And when I start thinking vacation, I think about my favorite travel agent, Janet McLaren. If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you will recognize that she’s my go-to gal for info on romantic destinations, world’s best beaches, etc. She’s also a great resource when I’m writing and need a few details about a place I’ve never been. Because, well, she’s been just about everywhere! And if she hasn’t been there herself, she’s planned a trip for someone else to go there!
So as I was pondering little getaways, I thought it might be fun to sit down and find out what a travel and cruise agent really does. Is it as glamorous as it sounds? Let’s find out . . .
So, Janet, give us the scoop . . . is it as glamorous as it sounds?
Yes, it sort of is -- I feel very connected to the world and learn something new every time I help someone plan a trip. Not often, but occasionally, a special opportunity will come along when I can travel at a discount, so I do get to experience places I might not otherwise visit.
There is a lot of tedious detail work, though, and even with so much being done via the internet I still have tons of paperwork (not my favorite part). I try to never let my clients see any of the behind-the-scenes work or the processes I go through to solve problems, though, because I want THEM to be the ones feeling the glamour and excitement of travel.
Give us a little background on how you came to be a travel agent.
I was a displaced restaurant owner – my husband and I left the business for a job opportunity for him, and we moved to the Dallas area. I worked for a travel agency for a while, but always enjoyed being self-employed. I was actually looking for a restaurant franchise when I came upon the American Express site advertising Cruise Planners franchises. It seemed like the perfect match for me.
What skill set does it take to be a travel agent?
I think the best skill I have is mastery of internet research. I will drill down until I get the answer, find the solution, or come up with a detail that my client needs. I’m not satisfied until I’m sure that the price is really right, or the air schedule is really the best, and so on. Comparing is important! You can’t just settle on the first thing you see or accept the first answer that you get. Of course I have excellent professional resources and the American Express network, so I can do in minutes what it might take a customer hours and hours to find out.
What mistakes do you see people make when planning a trip?
Hmmm…mostly just being too trusting of what they see on the internet. The internet is great for researching information, but in the booking process the emphasis is all about price, price, price and that’s not usually going to get you the vacation you really want. The other thing I would say is that they wait too long to book then get frustrated because the prices are higher, or the good flights are sold out, or they can’t get into the hotel they want, those kinds of issues. Waiting until the last minute is a terrible myth I wish would go away.
How often do you travel personally?
Oh, a couple of short trips a year and maybe a cruise, then about every other year a big trip like a longer cruise or a driving trip. For next year I’m planning a driving trip in Spain and Portugal – that will be a major adventure. This year I have several trips to visit family. I love Europe and wine tours, but I gotta get my hands on those grandkids!
Would you rather take a road trip, fly straight to your destination, or cruise?
All of the above! Seriously it totally depends on where we’re going – Steve and I like to see as many places as possible, so if there’s a coastline or islands, we opt for a cruise. Otherwise we fly-and-drive, like we’ll do in Spain and Portugal. Although I do have to say, one of the best vacations we ever had was an all-inclusive resort stay in the Dominican Republic, and I’m itching to plan another one in Mexico as soon as I can use my Southwest miles.
What’s your favorite place?
Haha -- usually the last place I visited! Right now my newest favorite is Scandinavia. I fell in love with the cities there on my last cruise – Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki…
Romance readers and writers will want to know this -- what’s the most popular place for honeymoons or destination weddings these days?
The Caribbean coast of Mexico (aka the Riviera Maya) is back in favor. You really can’t beat the value and convenience of flying into Cancun, and it’s very safe. The beaches are incredible, and the resorts are so beautiful and romantic. And cruising is always popular because it’s romantic and easy – after the stresses of planning a wedding the bride and groom can just chill and enjoy the ride.
Tell us about the most unusual trip you’ve planned.
A gentleman wanted to take his whole family on a trip to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu in South America, but he had a time constraint that didn’t work with an organized tour. He had only 11 days to take off and you really need 13 or 14! The logistics are very tricky because flights and ships only operate at certain times, and access is restricted at both sites. In the end I worked with a tour operator to create a customized guided tour in Peru, and then we coordinated that with a shorter cruise around the Galapagos. It all worked out very smoothly.
What’s the most tricky problem you’ve solved for a customer?
Definitely logistics in Europe -- flying between cities versus taking the train, coordinating the timing, renting cars and such. I recently helped a professor who was on a lecture circuit and also taking some personal side-trips. He and his wife were traveling to quite a few countries (I think the whole trip was about a month) and to get to a couple of their cities we ran into “you can’t get there from here” issues. But I was persistent in finding the solutions to make it all work and they ended up with a brilliant itinerary.
What’s the most important nugget of advice you’d give someone planning a summer trip right now?
Take a deep breath and give yourself plenty of time! For this summer everything is now officially “last-minute” so I’m suggesting closer-to-home destinations, and traveling as near to the start of school as you can because that’s when the price breaks happen. If you’re stuck with going during the peak times I’m recommending that you upgrade your experience – you’re probably paying a premium anyway, so make yourself happy! Take a better flight, stay in a more upscale hotel, get that oceanview room, and so on.
Lots of people take books along on trips to read on the plane, by the pool, or at the beach. What books are in your travel bags?
Honestly I enjoy romantic stories like yours, and maybe stories that have a tie-in with where I’m going. I’m saving your new book “Something Good” for my next trip (which is to visit the grandkids in Oregon later this month), and I have Michael Crichton’s “Pirate Latitudes” waiting for either my fantasy Mexican-resort vacation or my next Caribbean cruise.
Awesome info! Now, please share one thing that most people don’t know about you.
I want to write a book, too.
Good luck with that goal and your business! Thanks so much for chatting with us. Happy travels to all!
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