The right travel agent’s tips can mean the difference between a holiday from hell and an idyllic trip you remember for years to come. Here are some great tips I wish I had heeded as they would have saved me heaps of grief.
1. Never Stay At The Best Property First
When helping me plan a trip to Hawaii, my travel agent said: “Never stay at the most luxurious property first. Anything after that will seem inferior, and you may come home disappointed.” I wish I’d heeded her advice when later booking a family holiday to Fiji.
Our first stay was at DoubleTree Hilton’s Sonaisali Island, a two-minute boat ride from Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. The resort offered the benefits of an island paradise but access to the capital, Nadi, to explore the markets, culture, and attractions. Sonaisali had a pool with a swim-up bar, beachside bures, and offered paddle boarding lessons and horse riding on the beach. The friendly staff loved to play beach volleyball, calling their matches Fiji versus the Italians or the Australians, depending on the current batch of tourists. If losing, they would drag out waiters and cooks still in their apron as reinforcements.
I won’t mention the second resort’s name as some tourists may enjoy playing Tom Hanks in Cast Away. The movie location was in the same group of islands. We reached the resort on a plane so small passengers endured a Weight Watchers-style weigh-in to organize load distribution. I grabbed the nearest grandchild making it hard to tell where the toddler’s weight stopped and mine began. A small plane means you feel every bump, and I not only gripped the armrest but left nail gouges in the upholstery when I spied our landing strip carved out of the jungle. For the next six days, we felt trapped. Laying in a hammock and drinking cocktails sounds idyllic, but the cost of drinks was extortionate. The only restaurant was at the resort, and the meals were lackluster. There were few guests, and if I’d seen Wilson floating past, I’d have paddled over for a chat. What began as a holiday in a high-end resort ended on a sour note.
2. Book Early Morning Flights
The travel agent advised me to book early morning flights. Not being an early morning person, I disregarded this advice for years. The idea of getting up at 4 a.m. and driving to the airport in the darkness seemed a sorry start to any holiday. I understood the logic: flights leaving before 8 a.m. are less likely to be delayed than those later in the day.
One morning I wished I’d heeded the agent’s advice, although not entirely for the reason he’d given. We live about an hour from the airport, and I’d booked a mid-morning flight, but our taxi driver got caught up in rush-hour, and we missed our plane. We didn’t have a flexible fare and had prepaid for the rest of the holiday, so we fronted up at the airline desk and bought new flights for our family of four. Having to pay double fares was a costly travel mistake I never wish to repeat for the sake of a few extra hours of sleep.
3. Always Travel On Tuesdays
The best time to travel is mid-week as it tends to be cheaper, and also less busy. Leisure travelers travel on Friday to make the most of their weekends, while business travelers often fly on Mondays and Fridays. A friend who loves traveling now keeps her Tuesdays free as a travel agent advised her this was the best day to travel. I can’t say I had considered keeping a day free for travel, but I will in the future. We have all experienced packed-to-the-rafters flights, where it’s impossible to wedge your carry-on into the overhead lockers, and it takes an eternity to disembark. On Tuesdays, this is less likely to be an issue.
4. Put A Complete Change Of Outfit Into Each Other’s Suitcases
Placing a set of your clothes in a traveling companion’s suitcase is a precaution against lost luggage. Checking in luggage is like playing Russian roulette. You wave goodbye to your bag at check-in and then await it at the luggage carousel at your destination. The day arrives where the system misfires. You see everyone else pull off their luggage, and you are left staring at revolving emptiness. Most travelers will experience this sinking feeling at least once in their traveling lives. It happened to me in Cairo when I was six months pregnant. The airline said they would locate and send on the luggage, except we weren’t staying in a hotel but instead taking a trip down the Nile. Passengers offered to lend me clothes, but there wasn’t much that fit my bulging baby belly. I received my luggage about 10 days into the trip, with several intermediaries asking for bakeesh (the local term for a bribe/tip) along the way. If only I’d taken the travel agent’s advice to pack at least some of my clothing in my partner’s luggage.
These days I travel solo but ever mindful of missing luggage, I pack a few days’ worth of clothes and my electronics in my carry-on.
5. Keep Prescription Medicine In Your Carry-On
This is a tip I received from a travel agent and have heeded ever since. On a China tour, I saw what happened to a woman when she’d packed her medications into her checked luggage, and the airline lost her bag. After a few days without her blood pressure medication, her head was throbbing, and she was constantly giddy. It’s worth remembering that the loss of your high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid, or other prescription medications could ruin your trip. So, make sure you carry them with you on the plane.
6. Bring More Medication Than You Think You Will Need
The same agent suggested packing extra medication in case of delayed flights. From then, I would pack a couple of days’ worth of extra tablets, which was fine until the day came where our flight was significantly delayed. It was on a new airline flying out of Chengdu, China. There were no flights on reciprocal airlines, and their next service was a week away. The airline put us up in a hotel, and as we didn’t have to rush back for work, there was the joy of an extra week’s holiday. I wish I’d paid more heed to the travel agent’s advice. I ended up cutting my remaining pills in half, hoping half-doses would keep my health conditions on an even keel. It was the sort of stressful situation I could have done without. These days, I carry not only extra tablets but copies of my prescriptions. It’s not always possible to get scripts filled overseas, but there’s always a chance.
7. Always Book With Travel Agents Who Have Been To Your Destination
When my teenager told me he wished to backpack through Europe, I took him to a youth travel specialist to help him plan. The young agents had spent months, even years, backpacking around the world. One of their tips was to choose a travel agent who has traveled extensively in the place you are heading.
Years later, I was booking my first trip to the U.S. from Australia. The trip involved five weeks of internal flights crisscrossing between major cities and ending in Huntsville, Alabama, for a conference. I usually book online, but this time the complexities meant I needed help. I went to my local travel agency but was troubled by the costly quote — and because the agent had only ever been to New York.
Remembering the well-traveled youthful travel agents, I visited them for a quote despite being the oldest person to step inside their office without a teenager in tow. I asked to speak to the agent most familiar with the U.S. They sat me with a young man whose father lived stateside. He visited his father regularly but used each trip to explore a different region of the States. His trip costing was lower, and in retrospect, his detailed planning saved me much grief.
Knowing all the airports, he knew those where I would need extra transit time between terminals. He had me avoid LAX’s bedlam and enter the States through San Francisco. He stressed that New York City had three domestic airports. He repeated this so many times I realized I was benefiting from a mistake he once made of turning up at the wrong airport. He had traveled down the East Coast, so he had me adding cities like Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to my itinerary. “Why travel so far only to miss out?” he asked. As I was heading down from Boston, he gave me tips on planning these legs by train and bus instead of flying. His detailed planning meant the entire trip ran like clockwork.