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Tag-Archive for "Travel"

Travel agent or not? Nov 18

You decide to go on a vacation, a really nice one, to an exotic location, or at least something more exotic than Aunt Martha’s. How do you decide where to go and how to get there?

You could go online (that’s where you are right now, you’ll notice) and do a little research and reading on the subject of travel (which you’re also doing right now). How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? What about hidden costs, problems you might not think of, secret discounts you don’t know about, pitfalls in processing—many dangers lurk in traveling beyond familiar confines. All that research—and figuring out how the processes work—is time consuming. What’s your time worth?

You might visit a travel agent. Travel agents have an unearned reputation for being expensive. After all, they have offices and all those fancy travel books and posters. All those ads are supplied by the cruise lines and travel companies, and that’s who pays the agent, too, not you, normally. If an agent has to charge you for a service, they will tell you up front. if you’re in a travel club, you can expect the agent to reduce or eliminate the commission, too, further reducing the price.  Ask yourself: What’s a travel agent’s knowledge and experience worth? They know the ropes, pitfalls, they have access to all the discounts, and they’ll save you time—after you get to know a travel agent, one phone call can take care of everything.

Of course, you have the same problem picking a travel agent as you do making travel decisions online: Who’s good? How do you tell? Here are a few ways to take the measure of a travel agent.

  • Does the person have a connection to you? (This rule applies to real estate sales and funeral directors, too.) Relatives, acquaintances, friends, and friends of friends are motivated to take especially good care of you.
  • Is the person well traveled? Especially if they have been to where you want to go, but all travel experience seasons a person to the rigors of travel. A travel agent who has personally been around the block a few times is a fount of wisdom and advice, and they can tell you what to expect.
  • Is the person organized? Not necessarily neat (but that’s a good indicator), but can they find your file immediately? Do they know where everything is? That sort of thing. You don’t want an absent-minded professor as your travel agent. You never (okay, seldom) see a good travel agent surprised by something, and they keep their promises about when they’ll have something ready. They are ready for you when you show up after the first, introductory meeting.
  • Do they answer phone calls and emails promptly? This is a must. Even if they have to tell you they need more time, they don’t make you wait for a reply.
  • Do they want to do a good job for you? You can tell this by the number of choices they present you with. A lazy travel agent won’t research multiple options, won’t hunt for the best price. You see them look up one thing and give you a price. A good agent will hunt down good deals, think of options (a nearby less expensive location, for instance) that you didn’t consider, check with several wholesalers, give you a lot to choose from.

A good travel agent can make your next trip more enjoyable.

See if you get the pun:

Note the sign on the back wall...

(Note the sign on the back wall)

An alternative to cruises Nov 12

Do you like warm climate and exotic locales, but don’t feel a need for the limitations of a cruise’s schedule? Don’t like the extra expenses that you didn’t think of? A cruise ship too small for you?

Consider an all-inclusive resort.

All-inclusives generally have a single price that includes airfare, all food, all beverages, all lodging, all activities, all tips. Cruises can take you to several locations, but the resorts try to make up for it by having a large enough (say, 20 acres) and interesting enough physical plant to make up for the variety of destinations on a cruise.

One resort's accommodations

One resort's accommodations

At an all-inclusive resort you don’t need to go on a paid excursion to take in horseback riding, snorkeling, scuba, sailing, fishing, hiking, and guided tours into town or nearby historic sites. They are included, and generally offered several times a day. You won’t run out of things to do, and the schedule is yours. Not into snorkeling? They have a pool too big to fit on a cruise ship, and at least one resort features big-name video games that aren’t even on the market yet. Maybe you like active (volleyball, tennis) sports or sedate (billiards) games. Included. Not to mention lounging on a really nice beach, or spa services (some of the spa services might be extra), and food.

Maybe golf is your game

Maybe golf is your game

Food! All-inclusives have several restaurants, all part of the package. Calling them “restaurants” might be an understatement. Take your pick of these modifiers: exotic, themed, gourmet, high-class (or casual), always open, sushi, French, Italian, western, seafood, even local.

Beaches is the foremost family-oriented resort, and they have several attractive locations. Sandals is a popular couples and honeymoon location. Do a quick internet search and you can find a pile more.

You can even get married at an all-inclusive. Included, but you have to bring your own spouse-to-be.

The goal of an all-inclusive resort is to offer so many things on site that you feel no need to go elsewhere. Eventually you have to come home, though. When you do, come back to this site and tell us about it.

Another “hidden” cost on a cruise Nov 09

Well, not exactly hidden, but it’s not part of the price you pay to get on the cruise.

Everyone knows that the cruise lines low-ball the fare (and some travel agents, especially, ahem, travel clubs, can discount them even more), for which you get the cabin, the food, the evening entertainment, and many activities. If that’s all you care to do, a cruise is a really, really  good deal. You can stay fairly busy and have a pretty good time without ever leaving the boat.

However, the cruise companies also offer shopping, gambling, and alcoholic beverages on board, and those aren’t free. Justifiably, perhaps—after all, people have so many individual preferences that it’s impossible to include these in a way that would please anyone, much less everyone.

Don’t drink? Gambling against your religion? You’re satisfied with your possessions? You’re still not out of danger. If you’re not into any of those vices, you probably want to do some sightseeing or have an adventure while you’re on shore, right?  After all, you won’t find much snorkeling in Kansas, or catamaran rides, or a Georgian naval base. If you have any intellectual curiosity or spirit of adventure, be prepared to go on a couple cruise-sponsored activities. Every port of call has something worth doing, and unless you speak the language fluently, and have local relatives, you’re ahead to stick with the planned itineraries. Prices range  from $35 to $100, and they have something to suit every taste. They’re worth it. Sign up for something at every port. The memories are worth far more than the cost of the excursion.

Replica of the original Endeavour—the space shuttle was named after this ship

Replica of the original Endeavour—the space shuttle was named after this ship

Here’s a pic of the Georgian (architectural style) naval base, on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean. You can go on a really interesting tour of the place if your cruise ship stops at Antigua.

Another travel comic Nov 05

It relates to the post earlier in this blog about road trips—the part that refers to the zen saying. 299802.fullHere’s a link to the comic’s site: F Minus

Hidden cost of travel Oct 26

Here’s a little item that no travel club will cover for you—your passport. They aren’t cheap, but passports last ten years, so if you spread the expense over a decade, it’s not so bad.

Not having a passport when you need one is really inconvenient, so if you might possibly maybe perhaps travel out of the country in the next ten years, get a passport. You have to bring them an original birth certificate and a copy of it, two passport photos (about $10 at the local camera store), and a credit card, check, money order, or cash.

  • Getting a passport for the first time? Bring a hundred bucks.
  • Replacing an expired passport costs $75.
  • Processing takes 4–6 weeks. Want to have it expedited? That takes only 2–3 weeks, and it’ll set you back another $60.
  • Some large cities have government buildings where you can make an appointment, bring your stuff, and get your passport on the spot. It’s for people leaving in less than two weeks (for example, you have a funeral in Europe) and I don’t know how much extra it costs to go that route.
  • They have a passport card, which costs only $20 if you already have a passport. It’s not good for air travel, but if you’re going by land to Canada, Mexico, or on a cruise it’s all you need.

The Department of State has other fees, and you can pay a service to handle it for you. Here’s a link to the schedule of fees on the State Department’s site. Look around—there’s a lot of information on their site.

Did you experience any glitches when you got your passport? Give us a heads up in the comments section.