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!
Hi, I'm Ashley
Ashley (@ashleysmorris) is a freelance writer, virtual assistant and owner of Alpaca Your Bags Travel.
As Seen On: