quickly and efficiently on your behalf, and a high level of care and a speedy response time in the planning stages forecasts the consideration you’ll receive on the ground. 2. Travel at the Right Time Sights like the Parthenon won't be deserted in shoulder season, but they'll be much less crowded than they are in the summer. (Anyaivanova/Dreamstime) Looking for a great summer getaway? This is not the place for peaceful days at the beach or leisurely strolls through postcard-perfect villages and towns. Greece is at peak capacity from June to August, meaning overflowing crowds, high hotel rates, and packed-to-the brim restaurants and attractions. To bring down your bill—and avoid the mobs—visit during shoulder season, when the streets may be bustling but elbow room is far easier to come by. In spring and fall, the weather’s just as idyllic, and though you’ll still file in with the hordes to see the Parthenon and navigate the narrow footpaths of Oia, on Santorini, it’s much worse in July. 3. Pick Your Priorities Go cheap on accommodations so you have more to spend on food and drink. (Maya Stanton) The bad news: You probably won’t be able to find a travel agent who’s willing to book your ferry tickets alone. The good: In addition to taking care of the nitty-gritties, like transfers and hotels, as well as last-minute schedule changes, like putting you on a flight when the ferries are canceled and extending hotel stays when necessary, an effective agent will help allocate your dollars to align with your personal priorities. Can’t get a good night’s sleep without downy pillows and luxe linens? They’ll book you in at five-star hotels (and charge you accordingly). Prefer to spend less on accommodations so there’s more in the budget for dining and activities? No judgement—or flea-trap motels—here. Of course, you can do this on your own as well, but since you’re paying for the service, let them reserve your rooms and buy your museum tickets while you do the important work of restaurant research and souvenir shopping.

Travel Tips

10 Apps You Need For Your Next Trip

If you sometimes feel as if your smartphone is becoming your travel BFF, you’re not alone. Consider that nearly half of all travelers have used a mobile device to plan or book a trip, a 2016 global survey from Apteligent found. Mobile apps have also enabled travelers to find hotel deals, dine with locals, and even overcome jet lag. Ready to load up your smartphone for your next trip? These 10 apps will address many of your most pressing travel needs. (And we assume you’ve already heeded our suggestion to download our parent company Lonely Planet’s indispensable inspiration and planning apps Trips and Guides.) 1. NETFLIX: Binge your favorite TV show while you're in the air Missed the latest season of Stranger Things? Catch up on your flight using the Netflix app’s “download” feature, which lets subscribers watch select TV shows and movies on phones and tablets without an Internet connection. To see if the series or movie you want is available for download, you can search the title you want and look for the download icon (the arrow pointing downward to a horizontal line). Not looking for anything in particular? The Netflix app also features an “Available for Download” menu that displays all downloadable content in one place. One caveat: Netflix says that downloading and streaming consume similar amounts of data, so you may want to use a wireless connection, rather than a cellular one, while downloading. Available on iPhone and Android. 2. 7 MINUTE WORKOUT: Squeeze in a quick morning workout To stay in shape on your trip, use the 7 Minute Workout app from Johnson & Johnson. Designed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the company’s Human Performance Institute, the app offers more than 20 pre-set workouts that vary in intensity and duration, and can be customized to fit your fitness level. Also, the app talks you through proper form, and recommends different workout programs as your endurance increases. Available on iPhone and Android. 3. EATWITH: Break bread with locals Want an authentic dining experience while you’re traveling? Eatwith can connect you with locals in more than 130 countries for truly immersive cuisine. From dinner parties to food tours to cooking classes, the app has a variety of culinary events that let you wine and dine with hosts at your destination. The app lets you search for food experiences by price range. It also enables you to filter based on dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, vegan, and Kosher meals. Available on iPhone and Android. 4. NEARIFY: Find live music, comedy, film screenings, and other entertainment on the go One way to discover cool events near you is by using Nearify. The app uses your location to show you happenings like concerts and festivals to cooking classes and sports games. Offered in New York City, London, Boston, Mumbai and hundreds of other cities around the world, Nearify will also send you a personalized list of events at the location of your choice based on your preferences and tastes. Available on iPhone and Android. 5. ROOMIER TRAVEL: Nab sweet hotel room deals from people who can't use theirs Plenty of apps let people book hotel reservations at discounts—HotelTonight, One:Night, and HotelQuickly are a few of them. But Roomer Travel lets travelers score special rates by buying non-refundable rooms from other consumers. The app lets you search for deals based on your destination and travel dates. In addition, the folks at Roomer will automatically double check to make sure your reservation is transferred to your name. Available on iPhone and Android. 6. LOUNGEBUDDY: Escape noisy, overcrowded airport terminals Good news: you don’t need to have an elite status or first-class ticket to access those coveted airport lounges. With LoungeBuddy, members can kill time in more than 280 airport lounges across the globe. Passes start at $25, but the app also lets you gain complimentary access based on credit cards or frequent flyer programs you belong to, so you can make the most of your loyalty rewards. You can even filter by lounge amenities such alcoholic drinks, showers, or kids’ play rooms. Available on iPhone. 7. ROME2RIO: Get around without wasting time or stressing out To maximize your vacation time, use Rome2rio. This app will get you from point A to point B fast and easy. Just enter the town, address or landmark you’re going to and Rome2rio will display flight, train, bus, ferry, and driving options with estimated travel times and fares. A nice bonus: the app will also show you cool things to do when you get to your destination. Available on iPhone and Android. 8. DUOLINGO: Talk like a local Learn how to speak like a native with duolingo. This app shows you how to enrich your vocabulary by offering bite-sized lessons in Spanish, French, German, and more than a dozen other languages. To stay engaged, you’ll play games where you earn points for correct answers. And, unlike a lot of other language apps, duolingo is free. Available on iPhone and Android. 9. SOLOTRAVELLER: Find like-minded individuals Hitting the road alone? Find travel buddies using SoloTraveller. The app lets you make new friends during your trip by connecting you with other solo travelers in your city in real time. It also helps you save money by pairing you people to share taxis, tours, or other travel expenses. You can find a travel mate nearby by searching for people based on age, gender, and interests. Available on iPhone and Android. 10. JET LAG ROOSTER: Beat jet lag Adjusting to a new time zone can zap your energy at the beginning of your trip. One solution is Jet Lag Rooster. The app provides a personalized, hour-by-hour plan to help you overcome jet lag. After you enter your flight details and sleep pattern information, the app will create a customized guide suggesting the best times for bright light exposure (e.g., sunlight) and melatonin to help your body clock adjust. Available on Android.

Travel Tips

Watch Budget Travel on Facebook Live: 'U.S. Road Trips'

Budget Travel's editor in chief, Robert Firpo-Cappiello, will be live on Facebook on Wednesday, March 27, at 1:30 p.m. Eastern presenting “U.S. Road Trips.” (Can't watch it live? No worries - all of our livestream segments are archived on the Budget Travel Facebook page for bingeing whenever the mood hits you.) JOIN US ON FACEBOOK To join our fun, informative discussion, go to Budget Travel’s Facebook page and “like” us. Then, sit back and learn about affordable and scenic drives, from the Pacific coast to the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond. SEND US YOUR TRAVEL QUESTIONS! One of the most informative and entertaining portions of our Facebook Live segments is when readers share their travel questions for our editors to answer live on camera. There are three ways to share your questions with the Budget Travel newsroom: Email us at info@BudgetTravel.com.Post your questions on Facebook during our livestream on Wednesday.Post a comment below.See you LIVE on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, March 27.

Travel Tips

Skincare to Go: 5 DIY Hacks for the Road

It’s happened to the best of us: You arrive at your destination only to realize that you left your moisturizer at home. You’re in a foreign country, and you can’t get a replacement. Who knows what effect a different brand might have on your skin? With or without your favorite product, however, breakouts and dryness could happen—that’s just one way your body might react to the various stressors brought on by travel. But there are ways to get your body back in alignment that don’t have to involve a visit to the drugstore. To get the details on tried-and-true do-it-yourself remedies, we turned to Violet Mkhitaryan, an aesthetician and spa owner who’s carrying the torch for time-tested skincare regimens—no designer products or fancy labels required. A trained biochemist in her native Armenia, Violet long ago realized her preference for the recipes and healthy practices learned at her grandmother's knee, and today, she incorporates those tips and tricks into the additive- and preservative-free products she makes by hand to use and sell at her spa, Violet Skin Boutique (violeltskinboutique.com), in Brookline, Massachusetts. She showed us how to bring some of her long-practiced tactics to modern life, especially when travel calls for you to reboot your bod. 1. Exfoliate to Clean and Refresh Anything abrasive gives your skin a deep clean and helps remove dirt and oil. There are plenty of natural ingredients that’ll do the trick, and chances are you already have them at your fingertips. Violet recommends mixing used coffee grounds with a teaspoon of sour cream, massaging the blend into your skin, and leaving it on for 10 to 15 minutes. The grounds act as an exfoliant, and the cream moisturizes. 2. Renew Your Natural Glow To help close pores, nourish skin, and rejuvenate your look, Violet turns to a dense, soothing slather: a tablespoon of oatmeal blended with a dollop or two of heavy cream. Apply to your face and leave for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse off. 3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate Fruits and vegetables have a higher moisture content than any other food. Take two strawberries, three grapes, and a third of a banana. Mash them together in a bowl with the back of a spoon, add a dollop of sour cream, apply the mixture to your face, and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse and feel refreshed and hydrated. 4. Tone It Up Regardless of whether or not you’re traveling, your skin needs a regular boost. Think of a toner as the skincare equivalent of yoga: It simply gives skin a chance to open up and breath. Violet turns to cucumber or watermelon juice. Use a cotton ball to apply, then lay a tissue over your face as a sheet mask. Let it sit for five minutes, then rinse off. 5. A Simple Cure for Puffiness Nothing can mess with your skin’s moisture levels more than a plane’s recirculated air. At high altitudes, you’re dry. Back on the ground, things can change drastically, especially if you arrive somewhere humid or rainy. The consequences aren't pretty: puffiness, especially around the eyes. According to Violet, though, there’s an easy solution. Massaging your face with ice for a few minutes should help recalibrate everything.

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