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 true destination wedding aficionados. 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. The first gift you can give your couples is to book within the group contract. This saves your couple a lot of stress and anxiety. As a heads up, your wedding couple is counting on you to book with their agent.
Your couple has signed a group contract with financial implications for guests who book outside the group. 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!
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.
Whoa, how fast did 2015 go? I feel like it FLEW by.
Here’s to another awesome year filled with smiles, sightseeing and spending time with those who matter.
This time of year, the interwebs are flooded with Resolutions. Everyone wants to lose weight, save money and TRAVEL MORE, which is obviously my personal favorite.
However, most people (mistakenly) think they don’t have the money to travel.
People, IT IS A MYTH. If you’re like most of us, it’s not a question of money… it’s a question of priorities.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about skipping your daily latte or never eating out again. I would never. But I do think establishing (and re-establishing!) priorities is important. You have to decide where your dollars go.
Ask yourself: Would I rather have a house full of stuff or a passport full of stamps? Would I rather have a new iPhone or a round trip ticket to Europe? Do I really need to eat out or could I save that money for a meal on the beach?
That said, I do have some some little insider tricks that I’d love to share. These tips are the real deal; I’ve used them myself for years and I’m teaching them to Matt now. I really think they are attainable for almost everyone. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
BONUS: But wait, there’s more! Here is my 6th tip that I had to throw in. It’s a plug, but a good one. American Express Membership Rewards is The.Best. rewards program out there. If you have an American Express Gold or Platinum card, you can unlock a lot of points earning opportunities. What’s more, travel agents can work with American Express cardholders to get extra benefits. For example, I can get you $200 in onboard credit when you book your next cruise with an American Express card!
Note: I do not advocate using a credit card foolishly. Use your head. Also, American Express cards are charge cards, not credit cards, so you have to pay them off each month. However, responsible users can rake in the points and miles, making these cards a great way to supplement that travel account!
For a limited time, I have five referral links to get you a bonus 5,000 or 7,500 miles when you sign up. This is in addition to the bonus that AmEx offers new users. If you would like a link, email me!
So what do you think? Did you learn anything new? Curious about Digit? Let me know in the comments.
Did you know that the #1 way for travel consultants to build their business is via online reviews?
One of my very important travel partners has recently launched a new online review site.
If we have worked together this year, I would be honored if you could say a few words on my behalf.
Thank you so much! http://goo.gl/ANWhTo
I’ll admit it: It’s mid-December and I haven’t started holiday shopping.
I hate being a procrastinator, but I graciously ask for a tiny break; working a full time job, running a small business AND moving halfway across the country are making life a little crazy!
For the other slackers out there (or for anyone looking to round out their gift list!), here are 10 of my favorite travel-themed holiday gift ideas!
Splendid Cities Coloring Book: Perfect for kids (or kids at heart) who want to color their way through the world. Did you know that the #1 bestselling book on Amazon is an adult coloring book? Coloring has been found to be relaxing and therapeutic. Pass the pencils!
Bombas Socks: I know, SOCKS! But hear me out: Everyone hates cold airplane feet and these socks have a higher power. Did you know that clean socks are among the top requested items at homeless shelters? For every pair of socks sold, Bombas donates one pair to someone in need. Also, #sharktank.
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes: When it comes to packing, you are either a folder or a roller. I’m a roller, so these cubes are helpful to keep my rolled up outfits organized. Don’t be fooled by cheaper imposters; this set from Eagle Creek is the real deal. I’ve had mine for over 5 years and they still look as good as new.
Go Toob Travel Bottles: Soft, flexible travel bottles that are leak resistant AND help you use every last drop. Save time, mess and money. I own 2 sets, plus these round containers.
Lo & Sons Bags: I lusted after the Lo & Sons OG bag for nearly a year before finally pulling the trigger. It is the BEST travel bag on the market. Don’t believe me? Google “Lo & Sons OG or OMG” to read tons of rave reviews. Started by a mother and her sons, this company created a stylish, sleek bag that keeps all of your essentials organized. There are compartments for your laptop (padded) and shoes (keep those dirty shoes away from your stuff!), plus it fits under the airplane seat. Do it, you won’t be disappointed!
Hidden Pocket Scarf from Speakeasy Supply Co: Channel your inner secret agent and gift someone this scarf with a tiny hidden pocket! Keep your keys, cash or ID safe while on the road, all without sacrificing style.
Multi-Function Travel Clothing from Encircled: Encircled is a Canadian company that offers many different multi-purpose travel pieces. I own the Chrysalis Cardi, which is an ingenious piece of fabric that can be a scarf, a skirt, a dress or beach cover up! Encircled also makes other pieces that will blow your mind, like these reversible leggings or a maxi dress that can be styled in multiple ways. If you’re looking for a gift that screams style but fits in a purse, this is it.
Carry On Cocktail Kit: Need a stocking stuffer for a man in your life? Try this Carry On Cocktail Kit, perfect for making Old Fashioneds on the go. Don’t like Old Fashioneds? There are also kits for Moscow Mules or a good ol’ G&T.
Scratch Map: Show off your travels in style with this scratch-off map of the world. As your loved one visits a new country, they can scratch off the map and document their travels. This one would be good for traveling families also!
Little Passports Subscription Boxes: Who doesn’t love getting mail? I once gifted these boxes to my own niece. Little Passports is a subscription box service. Each month, your favorite tiny traveler receives a box of activities and lessons with a geography theme. There are three different boxes, each for a different age group: Early Explorers (for kids age 3-5), World Edition (ages 6-10) and USA Edition (ages 7-12).
BONUS: Gift Idea #11: Alpaca Your Bags Travel Gift Cards
Duh, I had to include this one. Want to give the gift of travel this year? Contact me for a custom Alpaca Your Bags Travel Gift Card.
What are your favorite travel themed gifts? Comment below and you may be featured in a future blog post!
So why should I use a travel agent anyway? That's a common question and I want to address it head on. Here are my top tips for when you should trust your vacation to a professional travel agent:
1. You're Planning a Group Trip: Planning a family reunion? Want a destination wedding? Organizing a church or volunteer trip? When coordinating for several people, it is almost always easier to leave logistics to a professional. You will thank me when dear Aunt Sally wants to change her flight for the third time or when Uncle Billy can't find his passport information. Even better? Agents have access to group rates and excursions that can't be booked by the general public.
2. You Want to Travel Internationally: If you'd like to travel internationally and you've never visited your destination, travel agents can help navigate (pun intended!) the endless options. Where should you go? What is the best time of year? What are the "can't miss" attractions? Travel Agents can also advise on the best Travel Insurance to help you travel safely and protect your precious investment.
3. You Want a Cruise: While they are one of the most popular ways to travel, cruises can be complex to book. What port is best? What type of stateroom should I get? What do you mean, upgraded dining? Am I supposed to tip? Am I a Carnival person or a Royal Caribbean person? What is a river cruise? It can be challenging to understand the cruise industry, especially when each cruise line seems to speak a different language. Agents complete rigorous training and receive special certifications to ensure that you get exactly the type of trip you want.
4. You Want to Get It Right: Are you planning a honeymoon or destination wedding? Do you want to celebrate your retirement with a trip around the world? Don't trust your major milestone travel to faceless online booking site. For moments where the experience matters, talk to a travel agent and explore your many options. A thoughtful agent will listen to your needs, ask questions to help narrow your choices and recommend options that are the best fit for you and your family.
5. You Want Access: Agents have access to packages, amenities and discounts that the general public cannot
book. Examples include onboard credit for cruises, a personal local concierge to help with recommendations, VIP "skip the line" tickets for sightseeing and more. Agents also LOVE to network with other travel agents, comparing notes and asking questions when the need arises. When you want more for your money, talk to a travel agent.
Talk to us: Have you ever used a travel agent? What was your experience?
Answer in the comments below!
This post was inspired by a real-life conversation I had with my cousin. Tyler recently asked me to research a trip for him and his girlfriend. They knew they wanted a beach escape, but they didn't want to spend a ton of money. However (like most of us!) they wanted VALUE... it was important that they got 'bang for their buck'.
Early on in the planning process, I got an email from Tyler that I have seen before. It was a screen shot from one of those Flash Sale discount sites (rhymes with 'Poupon'!) and Tyler sent a one line email: "Have you seen this?" My response was probably more than he expected and I will recap it for you here. Let's talk about those "great deal" sites.
First and foremost, I love flash sale sites. This is not a post about bashing flash sales!
Without naming names, I use a few of them regularly when I want to find an activity in another city. One of my best purchases was a 2 for 1 VIP experience at the High Roller in Las Vegas (see photo!) It's amazing how an open bar will conquer one's fear of Ferris Wheels. But I digress..
I caution my clients to be very careful when purchasing travel and trips from these sites. Here's why:
1. The traveler has very little control: Travel deals on flash sale sites are typically available because of consolidators. A travel consolidator buys unsold inventory from airlines and hotels, then re-sells that inventory to make a profit. With consolidator fares, the traveler typically has very little control over flight times, layovers, room type, etc. Want to choose a different flight time or airline? You're probably out of luck. Not happy with that brick-wall-view room at the back of the resort? Sorry, Charlie. These deals are great because you get what you pay for... and that is quite often something that couldn't sell on its own.
2. There is no recourse if you have a problem: No one wants to think about this, but sometimes things don't go to plan. With a flash-sale type deal, you often have no one to call if there is a problem. Miss your flight? Get sick or injured? Category 1 hurricane heading for the hotel? In most cases, there won't be anyone to help you.
3. Pay attention to what's NOT included: Read the fine print and make sure you know what you are buying. Is checked baggage extra? What about transportation to the hotel?
Finally, what about travel insurance? When traveling internationally, travel insurance is always recommended. Insurance is not included in these flash site deals, so mentally add that extra cost to the price on the site. When you add on extra fees, the deal may not be as sweet as you originally thought.
We love a good deal, but we advocate research and understanding what you're paying for. Whenever you book a trip, it is wise to thoroughly understand exactly what is included and often, not included! If you see a deal that is too good to be true, ask yourself if it is.
I am always happy to help decode the fine print if you need me!
What is your best (or worst!) "get what you pay for" experience? How did it turn out?
It's been awhile since we've talked; so let me fill you in.
Yes, I'm a travel agent.
A what, you say? A travel agent?
YES! Let me tell you why:
I've always loved travel. Outside of food, it's the one subject I can talk about for hours. To me, there is nothing more exciting than going somewhere for the first time. (unless it's the second time!)
To be clear, I don't *only* mean international travel. I love visiting hidden (and not so hidden) places all across the United States and believe that everyone should travel this incredibly diverse country of ours.. I have had amazing adventures in 35 states and cannot wait to cross the remaining 15 off the list. (What happened to the Northwest??)
As I talk about travel, I can't help but offer to help others plan their trips. I have lists in my phone of hotels where I've stayed, restaurants where I've eaten, shows I've seen and more. Those of you who know me well are nodding, thinking of the times when I've said, "I don't know if you have plans but while you're there, you should..."
Becoming a travel agent in 2015 probably seems silly to some, but let me tell you: it's not.
If you think of your own experience, how often have you wished for an expert to guide you through the chaos? I personally have spent hours of my life on Trip Advisor, poring over reviews. I've often thought, '"I don't have time for this, I wish someone would just figure it out for me."
Fast-forward to earlier this year when I discovered that credible leisure travel agents still exist in droves! In fact, the travel agent industry is GROWING and organizations like Travel Leaders have created entire curriculums to ensure that there are agents to meet demand. I enrolled in the Travel Leaders of Tomorrow Program and haven't looked back. This July, I joined the Nexion family of travel professionals. Nexion is one of the largest host agencies in the country and has huge buying power. That means access to more perks and offers for all of you!
When you think about it, it makes sense. Once upon a time, it was cool to book everything online and play "travel agent". However, now it's just work. With so many overwhelming options out there, there is a renewed need for travel EXPERTS to cut through the clutter and help weary travelers to save time, energy, stress and probably some money.
So here I am. And here you are!. I'm glad we're in this together.. Let's go somewhere!
Hi, I'm Ashley
Ashley (@ashleysmorris) is a freelance writer, virtual assistant and owner of Alpaca Your Bags Travel.
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