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Why I Decided to Use a Travel Agent (Despite Cost)

September 24, 2014

tomatoboy pictureAs promised, here’s the first of the lessons I learned when I went on the trip that prompted The Tomatina Diaries.

Everyone loves a great bargain and, thanks to internet travel sites, there’s an abundance of them. In fact, there are so many of them these days that travel agents seem unnecessary. After all, why pay extra to go to an office and talk to someone who can do what you can do at home for a lot less?

And why did I, a man who prides himself on searching for no-frills, no service charge bargains pony up the big bucks to book my trip?

Lots of reasons. So many, in fact that I may add more after I post this, but here’s a good start:

1. I WANTED TO GET IT RIGHT. As I mentioned in my other blog, what started out as a simple trip became complicated when I decided to do a few assignments and started adding cities to my itinerary. Once it started involving lots of details and moving parts, I knew it was time to bring in a professional.

2. I NEEDED SOMEONE WHO KNEW MORE THAN I DID…A LOT MORE. That’s why I searched Angie’s List for a good travel agency, then asked for someone who knew Spain. Although my travel agent had been to Basque country, she hadn’t heard of Hondarribia and that was a bit worrisome at first and we both had to do more research than expected, but she knew more about Spain than I did, she knew the cities I was going to and where the best places to stay were and she could do all the work of contacting railroads, booking tickets and rooms while I could spend the time preparing and packing. Which is as it should be.

3. IT WASN’T AS EXPENSIVE AS YOU MIGHT THINK. Sure, there was a service charge, BUT given the fact that I was flying into one city in Spain, then flying from city-to-city and returning out of another city, she found options that ended up costing a lot less. In fact, by the time it was all done, the fares she found ended up costing a lot less than just the fares I’d found to get in and out of Spain.

4. I SET THE BUDGET. If the image you have of a travel agent is a person who only books the most expensive hotels whereever you want to go, think again. Yes, I knew I was going to pay a lot for this trip of a lifetime, but I told her I was on a budget and she found good hotels that met my needs and my budget….even though I was traveling at the height of the tourist season. Granted, the hotels weren’t as cheap as hostels, but they were right where I needed them to be…even though I didn’t know it at the time.

5. SHE KNEW MY NEEDS BETTER THAN I DID. I still remember being shocked when she asked if I wanted a first class seat on the train ride from Valencia to Barcelona the day after Tomatina. It may have seemed ridiculous, but I went with her suggestion. When I woke up with a tomato hangover the day I was to take the train, I was glad for the assigned seat, the quiet …and the unexpected meal.

6. SHE WAS MY ADVOCATE BACK HOME. Sure, my wife and all my friends were my support network, but if something went wrong on the road, they wouldn’t be able to do much for me except provide a virtual shoulder to cry on. When I was stuck in Paris after the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11th and our travel agent called us at our hotel to tell us she had found us the earliest flights out, we learned that a great travel agent was worth his or her weight in gold. I mean, let’s see a friend or family member try and do that as quickly as she did.

7. THEY’LL TAKE YOUR TRIP TO THE NEXT LEVEL. Since this was the trip of a lifetime, it was very important for me to get it right. And my travel agent helped me do just that. Heck, the agency was even able to get me low cost travel insurance on the day of my departure.

Thanks to Patty Coffey at Passport Travel.

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