As you are reading this, my husband, Lilly and I are boarding a DISNEY CRUISE to the Bahamas!! AHHH! I am so excited by the thought about taking a vacation to the Bahamas – I have no clue how I am going to react once we reach there. For many reasons… but mainly because 1) I’ve never been on a cruise… EVER. 2) John and I haven’t had a vacation since our HONEYMOON. For real. NO time off since our HONEYMOON. 3) We need a vacation. Badly. 4) I’m tired of cold weather and ready to feel the sun on my back! It’s okay to be jealous. 🙂 Hehe just kidding!
A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about budgeting for a vacation or spring break trip. Well one of my best friends, Kristin, is a travel agent (who specializes in Disney stuff) and I was asking her about some of her experiences traveling, ways we can save some money on the trip, etc. etc. etc. I also just was talking with her about things she’s experienced as a travel agent with her clients and some of the horror scenarios she’s been able to help her clients get out of, etc.
Anyway, I’m rambling… but it got me to thinking – she’s WAY more of an expert on this stuff than I am, so I thought it would be awesome for her to share some of her tips that she shared with me with you guys.
This is totally a shameless plug FROM ME for one of my absolute dearest friends… Kristin would NEVER say this about herself because she is super humble, but she is SO smart, so kind, so organized, and just so awesome. I’m so glad to have her as a friend and I’m so glad that our babies can grow up together.
So, without further ado – here’s Kristin:
(all photos taken by Kristin on her travels!)
Get insurance– I know this doesn’t really sound like it will save you money because it is going to cost you more money up front. But, like anything else that you pay insurance for, it can save you BIG in the long run. Let’s say you book a cruise, pay thousands of dollars to take the vacation of a lifetime, and a hurricane forms in the Caribbean during the time that you are supposed to be cruising. If you didn’t purchase insurance, you are out all of that hard-earned money that you invested. Or, you plan to take your family to Disney and then one of your children gets the flu. Do you want to endure dragging them around the happiest place on Earth while they are feeling crummy? Paying a little up front for insurance allows you to recoup your money in the event that something causes your trip to fall through. Ask your agent about the insurance options that would best fit you and your trip.
You DON’T have to buy every souvenir. This goes for kids and adults. With Disney, check out your local Disney store or Disney store online for deals before you go. Shop the Target dollar spot, zulily and other discount stores to stock up well ahead of your trip. Take the little gifts with you and give one to your children each day you are gone as a special treat and so that they are not as inclined to ask for the way-overpriced souvenirs in the parks. Likewise, as adults you don’t have to buy every souvenir. Ask yourself what you are going to do with the item once you are home. If you can think of a great use for it or perfect place to put it, go for it. But, if you imagine yourself getting home and having no idea what to do with it, leave it in the store.
Do not allow your kids (or you) to impulse buy. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking you need to let your kids pick out souvenirs everywhere you go on your trip. Because, of course, that’s going to help them remember this trip you planned and saved so much for. And you definitely want them to remember it. You have to have proof that you spent all this money to go on this wonderful vacation. But, most of the stuff they want is only going to satisfy them briefly and probably isn’t worth the money. Instead, give them a set amount before the trip. Make them look around throughout your vacation and make a list of what they want to spend their money on. With my 3 year old we took iPhone pictures of the things he liked that he could look through on the last day and help him decide what he wanted. Then on the last day, let them go back and pick what they want to buy with their money. This way, they have had time to really think through what they want and they are more likely to buy something that will really mean something to them rather than picking up every piece of junk, er beautiful memorabilia, that catches their eye. This also works great for adults- wait until the end of the trip after you have seen things along the way to decide what you really want. Unless of course you won’t be going back to the same location, such as on a cruise or trip through Europe.
Ask your travel agent about deals where kids travel or eat free. Often all-inclusive resorts, particularly in the Caribbean, will offer deals where children travel or eat free. This can save you huge dollars if you are taking your whole family somewhere. Your travel agent can easily access which vendors and resorts are offering deals for various times of year. If there isn’t a current promotion and your dates for travel are flexible, have your agent keep watch and inform you whenever a promotion is released.
Buying a Living Social or Groupon is not always your best bet. Make sure to read the fine print if you do. There are often hidden fees associated. Also, these deals are often offered cheaper because they take out a level of service between the customer and the vendor. If you run into any issues on your trip, you will not have a person to contact that is your advocate to help you work out these problems. If you use a travel agent, you have someone who has established relationships with vendors and can work for you 24/7 while you travel to help fix any problems. They may not be able to get you quite as cheap of a price, but you get what you pay for and the security of having someone to work for you while you are gone may make those few extra dollars worth it to pay.
Be aware of and budget for hidden costs– The amount you see online for the vacation you are booking is most often not everything you are going to have to pay, even if you are booking an all-inclusive vacation. There are almost always hidden costs- gratuities, shore excursions, parking, taxis, baggage fees, resort fees, etc. A good travel agent will be able to tell you where to expect these hidden costs to be and how much to budget for them. Be aware that you will need some extra funds in your vacation budget to cover these costs.
Cruise-specific– Remember when booking a cruise that the price you pay for the cruise is only a portion of the vacation cost, unless you don’t want to do ANYTHING on the cruise. Additional cruising costs include alcohol, specialty restaurants, special food/drink items such as smoothies and coffee bar, shore excursions, spa, casino (not applicable on Disney Cruise Line), gratuities (which you can pre-pay). When deciding to cruise, set an additional budget for the things you want to do on the cruise so that you can actually enjoy yourself while on board.
Budget for travel. The best way to save money or take care of your money when traveling is to save and budget ahead of time. This can look different for different people. You can set aside money each month, plan to use your tax refund, make credit card purchases with a credit card that earns rewards and use the rewards (IF you plan to pay the credit card off each month and thus not incur any interest). But, whatever you choose to do, make sure that you have the money BEFORE you go travel. And build in extra for any emergencies so that you are not stuck floundering if something unexpected happens. This will allow you to breathe a sigh of relief, relax, and actually enjoy your vacation rather than worrying the whole time about how much you are spending.
And here are some reasons WHY you should use a travel agent:
Travel agents’ services are FREE. If you book through a travel agent, their services are free on all commissionable products. This means that the vendor (the hotel, tour company, resort, etc) pays the agency a commission. They do not charge you more in order to pay that commission. They pay commission because the agency is creating business for them. The one caveat to these free services is that travel agents may charge a small fee if you are requesting services that are not commissionable.
For example, airlines most often do not pay commission. If you want only airfare booked, an agent may charge a fee. However, if airfare is part of a larger package or vacation, your agent probably will not charge. Another caveat is that agents will charge a fee for services if you book on your own and then want their help planning a vacation. This is because by booking the vacation on your own, the agent no longer receives any commission, thus making no money. Though agents love what they do, they still must make a living and need to make money somehow. Allow them to book your vacation and it’s completely FREE to you!
Travel agents are connected- Travel agents usually work as part of an agency with other agents. Some are larger than others but almost all agents are connected to other agents. Not only are they connected within their agency, but they are often part of many agent groups, email lists, discussion boards. Because of these connections, they can get a wealth of first-hand information. You may be looking at hundreds of resorts on the internet and only seeing the professional photos that have been taken. An agent can ask his/her coworkers and find someone who has traveled to the location to give insider tips, help you select the right island in the Caribbean to fit your vacation style or price range, help you pick the right resort for your family or honeymoon or family reunion. There’s so much benefit in having access to people who have actually traveled to the locations you are considering.
Travel agents can often can find deals or know of deals that you may be unaware of. Travel agents are connected with many different vendors, some of which you do not have access to if you are not a part of an agency. These vendors send emails every time there is a promotion. Because of this, your travel agent will be aware of some deals that you may not even see when you Google the vacation you are looking at.
Travel agents can help you weed through the mountain of stuff out there. In this day and age of the Internet, it may seem Travel agents are becoming obsolete. This is far from the truth! Now, more than ever, you want someone to help guide you through the incredible amount of information that is out there. Just try Googling resorts in the Caribbean and see how much comes up. How in the world do you know where to start? Now, talk to an agent. They will ask questions to qualify you, or find out your needs, and then be able to help you narrow your search drastically. They will be able to present you with a much more manageable amount of information to sort through when selecting your vacation.
Travel agents have a lot of travel experience and training. Yes, many agents now are home based and work mostly using the Internet, but that does not mean that you know the same amount that they do about travel. Almost all agents have been through trainings with vendors, attended trade shows and seminars, and even taken familiarization trips to a variety of locations. This first-hand knowledge goes a long way in helping you plan a great vacation.
Travel agents are on call while you travel. Even the most well-planned out trip can have unexpected hiccups. Travel agents are always working and always on call when you are traveling. If you have a travel related emergency, call your agent. They can contact their representative with the vendor and often have the problem worked out in no time. Agencies have relationships with vendors and can help you solve a multitude of unforeseen problems that may arise while you are away.
Travel agents do not hinder you from having a hand in planning your vacation. You can still plan as much or as little of your vacation as you want. If you like control in planning your vacations, tell your travel agent up front that you want to do most of the research and planning and they will step back and allow you. But, if you want to just enjoy the trip, they will bear the load of booking, making deposits and final payments, planning itineraries, giving tips and tricks, etc.
When you use a travel agent you are supporting small business– When you book directly through a big vendor, your money is going to a big business. When you book through a travel agent, the commission the vendor pays the agency/agent supports small business and local economy.
Thank you SO much for sharing all your tips, Kristin!! Seriously. Isn’t she awesome?
As a former elementary school teacher and a current stay-at-home Mom, Kristin has a passion for helping families make lifelong memories with each other. She is a home-based agent who wants to help you to plan a memorable vacation without the headache of the logistical work. She will help you make the most of your vacation, guiding you to the best fit for your family!