With the rise of companies like Expedia, Skyscanner and Hotels.com, it seemed as though travel agents might go the way of the dinosaur. But as the amount of information online has multiplied, the opposite has taken place. Consulting a human being who has years of travel industry wisdom and insight remains valuable when making decisions about where and how to vacation.
With that in mind we asked travel agents across the country to share some of their top secrets for picking and planning your next vacation. Here’s what they had to say.
Pick a destination well in advance
The further in advance you settle upon a destination, the better, said Julie Michaels, a Los Angeles-based luxury travel adviser with Travel Edge.
“Start planning sooner, so you can choose from the best of the destinations rather than the best of what’s available and remaining,” said Michaels. “If you wish to travel to Europe in summer 2020, it’s better to start planning in November or December 2019 to get a jump on availability than in January, when everyone rushes to plan their summer vacations.” (Learn how to create a savings strategy to cover your trip.)
Consider how much time you have
Ask yourself these questions when mulling a potential vacation destination: How long will it take to get there and how long will the trip last?
Ideally, you don’t want to spend more time traveling to a destination then you will actually be there, said Julia Matheson of Travel Julia's Way.
Visit during a region’s shoulder season
Planning your trip for what’s known as shoulder season (the travel period in between peak and off-peak season) will not only mean you get more bang for your buck, you also won’t have to fight the crowds, said Eric Hrubant, CEO and chief travel planning officer for CIRE Travel, New York City.
“Overtourism is real,” said Hrubant, revealing that it’s best to visit Europe in April, May, early June or October, rather than during the busy summer travel season.
When it comes to the Caribbean, however, just the opposite time frame is your best bet, Hrubant adds. In other words, the biggest deals of the year are available in spring and summer.
Famous attractions may not be for you
Another note about the destination you choose — don't feel like you must go and do the most famous thing wherever you ultimately decide to vacation, said Matheson.
“If you're not a big art fan, you don't have to wade through the crowds at the Louvre to see the ‘Mona Lisa’ if you don't want to,” said Matheson.
Instead, make sure you're fitting some of your interests from home into your vacation, Matheson said. It can be fun to see how they do whatever it is that you enjoy from home in another part of the world.
Start with a food tour in unfamiliar destinations
If you decide to visit a place where the cuisine is unfamiliar to you, arrange a private food tour on one of your first days of the trip to truly get a preview of what the destination has to offer, said Michaels.
“You’ll get a primer on the local foods, while having your guide there who can point out things to order and who can introduce you to dining customs,” Michaels said. “A night market tour of Shanghai or Hanoi or pintxos bar-hopping in San Sebastian can help you navigate menus and food stalls throughout the rest of your trip.”
Begin & end with the splurges
Want to ensure you’ll have lasting memories from your next vacation? Start and end your trip with the “wow” hotels. The first and last impressions of your trip are typically the ones you’ll remember most, said Michaels.
“In a similar vein, if you have an early morning flight, rather than end at an airport hotel, seek out a charming countryside option not far from the airport,” Michaels said. “For instance, Auberge de Jeu de Paume in Chantilly makes for a relaxing and easy exit from Charles de Gaulle in Paris, La Posta Vecchia ends an Italy trip departing from Rome on a high note, and Coworth Park outside London makes a Heathrow morning flight easy.”
Give yourself time to really explore the destination
When visiting a new country or destination don't try to do it all and explore every corner of the country, said Matheson.
“Most vacations are five to 10 days, which really isn't much time at all. I generally suggest at least two- if not three-night stays everywhere my clients go,” said Matheson. “Also, by really focusing in on the two to three areas you're most interested in, you won't spend half of your vacation in transit.”
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