There are some things I wish I knew before hiring a travel agent for an international family trip. This post has been updated.
If you’re a listener of our podcast or a regular reader here, you might know that I don’t really enjoy traveling. To free my husband from the burden of planning his own milestone birthday trip, I sought out a travel agent to help with the details that overwhelm me.
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Here’s What Was Amazing
Before I get into the particulars that disappointed me, I do have to give credit where credit is deserved.
Our trip to Paris was très magnifique! With the help of her French travel partners, the agent helped facilitate elements of traveling internationally that I would have never thought of myself or have been too overwhelmed to coordinate.
Airport Concierge at Paris Charles de Gaulle
We had an airport concierge at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. He met us upon arriving in Paris and helped us bypass long lines, immigration, and walked us right out to our awaiting transportation. It was great to see him again when we left from CDG at the end of our trip where he helped with luggage, escorted us through customs, and delivered us to the lounge.
The travel agent had planned VIP transportation from the airport to the hotel and back. Arranging a car big enough for luggage and our family was one less thing to have to worry about and felt très fancy. Plus, we didn’t have to navigate the insane Paris traffic, foreign signage, etc.
The responsibility of choosing a hotel is the one thing that I find extremely overwhelming when planning a trip. What if it’s a dump? I don’t want to feel responsible. I can get lost on the Trip Advisor website reading reviews and it absolutely paralyzes me in making a decision.
We stayed at three different hotels while in France and each one was better than the next! We received incredible service, welcome perks, and free breakfast everyday.
With the hotel connections an agent has, we also benefited with spa credits (though sadly we didn’t have any time to indulge).
I had absolutely no idea what to expect when we received our itinerary of tours.
In my mind, I thought we would be part of larger group tours. With the exception of the Eiffel Tower tour, we embarked on Versailles, the Louvre, and the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy with private tour guides. It was absolutely amazing and made visits to these landmark even better.
Six Things to Know Before Using a Travel Agent
Hindsight is 20/20.
Like I said, the trip was ultimately a success. But, leading up to our departure, I was pretty disappointed with our travel agent. Here’s why:
Confirm What You Were Told
Things I Wish I Knew #1: After interviewing a travel agent, follow up with an email outlining what was specifically discussed.
Our first conversation was great. I was clear on what I needed from her.
The travel agent assured me she could handle everything totally easing my worries. And to be fair, she did deliver an amazing trip but it was a bumpy ride getting to the finish line
She had a lot of previous experience, personally and professionally, with trips to France and many ideas of what we could do when visiting Paris. Including, taking a macaron baking class, a food tour, arranging for a professional family photo, and recommending a few Parisian cafes to relax and people watch.
When we received the proposed itinerary months later, none of her suggestions were on it. Sure, the big requests were there but missing were the other special experiences she mentioned in our first phone call.
Request a Timeline
Things I Wish I Knew #2: Ask for a timeline.
It was nearly six-months before our trip when I started working with a travel agent. After booking our flights, it was almost two months later until I heard from her again – and I was the one who reached out asking when the next part of the planning process would occur.
Three days before we left, she was still adding recommendations to our travel app. By this point, we had already booked reservations, etc. based off of internet recommendations. Three days before? No, ma’am. P.S. one of the restaurants she recommended had been permanently closed.
I do not know what is typical when it comes to planning big international trips. Perhaps it was wrong to assume all of the trip details would be buttoned up far in advance.
Ask for a timeline so you know when to expect the travel agent to be done on their end.
Keep Track of What You’re Spending
Things I Wish I Knew #3: Share your budget and ask what things cost.
My husband is a numbers guy and had created a budget for this trip. But often we were in the dark on knowing how much everything was going to cost until I asked for an itemized breakdown of hotels, transportation, tours, etc.
We knew what airfare had cost us because it was paid in full at the start. As for the other stuff, we were given a lump sum due after a deposit was made to hold the dates. Luckily we were still within budget but the travel agent wasn’t especially helpful in unwinding the distribution of money.
A side note: I wish I had been more forthright in our first phone call explaining that we wanted a nice trip but we also aren’t living that carte blanche life.
Ask About Fees
Things I Wish I Knew #4: Ask about fees and what is included at the beginning.
Travel agents are paid via commissions. Some charge additional fees for the itinerary or concierge services such as making reservations. Admittedly, I didn’t ask about fees when we first started working together. When I finally did, she confirmed she only charged a concierge fee (specifically referring to “dining, transportation, spa reservations, etc.”)
Triple Check Everything
Things I Wish I Knew #5: Don’t assume everything is correct.
The process was this: we were presented with a proposed itinerary, we confirmed the itinerary, the approved itinerary was put into a personalized travel app.
Good thing I checked the final itinerary line by line in the travel app because a lot of it was incorrect like times, locations, and transportation arrangements. I was told her assistant made some errors. But, there were also major changes to the plans we had initially approved.
For example, we approved train tickets from Paris to Normandy but in the travel app it indicated we’d be traveling by car. Turns out this wasn’t an error but a change to the plans completely because of scheduled rail work. We were never told about the change and we were annoyed by this because it may have changed the course of the trip.
A side note: I expected a professional travel agent to 1) triple check everything on my behalf and 2) communicate changes.
Push Back, if Necessary
Things I Wish I Knew #6: If you aren’t happy with what’s proposed, let it be known.
You are the client.
I wish I didn’t take the changes to the train trip so lightly. When one of our connecting flights was canceled, we were automatically rebooked on a flight that included a six-hour layover. I conceded to the layover until someone got in my ear about it being the job of the travel agent to present some better options.
Luckily we pushed back and ended up with an alternative flight without a six-hour layover.
I’ll say it again – the trip was fantastic. However, I still stand by the six things I wish I knew before hiring a travel agent.
I’m disappointed to share that after arriving home, there was no follow up from the travel agent. She never called or emailed to ask about the trip, how her services were, nothing.
I think that says a lot.
If you’re traveling to France anytime soon, I’d recommend you check out We Travel France. This was the French travel partner who had done most of the work in planning the tours and provided exceptional service when I needed them while in France.
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