Monthly Archives: May 2013

Island Hopping.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

One of the gifts of working in travel is the wide network of colleagues you meet along the way.  Across air, car, cruise, destinations, hotels, travel advisors, tour companies, and event specialists—we’ve cumulatively traveled the globe!  So it’s always a treat when you run into each other because chances are someone will have just returned from a trip.  One of the features of Ports Are Calling will be a Q&A with industry insiders—or people who have a thing for travel—to spread the word, share a moment or shine a light on a particular destination or travel experience.   I recently caught up with Catherine Reilly, Managing Director, Brendan Vacations, Ireland.  When she’s not crisscrossing her motherland, Miss Reilly can often be found hiking near Lake Como or exploring a new destination experience.  Because she’s blessed to travel so much, she considers herself a “privileged delinquent” and it was good to learn about her recent visit to Easter Island.

Rapa Nui view from the top.  (Photo credit:  Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Rapa Nui view from the top. (Photo credit: Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Q:   What inspired you to travel to Easter Island?
A:   I’ve visited South America several times, places like Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Galapagos  Islands, the Amazon Rain Forrest, Iguassu Falls, and the wonderful cities of Santiago, Quito, Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima and more. I love this continent and this time a visit to Easter Island fitted nicely into my travel plans.

Q:  So you obviously have a thing for South America.  What is it about that continent that attracts you?
A:  Reading about South America as a child I think I was first attracted by the wonderful place names, Paraguay, Uruguay, Patagonia, and Lake Titicaca.  Now as a traveler I am inspired by its ancient civilization and culture, that’s what draws me back again and again. 

Q:  Do you think that might have something to do with the ancient history that’s in your bones as an Irish woman?
A:  In Ireland all around us we witness our ancient civilization.  At Newgrange for example we have a structure built thousands of years ago that remains today. At Machu Picchu the ancient civilization of the Incas is powerfully presented to us and through the statues on Easter Island we learn about the ancient Polynesians.  The debate continues as to whether these structures, temples, monuments were built to venerate their dead or worship their Gods, or were there other reasons? That said, the fascination is with the people who built these amazing places and things with such engineering skills, knowledge of geometry, astronomy, and respect for their environment. Today we visit, stand in awe and remind ourselves they didn’t have metal yet!

Unfinished Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

Unfinished Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  What about Easter Island surprised or fascinated you?
A:  The locals refer to their island as Rapa Nui and you visit to see the Moai (not statues). Interestingly, ‘Rapa Nui’ is the name of the country and the local language and ‘Rapanui’ refers to the people.  The island is so small, about 26 miles long. The biggest attraction is, of course, the Moai, there are so many of them and they are all over this little island and they’re so big.  They’re not protected in any way, so the island relies on the visitor to treat these treasures with respect. What’s fascinating is not just the monumental stonework and the amount of effort it took to build the Moai, there is also the mystery of why the islanders toppled them all over.

The Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

The Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  They’re statues but the Moai sound like more of a presence?
A:  Oh, absolutely, yes, the energy on the island is amazing.  It’s like when I walk around some places in Ireland, I feel like I’m walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.  There is a presence on Easter Island and when you visit Rano Raraku, the quarry where there’s something like 400 of these statues still there in various stages of carving, some are half-finished and some are just heads, it’s like one day, the people making them just all up and left.

Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Easter Island. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Aside from the Moai, were you drawn to any particular part of the island?
A:  My favorite place on the island was the Rano Kau, a crater shaped like an amphitheater. When I arrived at the crater it was clear just how remote it all is, truly wonderful, you’re just surrounded by the big, blue ocean.  The island is Ireland green, and the ocean around it is all different kinds of blue and turquoise, and every time you look at it you can see a different color.

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  A. Reilly)

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island. (Photo credit: A. Reilly)

Q:  How’s the island hospitality?
A:  It’s fantastic, super friendly.  The population on Easter Island is approximately 5,500.  It’s governed by Chili and 60% of the islanders are Rapanui, and the rest are from the mainland. Most of our guides were Rapanui and they were all very proud to share their stories.  The islanders are extremely welcoming. The post office will even stamp your passport with a Rapa Nui stamp!

Q:  Where did you stay?
A:  I stayed at the Explora lodge, which is five miles from Hanga Roa, where 95% of the population lives and the only place on the island with electricity and running water. There are hotels, restaurants, mini markets and the usual souvenir shops. The local currency is the Chilean peso but you can easily use US dollars. 

Q:  How’s the local cuisine?
A: The food was excellent, great variety, with lots of fresh fish and vegetables. It was all very tasty and healthy. 

Q:  Any interesting experiences?
A:  One of the traditions on the Island is a triathlon with the difference being that it takes place during the Tapati festival in February. It’s only open to Rapanui men, and one of our guides participates each year so it was interesting to hear about it from his perspective. It’s a race that requires extreme stamina. The contestants paddle across the lake 650m in canoes made out of reeds. They then pick up enormous heads of bananas and run one and a half times the circumference of the lake. They then swim and surf across the lake atop a reed surfboard. The men are very scantily clad for this competition.

Q:  How many days do you recommend to visit and what time of the year is the best to go?
A:  I travelled there with LAN, a South American Airline from Santiago.  The flight was just under six hours and there’s daily service. I travelled in the off-season in April, there was some rain but I was able to see the Moai practically alone. It’s quite remote, the island is situated in the Pacific Ocean, half way from the coast of Chile and Tahiti, three full days are a must. The Tapati Festival happens in February and that’s peak time to visit.

Q:  Most people over pack for trips, what do you recommend for an Easter Island visit?
A:  You’re visiting a special place that so few others have ever set foot, so bring an open mind.  After that, all you need is casual clothes and comfortable walking shoes—something closed toe is good, not flip-flops or sandals. High season is January through March but the weather is fairly good for the remainder of the year, so I’d recommend sunscreen and a hat.  Pack a light rain jacket for an off-season trip.  It’s an island so there are beaches where you can swim, and for divers there are caves to explore.  Make sure you have plenty of memory card space and batteries for your camera.

Q:  Why should people visit Easter Island?
A:  Because it’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world with a unique history and archaeological wealth greatly disproportionate to its size. A visit to the island will unlock some of the mysteries associated with Rapa Nui, sort out the facts and fiction.  

Q:  Do you recommend hooking a visit to Easter Island onto any other destinations?
A:  For sure—Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil.  Chile and Easter Island for example.  Chile is home to some of the most beautiful and exotic scenery in the world, from the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, to the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park in the Extreme South, not far from Antarctica, to the beautiful city of Santiago and the nearby vineyards—the itinerary choices we can design here are as diverse as they are endless.  Brendan’s team, Boutique Journeys, creates amazing South American itineraries and extensions to Easter Island.

Empire of the Incas, Peru.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Empire of the Incas, Peru. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Easter Island is considered something of a “bucket list” destination.  How popular is it for Brendan customers?
A:  It used to be difficult to get there but flights have increased and it’s becoming more popular for us each year. When you consider that only a total 4,000 travelers visited the island in 1989 from all over the world and in 2012 that number increased to 85,000.  That’s still a small number in global tourism terms, but when you think of the size of the island and the number of inhabitants a different picture emerges.  If tourism continues to grow, they’re going to have to protect the island in some way because it’s a heritage site. They will probably have to restrict visits, like they do on the Galapagos and on the Inca trail. It’s not a place that you can get to easily so the folks who book with us tend to have a traveler, not a tourist, mindset. They’re not looking for the creature comforts—they’re looking for an experience.  The Brendan team does an excellent job in managing expectations and matching the needs of the customer with the experience

Q:  So it sounds like the ideal thing would be to figure which South American country you’d like to explore and build Easter Island into the itinerary.  If anyone is interested in booking a trip with Brendan to discover Easter Island, what should they do?
A:  That’s easy, they just talk to their travel agent!

 

 

 

 

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Sunshine Of Your Love.

Cape May, NJ.  (Photo credit: destination360.com)

Cape May, NJ. (Photo credit: destination360.com)

Like a lunch hour, this Memorial Day weekend is a good time to take a break, hook up with friends, or just pause to think about what you’d like to do this summer.  Maybe you’ll pack a bag and hit the high road in search of a life-changing experience, or hightail it out-of-town for some rest and relaxation.  Whatever you’re in search of, don’t discount discovering it in destinations a little closer to home or on the East Coast.  The areas that took a beating from Hurricane Sandy are ready to throw their arms wide open to visitors.

From Cape May to Montauk, Atlantic shorelines and state parks are working fast and furiously to welcome beach goers this weekend.  For those of us who live in the region, these towns and beaches are paradise after a long and dreary winter.   No car?  No worries!  Depending on your point of interest, you can easily hop a train, bus or ferry to visit.  The New Jersey Shore is open for business—that’s the rallying cry up and down their coastline—and southern shore towns are absorbing visitors that traditionally travel to areas further north, where it’s taking a bit longer to recover from the storm’s damage.  Long Island beaches and state parks will re-open this weekend with limited access in some areas.  In the borough of Staten Island, new, modular units made in Pennsylvania will be transported to the beaches to replace the comfort stations destroyed by Sandy.   They look pretty cool and New York City has invested a nice chunk of change for these units, which will pop up this summer in Coney Island and the Rockaways as well.  This is all good news.  These beaches may not all be 100% perfect but the point is, they’re working hard to make sure they’re ready for you.

The famous Rockaway boardwalk is gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the seashore.  The damaged concession stands are being rebuilt but in their absence NYC food trucks will be out to serve the good grub they’ve become known for on the city’s streets.  Sandy wiped out Rockaway Taco‘s boardwalk café, but fingers crossed, they’ll be up and running soon because these folks dish out some of the tastiest Mexican food this side of the Yucatán, especially their fish tacos.  For anyone with plans to visit the area this weekend—or over the summer—you might want to check out their main location inland, until their beach site is back in service.

Surfing in Rockaway with New York Surf School.  (Photo credit:  New York Surf School)

Surfing in Rockaway with New York Surf School. (Photo credit: New York Surf School)

The surf’s been up with weekend lessons at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, which welcomes all age groups.  If you start now by the end of June they’ll be able to help plant you on a board any day of the week.  Where there’s surfing, there’s yoga on the beach and nothing feels better than a seaside downward dog.  If you’ve got it in your head to transform yourself, check out the Surf Club’s combined retreat.  “A” train subway service to the Rockaways starts back up on May 30, which makes getting there a breeze.

Fort Defiance cocktails.  (Photo credit:  maurice-pundit)

Fort Defiance cocktails. (Photo credit: maurice-pundit)

And then there’s Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood that took a massive hit by Sandy, but true to its tough reputation, is pretty much back in business.  If you’re in NYC this weekend, or you’re a local without plans to get away, here are a few suggestions for a visit to that part of town.  First, start out early.   It’s a funky, waterfront neighborhood that gets great light.  If you fancy a killer cocktail, pay a visit to Fort Defiance, a cafe-bar where owner St. John Frizell will shake up something special for you.  If you can tear yourself away, head across the road to Dry Dock and grab a chilled bottle of whatever white wine wets your whistle, then bop over a few blocks to the Red Hook Lobster Pound for the plumpest and tastiest lobster rolls outside of Maine.  This urban lobster shack is BYOB, so there’s no reason not to run there.  For a more upscale dining experience, book a reservation at The Good Fork, where you’ll enjoy standout food and excellent drinks in a welcoming atmosphere.  If you still have any steam left in you, shimmy on over to Hope & Anchor.  This local diner serves up a few twists on a traditional menu and has a full bar, but it’s the weekend karaoke that has this place pulsing and will get you to unleash your inner rock star.

Hope & Anchor.  (Photo credit: gwenthysfullbrew.com)

Hope & Anchor. (Photo credit: gwenthysfullbrew.com)

The communities affected by Hurricane Sandy last Fall want you to know the welcome mat is out this summer. Memorial Day is about honoring our veterans but we can also take this time to acknowledge all the volunteers—both local and visiting—who dedicated their blood, sweat and tears, to help get these areas back on their feet.  They’ve added new meaning to “summer of love.”

Whether you’re planning a stay-cation or vacation—relax, kick back, appreciate your surroundings and enjoy yourself.  Happy trails!

Journey Through Time.

As kids, our parents decided where we’d go for vacations.  For many of us, that usually meant traveling by car.  If we were fortunate, we got to travel by plane and walk off with tin wings pinned to our shirt–and that made us hot stuff.  But we don’t need a visa stamp, or t-shirt, or pin to prove we’ve been some place.  Journeys aren’t defined by physical space, and in that sense travel knows no boundaries.

My brother’s ticket stub. It was Sunday night and the gig was just starting at 10PM! (Photo by author.)

This morning I woke to the news that Ray Manzarek, original founder of The Doors, had died and it took me back to my first solo trip.  It wasn’t on a plane, train or automobile.  In fact, I was lying on my bed when I heard the opening chords to Light My Fire drifting out of my older brother’s bedroom.  The sounds of Manzarek’s Vox Continental organ were dark and moody and my mind quickly welcomed them.  I hadn’t yet heard anything like it and that sound invited thoughts and feelings I’d never experienced.  My mind took off and I didn’t need a license, ticket or passport to get there.   My brother turned me on to a lot of music but my apprenticeship under him of The Doors was like an unchartered journey.  Jim Morrison might have been front and center but remove the unique sound of Manzarek and The Doors become unhinged.

Ray Manzarek (far right) and The Doors.  (Photo credit: blogsfagate.com

Ray Manzarek (far right) and The Doors. (Photo credit: blogsfagate.com)

It’s a bittersweet day for Doors’ fans but Manzarek is another great example of why it’s so important to learn and adapt to new things.  His talent, combined with those of his band mates, made if difficult to peg The Doors as just another rock band.  The man was constantly innovating, learning and experimenting.  After The Doors disbanded, he continued to play and collaborate with other bands and musicians.  Jazz, poetry, and books…the man had it going on.  The Light My Fire lyrics, “the time to hesitate is through; no time to wallow in the mire,” may have been written about passion but they easily apply to all of us, travel agents included, who suffer from any form of inertia when it comes to learning something new that might help unleash our potential.  There are no boundaries, only the ones we make for ourselves.

Ray Manzarek, 2012.  (Photo credit:  Commons.wikimedia.org)

Ray Manzarek, 2012. (Photo credit: Commons.wikimedia.org)

Once you open the doors of perception,” Manzarek said, “the doors of perception are cleansed, they stay cleansed, they stay open, and you see life as an infinite voyage of joy and adventure and strangeness and darkness and wildness and craziness and softness and beauty.”

I spent time on The Crystal Ship long before I boarded any cruise ship.  I’ll miss you Ray, thanks for the never-ending journey.

It’s Been A “Pleasure” To Serve You.

Ellen Church, 1930. (Photo credit: Upmagazine-tap.com)

Ellen Church, 1930. (Photo credit: Upmagazine-tap.com)

Yesterday, in 1930, marked the day Ellen Church made history when she became the world’s first airline stewardess to work a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Cheyenne, Wyoming.   Her first career was as a registered nurse but Church was so thrilled by the idea of air travel that she took flight lessons.  The girl had moxie, and once she earned her wings she set her sights high by requesting a job as a pilot with Boeing Air Transport.  While that request didn’t fly, she still wanted to, so she swiftly parlayed that rejection into a savvy idea.  She offered up the suggestion to put nurses on flights to aid passengers’ fear of flying and it took off.

aeromoca-697x700

United Airlines stewardesses.

Those of us who’ve been flying the friendly skies for a while can probably recall the days when airline travel was glamorous, but it didn’t start out that way for Church and her colleagues.  Back then stewardesses were more than just nurses in the sky.  They also had to help pilots push planes into the hangar, load luggage on to the plane, fuel the aircraft and screw down seats.  Then they had to work the flight.  Physically, these women had to be attractive and less than 25 years old, weigh less than 115 pounds and stand no more than 5 feet and 4 inches tall.

southwestOver the years registered nurses transitioned to an era of sexy stewardesses, and later to the equal opportunity title of flight attendants. The cost of airline travel over the last few decades has made it more affordable for folks to fly, it’s has also changed the quality of passengers.  As the size of planes has increased and more people travel, the role of the flight attendant has changed.  The glamour of air travel is gone, tickets are loaded with surcharges, and travelers can be unruly.  Flight attendants have more than their hostessing hands full these days—they’re underpaid and stressed out, their benefits have decreased, and heightened security adds another layer of responsibility to the job.
american-flight-attendant

Like flying, we often take flight attendants for granted. Ellen Church changed the lives of women when she turned her passion for flight into a career.  It seems only right to honor her this week, and the men and women who follow in her footsteps to help get us safely from point of departure to our destination.

Whether it’s for business or pleasure, the next time you fly, take a minute to look up and acknowledge the attendants who work your flight.  Be kind. Smile. Thank them for their service. The job may seem like no big thing, but anyone who works in the customer service industry knows that’s not the case.

A little gratitude goes a long way.

 

Expose Yourself.

“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”
-Ansel Adams

Back in the day when Kodak ruled, you’d go on vacation and eagerly await the week or two it took for your pics to develop.  Waiting built anticipation and the hope that you had some good shots—or at least one.  Digital cameras and smartphones now give us instant gratification but telling a story through photography is about more than being able to take one good shot.   Visual storytelling is your chance to make an immediate emotional connection.   Good travel photos evoke an “I wanna go!” feeling.  Like writing, one needs to adopt a “just do it” mindset in order to build your eye and style.   Much in the same way that it’s good to read from many different genres or sources, it’s good to pick your head up every once in a while and see what other photographers are doing.  Whose photographs do you connect with and what could you learn from their work that might inspire you?

(Photo credit: Andrew S.  Gibson)

(Photo credit: Andrew S. Gibson)

An article in Outside magazine about Tim Hetherington recently caught my interest.  A war photographer and filmmaker, Hetherington was killed by a mortar attack in 2011 while covering the civil war in Libya.  The article focuses on the HBO documentary, Which Way Is Front Line From HereThe Life & Time of Tim Hetherington.  The film is a tribute to Hetherington’s life and centers on why he was such a dedicated and extraordinary photojournalist   I don’t know a lot about photography, but reading about him and seeing some of his images inspired me to want to understand what made him such an incredible photographer.  If you’re more interested in telling a story through your photographs than through your words, then the life of Tim Hetherington might interest you.

English: Tim Hetherington at a photo session i...

English: Tim Hetherington at a photo session in Huambo, Angola in 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born and raised in England, Hetherington recognized at an early age the opportunity travel offered to connect with people during family trips.  As a young man he traveled on his own and spent two years in Tibet, China and India because he wanted to experience the lives of others.  His journeys inspired his desire to capture images and upon returning home he spent a few years studying photography and photojournalism.  He was the kind of person who made friends easily which is plus for any photographer.  He developed a keen eye and style that would later earn him awards and opportunities.  While building his professional career as a war photographer, he also used his gifts for humanitarian purposes.  He explored the use of mixed multi-media and used his abilities to shine a light in places and situations that most of us would most probably never visit.  His life is confirmation that we don’t have to live in a box and be just one thing, that we can have a multi-faceted life or career.  Travel ignited a passion for him to connect people through his lens to those less fortunate.  His compassion, insight, and professionalism, combined with his ability to capture the essence of a place and its people or a situation are the reason why he’ll forever be known for his exceptional photojournalism.

(Photo credit: Tim Hetherington)

(Photo credit: Tim Hetherington)

Untitled.  (Photo credit: Tim Hetherington)

Untitled. (Photo credit: Tim Hetherington)

Hetherington was 40 when he was killed.  He wasn’t a travel photographer but his indelible images, and life, continue to inspire and teach professionals and layman.  Sebastian Junger, who directed the HBO documentary, was a close friend of Hetherington’s and said, “Tim was trying to always think outside of the box…so he sort of made a great point of saying: ‘I don’t want to call myself a photographer.  I’m an image-maker.’ But the truth is, most of his work was still photos, and they’re beautiful. They’re stunning.”

What are you connecting to in your travels these days, whether local or afar, that inspires you to capture images and tell your stories?

You Had Me At Margaritas On The Rocks With Salt.

Sphinx and pyramid. (Photo by author.)

Sphinx and pyramid. (Photo by author.)

Last Saturday a friend invited me over for a Mexican dinner.  Our meal would start on the stoop with margaritas on the rocks with salt, along with fresh guacamole and chips.  Yum…she didn’t have to ask me twice!  She makes a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guac.   I could make those things myself but why should I when those are two of her specialties. I had no doubt that the main course would also be superior.  What does this have to do with writing and travel?  A few things…

So you travel agents out there…do you have specialty? If so, do you write about it?  Before creating this blog, I shared its main objective with an acquaintance that asked, “Travel agents still exist?”  “Yes, they exist,” I answered.  “Who uses them?” was his next question.  It was easy to understand his perplexity.   Most folks book their travel online, it’s where they think they’ll get the best deals.  Sometimes they do and other times they get a raw deal.  Most people use the Internet for a majority of their transactions these days.   True, it can result in huge cost savings.  It can also result in a lot of time spent in front of a computer, especially when it comes to booking travel.  They don’t call it the “web” for nothing and even if you know where you want to travel, chances are you’ll get stuck, for at least an hour but probably a lot longer, trying to figure it out.   Everything you need these days is just a click away but price doesn’t always equal value or a great experience.

Chalkley Treehouse experience at Lion Sands in South Africa. (Photo credit: Lion Sands.)

Chalkley Treehouse experience at Lion Sands in South Africa. (Photo credit: Lion Sands.)

Whether it’s eco-tourism, safaris, cruises, hiking, surfing, cooking, or whatever country you can pinpoint on the map, if there’s a destination or travel experience out there that the customer wants, as a travel agent you’re in a prime position to bring them to it.  So how do you get them to connect with you instead of spending hours at their computer looking for the best deal?  Specializing gives you an edge.  Use that edge and write about the destination or experience that you’re passionate about.  Entice them.  Show them what they’re missing and how you can bring that experience to life for them.  Writing helps readers establish a relationship with you.  It’s a way to communicate your knowledge and value up front.  It’s about building trust through your expertise.  It’s about letting them know that you’re still out there rocking in the free world of commerce.  Show them your version of a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guacamole.

Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires. (Photo by author.)

Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires. (Photo by author.)

“Two weeks ago I met a travel agent.  I thought they were all gone. Shows you how crazy I am—I’m sure there are others like me out there,” said John Walsh, CEO & President, SightSpan Inc.  He’s right—there are lots of others out there like him.  Walsh travels extensively and books online, directly with the airline.  Asked why he doesn’t use an agent he said, I don’t use a travel agent due to lack of a relationship and it seems faster for me to book business trips and vacations myself.”

Understanding this point of view needn’t be a reason for travel agents to throw in the towel, but rather an opportunity for them to understand why it’s important to leverage their expertise and assets and market themselves through writing.  Agents who specialize have a head start to differentiate themselves within the competitive marketplace to influence travelers and communicate their value.  For readers who latch on to a specialist’s insights, they won’t have to think twice about how to book their travel the next time they want to explore options about a particular destination.

Ballynahinch Castle, Galway, Ireland.  (Photo by author.)

Ballynahinch Castle, Galway, Ireland. (Photo by author.)

When I asked Walsh if he’d consider using a travel agent he said, “I would, if their services were presented with a clear value proposition and cost benefit offering.  Agents need to better state that they’re still out there and articulate their value.  They need to reeducate people of why it’s best to have a human working with you when something goes wrong—and it always does.”

Bedouin riders at Petra, Jordan. (Photo by author.)

Bedouin riders at Petra, Jordan. (Photo by author.)

The best reason for using a knowledgeable agent is that they’re there for you when the unexpected happens and you have to cancel or change your plans because an ash-cloud exploded over Europe or because you fell off your scooter in Bermuda and landed in the hospital. I hope you never have to experience having to suddenly return home from a foreign land when you booked everything on the Internet.  Any travel agent worth their salt will be able to turn you on to the best experience for your money or save you from having that “trip from hell” where perhaps your room isn’t reserved or your hotel is located in the wrong part of town.  Agents who are truly connected to a destination or travel experience can dive deep for you.  If you have any doubts, take a look at Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialists Collection or Travel + Leisure’s A-List: Top 100 Agents and you’ll see what I mean.  After reading through a few of these specialists, you’ll be itching to escape somewhere.

So if you’re a travel agent or counselor who specializes, share your expertise.  If you’re a traveler, think about visiting your local travel agency and get to know the experts.

Margaritas on the rocks with salt. (Photo by author.)

Margaritas on the rocks with salt. (Photo by author.)

By the way, my friend’s margaritas and guacamole were excellent.  But then again, I had no doubt they would be…it’s her specialty.