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Travel Agent

Has anyone used a travel agent to help with the planning? If so, who? I think I may need some help and guidance. Our local AAA does not help with itinerary planning for the most part. They will help with booking transportation and rooms where I specify. We're in Ohio (if that matters). Thanks!

Posted by
32269 posts

I use a travel agent for booking overseas flights and for things like insurance, but do the planning myself.

I think you'll find that the group here has a much broader range of travel experience, so will be a much better resource for planning than any travel agent. I'd suggest visiting your local Library and having a look at a number of Rick Steves guidebooks for the areas you want to visit. When you have some ideas on where you want to go and what you want to see/do, post the information here and the group will be able to help you get it sorted.

Posted by
8656 posts

jmuelle, your experience is common. It's hard to find a travel agent with any experience in booking European trips, or that has even been to Europe. If they have, they might only be comfortable booking you at brand-name business class hotels and can't tell you much more than that. The internet and the ability to book things yourself has taken the knowledge out of travel agents hands. Most people who hang out here on this forum like to plan and book things themselves, perhaps using the info in the Rick Steves guidebooks as a guide to finding rooms, identifying sights, and understanding transportation. But it is geared to a certain self-directed kind of travel that not all people are comfortable with. Watch some of the videos to get a flavor.

If you're totally uncomfortable doing this on your own, and can't find a travel agent willing to do the nitty gritty detail work, then you might want to consider a tour. The Rick Steve tours (on this page) might be a good option, but not the only choice. The cost might seem high, but its not when you consider the benefits of having logistics arranged for you, and the hidden costs you will encounter otherwise.

Posted by
27435 posts

You may find Rick's Travel Skills videos helpful. I think there are three of them.

Posted by
4600 posts

As I noted in another thread, the magazines Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler each year list their favorite recommended agents based on region and/or travel speciality. The lists are probably on their websites (or you might have to buy a copy of the magazine), anyway it's a good place to start.

I used to recommend American Express but they don't really do this anymore, AFAIK.

Posted by
16894 posts

Consider booking a half-hour phone conference with one of our Travel Consultants. They don't book anything, but can help you understand your options. If you have Rick's France book, that makes the conversation a little easier.

Travel agents generally charge a fee for services nowadays and also book hotels and other products that have some travel agent commission built in. Hotels in Rick's book often won't be in their database. And of course online search engines can open up more sleeping options. One travel agency that we've known for a long time in the Seattle area is at, with agents who have been to Europe.

Posted by
2261 posts

^^^ That's what I was going to suggest. Between that and the Forum here, it may be enough help for you.

Posted by
20 posts

Thanks, everyone! I've been all over the RS website, but I still have more to go through. I have the Europe Through the Back Door 2016. I just ordered the France, Italy, and Spain 2017 books. (I thought I'd cover all bases.) I also called and left a message for the travel consultants. I don't mind doing the work; I'm just getting a bit overwhelmed. Our main focus is where to end our trip (flying into Paris), so I can book airfare.

Posted by
11507 posts

Book a multi-city flight (also known as open jaws ) -- fly into Paris and home from Barcelona or Rome . Take a cheap flight between Barcelona and Rome (look at EasyJet or Vueling )

State your budget in euros and folks can suggest their favorite hotels ( many of us have been a few times or more and have some good ideas )

Start with your big flight .

Consider options , you could start south , flying into Rome then go to Barcelona or Madrid or where ever you are interested , then trainnor olane ot Paris .

I love the planning phase , but it does take time . So if time short then just get a ta to do the international flight .

Hotels and sightseeing are the fun part .

I haven't used a ta in 20 years now

Posted by
20 posts

We're flying into Paris at the end of June. We're thinking 11 days of travel/sightseeing. I want to see Paris and the mediterranean Sea. Those are my goals. I was thinking:
Paris 4-5 days w/day trip to Versailles and maybe Normandy(not a must)
Train to Avignon 2-3 days
I thought maybe Marseille but unsure about it.
Cassis or Antibes seems interesting
carcassonne maybe?
End in Nice or Barcelona

It's a lot and needs cut down quite a bit. I want to be logical and smart as I move through France - no wasting time backtracking. I'm great with flying into one and out a different airport. Any ideas would be appreciated!

Posted by
33337 posts

when you look at the flights, don't be tempted to do it as a combination of two one way flights which usually will be very expensive.

Use the multi-city option or as we used to call it, Open Jaws. Your fare will be close to half a RT to city A plus half a RT to city B, so will be close to or sometimes better than just a RT to city A.

Then you link them together with trains and/or cars.

You'll be fine, and when you return you can answer questions from other new folks.....

Posted by
7209 posts

AAA - so they'll book the hotels for you as soon as you tell them too? That's laughable. Hotels have their own websites for you to easily book their rooms. If they don't take online bookings they will most assuredly book via email. Don't let AAA add a layer of bureaucracy between you and your hotel rooms or between you and your flights or you and your tours. AAA is practically worthless these days.

Posted by
7724 posts

Anymore it is rare to find a travel agent that is knowledgeable enough to book independent travel, plus unless you pay a fee for the service, there is no monetary incentive for them to do it. Airline tickets no longer come with commissions and small hotels offer none. Most travel agents have moved to booking package tours, cruises, and all inclusive resorts because there is still a payday in it for them.

Posted by
82 posts

We used a travel consultant for our trip last year. It was my first non-tour trip to Europe and we had 6 stops in 13 nights, plus trains and a rental car so I felt more comfortable having someone else do the planning for me. He charged 10% of the cost of the trip. During the planning I learned a lot from him and I'm planning this summers trip on my own. It's a lot less complicated (3 cities in 13 nights and just 2 trains, no rental car). I booked my flight first, then I booked my 3 hotels. Now I'm waiting till 4 months ahead of time to book the train tickets and some day tours.

During last summers trip we also learned what we liked/didn't like which will make this trip a lot easier to plan.

Posted by
12193 posts

I use an online travel agent to book cruises because I've found their prices to be consistently better than booking direct. I don't use a travel agent for anything else.

Years ago my company gave us bonuses in travel dollars, but we had to use them through the company travel agency. I ended up doing all the research and planning myself because they were no help at all, then called them to book. Because many of my choices didn't pay commission, they charged me an extra ten percent to book for me.

The nature of travel agencies is they book for commission. They generally don't know any more than you about your destination and certainly don't know your preferences better than you. They may ask if you prefer an ensuite bathroom, but they won't whether you would accept a shared bathroom if it cost a third of an ensuite. They generally won't do business with the small hotels, because it doesn't create enough business, so they'll book you at big hotel chains that cost more. They may ask about the type of car you want, but won't know whether you can drive a stick (and save a lot). They might ask if you prefer a direct train to connections, but can't gauge whether a one connection trip, that saves $150, is preferable to the much more expensive direct train.

Posted by
16894 posts

I suggest 1) making the trip as long as possible, but also 2) simplifying this short trip by staying within France. So dropping Carcassone (a half-day sight) and Barcelona (a longer train ride) and flying out from Nice. I also cut Normandy from your list, since I think it warrants a couple of nights, rather than a daytrip.

Fly into Paris
Paris - 5 nights w/day trip to Versailles
Avignon and Arles area - 3 nights?
Marseille and Cassis area - 3 nights?
Nice area with Antibes - 3 nights?
Fly home from Nice

So now, you can focus on what you most want to see in Provence and along the coast, and allowing enough time for it. Marseille is nothing to be scared of, but Aix-en-Provence has better-value accommodation choices and Cassis is closer to the hiking/boating/swimming action if you want a beach day. All of these connections can be made by train, with some service also duplicated by bus along the coast. I think you said that your RS France book was to be delivered soon, and that will help a lot, although it doesn't cover Marseille/Cassis/Aix, which are only in Rick's Provence & Riviera book.

Posted by
2466 posts

There really isn't much you can do about airline prices, except look for specials and pay attention to the layover time, possible change of planes and arriving airport - which you would most probably want to avoid. Flying open-jaw is the only choice, if you want to save money on flights.

Looking at this website will give you tips on train travel - train fares go on sale 90 days ahead of time, and if you can travel during off-peak hours, you'll save even more money: is probably the best website for booking hotel rooms.
You often have the option of cancellation within 24 hours, if you find something you like better.
In Paris, I'd recommend the Latin Quarter, around the Odeon Metro station (the 5th and 6th arrondissements - make certain to use Google Maps Street View to make sure you're comfortable with the neighborhood). This is a convenient location, lots to do and good for walking and transportation options.

Posted by
2466 posts

PS - you will need a good street map to use in Paris - not the free ones that don't have all the streets on them.
Go to the nearest newsstand and look for a little blue book,
"Paris, l'Indispensable Par Arrondissement" - about 6 to 8 EU, and you won't get lost.

Posted by
20 posts

Thank you, everyone! I'm looking at open jaw tickets right now. It looks like flying out of Nice is $150+ more per person than Barcelona. Of course, I would/could subtract the cost of a train ticket to Barcelona.; It brings the price point between locations a bit closer.

Laura, I like your itinerary, but we only have 11 days for sightseeing. If I make my base in Avignon, would I have day trip options to Cassus, Aix, Arles?