As a travel writer and home-based travel agent, I see people make the same mistakes over and over again. Here then are my top suggestions for your next vacation trip.
1. Use A Travel Agent
Let me slay two myths: “Everyone books on the Internet” and “You always get the lowest fare online.” Neither are true.
A good travel agent won’t cost you a cent and can often save you money. For example, if you book a cruise online you might get what you think is a bargain, but you have no control over what cabin they put you in. A travel agent who has a relation with the cruise line can most often get you the same fare and make sure you’re in a good cabin (as opposed to right below the disco or the kitchen) and arrange for special perks like onboard credits or help you select shore excursions for a fraction of what the cruise lines charge.
Today most travel agents charge a modest fee to book airline tickets. But consider this situation: You want to fly to Miami to catch a cruise. The online site quotes you a fare. What you don’t know, but a travel agent will, is that flying into Ft. Lauderdale, right next door, is much, much cheaper.
2. Give Yourself A Breather
It’s not always possible given today’s busy schedules, but try to build in a day or two both before and after a vacation’s main activity. A winter cruise is a joy, but not if a blizzard delays your flight and you miss the sailing. I advise people to fly in a day or two early and see the local sights.
If you are on a week-long “destination heavy” cruise or tour, where you are getting up at the crack of dawn to go see more amazing sights, you may well be exhausted when it’s over. If you’ve reserved a day or two before you fly home you can rest up and sample Paris, Athens, or wherever you are at a more leisurely pace.
3. Get The Right Insurance
The old saying “The large print giveth and the small print taketh away” is particularly apt when it comes to travel insurance, so shop carefully. As a general rule of thumb, the insurance offered by a supplier is never as good as policies available from third parties. You have to choose what’s important to you. A lost bag is one thing, a lost vacation quite something else. A travel agent can help you choose wisely.
The only insurance I routinely recommend, especially to older travelers, is medevac insurance. If something goes amiss, this policy will get you home in class. The savings can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Because these policies are so reasonable and because they click in whenever you are more than 150 miles from home, I carry a multi-year policy (although you can get one just for the length of a trip).
4. Pack Half The Clothes
Most people pack way too much and I’m as guilty as the next guy. Shirts can be washed out in a sink and tuxedos can be rented on a cruise ship. New hi-tech underwear (for men and women) can be washed in minutes and dries in hours, so it’s actually possible to travel for weeks with one set of undies, although I’d recommend an extra pair just in case.
5. Take Twice the Money
You’re on vacation! Shopping for frozen peas and paper towels is the time to pinch pennies.
Kelly Monaghan is a Connecticut-based travel writer and publisher. He teaches people how to be home-based travel agents.