Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dreaming of New York City

Over the past few months, I often spend Fridays musing on travel destinations, thanks to R We There Yet Mom's Friday Daydreamin'  series.  Sometimes I remember past vacations, and sometimes I dream about places I've yet to see.


Times Square--NYC

This week I'm daydreaming about New York City.  Summer and NYC go together in my mind, probably because summer's the only time of year I've been there.


Times Square--NYC

It really can't get much better than sitting atop the glowing red TKTS stairs on a hot summer night with my husband and sister, slurping frozen yogurt and watching the action in Times Square.


Times Square--NYC

What destination are you daydreaming about?  Please share!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Travel Tip: When to Use a Travel Agent

I've mentioned before that I relish trip planning and that I usually prefer to do it myself using online resources like Kayak, Room77, Tripadvisor, and Vayama. One question I am often asked is whether I ever use a travel agent.  The answer is YES!  In certain circumstances I've found travel agents to be invaluable for planning the type of trip I want to take.


Singapore's Changi Airport


One situation in which my travel agent has been a huge asset is overseas travel, particularly to Asia.  When planning my first trip to India ten years ago, I didn't even consult the internet.  Instead, I booked our airline tickets through an L.A- based agent that a friend recommended, and everything went off without a hitch.  Using an unfamiliar agent was fine in this situation given the limited services that we needed.

Two subsequent trips to India were a little more complex to plan, so I enlisted the aid of a travel agent in Salt Lake City whom I could call or visit at any time to ask questions.  With the rise of travel-related information and booking sites online, I was able to compare everything my agent quoted, and I was stunned at the disparity between the prices!



Singapore


My travel agent was able to book round-trip tickets to India on Singapore Airlines (my favorite!) with a stopover in Singapore that included four nights in a 5-star hotel, for several thousand dollars cheaper than anything I could find online.  The agent also came in very handy when some unforeseen circumstances delayed us in Japan's Narita Airport.  One quick call and our agent was able to rearrange tickets and hotel bookings to accommodate our disrupted schedule, in addition to scoring us a free night stay at a hotel along the way.



Downtown Singapore


Travel agents can be a superb resource when you have multiple-city itineraries.  If you enjoy VIP-level treatment, many travel agents have relationships and connections with hotels, airlines, restaurants, and local guides, and they can get you upgrades, perks, reservations, and experiences that you would be hard-pressed to obtain on your own.  In addition, there are agents that specialize in specific regions and countries, as well as specific types of travel or accommodations (i.e. cruises, villas), and their knowledge is usually top-notch.

Some tips for choosing a good travel agent:

  • Ask your friends and family for recommendations of travel agents they've worked with and enjoyed.  I've had great success with this strategy.
  • When you don't have a personal recommendation, get one from Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler on her list of Top Travel Specialists.
  • Still can't find a travel agent to meet your needs?  Check out travel agent networks such as Virtuoso, Signature, and Ensemble.
  • Understand that a good travel agent will want to build a relationship with you by asking detailed questions about your preferences and desired experiences.  Be as specific as possible about your needs, while also being realistic about expectations for your price range.
  • Expect to pay a fee, but make sure that the services and prices you are receiving are worth it.  Double check prices online, if possible.  If the agent won't provide a break down of costs (many don't) then be sure to ask questions about the benefits you are receiving by booking through them. 
  • Remember that all travel agents are not created equally! You will find wild differences in level of service and prices quoted between agents.  Do your research and don't hesitate to ask questions, and feel free to switch to another agent or agency if you aren't comfortable with the service you receive.
  • View more tips for maximizing your experience with a travel agent here.

Have you ever used a travel agent?  How was your experience?

For more awesome travel tips, please visit Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels!

I'm also linking up this week with Budget Traveler's Sandbox's Travel Photo Thursday!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reminiscing



As the months go by, I am often reminded of what I was doing last year at this time, or even a few years ago at this time, especially with regard to my travels.  Does this ever happen to you?

Recently I've been reminiscing about a motorcycle trip I took to South Dakota with my husband in June of 2008, well before we had our daughter.  After riding from Utah to Mount Rushmore, along with my parents and aunt and uncle who also ride, we spent a week exploring the beauty of South Dakota.   This photo of me looking out over the Badlands brings back such fond memories of that trip.

Please visit R We There Yet Mom? to see some awesome travel photos and stories from all over the world.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Travel Tip: Take the City Tour!

I'm not usually one for gathering with lots of other tourists when I travel.  My husband and I prefer to explore on our own, whether by foot,  public transportation, or car, finding all those interesting out-of-the-way places that make a city unique.

However, there's one exception to our independent travel preferences: Organized city tours!

Singapore Ducktours' amphibious vehicle


I never thought I'd be a proponent of organized city tours.  You know the ones...those double-decker, open top buses you see in places like New York City with a quirky guy or gal shouting into a microphone and gesturing wildly at all the local sights?  "Nope, not for me," I thought.

Well, I was wrong.  On a recent trip to Asia, we took advantage of Singapore Airlines' Stopover program in Singapore (I can't praise this program enough...you should definitely check it out if you are ever traveling through Singapore!)  Now, we'd visited Singapore a few times before and had always loved it.  I didn't think there was much that we hadn't seen of the city.  When I noticed that a city tour on Singapore Ducktours  was included as part of our stopover package, I wasn't too keen on going, especially since there were so many other included attractions that I wanted to visit first.


One of Singapore's many green spaces, framed by the Esplanade, Singapore Flyer, and hotels


My husband convinced me to try the tour anyway, so off we went.  We climbed aboard the retrofitted WWII-era amphibious Vietnamese war craft and got comfortable as we started off on the "land" portion of the tour.  I was surprised at how enjoyable and informative the tour was, and we got to see several parts of the city that I hadn't seen before.

Soon we were headed toward the "sea" portion of the tour, entering the Marina Bay.  Despite the ominous looking sky, we were treated to fantastic views of some of Singapore's best landmarks:


The Singapore Flyer


The Float@Marina Bay, the world's largest floating stadium, hosting concerts and other events 



The Esplanade-Theaters on the Bay



The Merlion, with the Fullerton Hotel and Singapore's financial district in the background

My travel tip for today? Take the city tour!  Don't worry about looking like a tourist :-)  Since my Singapore trip, I've done city tours in several other locations and have found that it's a great way to start off my vacation.  I get oriented to my destination, see amazing landmarks, gather some interesting information from the tour guides, and after an hour or so I'm free to explore the city independently.

Have you ever taken a city tour?  

To view more photos, stories, and tips from fellow travelers, please visit Budget Traveler's Sandbox, Walkingon Travels, and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.