Travel Agent or On Our Own?


Apr 14th, 2009, 11:51 AM
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Travel Agent or On Our Own?

We've pretty much narrowed down our August trip to Germany, Austria, Switzerland - some sort of loop. We are now trying to figure out if we should do the planning on our own or enlist the help of a travel agent. We are a bit daunted by travel planning in Europe, but are VERY comfortable planning our own trips in the U.S. The first travel agent we talked to a while ago just gave us a lot of information on bus tours and we are pretty sure we don't want a bus tour. We are envisioning doing some public transportation in cities, but renting a car and driving for most of our trip, so that we can be in control of our destinations, time frames, etc.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated? Any good sources for good European travel planning agents or websites to help us do it on our own?

Thanks so much for your help!
snowcraig is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 11:59 AM
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We are in the midst of planning our second trip to Europe - we went to Germany and Austria in 2006, which was our first trip. This time around we are going to Belgium and the Netherlands.

The first time around we were nervous about planning our own trip, but like you - we found that travel agents are more focused on tours and packages rather than helping people develop an independent travel plan. And we knew we didn't want a package. So we figured - how hard can planning be? You pick a flight, pick some towns and cities to go to, and then make lodging reservations.

So we got some guide books, did some internet research, made our plan, and off we went. We had a terrific time.
november_moon is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 12:08 PM
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In switzerland, you won't want a car, even in the countryside. Trains are excellent.

I suggest you use this forum. How long is the trip?

Do you already have some ideal destinations in mind?
zeppole is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 12:11 PM
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Agents make their money as commissions on tours, rentals, hotel chains etc. Therefore their insight could be considered slightly skewed to their profit. I am not criticizing, merely observing. For many trips/places they are indispensible. For a trip like you are planning, they might just be a liability. Planning in Europe is as easy to plan as the US. Decide where. Decide how. And then dive into the web with Google, Fodors, TripAdvisor at your side.

Ian is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 12:31 PM
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Definitely you should decide on your own. This will give you a great opportunity to see what you really want to see, instead of taking a package with some sights that you wanted to go to some that you weren't interested in seeing. Your trip is not until August, so you have plenty of time to plan out all of the details. Also, your vacation will be cheaper. With all of those savings your 14 night holiday might turn itself into a 15 nighter - and when in Europe, every minute counts!
nd5524 is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 02:30 PM
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Hi Jess,

This forum is highly biased toward DIY.

Do you have a rough plan?

ira is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 02:49 PM
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hi Jess,

we are just planning our trip to austria in June. we have the advantage of living in the UK, and have travelled extensively in europe, but have never been to the area we are visiting. so we are not in a much better position than you, and i would never consider using an agent for this type of trip - they are no benefit at all that I can think of. on;ly you know what you want out of your holiday.

of course it does help that we had somewhere in mind to start off with -ie Vienna - and a secondary goal - to go and look at lakes and mountains. after that, it rather planned itself, as we can do all of that in austria. we did lots of research on the web -including here, asking for advice - and sent off for information from tourist boards, which wil still send you brochures to look at which can be better than jsut looking at pictures on the screen. then we started e-mailing potential hotels and making enquiries about availability and cost.

this is the sort of planning process that might help:

what do we REALLY want to see?

what else is there in that vicinity that might appeal?

do we want to look in detail at one place or to explore more widely [and thinly]?

do we want activities as well as touring [eg in the 2nd half of our holiday, we are hoping to do some walking and cycling around the lakes]

what flights can we get?

you might even have a couple of plans to start off with [i had 4 or 5] which gradually weed themselves out as you research flights, activities, etc.

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 02:51 PM
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Jessica: If you are internet-savvy enough to find this forum, you can plan this trip by yourself, saving money in the process.

Travel agents certainly do serve a purpose and are invaluable for people who want tours or who don't have the time or know-how to plan a trip themselves, but you don't want a tour. It's not hard to book accommodations by e-mail and/or fax, and you have a whole world of experts on this forum willing to help you hammer out the details if you have questions. For free!

I'm also planning a trip to Austria and Switzerland for next year, and just searching through old threads and trip reports gives me a huge amount of information about hotels and trains, etc.
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Apr 14th, 2009, 02:58 PM
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Great advice from Ann. If you do a little research by buying a couple of travel guides, you will be able to make a sensible plan that contains YOUR preferences. When I first started traveling to Europe many years ago, I resolved to do it myself and that included being able to go anywhere at any time -- meaning I always rented a car.

None of this is difficult. But one thing is different from those travel plans you made in the U.S. -- the language. Do take some time to learn the basic expressions and all the basic road sign terminology in all of the local languages. It isn't difficult, and it will make your trip so much more enjoyable. I will never forget on my first trip, having made out pretty well with fractured German until I saw a road sign that said "umleitung." I had to pull off the road and scramble to find the definition.

You will love the "do it yourself" aspect unless you really want someone else to guide you around that wonderful continent. Good luck.
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Apr 14th, 2009, 03:00 PM
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You can definitely do it on your own. Annhig has good points. We did a trip a few years ago which included Bavaria (rented a car), Salzburg, Vienna and then on to Budapest and Prague, all by train. It was a fantastic 3 week trip. The more I researched the more our itinerary changed. With the world now at our fingertips thanks to the internet and the wisdom and guidance from the experts on this forum you can certainly plan it yourself.

I love buying travel books (cheap from Amazon) to get started and then I become obsessed with this forum and the websites for places I want to visit. The more you research the more you'll find.

Have a wonderful trip and enjoy the planning.
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Apr 14th, 2009, 03:04 PM
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For first time DIY European trip planning folks, I find Rick Steves' guidebook to be very helpful. His guidebooks tend to be more handholding for folks who are a bit unsure (or overwhelmed) with this process and really guides you through. I suggest you go to the bookstore or your local library and take a look. He has a Germany/Austria guidebook (I picked up one from my library) and i'm sure there's one for Switzerland too.
yk is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 04:44 PM
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Another choice for lodging - if you are nervous about booking directly with a hotel by email or fax - Expedia and other similar sites cover European hotels as well, so you can make hotel reservations that way. And of course, plenty of hotels have their own internet reservations capabilities.

On our first trip, we stayed at 4 hotels. Two booked through Expedia, 1 through the hotel web site, and 1 through email with the hotel. All worked out well.

This time we are branching out and renting an apartment directly from the owner - watch out, living on the edge here

Like others have said, the logistics of planning are really very similar to travelling in the US - only they have much better public transportation and the trains are great. We also rented a car for part of our trip through southern Germany and Austria - I was really nervous about that at first, but it was pretty easy.
november_moon is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 06:14 PM
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If you want to use an agent it's going to be quite expensive. Typically only the most upscale hotels in europe pay commisions to agent - so you would have to pay the agent for the time spent in planning your trip (if that;'s how they charge) or the commissions that they would earn if what they buy/reserve for you did pay commissions. Otherwise the agent would have to do all this for nothing.

If you want an upscale trip an agent can do a great job and get you upgrades at hotels, special deals etc. But if you're at the moderate or lower end of the price range - you'll have to pay the agent yourself - possibly a substantial sum. (You can locate reliable experienced agents for any part of the world by looking on the web sites of Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure - they list the best each year.)

Frankly, planning is so easy, I can;t imagine using an agent (as long as you're willing to put in the hours of work). Start with a good map, several guide books from the library, do a lot of reading and research and then come here and ask questions - people will be happy to help.
nytraveler is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 06:47 PM
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You'll not find many around here who wouldn't do it on their own, myself included.
You have the internet at your fingertips.

annhig covered it "what do we REALLY want to see?" You've planned trips in the US but what are your expectations of Europe?

Learn some of the language.

Read every post about your intended destinations. That way when you need to ask a question you'll know what you really want. I've planned many trips just reading the posts and most of my generic questions were answered.
After you've done your research then come back and ask interesting questions. You will really get much better responses if you approach it this way. Simply because most people have type a 23 times what the "must sees of ...." are and it's boring. There are many very helpful people on this board, so do some research and ask stimulating questions, you'll get the best insider tips that way.
LSky is offline  
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Apr 14th, 2009, 07:25 PM
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ahem...this is a diy type forum but as a self respecting travel agent I have to admonish some of you - a good travel agent will plan what ever sort of trip you want, without using buses and group tours,and it should not cost you any extra money. Certainly luxury hotels are nice for the commission but there are a surprising number of budget properties that will pay travel agents and will not cost the client a penny more than if they booked on their own. There are also many vendors that will book only through travel agents and offer contract pricing which works to the advantage of both agents and clients.
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