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Travel columnist Chris Elliott has a great article today that illustrates exactly what can happen when you trust your all-important vacation to a discount online booking service.

I feel bad for the person involved (especially since they made her cry!) but I hear SO many stories like this, and I just wonder what the people were thinking?

“Cheapo Air”?  Seriously?!

Without a travel agent, you’re on your own.

For those who have never cruised, and who resist trying it, one of the main reasons given is the fear of gaining weight while on board.

Now, I don’t want to validate that fear, since it’s certainly possible to counteract a little overindulgence by using the fitness facilities and taking the stairs instead of the elevators, but I will say that the dining experience is one of the big draws for many cruisers — myself included!  So it’s interesting to see how shipboard dining is evolving these days.

A recent article in the Miami Herald does a good job of summarizing some of the changes and explaining the new options available — including standard dining, “My Time dining”, in-cabin dining, specialty restaurants, and more. Suffice it to say that today’s cruise ships offer something for everyone, from the traditionalist who likes a set time and table with white glove service…..to a free spirit who wants to eat pizza at 3 a.m.

My advice? Talk to a travel professional who can match you with the right cruise line, with the right dining options to meet your “tastes”.  And skip those elevators rather than skipping dessert!

I want to share a FANTASTIC letter I received today from some clients who just got back from a self-professed “trip of a lifetime” to Europe.  Their thanks, and the glowing testimonial below, is better than any commission I could earn on a trip.  Best of all, I now have proof that they actually listened and absorbed my message about what it means to be an “escape artist”, and why people should not book their own trips 🙂

May 28, 2009

Annie,

Beth & I have a hammer and nails at home, but that does not make us carpenters.  We also have a computer and have access to travel planning vacation websites, but that does not make us travel agents.  You were the consummate professional in all of the work you performed for us. You met us at our home to begin the itinerary and tolerated our many changes with the patience of a saint. Thank God that there were no blips in the plans but I am confident that you would have been there to save us.

We were in 5 countries over a two week period which was quite aggressive and with your help we pulled it off.  Thank you for talking us out of Prague because that would have put us over the edge.  Planes, trains and automobiles were always on time and your directions and guidance helped us to get there on time.

We were fortunate to have our son with us for the 2nd week as his German is quite good after five semesters in college.  He helped read train and subway schedules, order off a German only menu and ask questions for us from the locals.

The architecture, culture and scenery were amazing.  Makes one wonder how it all was accomplished so many years ago.  We highly recommend Venice, Florence, Salzburg (our favorite) and Munich.  The train ride from Venice to Salzburg through the Alps has created mind pictures for a lifetime. 

I do have two suggestions for you to share with your clients:

1. When asked for directions, look for people under 30 as they probably speak English and teenagers most likely speak 4 languages.

2. Lay out all the clothes you want to bring, and then cut it in half.  That was our biggest problem, dragging 100 lbs of stuff in each in our suitcases.

Thank you  again Annie for putting together such a memorable trip for us.  At every opportunity, we will refer you to anyone talking about a vacation. 

All the best,

Brad & Beth

I read a great article  in one of the travel trade magazines today. The author was talking about why consumers would use a travel agent, when surely most people believe that they have the knowledge and tools to make travel arrangements on their own. The one line that really resonated with me was this:  Having brushes and paint doesn’t make someone an artist.”

artists palette

You might have a computer, a subscription to Conde Nast Traveler, and some basic knowledge of geography, but are you an artist?

I know that I am. In fact, I refer to myself as an “Escape Artist“, because I create custom-tailored vacations that fulfill my clients’ dreams. I ask the right questions, do the right research, use the right connections, and rely on the right partners to put together a vacation that’s seamless, stress-free and memorable.

So, when it’s time to plan a really important “escape”  —  a honeymoon, family reunion, anniversary celebration, or girls’ getaway — why would you try and do it yourself? Come to think of it, ANY vacation is important these days, so why wouldn’t you put yourself in the capable hands of an Escape Artist?

I came across a great article today.  It’s written by a former travel agent, and it offers some solid advice on how to best take advantage of a travel agent’s knowledge, expertise and service.

To me, the key points he makes can be summarized as be upfront with your agent (discuss your real budget, explain where you can make tradeoffs, disclose any research or price/shopping you’ve already done, etc.) and treat your agent as you would any professional consultant (understand why he/she might charge a fee, respect their advice, develop a trust-based relationship)

Today’s travel consultant is an educated, experienced guide who can make your vacation experience so much richer if you just work hand in hand!

While I’m on the topic of weddings, I thought I’d add a quick note about honeymoons as well.

St. Lucia plunge pool

St. Lucia plunge pool

Most people’s mental picture of a honeymoon involves a white sand beach, turquoise waters, and a hammock built for two. But what if you hate the sun? Or your fiance breaks out in a cold sweat at the idea of doing “nothing” for a week? Or maybe you’re a history buff who dreams about castles and ruins rather than palm trees and coconuts.

Fear not!  There’s a honeymoon for everyone, and it’s my job to ask the right questions, do the right research, and put it all together for you.

I’ve worked with clients on “eco-touring” honeymoons in Costa Rica and Belize, art- and culture-filled honeymoons to Europe, and cruise honeymoons to see the glaciers in Alaska. The key is to think through what makes you happy, as a couple, and not to worry about the current honeymoon “hot spots”, or where the celebrities are headed.

And if you’re worried about paying for that trip of a lifetime, I’ll help you set up a free Honeymoon Registry so your friends and family can help contribute to the cause.  Because, really, in ten years, will you remember that toaster oven your aunt gave you . . . . or the day you swam with the dolphins in Cozumel?

I’m trying not to laugh.

A travel agent friend of mine just shared an email from a “sometimes” client who went ahead and booked a quick getaway to the Florida Keys on her own. Her agenda looks like this:

It’s a quick two-night stay. Found a great flight arriving in Miami at 5:20pm on a Monday night. Rent the car and be in Key West by 7pm. Spend the night on Duvall Street and the following day on the beach, then leave right after dinner on Wednesday for our 8:40pm flight home.

If you’ve ever been to the Keys, you know she’s in for a rude awakening. Factor in the Miami airport hassle, rental car lines, rush hour traffic, and the fact that it’s about a 150 mile drive, and she won’t be in her hotel until at least 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. As far as the plan to have dinner on Duvall Street before driving to Miami for an 8:40 pm flight home — good luck!

Sure, Miami is “right next to” the Keys, right? So it’s understandable that she thought this itinerary would work. But a travel professional would have explained the realities of the geography (the actual distance, the fact that it’s a two lane road in sections) and the nightmare that is the Miami airport (I prefer to fly into Fort Lauderdale instead, drive the extra distance, and maintain my sanity) and would have presented her with some much better options — like flying directly into Key West, which is the only thing that makes sense for such a short stay.

This is a perfect example of why even the simplest getaways can benefit from some professional guidance and advice. But I will admit that do-it-yourselfers like this are great for the entertainment value!

What’s your time worth?

I had a potential client tell me the other day that she had spent “hours” scouring the internet to find a quote that was $10 cheaper than the one I had given her for her vacation.  Let’s assume she spent three hours — that would mean her time was worth about $3.50 per hour? Even if she only spent two hours, that’s $5.00 per hour, which is still below minimum wage. Even my 13-year-old daughter makes $10 per hour to babysit!

It’s an extreme example, I know, but it illustrates a mindset that baffles me. Why would a busy professional spend hours on the internet trying to save a few dollars on a vacation? Wouldn’t that time be better spent on work, or family, or just about anything else besides sitting at a computer stressing out about something that’s supposed to be relaxing? Not to mention the fact that if they go ahead and book with the rock-bottom vendor they found online, what kind of service are they going to get? 

Most of us only take about two weeks of vacation a year, and we dream about it (and save up for it) for weeks and months before hand. My clients know that, by putting the planning process in my hands, they’ll be getting a great vacation (tailored specifically to their needs and desires) at a great price, and they won’t have to spend hours on the internet worrying about it!

Welcome to the Annie’s Escapes Travel Blog — a central gathering place for travel tips and advice, photos, trip reviews, travel questions, and more.

We’ll keep the site updated with our thoughts and ideas, and if you love to travel, please chime in. 

For more information about Annie’s Escapes, visit www.AnniesEscapes.com

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