Book it yourself or use a Travel Consultant? - Ten things to consider!
It’s vacation time and you are hyped to get things underway to make your trip and all related plans a super memorable and positive event. So, what do you do to get things started? You've got your items-to-pack checklist naturally headed by packing your Pillowpacker inflatable travel pillow! One of the first things to consider is whether or not to use a travel consultant or take the DIY approach.
With every choice in life there are likely Pros and Cons and of all the things to consider about vacation or trip planning, this first step is probably the most important one you will make. Doing so with eyes wide open with awareness of potential (or probable) pitfalls is sage advice.
Here is a list of some of the most important things to consider when making this vital choice. Frankly this list could go on and on but according to Carole Gobeil, Travel Specialist with Far Horizons, these deserve particular attention:
- Are your plans simple or complicated?
- Are there deadlines or inflexible aspects to your trip?
- Is saving money (real or perceived) your most important criterion?
- Are you tech-savvy or some grade of Luddite; do you have time to do all the research and credibility checks of the on-line offers you will come across?
- Are you a “seasoned” traveller with some real world awareness and healthy skepticism about what you see on-line?
- Are you familiar with important aspects of your destination like is it monsoon season (hence low rates) or a civil war (hence low rates)?
- If you hit a major snag would you want a “help line” to call?
- Are your funds protected if you transfer your payment to a small agency operator in a foreign country if you book directly? Will they be there when you arrive?
- Who will help you with accurate information regarding recommendations regarding immunization, visas, legal entries into foreign countries, etc.?
- Have you considered travel insurance?
As mentioned earlier, this list is not exhaustive but should whet the appetite of travellers who have come to this T-intersection in their planning stage. Let’s have a look at each point:
Are your plans simple or complicated? If you are travelling to a single destination, staying relatively put, and then returning home then on-line booking may be a low risk option. However if you are planning a multi-city or multi-country route with connections and various modes of transport with accommodations or special needs then this is where Specialists can really earn their way.
Are there deadlines or inflexible aspects to your trip? To no one’s surprise the wedding you are trying to attend will proceed whether or not you get there unless you are either the bride or the groom. Who will fill in for you to give your company presentation to potential new clients if you booked connecting flights with inadequate time between flights? So the more your travel plans are skewed towards the “inflexible” side of the scale the more you should consider using an industry Specialist.
Is saving money (real or perceived) your most important criterion? Who doesn’t want to save money? But are the savings real or based on marketing material from suppliers? Do you have time and expertise to drill down and check out the validity of these offerings? This is a subjective call every traveller must make and then proceed with eyes wide open. What is your hourly rate for all that time researching, to only question your results at the end?
Are you tech-savvy or some grade of Luddite; do you have time to do all the research and credibility checks of the on-line offers you will come across? On-line booking of simple plans as mentioned above may not need special technical talent. But, wherever there are on-line promotions there are inevitably imbedded links that can easily get the less tech-savvy browser lost in the detail and unable to get back to some earlier website. Can you quickly navigate in and out of secondary or deeper searches needed to validate claims or read reviews? Again, you be the judge.
Are you a “seasoned” travel with some real world awareness and healthy skepticism about what you see on-line? I have a saying “if you don’t travel you don’t have stories”. Not always good stories either. Sleeping in airports, borrowing or buying clothes while your luggage takes its own journey, finding out your hotel room doesn’t quite match the brochure pictures, sitting in a window seat or between or beside people you’d never add to your Christmas card list….on and on. The more one travels the more one realizes that things happen, surprises happen (seldom good ones) and travel experts can often mitigate if not entirely prevent most of them, or at least prepare you with options if you do hit snags.
Are you familiar with important aspects of your destination like is it monsoon season (hence low rates) or civil strife (hence low rates)? Or wondering why flights are full around February to Asia (because of Chinese New Year). So you’ve read the brochure (what I call marketing fluff) or seen the TV ad extolling all the virtues of a place with happy, singing, frolicking people all having a great time. Their on-line site get you quickly to browse all the positive aspects of their particular location. A click or two and all is done and dusted; what could be easier? Well, let’s talk about a few. There is now a TV advertisement promoting a country that has been in a civil war for years and still is! Try and find reference to this on their site…..nope! How about tropical storms or monsoon season being highlighted? Not likely! Maybe kidnappings or prevalence of pickpockets of related dangers, travel warnings from your government agencies? Sorry, missed those too! But, have we got great rates for you! Caveat Emptor really applies to exotic or unfamiliar global destinations and again, given your tolerance to risk or travel experience, on-line bargains may prove to be somewhat less than expected.
If you hit a major snag would you want a “help line” to call? Again, this is a personal choice based on experience and level of risk tolerance so one size fits one. But say you need to quickly find a reputable translator or guide to help you clear up misunderstandings, confusion, missing or lost items at some crucial juncture, who you going to call? A person you personally know back home or a 1-800 number that is answered by a call centre likely after you have heard how important your call is to them for 20 minutes or more? The choice is, as always, up to you.
Are your funds protected if you transfer your payment to a small agency operator in a foreign country if you book directly? Will they be there when you arrive? Are you even aware that a transfer has occurred as it may happen through software on the site? What questions do you ask to clarify this potential issue and get assurances you are protected?
Who will help you with accurate information regarding recommendations regarding immunization, visas, legal entries into foreign countries, etc.? This point sort of speaks for itself!!
Have you considered travel insurance? This is a question you should rate on your own “tolerance to risk” scale. As an example, you opt to not buy insurance on a $500 trip and you lose your money because of some unforeseen development, that’s a pity but likely survivable. How about if you’ve spent $10,000 on your trip? Do you roll the dice?
So, in summary, and as with most things in life, we are free to make choices and travel planning is increasingly offering the option to do it yourself. A healthy dose of skepticism about savings and benefits will serve any traveller well. Weighing the pros and cons of going it alone versus with the help of a travel expert based on the points outlined in this article should increase the odds for travellers having a more enjoyable vacation and prepare them better for future ones!
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