FAQ: How Do I Work With a Travel Agent?

It seems like everyone I meet who finds out I’m a travel agent asks me the same first question. They always say, “I’ve never worked with a travel agent. How does it work?” In order to address this common question, I’ve created a handy infographic!

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Feel Good Friday: The Happiest Part of Your Vacation

It’s Feel Good Friday again! It’s the day of the week where we scour the headlines of the latest travel news and share the warm fuzzies with you!

Today’s Feel Good Friday comes from Huffington Post Travel and features some exciting research about the happiest part of a vacation: the planning!

You can read the entire post HERE, but it comes down to this:

“According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.”

We couldn’t summarize it any better than Huffington Post. “It’s time to face the facts: Vacation is healthy, and more Americans need to be both planning and taking one.”

Guided Tour vs. Independent Exploration

Well, you made it. You somehow navigated those last few hectic work days, packed for every possible scenario, survived the 4-hour airplane ride with negative 5 inches of legroom and you have finally arrived at your hotel! (Or, alternately, you’ve enjoyed your bon voyage cocktail on your floating accommodations for the next seven days!)

Whether you are staying in one location or cruising to multiple ports, all travelers will ultimately make the decision with their travel consultant about destination activities. Specifically, will you have your consultant schedule guided destination tours/shore excursions in port or will you independently explore on your own? Either way, there are pros and cons. See below for some helpful notes on each!

Guided Tours/Shore Excursions

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Shore Excursion: Catamaran in St. Thomas USVI with built-in tour guides, snorkeling, snacks and unlimited rum punch.  A fabulous time!

Pros

  1. Your guides are experts and can give you the most accurate information.When we visited Old San Juan last year, we had not booked a shore excursion onboard. But, once we disembarked in port, we thought we might like to have a guided city tour. We had about 8 hours in port and didn’t want to take up the entire day and we also didn’t want to pay the premium price the cruise line was charging. We happened to bump into a man with a tour bus, just outside the port, who was offering 2-hour tours for $20. His bus was almost full and he seemed legit, so we took him up on his offer. As it turns out, it was a lucky coincidence because he was a local professional Puerto Rico historian who was doing these 2-hour tours on his day off. His day job? Professional tour guide for the rich and famous at an ultra primo resort in San Juan. He told us about his 10-day tour with Vice President Joe Biden, his 3 days with Johnny Depp and his personal favorite client, Mariah Carey. Needless to say, we learned a bunch amazing things about the history of the island, in addition to satisfying our appetite for celebrity gossip.
  2. Scheduled tours will start and end on time, allowing you to plan your day to the full.A great benefit of pre-scheduled tours or excursions is that you receive a reliable timetable. If you know you are leaving for your tour at 8am and returning at 2pm, you can best plan the rest of your afternoon, based on that information. For families, it might be helpful to have scheduled events, so you can work around children’s rest times and keep some of their routines, even though you’re on vacation.
  3. Some experiences are only available to tour suppliers, not the general public.Some guided tour operators can get special access to exclusive hotels (even when they are showing as “sold out”) or are able to provide experiences that even the most influential heads of state aren’t privy to – such as, a lavish dinner on a private yacht situated on the Seine River with a perfect, unobstructed view of the Bastille Day fireworks in France. While anyone can have a wonderful experience on their own in any destination, there are some experiences that warrant a bit of extra planning and budget.

Cons

  1. Guided tours/shore excursions cost money.One reason many choose independent exploration is that guided tours/excursions cost money. While it’s true that many reputable tours and excursions are definitely a great value and give you the most bang for your buck, there is always a risk when money is involved. If you’re unsure about spending the extra cash on a tour, it is helpful to read reviews from previous guests online. Word-of-mouth referrals from friends who have already visited your destination will also help. And never forget that your travel consultant is an expert in certain suppliers and can help you determine whether a structured tour is a good fit for your travel style.
  2. You are at the mercy of the group/tour operator, in terms of pace and speed.Being in a group can be an exercise in patience and discipline. You will find that some group members won’t always respect the time limits put on certain stops on the tour and this might cause delays. In particular, if it’s a walking tour, you will quickly learn that the group is only as fast as its slowest member.
  3. You might feel there isn’t enough time to fully enjoy specific elements of the tour/excursion.On the flip side of the coin, there may be sites that you would like to have more time to explore, but you will feel rushed to return to the group on time. Just as you don’t want to stand around waiting for other inconsiderate guests to return so you can move to the next site, you will want to be on your best behavior and not be the cause irritation for other group members. On one excursion recently, my husband and I thought 3 hours of beach time sounded heavenly, but we found that the time passed rather quickly. It would have been nice to have a bit more relaxation, but we were pretty happy with the excursion overall.

Independent Exploration

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Found the most perfect pina colada in a tiny, off-the-beaten path bar in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico!

Pros

  1. You’re on your own schedule.As long as you return to the ship in time to sail away from port or return to your home base hotel at your pre-scheduled time, you are free to do whatever you like. My husband and I recently meandered through Nassau, Bahamas and lost ourselves in its grid of side streets and alleys. We discovered a pirate museum and a beautiful church that was in the middle of a service, which we quietly slipped into and observed. We ended up on the balcony of the very touristy Bacardi Rum Bar, sipping cocktails and leeching their free WiFi to update our Facebook pages with three days’ worth of vacation photos. It was perfection for us, and we didn’t need any less or any more.
  2. You might find hidden gems that aren’t on a typical tour.Once, on a business trip, I had a free day in Newport Beach, California. I had arranged to meet a friend on nearby Balboa Island for breakfast. Being completely naive of the area, I thought it would be just as easy to walk back to my hotel in Newport Beach as it would be to figure out how to call a taxi or pay for an Uber. So, I started walking. I must say, I was greatly mistaken on choice of footwear that morning and I didn’t realize I’d literally be hiking up some pretty steep hills (might even call them mountains here in Indiana!) I walked along some busy roads and wondered if the cars’ drivers speeding by even noticed me and if they wondered why anyone would be walking on the sidewalk near a highway? But, as I looked for the shortest path, I ended up cutting through some really beautiful, really fancy private neighborhoods. I started a secret game, where I counted how many Lexus’s (Lexi?) were parked on the curb. I happened upon a gorgeous dog park and stopped to watch families lounging and playing with their dogs. And, by the time I reached my hotel several hours later, I felt I had seen the entire city from a fly-on-the-wall perspective.
  3. You can experience true cultural immersion.When I travel to New Orleans, I love to go “off book” and just wander. The French Quarter alone has so many lovely nooks and crannies. And the best part about New Orleans is…she cannot be fully explored in one day, or even in one short vacation. There is always more to her. She’s the only city I’ve been to (so far) that I refer to as a “she” because she’s the one I’ve found to have the most unique personality and ambiance. New Orleans is perfect for independent exploration and, because I already know the language and because the locals are very welcoming, it’s fairly easy to get a feel for the local culture. If you steer clear of some of the major tourist sites and elect to dine in smaller restaurants and visit shops and art galleries and cafes not on the main tourist itinerary, you will sink into her culture. But be warned…you just might fall in love with her.

Cons

  1. You might miss out on local treasures.Particularly overseas, it might be easy to miss some very significant historical or architectural sites if you are on your own. When I traveled to Ephesus, Turkey, we had a full day tour with a knowledgeable tour guide. I was amazed at how much information she shared and pointed out as we perused the city, down to the smallest markings on the pavement! I realized afterwards that, if I would have been on my own, it would have looked like not much more than a bunch of old rocks. As it were, those “piles of rocks” were actually ancient temples, Turkish baths, secret symbols and the remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. My Ephesus experience would have been terribly lacking without that guided tour.
  2. Limited knowledge of the area could lead you to some shady areas.Even in amazing places like New Orleans, which is perfect for exploration, it’s important to know the limits and be aware of safety. When we wandered around Nassau, we did find some great spots, but we also turned down a road that made us feel very uneasy. If you feel in your gut that an area is not safe, it’s best to listen to your intuition. Better yet, do a little bit of research ahead of time and learn about your destination if you plan to explore on your own. Talking to the locals at your hotel is also a good idea before you set off. And always know the local emergency numbers and protocol.
  3. Emergencies in a foreign land can make or break a vacation.Some friends took a cruise to Mexico some years back. Instead of booking the scheduled shore excursion, they reasoned it would be more frugal to rent a motor scooter on their own and make their way to the Mayan ruins. What originally sounded like a great idea turned into a travel nightmare. At one point, the husband lost control of the scooter and his wife’s ankle was badly injured. The scooter rental place was not merciful and took all the remaining cash they had. When they finally made their way back to the ship, they were told they could not board, for liability purposes, until a local doctor had deemed her fit to travel. With no passports, this couple knew they would be stranded in Mexico if they did not get back onto the ship in time.  It was a truly dire situation and they basically had to beg the doctor to wrap her ankle and give them permission to re-board the ship. Thankfully, they made it back onboard in time. But, I’d be willing to bed that this couple wished they’d invested in the ship’s shore excursion when all was said and done. NOTE: This is also a perfect example of the importance of preparation – having a passport and obtaining travel insurance.

In summary, every traveler is different and everyone has a preference on how they spend their time on location. Seeing as there are highs and lows with every option, the best plan is to allow your travel consultant to really get to know you and your travel style. Your consultant will actively listen and help you figure out which specific activities will bring you the most joy and the most value for your travel dollar. Because they have preferred relationships and excellent rapport with hundreds of tour companies and reputable shore excursion guides, your consultant can match you with a fabulous tour itinerary. Or, if you prefer to strike out on your own, your consultant can research the location and give you plenty of jumping off points for your personal itinerary, as well as help you best prepare for the unexpected, should it occur. And, if you’re on the fence, your consultant will be happy to give you a nice mix of both – scheduled and unscheduled activity time. At Dream Destinations Unlimited, we look forward to getting into the nuts and bolts of your vacation, to help you have the most memorable and wonderful experience possible on your dream vacation!

If you’d like to speak with a travel consultant, please reach out via Facebook or give us a call at 812-727-0234!

Know before you go! A travel documentation & prep guide

A topic like travel documentation is certainly not as glamorous as browsing beautiful beach scenes, comparing all-inclusive resorts with luxury cruise ships, or working with your travel consultant to schedule private guided tours in port. It is, however, one of the more important aspects of your travel planning experience. The last thing anyone wants is to arrive at the airport, ready to take a dream vacation, only to be turned away at the gate. Ignoring the subject will only put your significant vacation investment at risk. Read on to learn how to avoid possible travel obstacles before they occur.

Domestic/U.S. Travel

Domestic travel includes any destination in the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and all U.S. Territories. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR’s) who travel directly between parts of the United States, which includes Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands – St. John, St. Croix & St. Thomas, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), without touching at a foreign port or place, are not required to present a valid U.S. Passport or U.S. Green Card. However, it is recommended that travelers bring a government issued photo ID and copy of birth certificate. It also is recommended that you carry proof of your LPR status as all times in the event you are asked to prove your status. This may be in the form of a green card or passport.

These guidelines also apply to cruise ships leaving from and returning to the same U.S. port. For instance, if you are a U.S. citizen and you embark on the Carnival Sunshine from Port Canaveral in Orlando, FL and sail for 7 days to the Eastern Caribbean, you may travel with only your government issued photo ID and birth certificate as documentation. This applies even if you are visiting ports that are not U.S. territories (like the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, etc).

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you choose this method of documentation and you arrive in port and, for any reason, miss your ship’s sailing out of port, you will be stuck in a foreign country without a passport (i.e. without a way to easily return home). The cruise lines are not lenient on this rule. They will leave you in a port if you don’t arrive back at the ship on time. For this reason, Dream Destinations Unlimited strongly encourages all cruise travelers to obtain their passport for any cruise in which foreign ports will be visited. This recommendation is in addition to our standard agency recommendation that every traveler obtain comprehensive travel insurance coverage.

International Travel

For travel outside the United States, a valid U.S. Passport is required. Many countries require that your passport be valid for at least 6 months past the date of your visit. If you have an international trip in the future, it is always good practice to double check your passport expiration date well in advance, and update as needed.

Passports can be obtained by applying at a U.S. Passport Office (in most U.S. Post Offices). Processing time ranges from 4-6 weeks. Expedited service is available, but this can be expensive. Plan well in advance!

NOTE: Planning in advance is key because a passport approval is not a given. For instance, if a person currently owes $2,500 or more in child support payments (even if the person is currently paying arrears to the state and making on-time payments of regular child support), your passport request will be denied. There are ways to set up payment plans and work with the various state and county offices to remedy this, so you can have your passport request reinstated before you travel, but this takes time. Also, some states require a $0 balance before your name is removed from the passport denial list. When in doubt, leave a LOT of room in the calendar before your vacation to handle these details.

BREAKING NEWS: A new bill that has passed both houses of Congress is likely to include a provision that will prevent “serious debtors” of the IRS from getting or renewing passports starting in January. If you owe the IRS more than $50,000, you’d better renew your passport right now.  H.R.22 is in conference, Forbes reported yesterday, “so something could change. But it is expected to pass.” If it does, new section 7345 of the tax code, “Revocation or Denial of Passport in Case of Certain Tax Delinquencies,” will allow the State Department to block Americans with “seriously delinquent” tax debts from obtaining or renewing a passport.

Travel Visas

Some foreign countries (most recently, the European Union nations) require a travel visa for visitors. In many cases, this visa must be acquired prior to travel. The U.S. Department of State has a helpful website with a traveler’s checklist, where you can select your destination country and learn about visa and immunization requirements, as well as any other pertinent travel information, such as personal health, safety, and official travel alerts and warnings.

At Dream Destinations Unlimited, we are committed to helping you with all aspects of your vacation plan. We are happy to counsel, guide and assist you in the process of fully preparing for your upcoming vacation. Feel free to contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your next adventure!

 

 

What Services Does a Travel Consultant Provide?

So, we’ve gone over the reasons to use a travel consultant, as opposed to going it alone when planning your next vacation. But we still hear people asking, “What exactly do you do?”

Allow us to drill down a bit more and give some specific examples of areas where Dream Destinations Unlimited can be of service to you, your family, your friends, or anyone else who ever has the whim of a thought of a vacation floating through their mind. (That’s a hint: we appreciate word-of-mouth advertising more than anything else in the world, so please feel free to share if you have a great experience with us!)

Simply put, Dream Destinations Unlimited would like to be your one-stop shop for all your travel/vacation needs. Although we specialize in cruises and Caribbean Destinations, we are trained in planning and booking everything: cruises, honeymoon vacations, all-inclusive resort vacations, airfare, hotels and lodging, airport/hotel transfers, group travel and onsite transportation. In addition, we are happy to provide you with options for points of interest, events, private/guided tours or excursions, and even dining reservations once you reach your vacation destination. For inexperienced international travelers, we provide additional international travel counseling and information (passports, currencies, cultural considerations, etc). And we will recommend and guide you in selecting a travel insurance plan, to fully protect your travel investment.

Our #1 goal is to create a travel experience for you that is consistent with your dreams, expectations, personal preferences and budget. We want to provide you with exceptional value and we want all of our clients to feel like VIP clients, because that is what they are.

How exactly do we plan to earn your business? This is how a typical vacation planning experience with one of our travel consultants will go:

  • Complimentary Travel Consultation – ALL of our prospective clients receive a complimentary travel consultation before any work on the trip begins. This is an opportunity for us to share how we do business with you. But, more importantly, it is a chance for us to ask you as many questions as we can to discover what your true travel goals and desires are…so we can match you with your perfect, custom vacation experience!  Thanks to the digital age, this consultation can take place in person, by phone, via Skype or e-mail, or any way that is most convenient for you.
  • In-Depth Research – With access to literally thousands of suppliers, promotions and all  the latest travel industry breaking news, we will put in as much time as necessary to search for a vacation that most closely matches your needs. It is important to us to find something you will truly enjoy that will leave you feeling that you received the highest value for your vacation investment.
  • Comprehensive Destination Reports/Itinerary Suggestions – Using an industry tool called Travel42, we will be able to send you full-color, organized, detailed destination reports and itineraries, for your review in the research process. These reports will provide you with special details about your destination, along with multiple lodging, entertainment, event and even dining options. These reports are free to you and included with our first class service.
  • Booking – Once you have decided on a location and we have worked together to make decisions on each aspect of your vacation, we are happy to book all portions of your travel for you. At this point, we will be able to fully lay out the financial side of things and present you with your payment plan.
  • Monitoring – If you have booked anything with price protection, we will monitor any promotions or sales that come up between booking and the time of travel. In some cases, the supplier (like a cruise line) will match best prices and take money off of the final payment due. As your vacation approaches, we will continue to monitor airline schedules, destination-specific breaking news, etc. We will immediately pass along to you any news or information that could affect your travel.
  • On Call During Travel – While you are traveling, we will be ready and available to assist you 24/7, should any needs arise. You will have your consultants direct cell, so you can reach them at any time of day or night.
  • Post-Travel – Dream Destinations Unlimited is happy to take into account any ideas for future travel and will monitor incoming promotions and specials and notify you if there is anything that could be of great value to you. We will keep your personal travel preferences on file, so the next time you book with us, we will know what you love and be fully prepared to provide it for you.

We hope you’ll consider contacting us to talk about your next vacation.

For a complimentary consultation, you can find us on Facebook or Twitter or send us an e-mail!

 

 

Why Use A Travel Agent?

As Dream Destinations Unlimited prepares for official launch on May 1, the most common initial reactions we’ve heard are:

  • Travel agents still exist?
  • Why would anyone use a travel agent when you can do it all online now?
  • I am one of those people who loves to plan vacations. Why would I hire a travel agent to take over one of the most fun aspects of my vacation?

To be fair, the industry has changed dramatically in the last decade or so. Gone are the days when the only way to book an airline ticket was through a neighborhood travel agency. As technology has evolved, the industry has also evolved dramatically to create a new breed of travel agent. In fact, the title of agent doesn’t seem to fit the bill any longer. More fitting titles would be: travel adviser, travel consultant or travel concierge.

Today’s breed of agent is no longer utilized primarily for booking travel…rather, they are prized for their  deep knowledge of the industry, their destination and niche expertise, their relationships and connections with suppliers and consortia, their full service planning capabilities (down to dining reservations and guided tours), and their ability to deliver clients the most enjoyable and personalized travel experiences of their lives.

As if that weren’t enough, here are a few practical benefits of working with a travel consultant on your next vacation:

  1. Lower Prices – Because travel agents are often members of consortia organizations (like Ensemble Travel Group, Signature Network or Vacation.com), they are able to access offers that the average traveler doesn’t ever see. You might be thinking, “I can book the cheapest rate on my own by booking directly with the hotel/cruiseline/car company.” Right? Not always. Many times, agents are given package prices that are not available to the public. So, even if you end up paying an up front agency/professional fee for research and planning, you might still get a better deal than if you’d booked on your own.
  2. WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get. This is not always true when booking with large online travel engines. Sure, those deals may look wonderful, but even with fellow traveler reviews, how do you know for sure that your hotel is in a safe place or that you are getting the most you can possibly get for the money you are paying? How do you know the one-size-fits-all package you are booking will turn out to be exactly what you’re looking for in your next vacation? You just don’t. At Dream Destinations, every potential client receives a complimentary vacation consultation. In this consultation, we will share the business side of what we do and, more importantly, we will ask you a lot of very specific questions and actually listen to your answers. We will figure out what you are truly looking for in a vacation and we will get to work to make your vacation as enjoyable as possible, so every penny of your money is an investment in a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
  3. Payment Options – When you book a trip on one of the online engines, you can find some pretty great deals. But you will pay for the entire vacation up front. For travelers that don’t have that kind of cash on hand all at once, using an agent can be helpful, as they are sometimes able to work out easy-to-manage payment plans.
  4. More Availability – If you listen closely, you will hear stories of hero agents who have secured reservations for clients at a sold out property. Sometimes, agents have access to a block of rooms or cruise cabins that have been pre-reserved especially for their consortia members or their own clients. Other times, well…the agent really is just a rock star and they pull every string in the book to get the client a room in that “sold out” hotel. Remember, suppliers like working with agents and will do things for them because of their previous relationship and camaraderie.
  5. Security/Backup – Even if you’ve purchased travel protection insurance, any number of scenarios could disturb or interrupt your travel. When you agree to work with an agent, you are locking in the agent’s attention, support, advice and guidance – not just in the planning phase of your vacation, but during and after your travel as well. Think of your agent as the angel on your shoulder. Natural disaster in your destination? Flights canceled? Missed a connection? If you booked online, you would be on your own. Use an agent, though, and you can breathe easier…knowing you’ll be taken care of in the event that something goes wrong.
  6. VIP Treatment – Because your agent has connections with travel consortia and suppliers, they are able to pull all sorts of strings to impress you. Why? Because they want nothing more than to impress you again when you come back to them for your next vacation…and your next after that. In addition to familiarity and knowledge of your personal travel preferences and needs, agents constantly have access to special perks, upgrades, treats and surprises that they will use to benefit you on your dream vacation.

So, do better deals, personalized attention, flexible planning and VIP status sound good to you? Dream Destinations Unlimited welcomes the opportunity to serve as your vacation concierge. From now until April 30th, anyone who likes our Facebook page and messages us to be added to our Launch Wait List for a complimentary vacation consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype) will receive a 50% discount on agency fees if they decide to go ahead and work with us to book their travel (no obligations to purchase).

Also, please follow us on Twitter and share with your friends!