Sunday, July 12, 2015

Top 4: Reasons to Use a Travel Agent

Disclosure: I'm a librarian.  I do research for a living and for over 20 years I have researched all of our trips and done a fine job.  So, using a travel agent wasn't on my mind. I was really surprised at how helpful it was to have someone else take the research burden off my plate.

Reason 1: To Manage YOUR Time More Effectively

However, one of the reasons to use a travel agent is so YOU don't have to do the planning and the research. This year, work was  overwhelming.  I mean, it is always a whirlwind, but added to that, I was our association's president and our association was going to have its annual conference in our city, and I was co-chair of the planning committee.  I was a little stressed.  Vacations were going to have to take a back seat.  Someone else was going to have plan it for me.

Who Do You Choose?

The first thing you want to do is find a travel agent who you can talk to and who you enjoy working with.  You and your travel agent will be phoning, texting and emailing, so trust is essential.  Also, if you don't get their sense of humor or find if you find them annoying, you are not going to have a good time planning your trip and remember, you need to plan months in advance (at least I do).  So, if their personality doesn't gel with yours, move on and find someone else.  Fortunately for me, I had Chip at Oceans and Lands Custom Travel Planners.

My travel agent Chip Barker, he looks a bit angelic here, but don't let that throw you.  He works miracles.
Funny, sweet and uber helpful, he was the perfect match.

Reason 2: Are You Going Someplace Odd, Travel Agents Are Helpful with the Odd

Chip had his work cut out for him because we had asked for our trip to fly into Edinburgh then we wanted to drive to the Isle of Skye, spend some time and then drive to the Orkneys and spend some time.  Oh, and we had 10 days.  Work your magic. Of course, we had no idea of the distances. And poor Chip, I had sent him this crazy ass itinerary that I found for a 16 day itinerary as an example meaning, this is Skye and Orkney, we want to go only to those places...but did I say that? No.  So, for two days Chip was thinking, How do I get these people into all of these places in 10 days? Then we talked.  He was relieved. All was good.

Our approx. route: Edinburgh to Skye off to the left and then up to Orkney.  Then it would have been straight back to Edinburgh skipping Skye on the way back.  Only 8.5 hours to drive back.

See why I say it is crucial to have a travel agent who is on the same page and who you have a good working relationship with?  Instead of drop kicking me out the window, Chip started asking me lots of questions (rather like a good reference librarian 8-), like, how many days did we want to stay in each place? Did we want a rental? Automatic? This is very important because automatics require booking ahead and reserving.  Most people don't have automatics there.  And they don't have air conditioning, which Chip also got for us.  And a GPS (mandatory for international, IMHO). 

Not only did Chip do the usual car rental, air fare, but he also figured our all of Scotland's confusing ferry system for us and got us booked and paid for to and from Orkney as well as reservations on two ferries to two different islands for scenic trips, which was a major hassle.  Certain ferries only take people where other ferries will take people AND cars. But the website will let you make a reservation for ALL of them.  GRRRR.  Leave it to Chip to figure it all out for us!

Reason 3: Quality of Accommodation Is Maintained

Since this was a vacation where we were staying in three different spots (Edinburgh, Skye and Orkney), it would have been easy for me to just look up three B&Bs, book them and then be done with it.  In fact that's what I did last time we went to Scotland and England.  And let me tell you the difference between my bookings and Chip's bookings:

Quality of accomodation.  I thought I was concerned with that as well.  But my places were all over the place in terms of size and quality.  In one, we literally couldn't open up a suitcase and open the door to the room.  Chip's list on the other hand maintained a consistent size of room and quality of furnishings and sundries.  Additionally, the service was always top notch.  

Scottish B&Bs

The view from our room in Skye at the Duisdale House.
 Checking into the Duisdale House was great.  We were greeted by a lovely water view, which also happened to be the view out our bedroom window.

The Duisdale House
 Duisdale House itself was very well maintained and charming.

Our lovely and comfy bed at the Duisdale House.
 Our room was extra cozy, with a four-poster bed, down comforter and the largest bathroom.  It was super.

The amazing garden view from our B&B The Quoy at Houton in Orkney.
 The Quoy at Houton was a luxury B&B.  The service here was at least at a 6 star level.  The gardens were fabulous, the room was so sweet and comfortable and our yummy breakfast was on fine china with crystal.
Here's a view of the house where our room was.  We were on the second floor on the right.
 Lovely view, amazing room, and the best service we have EVER had.
It was all so relaxing, you didn't want to leave.

Are You Really Communicating?

There was one hiccup.  And it was my fault.  My husband said that he wanted a hotel close to the airport for our last night. He meant extremely close, as in almost walking distance, turn the rental in and take a taxi close.  I didn't really understand that desire.  The turn the taxi in bit.  So when Chip and I were talking about the last night and he said he had found a great place Melville Castle, I said, Fred wants to be close to the airport.  Chip said the hotel was near the airport.

At this point, Fred and I aren't communicating and Chip and I aren't communicating and I am the one who needs to be in charge of defining terms.  What is near?  What is close?  And I let it go.  It's on me.  You need to be sure that all of these places are where you want them to be. And you need to double check with the people you are traveling with that their needs are being met as well.  Don't wait until the end, or the end of the trip. Fred drove 1300 miles on the other side of the road and was stressed and wanted it to end. My advice is to make sure that you know what your partners real fears and anxieties are.  I didn't realize that he was so stressed about driving.  I was a bit too carefree about it.  The last hotel was the only one that looked great on the outside, was roomy on the inside and yet, was not updated.  Everything else was amazing.

Reason 4: Organization - All Confirmations in One Place

When Chip had it all finished for us, he sent me a document that had all of our ticket info, our ferry confirmations, our hotel confirmations and a day by day itinerary with links to maps on how to get to each place along with space to write in daily activities.  It was a trip planning document, perfect for the obsessive organizer that I am.  Everything was at my fingertips.

By this time, I had time to do some planning and I was able to take that doc and then plan all of my restaurants and side visits to museums and sights around town. It was so helpful to have everything else worked out.

All in all Fred drove 1300 miles in a country that is breathtakingly gorgeous.  We stayed in gorgeous places, ate great food and visited castles, museums and 5,000 year old monuments that were just outrageous.  It wouldn't have been as smooth and as nice a trip without the hard work that Chip did for us.  If you would like to see our photo album, just click here. If you haven't tried a travel agent in a while, I recommend it.  You can leave the big stuff to them and plan the little stuff like restaurants, museums, etc.  If things go wrong, you have someone to call.