A huge thanks to our partners at GOGO for creating this amazing video!
I don't think I can say it better...
One of my most heartfelt and amazing client reviews included this phrase:
"Ashley, Wow you are awesome! I always do my own travel arrangements but was a little scared going out of country and it felt safer to use a travel agent. You have been incredible! I will absolutely recommend you to all my friends and family.
Thank you for everything and all of the tips."
I think Michelle's review sums things up perfectly. Yes, you CAN do it yourself but why should you?
For 2018, I have been contacted by more and more clients to book multi-generational trips. These are trips with grandparents, parents and kids all travelin together. Apparently I am not alone; multi-generational travel is one of the hottest growing trends in the travel industry.
Surprised? I am not! With so much competing for a family's attention, I am thrilled to see so many parents and grandparents choosing travel as a way to make long lasting family memories. Travel may be one of the last things that compete with a laptop, mobile device or gaming system! Getting your kids and parents out into a new environment - something outside of their comfort zone - is also a great way to encourage family bonding.
Our partners at Vacation.com recently shared an entire blog post on this very topic. Here it is below, annotated with my own thoughts. Enjoy!
Multi Generational Family Travel Made Easy
Exploring new destinations with parents, siblings, children and other family members can offer opportunities to share enriching new experiences and create shared stories and memories that will last forever. With these tips, along with the expertise of your trusted travel advisor, you’ll be on your way to a memorable, multigenerational trip of a lifetime.
EVERYONE GETS A SAY Interview all family members who will be traveling to find out what they want to get out of the vacation and involve them in the planning. This includes even young children. What do they want to see and do? What are must-haves and simply wish items? Each person should get one thing they really want to do or see. By getting everyone involved, each family member will feel like they are a part of making the trip fun and successful.
BE CLEAR ON FINANCES, AND NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING When planning a multigenerational vacation, consider everyone’s budget. Talk about who is paying up-front to avoid awkwardness or surprises. Sometimes grandparents offer to pay, while other times it may be the second generation that pays for their own families or for everyone. Budgeting for the trip is important. How much do you want to spend? Be sure to discuss possible additional expenses, such as meals, drinks, babysitting, excursions, tips, transportation, etc. Once a budget is determined, stick to it.
ACTIVITIES Choose a destination with a wide appeal, including a good mix of activities; some scenic, some mild, moderate or extreme to cater to different ages and physical fitness levels. Look for opportunities for local cultural immersion, such as learning a language or how to cook local cuisine. This is where the expertise of a travel professional can come in handy, by helping you discover creative tours, excursions, off-the-beaten-path attractions and connections that allow you to experience what the locals do. Make sure there are enjoyable activities that everyone can do together, and some that can be done in separate groups. The wider the age range in your extended family, the more options you’ll want to consider. Don’t expect everyone to participate in every activity. Be flexible, but reconvene as a group throughout the day so no one will feel left out of the fun.
BUILD IN SOME DOWNTIME Avoid overscheduling, and don’t attempt to see and do everything your destination offers. Otherwise you’ll be dealing with some cranky kids – and adults, too! Balance a morning of activities with a few hours to relax in the afternoon. Also, schedule some time apart. Taking time to have a little space is healthy and helps prevent family members from getting on each other’s nerves.
CAPTURE SPECIAL MOMENTS Multigenerational trips are unique and special, as busy schedules often prevent groups from getting away together often. So, take photos and videos. Be sure you get photos of the entire group. And last, but not least, remember to laugh! There’s bound to be a misstep or two when traveling with a multigenerational family, but at the end of the day, don’t sweat the small stuff. Keeping a sense of humor will keep everyone happy.
NOT SURE WHERE TO START? A travel expert can create a multigenerational travel experience that will create memories your family will forever cherish.
Shared with permission From Vacation.com/Travel Leaders
Merriam-Webster offers this definition:
1:conscious of benefit received 2:expressive of thanks 3:well pleased
As we enter this season of gratitude and reflection, I wanted to take a moment to say THANK YOU to all of you, our loyal friends and clients.
Dear Friends of Alpaca Your Bags,
As we enter our 3rd full year of being an independent, family owned and local travel agency, I am bursting with gratitude and thanks. Four years ago, I never would have dreamed that this business would take off the way that it has. I am truly humbled at our success over the last year.
2017 brought some awesome achievements for this little ol' travel business:
On the Romance Travel front, we also achieved some big goals:
It's been an exciting year... exciting and honestly a little overwhelming! This year's success has also brought about some big changes, one of which I am going to share in this email.
Effective November 1, Alpaca Your Bags Travel is now a partner agency to Travel Concepts KC. This is an exciting partnership that will bring many additional benefits and personal 1-on-1 connections in the destinations you know and love.
Travel Concepts' owner Denise Canon is a 20+ year veteran of the KC area travel industry. She has been a mentor to me and I'm thrilled to connect our businesses on this level.
Nothing will change with Alpaca Your Bags ... this is totally added value and a BOOST to my ever growing business. This partnership will also allow Alpaca Your Bags to expand into two additional continents: Europe and South America travel. There will be more to share on this very soon!
If you've read this far, THANK YOU! None of these achievements would be possible without each and everyone of you. Thank you for your support, your referrals, your shares & posts, your bookings and of course, your friendship. Next year is going to be even more exciting... I am still holding back on some secrets, so you'll have to tune in to see what's next!
AS A THANK YOU to all of our loyal clients, I'd like to offer each of you $100 off your next NEW booking. This offer is good for all 2018 travel; just mention this blog post and we'll get started. This offer expires December 22, 2017.
From our house to yours, Happy Thanksgiving and have a wonderful Holiday Season.
(and Christopher, Jen, Annette, Matt, Sally and Charlie)
It's November 1, and that means we can start talking about Small Business Saturday! For me, this is the Christmas, Black Friday and New Year's Eve, all rolled up into one. Fun Fact: From my days working in NYC advertising, I know two people personally involved in the creation of Small Business Saturday ...it's a great idea and I am proud to support it!
Why Small Business Saturday? I love the fact that it reminds and encourages all of us to #thinklocal, #shoplocal and #shopsmall. When it comes to choosing a travel agent, travelers get a LOT of benefits for shopping small!
For a travel agent, finding the right Small Business Saturday promotion can be kind of tricky. Since I spend most of my days planning destination weddings, family vacations and group vacations in Mexico and the Caribbean, I would LOVE to give away trips to everyone! Unfortunately, that is not very realistic.
In the past, I have done giveaways to celebrate Small Business Saturday. The giveaways are great, but let's face it... free stuff is really only exciting for the person who WINS the free stuff!
This yea, I think I have found a creative way to spread the love. I am focusing on THREE ways for you and your friends to learn and experience all the ways that working with a travel agent can benefit YOU! From now until November 19*, here's how Alpaca Your Bags Travel will celebrate Small Business Saturday!
*One comment you may be thinking: "Ashley, if Small Business Saturday is Nov 25, why are you ending the promotion on November 19?" GREAT QUESTION :) That is because I have Thanksgiving week plans that limit my access to internet and phone. Rather than create disappointment, I am cutting off the promo at November 19. That still gives you almost THREE WEEKS to take advantage!
Ready to get started?
Contact me to ask questions or jump straight to the quote request form.
I am excited to celebrate Small Business Saturday and #shopsmall with you!
HI All, Ashley the travel agent here.....
Did anyone else just think of Kermit the Frog or is that just me?
Here at Alpaca Your Bags Travel, we are destination wedding professionals. We obviously plan destination weddings, but did you also know that I was a destination bride myself? In fact, due to my experience as a destination wedding travel agent, a destination wedding bride AND a destination wedding guest, I was recently asked to speak about this very topic!
Since I'm both a travel agent AND a destination wedding bride, the wonderful team in Nevis thought I would be a good speaker for the Nevis Romance Forum, a special annual event for travel agents. In honor of this event, below are my top tips for how to be a great destination wedding guest.
1. DO RSVP early! Just like an “at home” wedding, the wedding couple needs a head count for who will attend their wedding and events. In most cases, there is a per person cost for each guest who attends the reception or other events… these are costs the couple needs to budget for. When you delay RSVPing, this adds unnecessary stress to the couple. Please do your brides or grooms a favor and RSVP early!
2. DO book within the group contract: If you receive an invite for a destination wedding, chances are there’s instructions for booking with a specific travel agent. Sometimes guests will want to save a few dollars and search for rates on 3rd party booking sites. This is a no-no and is a HUGE disservice to your brides or grooms! As a heads up, your wedding couple is counting on you to book with their agent. They have signed a group contract with financial implications for guests who book outside the group.
Since most people don’t have experience with group hotel contracts – especially in a foreign country – here’s why this is important:
Most brides or grooms will never tell their guests this… they are polite and don’t want to stress out the guests. However, now that you have the inside scoop, do them a solid and follow the booking instructions provided. When guests book on their own, it causes a lot of unnecessary stress and financial headache.
Here’s another inside tip: the couple’s travel agent is absolutely willing and able to work with you if you think you’ve found a cheaper rate. Just send them a screenshot of the rate you find and they will take it from there. It’s a win win for everyone!
We’ve covered how booking separately is not a good things for the couple.. did you know that it’s also not good for the guest? Here’s why:
3. DO let the couple know if your plans change. From beginning to end, a destination wedding is often a 9-12 month process. In that time, a lot of life happens … people change jobs, have babies, move across the country and more. If your plans change and you’re no longer able to attend, DO let the couple know ASAP. They will understand! This helps the couple communicate an accurate headcount to the hotel so they aren’t stuck paying for unused rooms.
Part 2 of this “Do” is DO get the travel insurance! Travel insurance provides a refund if your plans change… there are NO refunds without it! This is less stress for you and the couple
4, Do NOT bring gifts to the destination. It is very thoughtful to give your wedding couple a gift- good for you! However, do the couple a favor and don’t bring it to the destination. It’s just one more thing they have to lug home. With baggage fees as high as they are, this can add an unncessary burden to the couple.
5. DO have a great time! This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for your group… make the most of it! Enjoy your time together! Whether its relaxing, going on excursions or just chilling by the pool, one of the biggest perks of a destination wedding is the ability to make priceless memories… memories you just can’t duplicate at an “at home” wedding.
Listen up, Linda (Does everyone remember this adorable boy from Ellen??)
I’ve got something awesome to tell you.
If you follow us on Facebook or perhaps know me in real life, you’ve probably heard me babble on about UNICO, the newest resort offering in Mexico.
Is your head nodding yes?
I’ve basically been a broken record about UNICO since it was announced two years ago. Last summer, I was even lucky enough to visit Cancun as the construction was finalized.
Let me tell you right now: UNICO (or UNICO 20͒° 87° as she’s formally known) Is the next big thing. Without any hype or pretense, this is going to be a game changer in the All Inclusive resort industry.
Similar to what Sandals did with luxury, UNICO is reinventing the entire concept of what it means to be “all inclusive”. This adults only property is going to be the top of every travel magazine’s list in 2017 and 2018. In fact, it’s already starting to appear in some “best new destinations” lists.
Remember how Netflix changed the video rental industry?
How UBER changed the transportation industry?
UNICO is in a similar vein, and I’m not even kidding.
Here’s a bit more about what makes UNICO so special.
*Obligatory asterix to tell you that some spa and excursion options do have a 20% service fee.
However, once you see what the options are, I think you’ll agree that a 20% gratuity is a great value.
Another thing I love about UNICO: As a property, they stress local, artisan, handmade and authentic.
Food is locally grown, drinks are prepared with local brands, even the decor is hand crafted by local people (and you can shop it!)
This is a property that I am simply dying to book for you. Ever since it opened in March, they have been offering amazing grand opening rates that will end at the end of 2017.
The rates for 2017 are frankly absurd.
For example, right now you can save $1,000 PER PERSON on a stay for two.
You know you’re always asking me “Where can I get a great deal?”
THIS is that deal. And it won’t last forever.
Our sales team at UNICO has already warned us that rates are likely to DOUBLE in 2018.
Want in on this amazing piece of luxury?
NOW is the time.
Message me and let’s get started… we also have some exclusive bonuses that you can only get from Alpaca Your Bags Travel! !
Sample included excursions:
A few weeks ago, I got the dreaded fundraiser text message.
You know the one. It was the “please help Sally go to camp by buying this candy bar” text.
First of all – when did parents selling become the new norm?
Aren’t the kids themselves supposed to do the selling?
Isn’t the point of a fundraiser to teach entrepreneurship, teamwork and follow through?
Insert <back in my day...> comment here.
Anyway, I digress…
Since Matt and I do not have kids, we are the designated aunt & uncle who buy ALL THE THINGS. Cookie dough, wrapping paper, popcorn, magazines… you name it, we’ve bought it.
However, my years living in NYC taught me to abhor STUFF. When you live in 600 square feet, you quickly learn to prioritize what is needed and what is not.
Most of us don’t NEED more wrapping paper, garbage bags and most of all, cookie dough. Open any magazine or read any website; you’re likely to see at least one articile espousing the importance of Experiences over Things or quality family time.
Back to the fund raising: I hate to say no. Especially when the child is doing the hustlin’.
However, we just don’t need more STUFF.
Enter the travel fundraiser… TA DA!
If you are in a school group, church group, charity or alumni organization, Alpaca Your Bags Travel can help you set up a travel fundraiser that will knock people’s socks off.
Travel fundraising can work two different ways:
Option 1: Group Travel (set itinerary)
This is probably what most people envision when they think of fundraiser travel. In this option, the travel agent partners with the group leader to choose a designated cruise or specific dates at an All Inclusive resort. At Alpaca Your Bags Travel, we negotiate special “comps” i.e. free stuff and amenities that can be distributed to your group OR redeemed as cash value for your fundraising efforts.
Amenities can include things like cash credit in your travelers’ ship account, free accommodations for the group leader, free cocktail parties and events or more. It can also include cold, hard cash for your fundraiser. WIN-WIN!
This is good for one-off fundraising events, like an annual drive. It’s also good for events where you want to travel *with* your group to build camaraderie, team building or just to make memories.
Pros: Easy and quick to set up, easy to explain
Cons: Set itinerary, group must travel together
Option 2: Open Ended Travel Fundraising
As the name describes, this one is a bit more flexible. In this option, the travel agent negotiates special rate and fundraising amenity with a particular resort chain or tour operator. The group leader and the travel agent partner to offer ANY dates to the group members.
For example, we can negotiate a special deal with Palace resorts that has no specific date or location. Your group can earn fundraising credit *any time* a member uses a special promo code on any date or location.
This option is good when you have a large group and difficulties getting everyone to agree on the same date and itinerary. However, this one does take more time to negotiate. It also may require a year-long commitment or more.
Pros: Flexibility for your travelers, groups do not need to travel together
Cons: Longer set up time, typically requires annual commitment
Both of these options have big payoffs. We know a college alumni group that raised over $60,000 in 2 years using these fundraising methods.
The best part? If you’re the group leader, you don’t have to do ANYTHING! The travel agent does all of the work! The Alpaca Your Bags Travel team can create marketing materials, attend group meetings, handle travel arrangements and more. We can also set up electronic tracking so you know exactly what you’ve raised at any time.
Are you interested in learning more about travel fundraising? Would you like to make wrapping paper and cookie dough a distant memory?
Contact us today to get started!
Last month, we blogged about some of our favorite island destinations for a summer vacation. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be focusing on individual islands as part of our Destination Spotlight series. Get ready to learn something new about your favorite destinations!
Looking for a taste of England in the Caribbean? Barbados was founded as a British colony in 1625, is still very English today. In fact, the island is commonly referenced as “Little England” and bears some of the same characteristics.
Some fun facts about Barbados:
This picturesque island still falls on some core English traditions, including afternoon tea time, a love for cricket as well as an emphasis on education and impeccable manners. In fact, some may find the Bajans a little more reserved than other residents of the Caribbean.
Sidebar: This is where we mention that Rihanna is from Barbados. Reserved? Hmmm…
That said, Barbados offers a level of efficiency that is not always found with the relaxed pace of other Caribbean destinations. There is a level of refinement here that upscale travelers will enjoy.
Barbados is a smaller island at only 14 miles wide, but it has a diverse landscape. While Barbados does NOT have the lush rain forests and mountains that you’ll find in other parts of the Caribbean, it does have natural caves, rocky cliffs, blowholes by the sea and miles of sugacane fields.
There is a lot of history in Barbados! It’s a good island for someone who wants to learn as well as relax. A visitor can trek to see the 1,000 year old Baobab tree in Queen’s park, see colorful stained glass at St. Michael’s Cathedral or visit the Mount Gay Rum distillery tour. There are dozens of museum, including the history of sugar making at the Sir Frank Hutson Sugar Museum.
Barbados is known as the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean,’ and even offers some of the only Zagat rated restaurants on the Caribbean sea. One of the most interesting parts of the Barbados culinary scene is how multi-cultural it can be: When in Barbados, you can find Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Thai, and Polynesian fare.
A unique time to visit Barbados is in November, with the introduction of the somewhat new Barbados Food and Rum Festival. Barbados is fast becoming known for its appeal to the most seasoned foodies, who continue to flock here for fine dining and beverages in exquisite, internationally acclaimed restaurants.
Today, over 50% of Barbados’ tourism traffic comes from the cruise lines (the second busiest cruise port in the Caribbean). Nearly 40 different cruise lines dock in 14 berths in Deep Water Harbour, just west of Bridgetown (the capital). While cruise traffic is heavy, those staying a resorts up the coast will barely notice.
Art galleries and luxury shopping is huge in Barbados. There are four major shopping areas outside of Bridgetown: Sheraton Mall, Dome Mall and Sky Mall (not to be confused with the airplane catalog!) feature local brands. LImegrove LIfestyle Center features upscale brands like Louis Vuitton, Burberry and more.
You Should Visit Barbados if…
A huge thank you to Travel 42 and the Barbados Tourism Marketing crew for their help with this destination spotlight! Looking for more info about Barbados? Click on over here to set up your free vacation consultation.
I have been in the industry for a number of years. This is one of the best guides I've seen. If you are even considering a destination wedding then this is a must have book
I found Ashley Morris' guide most helpful not only to me but also to any bridal couple thinking about or planning a destination wedding. Not only does it give useful information and tips, there are also links to websites that would enhance the planning process. Every bride & groom should have a copy of this guide.
I know firsthand the thought of planning a destination wedding can be intimidating and overwhelming. Ashley's guide helps you understand how all the pieces come together for a stress free experience. Your wedding is one of the most important and memorable days of your life. Your very first step in the planning process should be to read this guide!
The book is available for $8.99 on Amazon. However, we are so excited about the launch, we are going to do something crazy.
For a limited time, The Ultimate Destination Wedding Planning Guide is FREE for the taking!
It's 30 pages jam packed of everything you need to make your day special.
Want to get the free guide? Click the image below!
Breaking news! Alpaca Your Bags Travel will have a booth at this year's inaugural Ivory Market Days on June 24-25 in Warrensburg! A huge thank you to show creators and host:
Ivory & Lace Bridal Boutique
Buckeye Acres Produce.
Don't forget to stop by our booth and register to win a 3 night stay at any Royalton Luxury Resorts property! It would make a perfect honeymoon or romantic getaway for one lucky couple. See you there!
When Matt and I planned our destination wedding, we knew that a wedding website would be the best solution for our needs.
For our wedding, we had everyone from my 24 year old niece to my 70-something grandmother asking for info. In total, we had nearly 60 guests traveling from eight cities. We needed ONE place that guests could go for information about the resort, the dates, the planned activities and more.
On top of that, we didn't want to mess with traditional invitations and save the dates. Yes, they are beautiful and I love stationery (card carrying Cricut owner, right here!). However, our wedding came at a very complicated time. I was living in two places (NYC and Warrensburg), Matt was away for training and we had a lot on our plates. With all of our addresses, there was a point in time where I didn't even know where RSVP cards could be sent!
We needed an all-in-one website and wedding manager solution. Enter Wedding Window.
Before you ask - yes, I am Wedding Window affiliate. I believe in full disclosure when it comes to sponsored posts. However, I do have strict crtieria before I write about a brand or product:
Fortunately for my wedding and honeymoon clients, Wedding Window fits the bill!
Why I like Wedding Window
When my destination wedding clients ask me for a website solution, I typically make two recommendations.
I"ll be honest: Squarespace makes beautiful sites. Beautiful!
However, not everyone has the patience to fiddle with the URL settings, the design, uploading photos, etc.
Also, it doesn't have a back-end, behind-the-scenes system to manage the invite list, email save the dates and easily accept guest RSVPs.
Wedding Window offers the following:
In addition to the wedding website and eCard features, Wedding Window offers a bunch of planning tools:
In short, Wedding Window is a great solution for the less-tech savvy couple ... including myself.
I used it, I loved it, and I think you will love it to!
To start your own Wedding Window experience, click on this link and sign up. Make sure you tell them Alpaca Your Bags Travel sent you!
As a travel agent, one of the most common questions I get is “Where are YOU going this year?”
What is that saying about the shoe makers children? Sometimes I am so caught up in planning all of YOUR travel that I forget to make time for my own vacations!
My husband will snort-laugh at that statement because the word “vacation” is a little foreign to me… it’s hard to ever really shut down and relax when you have clients on the go. It’s also hard to be married to a travel agent… no matter where we are, I am peppering concierges with questions, ducking into open hotel rooms for impromptu “inspections,” and constantly saying things like “this resort would be good for families with teenagers.” LOL.
Nonetheless, everyone needs time to relax and recharge. I have a few trips planned this year; a little bit of work and a little bit of leisure mixed in. Here’s a rundown of my own personal travel for 2017 (at least what is planned for today!)
Western Caribbean (Cozumel, Belize, Honduras)
Next month, Alpaca Your Bags Travel is hosting a Whiteman Air Force Base group cruise onboard the Carnival Freedom. I’ve actually never personally cruised Carnival before so I am excited to check it out! We have several fun excursions planned including a waverunner tour of Cozumel, cave tubing in Belize and hanging with the sloths & monkeys at Daniel Johnson’s Sloth & Monkey Hangout in Roatan, Honduras. I CANNOT WAIT TO HOLD A BABY SLOTH!
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This trip is a prize! Last year, I attended a travel agent conference in Playa del Carmen. While we were there, we participated in the first annual travel agents Amazing Race. Imagine 50 travel agents racing down Avenida 5 (Fifth Avenue) in Playa del Carmen, doing crazy things like eating brain tacos and selling coconuts on the beach. Guess who won? THIS GIRL! My team of four won a 3 night stay at any Hard Rock Resort & Hotel property. We are planning to use ours at the intimate, friendly Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta. I love Puerto Vallarta because the scenery is so unique. The combination of beach and mountains reminds me of my time in Rio de Janeiro.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
It’s no secret that I love the DR; my husband and I actually got married there on beautiful Bavaro Beach. This year, I’ll be attending the Romance Travel Forum, an elite travel agent event for travel agencies who specialize in honeymoons, destination weddings and the like. While at RTF, I’ll be visiting several properties to report back for you: the Paradisus Palma Real, Secrets Cap Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Sanctuary Cap Cana and more.
As of today, this is my only true “vacation” of 2017. Did you know that Bermuda is only 600 miles due west of North Carolina? It’s a great place to visit and (as of today) one of the only tropical Zika-free destinations close to the US. We can’t wait to check out the pink sand beaches. Horseshoe Bay, historic St. George and (hopefully) get our preliminary PADI scuba certification. More to come on this trip!
While not as glamorous as the destinations above, I had to throw this one in. I love Chicago, having lived in nearby Milwaukee for almost 7 years. In August, Christopher, Jen and I will be meeting in Chicago for the first annual Alpaca Your Bags Travel annual meeting.
Did this list inspire any travel plans for 2017? Where do you hope to visit this year?
Let us know in the comments!
Planning a family vacation is a big undertaking… and a big expense. Flights, accommodations, souvenirs and excursions can add up faster than you can say “momhestouchingme!” Busy families can easily spend weeks — if not months — researching and planning the best way to save their hard earned dollars.
In an earlier post, we explained a few ways that travelers can prioritize and set aside money for travel. But did you know that travel agents are also a great resource for saving money on the trips themselves?
As travel agents, we are often asked “What’s the cheapest deal you can get me?”
I’ll be honest, I CRINGE when I hear this question. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for. After all, someone has to get stuck with that the tiny, odd-shaped room overlooking the dumpster, right? Don’t let that person be you!
When planning a vacation, it’s important to remember that COST does not equal VALUE. More often than not, people who ask the “what’s the cheapest?” question don’t actually mean the cheapest out of pocket price…they are actually asking about how to get MORE for their money. This is where an agent can be a huge resource and advocate.
1. Agents know what’s “worth it” and what’s not.
Here’s a real life example: Last October, my family sailed on the Norwegian Escape. A beautiful, brand new ship, the Escape offers a private adults-only area called Vibe. The catch? It’s $199 a person for the entire week. Was it worth it? For us, no.
On that seven-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary, we scoured the ship and found many other FREE areas to be just as relaxing as Vibe. Cost savings to us? $400 in cold hard cash. Travel agents have years of knowledge for things just like this…we can tell you if a room upgrade is worth the money or if that “luxury” property is really actually a luxury. Even better, we have access to dozens of agent-only resources to help when an answer is hard to find.
One note on this: Just because WE didn’t like Vibe doesn’t mean that you won’t. This is another area where agents are extremely helpful. We excel at asking questions and listening to exactly what you want. We can help you weigh the options to find what’s right for your family… that is always money well spent!
2. Agents have personal relationships with resort managers, concierges and tour operators.
Looking for the best day-trip fishing excursion or a resort that specializes in food allergies and special needs? Travel agents know which properties can handle special requests and which tours give you the most for your money.
Earlier this year, we arranged a spectacular birthday surprise for a client, complete with room decorations, a romantic beach dinner, a surprise birthday cake and access to a special excursion. The cost to our client? ZERO DOLLARS. That’s right — because of our relationship with the resort concierge, we were able to offer this amazing and memorable day to our client, absolutely free.
3. Agents know the best time to visit a location and have special tools to narrow the options.
Trying to arrange a vacation around a school calendar or work schedule? If you can be flexible with your dates, a good travel agent can offer suggestions on the best time to visit a particular location. If your dates are locked in, we can help you find the most cost-effective location for that month.
Travel agents can also offer suggestions on when to book said vacation, often resulting in hundreds of dollars in savings. Booking on the “shoulder season” is one good tip for saving money. A resort that costs thousands in February may only cost hundreds in June. We’ve seen luxury properties drop by nearly 50% in the off-season months.
Finally, travel agents also have access to special tools not available to the general public. For example, we have a cruise-booking tool that allows us to see every cruise company's departure date on the same screen at the same time. This allows us to quickly compare departure dates and price options across dozens of itineraries, saving our clients time and money.
4. Agents understand room capacity and configuration.
Did you know that many all-inclusive resorts can only accommodate four per room in a standard room? What is a family of five to do? In many cases, unaware families get stuck booking two rooms at double the cost.
Travel agent to the rescue! Most travel agents have a list of properties that can accommodate a family of five, booking a single room (or a 2-room suite) and saving you lots of cash. Need adjoining rooms? Many properties won’t guarantee them, but a good agent will have a list of properties that can accommodate the ask.
5. Travel agents know what is hot and new, what is being remodeled, and which locations are past their prime (avoid at all costs!).
Construction updates are another area where a travel agent’s insider knowledge can help get more bang for your buck. Understanding which properties or cruise ships are currently being remodeled can actually work both ways when it comes to saving money. A travel agent can help you AVOID construction, but we can also help you take advantage of remodeling deals!
For example, the much anticipated UNICO property in Riviera Maya, Mexico is pricing much better than other five-star resorts, simply because it is brand new! Hotels know that new properties are unproven…to entice adventurous travelers, they sometimes offer extremely low rates in the first year. A good travel agent can help you take advantage.
These are just a few of the DOZENS of ways that travel agents help families…truthfully, these five tips don’t even scratch the surface! The knowledge above combined with our access to the latest promotions, resort credit offers and exclusive deals make using an agent a smart decision for any family.
What is the best way that you’ve saved money on a family vacation? When did a travel agent come to your rescue and stop a bad decision in its’ tracks? Sound off in the comments below!
Summer is just around the corner. Warm weather is calling my name…and so is sand, water, and relaxation. Anyone with me?! Summer is the season of vacations, so let’s explore the best 2017 summer vacation destinations.
School is out, hours at work are often relaxed, and the weather is at its peak. Planning a summer escape can often seem like tough task, but do not fear! It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options, but a great travel agent will listen to your needs, listen to what you DON’T want (sometimes more important!) and help you find the perfect vacation package that fits your time and budget.
Do you want something that caters to kids? A destination that includes outdoor activities? A quiet place that doesn’t accompany large crowds? A memorable place for your honeymoon?
The following travel locations are some of my favorite, most-breathtaking, and adventurous places in the world. They are all diverse and exciting options for your summer vacation plans!
7 Best 2017 Summer Vacation Destinations
1. The Bahamas
The Bahamas is tropical paradise that everyone should visit at least once in their life! It’s close to the US and just a short flight from sunny Florida. While there aren’t many true “all-inclusive” options, the number of activities is plentiful. You can snorkel in the gorgeous blue waters, swim with dolphins and stingrays, visit historic sites, and more. This is a great destination for families looking for laid-back living.
If you’re looking for a tropical paradise without a passport, Hawaii is the place for you. Although Hawaii is a part of the United States, its unique terrain will make you feel like you’re in a different country! The red and black sand beaches, the sea cliffs, volcanic landscapes, and sea life are absolutely breathtaking! Hawaii is a great place for families or couples…really, Hawaii is great for anyone who wants to to relax, see unique and breathtaking landscapes, all while staying in the USA. Did you know that Norwegian Cruise Lines is the only cruise line that offers a 7-day, inter-island, Hawaii-only cruise? It is one of the most cost-effective ways to see multiple islands in a single trip.
Mexico has many beach cities perfect for a romantic destination or a fun family vacation. Mexico’s rich history also makes it a unique destination. With over 758,000 square miles, Mexico is two-thirds the size of the US and just as diverse. If you think Mexico is a “been there, done that” destination, we’d love to prove you wrong! Some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations in Mexico are Acapulco, Tulum, Huatulco, and more.
Looking for an LGBT-friendly destination? Mexico welcomes you with open arms, especially the fun-loving Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta areas. You can see dozens of historic ruins, experience water life with snorkeling and scuba diving, and eat delicious cuisine! In addition, experiencing Mexico is relatively inexpensive compared to other Caribbean vacations.
4. St. Lucia
This small island has it all! From chalk-colored beaches, gorgeous towering mountains, and beautiful resorts, this destination is perfect for the adventurer. The mountainous landscape of St. Lucia makes it easy for adventure lovers to start their day hiking in the mountains, spend the afternoon enjoying a natural mud bath, get some sun at the beach, and watch the sunset over the Caribbean. If that doesn’t intrigue you, then maybe zip lining through the region’s rainforest will?!
Looking for a show-stoppingly unique place to hang your head? Try Ladera, a 32-room suite-only boutique resort high in the cliffs. Each suite has an “open wall” — the west side of each unit is left open to expose the breathtaking view, and the orientation of the building maintains complete privacy.
While a little more remote than other Caribbean islands, St. Lucia has quickly become a popular destination for honeymooners and couples of all ages.
Jamaica is the home of reggae music, jerk chicken, and Blue Mountain coffee. It is also home to Seven Mile Beach, a beach that is consistently on Top 10 Lists for being one of the most beautiful in the world. Jamaica is another great destination for active travelers, with one of the top excursions being a hike around Dunn’s River Falls. Beautiful beaches in Negri, the hustle and bustle of Montego Bay and the music and food scene in Ocho Rios are all at your fingertips in this diverse country. If you want to golf, snorkel and scuba dive, you can do that and so much more!
Looking for a place to relax and reconnect with a loved one? We love Couples resorts, an upscale property dedicated to reconnecting relationships. With unlimited SCUBA, a sunset catamaran cruise, 24-hour premium beverages and more, it is one of the best properties for a truly “everything’s included” experience.
6. Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos is becoming a more popular summer destination year after year, and is now a prominent port location for many cruises.
Turks and Caicos is made up of 40 islands and cays. The “Provos” act as a main port for cruise ships, and on Grand Turk, you can find many historical sites. This destination also provides one of the largest reef systems in the world! Whether you’re wanting to relax or explore, Turks and Caicos provides both. Turks and Caicos is also home to one of the most popular family resorts, Beaches. Year after year, families return to this location for excellent service and attention.
Although Barbados is known to be a beach vacation destination, it also offers so much more! Barbados is full of white-sand beaches, beautiful golf courses and shopping, but you can also enjoy the famous Mount Gay Rum, listen to live calypso music and partake in a polo or cricket match.
One of the most upscale islands in the Caribbean, Barbadians boast one of the highest “happiness” rates in all of the world. This luxurious island is brimming with sports, culture, and beautiful architecture.
Barbados is also home to Daphne’s Restaurant, one of the only Zagat-rated restaurants in the Caribbean. Tamarind and Colony Club are two of our favorite upscale properties in Barbados.
Even with this list, there are still so many decisions to make after choosing one of these top 2017 summer vacation destinations:
The to-do list can be endless! A vacation should be a time to relax and sometimes you need assistance before the trip even gets started. At Alpaca Your Bags Travel, we want this process to be as streamlined and easy as possible for you.
You deserve to have a relaxing experience start to finish.
To get started planning your summer vacation, click on the link below to fill out our “Help! I Need A Vacation!” planning form. We would be honored to handle all of your travel arrangements. From airline tickets, hotel planning, car rentals, travel tips, and everything in between, we want to make your dream vacation a reality!
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve undoubtedly had the near-universal experience of enduring a TSA security line or an immigration line upon re-entry to your home country.
What if you could bypass these lines for good?
You may have heard of Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. You fill out a (fairly lengthy) application, pay $100, and if your application passes the initial phase, you’re invited to an in-person interview/screening at a participating airport. If you pass that phase of the application, you are granted a Global Entry ID. In a nutshell, this is how it works:
At airports, program participants proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit. (www.globalentry.gov)
In addition, people who are approved via the Global Entry program can also participate in TSA Pre-Check, which allows people to skip regular TSA security lines at participating airports and go through an expedited line — without having to remove shoes or other clothing items, open laptops, or do any of the other things that take up time in line.
Global Entry (and the accompanying TSA Pre-Check) is a good fit for your flying needs if:
In addition to inside info on things like GE and Pre-Check, as your travel agent, I’ve got tons of helpful hints and connections to make your next trip an amazing one. I would be thrilled to meet with you and plan out your next great adventure!
Hi, I'm Ashley
Ashley (@ashleysmorris) is a freelance writer, virtual assistant and owner of Alpaca Your Bags Travel.
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