Travel agents have been the friendly face of the holiday industry for the better part of the last century, organising holidays, dealing with all the annoying things like booking a plane ticket and organising your trip for you, and bussing tourist sheep en masse to the same overdeveloped all inclusive complexes that frankly could be anywhere in the world with their samey blandness.
Despite the rise in independent travel over the last decade or so, the majority of people still wander in to their local travel agent, peruse the brochures, get quoted a packaged price for flights and accommodation and hand over their money, safe in the knowledge that they will be sat by the pool sipping all inclusive watered down drinks in just a few months time.
Travel agents do have their uses of course, depending on the type of trip you want to take. Booking through a travel agency is sometimes – not often, but sometimes – a good deal if you just want a long weekend city break or a short haul week away. Sometimes they can give you a good price on a flight alone, or at the very least give you a rough basis on which to compare and shop around from. And given the relative complexities of visa issues and ESTA’s, managing the labyrinthine mess that are airline booking procedures and price searches and keeping up to date with latest deals and fares, then they are often the very people that you should be looking to for a bit of advice. I can even understand to an extent the feeling of just wanting someone to sort it out for you, we all live hectic stressful lives, right? We all have work and bills and the mundanety of life to worry about at the end of the day, and a holiday is supposed to be a break from all that, why not let someone sort it all out for you?
The reasons are actually a lot more compelling and numerous than you may think.
First and foremost planning your own trip is extremely easy with just a little bit of knowledge and practice. Travelling independently rather than going through a travel agent and getting an all exclusive holiday is so much simpler than you think. In fact, once you have got the hang of it, choosing where to go from such a wonderful and varied destination list is often the hardest part! All you need is a flight, a visa (if the country you are going to requires one), and a place to stay. Those are the basic essentials. Getting a place to stay can easily be sorted once you arrive, simply walk into a hostel, guesthouse, pension or hotel and barter the price! Visas can easily be applied for from individual embassies, a quick online search will take you to an embassy website which will walk you through the details, or you can visit one in person. As for the flights? Well how hard is it to get a quote from a travel agent, do an internet search of all the booking sites and individual airline websites (okay, it’s a sometimes tedious job, but it doesn’t take too long and it is still relatively easy) and then book whichever one is the cheapest? (That may or may not be the travel agents price). That is essentially all the travel agents are doing for you, so why pay them all that money to do what you can very easily do yourself?
Travel agencies are essentially middlemen who make millions in commission year in year out! Wouldn’t that money be better in your pocket than theirs?
Not only that, with independent travel a whole range of accommodation and activities open themselves up to you that are not in any travel agents limited database. Many people still don’t realise that travel agents only have a limited number of places they can and will send you, namely those that will pay them a commission to send people there, and these places are often higher priced and lower in standards than those places that aren’t in those databases. I have stayed in some amazing places, running the whole gamut of hostels, guesthouses and hotels, even luxury heritage spa hotels, that never see any package tourists and are a lot cheaper as a result, I have stayed in character accommodation, from castles and Buddhist temples to treehouses and longhouses in the jungle and dozens of other places in between that would never be in a travel agents brochure, and I have had these amazing experiences precisely because I travel independently and see what else is out there. Fancy doing some diving and getting your PADI certificate? How about taking a course? A jungle trek? A safari? Why pay a premium commission to a travel agent to book your place with a local business or tour operator when you can easily walk up yourself when you are there and get the same experience at a fraction of the price?
You can get better and cheaper places to stay, cheaper flights, much more choice in where to stay and what to do and don’t have to pay a huge commission on top. I really don’t see any downside to that.
One thing that package holidays do offer straight off the bat is better protection under the package travel, package holiday and package tour regulations of 1992 if the tour company ceases to operate or there is a sudden act of god. This protection is something that is often quoted to me when I try to explain the virtues of independent travel, but frankly with the right travel insurance (which is something you still should buy regardless), it doesn’t matter one bit, and with the money you are saving to travel independently, having comprehensive insurance is relatively cheap in comparison.
The best thing about independent travel and being your own travel agent is that YOU get to choose the exact trip YOU want. You can tailor every single aspect of it to your own tastes and desires. You can do what you want, when you want. Your plans can be infinitely more flexible. You can go anywhere and not be limited by the plan your agent has booked for you. So the next time you want to go away, don’t just be constrained by the little last minute deal posters in the travel agents window, don’t just take the usual package tour to the Costa Del Bland. Choose somewhere in the world you want to go and plan the trip yourself. Be your own best travel agent, it is easier than you think and you will have the trip of a lifetime!