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April 12, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Making travel plans in the digital age

My parents were great travelers and encourage us kids to follow in their footsteps. Although I’ve visited many of the places they traveled to—and several they didn’t—I feel as if I’ve just dipped my toe into the deep well of possibilities.

Because they traveled so much, my parents had a close, personal relationship with their travel agent. Helen knew my folks’ likes and dislikes, preferred way to travel, destinations of interest, and budget considerations. Although they seldom encountered any problems while traveling, they knew that they could call Helen if they needed help and she’d work things out.

Despite all online resources, I still love paper maps.

Despite all online resources, I still love paper maps.

I am currently firming up travel itineraries for two upcoming trips, and making some preliminary plans for a few more that are on our radar. Like most people in today’s digital age, I am not using a travel agent to help me plan and book our trips. The resources available to me online are vast, powerful, accessible, and, sometimes, a little scary.

I can research our destinations using multiple travel websites and helpful blogs. I have reached out to blogging buddies who live in the areas we are visiting for first-hand recommendations (and, hopefully some meet-ups). Using mapping apps, I am able to chart our route and look for points of interest along the way.

Once we know where we will stop on our journey, I can book our hotel rooms (after reading extensive reviews) online. For the first time, we are also going to try Airbnb, whose website is robust and pretty easy to navigate. Tickets for attractions can be purchased in advance and I can often load them to my smartphone so I don’t need to worry about misplacing pieces of paper.

And, of course, any airplane and rental car reservations are completed with a few keystrokes and a credit card.

There are pluses and minuses to planning travel this way, of course. Using a travel agent provided my parents with valuable peace-of-mind and allowed them to tap into Helen’s professional knowledge and years of experience. Since she did most of the work (and, as I remember, the service was provided for no, or very little, cost), my folks didn’t have to spend hours doing research. Helen’s agency was a one (or two)-stop-shop for planning, finalized itinerary, and tickets.

By making our travel plans online, I have a lot of control over our itinerary. I don’t need to rely on someone else’s preferences or affiliations. I can spend time looking at different options and search-out deals and off-the-beaten-path opportunities. Once on the road, we can take advantage of apps that will help us to find places to eat and points of interest to visit. I can read about the history of an area, check out the weather, and even avoid road construction and accidents up ahead.

Although we may not have someone like Helen to provide travel assistance and hand-holding, I am so grateful that the internet has given us the power to design our individual journeys and create our unique adventures.

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40 Comments

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  1. Anabel Marsh / Apr 12 2016 5:15 am

    Oh yes, I agree! I find it hard to believe how much the way we travel has changed in such a short period of time. And extended the boundaries of friendship.

  2. Kate Crimmins / Apr 12 2016 5:47 am

    A few years ago I booked a trip to Key West in Florida. I spent extensive time looking for a good hotel (which I found) and a good deal (which I thought I had found). Turns out the room we booked was along the walkway so everyone could look into our room. All the other rooms were ocean view with large windows and sliding doors. We had to keep the drapes closed which made the room dreary. Lesson learned. Cheap is not always the best unless you are only spending the night there. I booked a trip to San Antonio and that one turned out much better. You have to learn how to read the reviews. So many are conflicting. Travel agent used to be a wonderful job with a lot of perks. Very hard to find one these days although they are still a few around who do complicated flights and overseas trips. I do love how the internet has made so much easier. Wish it was around when I did more traveling.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 12 2016 8:37 am

      As convenient as internet booking might be, there are so many ways to get messed up… Yours is a good example. Travel agents were/are often worth their weight in gold. When my husband and I traveled to La Paz, Mexico earlier this year, we met a lovely German couple who were on a several month journey. They had booked everything online, including their trip to La Paz. Only trouble was, they meant to go to La Paz, Bolivia. They didn’t realize their error until they arrived at the airport.

      • Kate Crimmins / Apr 12 2016 9:10 am

        Wow! That is a big error. Hopefully they didn’t need a visa!

        • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 13 2016 8:03 am

          Yes, I wondered about that too. But, what impressed me most was their attitude. They were making the bast of the situation and having a great time!

  3. mercyn620 / Apr 12 2016 5:48 am

    We have used airbnb and have always been pleased, if somewhat surprised by the accommodations. As long as you are flexible and ‘go with the flow’, you will love it. Meet interesting people, have space to relax and spread out (as opposed to a hotel room), often in interesting non-touristy parts of an area. Have fun and good luck!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 12 2016 8:38 am

      Airbnb will be an adventure for us. I’m glad to hear that you have had good luck. But, you are right, it’s not for those who expect everything to be just so.

  4. Keith / Apr 12 2016 6:02 am

    While we tend to do what you do, we have benefitted from a good travel agent. In fact, our best vacation to Ireland was through an agent.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 12 2016 8:57 am

      Unfortunately, good travel agents have become harder to find. I’ve used the travel services of our automobile club for some more complicated planning. I just don’t feel that I can do online what they can do in some situations.

  5. laura bruno lilly / Apr 12 2016 6:46 am

    Wow! 2+ trips in the offing…You’re following in your parents’ footsteps quite well. 😉

  6. susan@marsha'sbungalow / Apr 12 2016 7:33 am

    I am amazed at the resources online, and also amazed at how far in advance you have to plan. When I first retired, I thought we would be those last-minute travelers. We haven’t done that ever so far. The places we want to see and the prices we want to pay – at least from what I’ve seen – usually fill up far in advance. So your planning is exactly in line with my experience. Also – love the sunglasses you included in your photo – can’t forget the important things!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 12 2016 9:06 am

      So right! We also thought that we’d be going on spontaneous, low-cost trips… but either I don’t know how to find the good ones or it’s way to scary to say yes to that kind of travel.

  7. Denise / Apr 12 2016 7:58 am

    I too use the Internet a lot for my travel plans. But I am very skeptical of online reviews of hotels. M I’ve gotten burned that way.

  8. Parkit / Apr 12 2016 11:38 am

    I have been a travel agent for 20+ years. First in a brick and mortar, but the past few years from home. Let me know if you need any help:)

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 13 2016 8:07 am

      Wow, your industry has changed a lot over a very short period of time. But, I agree with some of the commenters, good travel agents can work wonders and are still an important resource. Who knows, I may take you up on your kind offer one of theses days. 😄

  9. rporter610 / Apr 12 2016 12:07 pm

    My mother was a travel agent for 22 years and loved helping her clients set up trips. Through her job, she got to travel on special “agent trips” to almost every country in the world. I wish the agents were still available; I know they are available through AAA, and through Grand Circle Travel where I book guided tours, but I would like to have one of “my own” that I could count on.

    You are brave to try Airbnb. I look forward to hearing how it went.

    Rin

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 13 2016 8:09 am

      I’ve heard about those travel agent trips… what a wonderful perk and, I’m sure, an important way to learn about the destinations they would be sending their clients to. I’ll definitely report back on my Airbnb experience.

  10. snakesinthegrass2014 / Apr 12 2016 2:43 pm

    My first wife was a travel agent and so naturally I never had to do anything with our trips. She even packed for me, which I suppose was probably more out of making sure I couldn’t complain about all the traveling she was constantly making me do. My second wife has never really traveled, so I am now in the position of planning our trips from A to Z. I’m finding it fun, especially since I wasn’t really given many opportunities to do it before.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 13 2016 4:10 pm

      I’m glad you are enjoying it. I do too, except sometimes it can be a little nerve wracking. Interesting that you now have been on both sides – the one who just goes along, and the one who plans everything.

  11. Carol Ferenc / Apr 12 2016 4:11 pm

    Lucky you ~ two trips coming up! Yes, the internet is an awesome travel tool. As much as I loved having a good travel agent back in the day, I can’t imagine traveling without the internet now.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 13 2016 4:12 pm

      Even if you use a travel agent, there are so many online resources that can help make your trip easier and more fun. It’s amazing how quickly things have changed with regards to travel.

  12. dconnollyislandgmailcom / Apr 12 2016 6:16 pm

    Hi, Janis – I was an early adapter to booking my travel on-line and overall, I have been pleased with the results. I also am a long-time home-exchange user (www.homeexchange.com) and have had very successful exchanges (both simultaneous and non-simultaneous) every time so far….knock on wood! Surprisingly, my single experience with Airbnb was not the best, but I am sure it was that particular owner, as many of my friends use Airbnb and love it. Good luck with your upcoming travel.
    Donna
    http://www.retirementreflections.com

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 13 2016 4:16 pm

      Home exchange is intriguing and I’d love to learn more. I know that my husband and I would make excellent guests but I worry about others using our home. Airbnb will be an experiment and I hope it goes well. Fingers crossed.

  13. Encore Voyage / Apr 13 2016 3:28 pm

    Ooh Janis, I’m a little jealous as my wanderlust is rearing its head again. I’ll be anxious to hear how your AirBnb experience goes. We haven’t done it yet, but have considered it. We have used an excellent travel agent in the past, but sometimes it seems she is up-selling us on higher end accommodations than we really need. I’ve done fairly well on-line, too. I think it depends on where we’re traveling, and how complicated it is. I might seek some extra help when we travel overseas the first time…

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 13 2016 4:18 pm

      Although I have friends who have booked overseas travel exclusively online but I don’t know if we’d be comfortable doing that. Sometimes a little hand-holding is important. I will definitely report on our Airbnb experience!

  14. Terri Webster Schrandt / Apr 15 2016 11:37 am

    For most people savvy enough to use google, the days of the travel agent are numbered. I will look forward to hearing about your next set of travels.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 17 2016 10:42 pm

      I hope they aren’t completely over. I still like to use their services when the travel is complicated. I think travel agents are clued into special deals that us mere mortals may not know about.

  15. Barb / Apr 15 2016 5:56 pm

    I am one of those spontaneous peo e for the most part. I do the bare bones and play everything else by ear-and have a limited budget. But after doing it six years in Europe I have a fairly high tolerance for imperfectness. I also like looking at VRBO, and hostels, and although we may never go that route we are on the couch surfing website.

    My money saving tip? Sign up for Goldstar and a site like Groupon far in advance to the places you are going.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 20 2016 10:46 am

      I have never heard of Goldstar… thanks for the tip! My husband and I love to go on road trips with no advanced planning, but recently we’ve gotten in trouble a few times when we happened on a special event (like high school/college graduation) we didn’t know about and the hotels were booked up. Yikes! I’m not sure about couch surfing, but Airbnb definitely seems to be the way to go!

  16. joannesisco / Apr 15 2016 6:50 pm

    The internet has totally changed our lives and this is just one really good example. Quite frankly, I really don’t understand what travel agents so anymore.

    In spite of having done significant travelling, I’m lucky that I haven’t had to do any planning or booking. Gilles does ALL the work. I simply pack my bag and show up at the alloted time 🙂

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 17 2016 10:45 pm

      Oh, I envy you! I do most (all) of the planning and it gets a bit overwhelming. But, I guess I do get my way more often then not, so there’s that.

      • joannesisco / Apr 18 2016 4:19 am

        I’d be the first to admit I’m really lucky. There have been a few surprises along the way … like the overnight layover in the airport in San Francisco, but for the most part, I’m happy to just show up for the trip without the hours and hours of planning and booking.

  17. lisadorenfest / Apr 17 2016 8:45 pm

    I love the freedom and information that the internet offers but I miss working with travel agents. My friend Jean went back to using one who seems able to uncover deals that Jean can’t find on her own.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 17 2016 10:49 pm

      The internet gives us a lot of power over our travel planning but a good travel agent can put complicated itineraries together that flow well together. I guess the key is to know when it would be best to take advantage of their services.

  18. Shelley / Apr 18 2016 6:02 am

    I can only imagine how I would have used the information on the internet if it had been available in my younger days. Although I managed to get SOME travel in, I definitely would have done a whole lot more because it is so much easier to find cost effective alternatives. I’m just grateful to have access to all that information now.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / Apr 18 2016 4:39 pm

      It really is amazing how quickly travel planning, and travel in general, has changed in a few short years! It used to seem so mysterious – and only travel agents had the key. Now, I get ads for deals all the time in my email inbox.

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