Travel Agents: A Healthy Long-Distance Relationship

By Melanie Nayer

travel-agent-laptopRelationships are complicated. Just ask any single woman looking for a new romance, new doctor, new lawyer, new financial adviser, or new dietitian. Throw in a travel agent and now you’re dealing with a long-distance relationship. How will you manage?

There’s much to take into consideration when single women travel: where to go, what time to meet, what to pack, how long to stay and above all else, when single women travel, they must take into consideration their safety. Recent news about ESPN reporter Erin Andrews being secretly taped in her hotel room is just one of many unfortunate situations women deal with while traveling. But what about the other travel mishaps that can happen?

What do you do if your flight is delayed, you’ve missed your connecting flights, and the airline is refusing you travel?

What do you do if you arrive at your booked hotel room, only to discover the hotel doesn’t have your reservation and they are completely booked for the night?

What do you do if you’re stranded in the Costa Rican rainforest and can’t find your way out?

True stories, ladies, and they are more common than you think. But the truth is many of these last-minute travel complications are easily solved with two words: travel agent.

“The best reason to use a travel agent is for the service, and to handle the objective details, which aren’t included when you book online. If you have a good relationship with a travel agent, she enables you to define more clearly what works for you, your objective when you take a trip, and what to define your wishes, more personally,” said Holly Cless of Travel Partners in San Rafael, CA (415-454-5400).

Let’s be clear: Travel agents aren’t magicians. They can’t magically make the plane fly or transport you in a bubble to your next destination so that you make your spa appointment. Travel agents can, however, ensure that you have plenty of time in between flights so that you aren’t running through airports. They can book you at hotels with free extras and ensure your room is available when you arrive. I received over a dozen emails in the past week asking me why I used a travel agent to book my upcoming trip to Australia. After all, I am a travel writer -why do I need help booking travel? Quite frankly, we all lead busy lives and now and again, we need some help pulling it all together.

“Just as you would hire a lawyer to handle your estate or hire an accountant to handle your taxes, travel agents are hired to book your travel,” explains Stacy Small, owner of Elite Travel International, Brentwood, CA (, who helped plan my Australia travel. “We do all the work. If you’re a fast moving business person, you want an agent who will move fast with you.”

Every travel agent is different, so it’s important to find an agent you can relate to. Before picking up the phone, consider what you want out of your vacation.

“You need a travel agent who understands you, your quirks, your desires, and who can deliver what you need,” said Stephanie Diehl, president and personal travel consult of Travel Designed by Stephanie in Chicago, Ill. (

Earlier this year, I enlisted the help of a travel agency to book a trip to Amsterdam and Brussels – two European cities I had never visited. The name of the agency will remain confidential, but I regret to inform you that they were useless. The signs were all there and I chose to ignore them.

  • The agent was pushy and asked “Are you ready to book?” after every sentence.
  • When I asked for an upgrade she tacked on more money to my bill. (Note: A good travel agent will get you the upgrade as part of your overall booking).
  • It took anywhere from 3 to 4 days for this travel agent to respond to emails and phone calls.

This can’t be right. But instead of taking time to process everything, I succumbed to the pressure and handed over my credit card. Big mistake. The hotels didn’t have our reservations, the train tickets in between cities were for the wrong times, and we spent more time running through Europe than we did enjoying the cities.

The lesson, ladies, is simple: If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t, and you’ll do better to walk away. I shouldn’t have booked with the pushy agent, or trusted an agency who cared more about my credit card number than my trip. I compromised my bank account, my travel plans and my safety.

Even well-versed travelers like me make mistakes. I committed to an agent I didn’t trust and for nearly $5,000, I was left disappointed and angry. I swore it was the last time I would let anyone book travel on my behalf.

I spoke too soon.

As my Australia trip started to come to life, I realized I couldn’t possibly plan this journey on my own. Even with all my years of  traipsing around the globe, I needed someone to help with my travel to Sydney. I knew where to get cheap flights to Australia, how far in advance to plan and how to spot a deal. But what I didn’t know was where to stay and what to expect for my money.

I also know that not all travel agents are created equal, so I turned to Small and put my travel plans in her hands. If it didn’t go well…

The following things happened:

  • Small based her recommendations on my personality. She asked me questions about my tastes and preferences. What hotels have I stayed at in the past? What did and didn’t I like about those hotels? I like the finer things, but I am conscience of my budget. Small recommended a few hotels that she was certain I would enjoy. The power was back in my hands, where it belongs.
  • She stayed within my budget, but also found ways to make the most of my money. Travel agents have relationships with hotels so you can expect they’ll get you the best deal. If you want free breakfasts, a car service or planned tours, ask for it.
  • I felt confident that the money I was spending on this trip was a solid investment. I feel safe, I’m not broke, and mostly, I’m excited.

But before your agent can secure you the trip of your dreams, you need to set your own parameters.

What type of vacation are you looking for (family-focused, girlfriend getaways, eco-friendly, adventure travel, etc.)?

What can you really afford?

How flexible are you with your travel dates?

Are you ready to book your trip?

“Consumers need to understand that budget and money are things that no one likes to talk about, but we really need to know. We want to know what level of comfort you have and what type of trip you’re expecting,” explained Diehl.

Ask your travel agent about the fees they charge, what the fees are for, what hours they work and how to get a hold of them in an emergency.

“A good travel agent will be there for you,” said Diehl, who said many travel agents give out their home phone numbers and mobile numbers for round-the-clock access. “It’s OK to give my number to your family. If there is an emergency, I will find you.”

Most importantly, have a little respect. Travel agents aren’t used cars – you won’t get the best deal if you shop around and play ‘beat this price.’ Pitting agents against one another won’t get you a better deal or a cheaper hotel room. Choosing a travel agent is like choosing a doctor – you want to find the one that fits your needs.

“You want an agent looking out for your best interest,” explained Small. “Your repeat business is what’s most important. We want you to come back, so we’re going to work with you to make sure you get what you want.”

What’s the best way to choose a travel agent? Quite simply, it’s a matter of trust. Like a good friend, a good travel agent will be there for you.

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