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.

40 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Making travel plans in the digital age”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

    1. 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. 😄

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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…

  9. 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.

    1. 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!

  10. 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 🙂

      1. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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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