I can't tell you how often I get asked, "Are travel agents worth it?" When there's so much information online and we have access to countless blogs, price search engines, and overall knowledge, it's hard to know if travel agents are still relevant. Since about 2004-ish, the travel agent profession has declined dramatically. Now, most travel agents fill a very specific niche, whether it's luxury travel, budget travel, cruise travel, family travel, or they focus on a particular area of the world.
Are Travel Agents Worth It?
Let's take a step back before answer that question. Imagine you want to go on an authentic African safari. Not a 50 person coach tour or even a 15 person tour with strangers, just you and your favorite person. How would you go about booking that trip? Do you risk getting scammed by an illegitimate tour company? How do you know the best and safest places to stay? If something goes wrong, who is your on-the-ground contact? Asking these questions takes you down a scary rabbit hole.
This is where travel agents come into play. Agents who specialize in parts of the world where you are unfamiliar add tremendous value to your overall experience. They know where to go, where to eat, who to call, and most importantly, they can help you tailor your trip to fit your needs. Travel agents will also know what kind of travel documents you'll need to get in and out of the country. They may be able to set you up with a private guide to take you around and give you a more authentic experience than if you booked yourself.
Can't I just ask my friends for recommendations?
Yes… But. While asking your friends for recommendations is a great idea, it's important to know how your friends travel compared to how you like to travel. Do your friends love backpacking and hiking where you're more of a spa and taxi kind of traveler? There's no right or wrong way to travel. However, if you're going to ask for recommendations, be sure you're asking recommendations for the same type of experience.
General Guidelines and Questions:
Use a Travel Agent When:
- You want a highly specialized experience (camping in the Atacama desert, safari, hiking the Inca trail, traveling with kids)
- You want to visit a hard-to-get-to destination (Bhutan, Guinea Bissau, etc.)
- You have no idea what you want to do or where you want to go
- You want a completely private experience
- You need an on-the-ground contact person
Book on Your Own When:
- You know where you want to stay
- You know what you want to do
- You're visiting an area fairly familiar
- Countries where the native language is the same (or very similar) to your own
- You feel confident you can get around safely
Ultimately, it's up to you as to whether or not travel agents are worth it. For the right trip, travel agents are your best source of information and will add so much to your trip with their knowledge and through their local contacts. Whatever you choose, keep traveling!