Last year we saw hundreds of websites and books devoted to every aspect of travel: whether you’re traveling to Tokyo or camping in Norway, there’s probably a website to help you plan your trip. Despite popular belief, not everything on the Internet is true—unless you think I’m a French model. In that case, bonjour.

The biggest challenge I have when planning a vacation is figuring out what I want to see, when to see it, and where to stay. That is where a travel agency comes in handy—travel agencies aren’t for everyone, so how do you know when it might be best to go with one?

Here are a few questions that will help you along:

  • Do you have a deep knowledge of the area you are visiting?
  • Are you on a strict budget?
  • Are you traveling with a large group?
  • Do you like puppies? (Maybe I’m just curious about this one…)

The biggest advantage of using a travel agency is that they have the knowledge of your location, and may even have an expert devoted to that region. On a recent trip to Italy, we used a travel agency to plan a trip we couldn’t get from a guidebook—our agent booked reservations at a villa in Tuscany and gave us the name of a local grocery store we had to try for lunch.

Travel agents also can provide you with knowledge of where to stay. This is especially important if you visit regions, countries, or cities with a higher crime rate. Travel agencies also give you access to services you normally might not receive—anything from securing reservations at a trendy restaurant, picking up a skip-the-line pass, or booking the last room at a top hotel.

An additional benefit of using a travel agency is they’re willing to work within your budget. Whether you want to stay at a five-star resort or have a more modest budget, they’ll design the perfect vacation. Personally, I view this as the best time saver of everything I’ve mentioned; rather than taking hours to research various hotels, make sure they’re in your price range, and find one in a safe area, a travel agency can do it all for you. This is also helpful when looking at the most affordable transportation options, or any special excursions you’re considering. They’ll usually give you several options and allow you to pick the one that best fits your interests.

So, how do you choose the best travel agent so you don’t end up with the Eddie Money Travel Agency? Try to do your research.

Use the following as a guideline:

  • Do they get paid commission on specific areas or hotels? Remember: you’re the customer, so they should be responsive to your interests.
  • Do they personally travel to and explore the areas they’re trying to sell you on?
  • How much do they require up front? Most companies require full payment 60—90 days before you depart.
  • Do they operate a 24-hour help desk in case the unexpected happens? Who wants to be stranded in a foreign country because it’s not 8:00am yet?

When you choose the correct travel agency for what you want and need from a great vacation, it’s sort of like capturing magic in a bottle. You’ll have a more rounded experience, with the freedom of doing what you want when you want all within the budget you set. Really—what else could you ask for out of a vacation?

Happy travels!

Featured image via Unsplash.

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