Beautiful photos of exotic and iconic destinations are as close as a computer screen, and the temptation to shop online for travel services, including airplane flights and tours, can be irresistible.
Local travel professionals, however, caution against relying solely on computer research when planning a trip that involves multiple destinations and travel components.
“People who book a cruise online, but later need a change in itinerary or additional travel components, can be dead in the water,” cautioned Linda Cicala, a Summerset resident who founded Travel Partners in 1994. “If I’ve booked their travel, I can insist on changes with a cruise line or other operator, but individual independent travelers don’t have the same power. I’m also often able to get travelers better and more comfortable seats on airplanes.”
Cicala specializes in extensive, custom-travel planning for groups of 20 or more, from land tours to cruises and golfing vacations.
“Seniors love value, and I can often find bargains for my group travelers,” she said.
She holds pre-trip meetings for her travel groups, advising about weather and special events, as well as sightseeing in each destination. These events also introduce the travelers to one another, so they begin the trip already feeling comfortable in the group.
Alexandra Ghiozzi, of Brentwood’s Cruise One, agrees about the wisdom of using a travel professional to book travel.
“Many cruises are not marketed online, and agents can mimic, and often beat, online prices, but price isn’t the only travel consideration,” said the travel agent. “I add value and extras to a travel itinerary, based on my worldwide experience.”
It’s easier for travel professionals to get specialized services and arrange for a variety of transportation and accommodations, noted Ghiozzi. Agents can find upgrades and explain specials, which are often available. For example, she can add a number of perks, including beverage packages and free gratuities on certain cruises.
“It’s not just what it will cost, but also what benefits I can provide as an agent,” she said. “I’m saving you time and money. For example, I can suggest a three-star hotel close to public transportation, as compared to a five-star hotel that’s not so centrally located in a popular country or destination.”
Whether selecting group or independent travel, there are always little details, unplanned surprises and events or attractions that are amazing, but little publicized. Relying on an experienced travel professional can result in a more memorable, fulfilling trip.
“We’re seeing a rebound in group travel,” Ghiozzi noted. “It’s not just 30 people on a bus, but smaller groups with special itineraries, from cooking classes with a chef to a visit to a winery with a meal served on site.”
She also suggested travelers headed for international destinations arrive a day before they’re due to join a tour or a cruise. Even if your flight is delayed you’ll have time to catch up with the group departure, as well as rest a bit from the long flight.
“Know your limitations,” and plan for extra rest or other breaks that you might need during a trip, she advised.
A final tip from Ghiozzi is to carefully consider some special and memorable event each time you travel.
“What’s your passion? It could be that once-in-a-lifetime swim with the manta rays in Kona, Hawaii, seeing a real, Broadway show in New York or attending a Metropolitan Opera performance, so research your destination,” she said.
Among travel recommendations, Marilyn Senn of Travel Spot, who operates from Oakley, suggests that 2016 is a good year to visit the U.S. National Parks. The National Parks Service observes its 100th birthday this year, with free admission for children to parks through Aug. 31, at www.everykidinapark.gov. Seniors can also purchase a pass that provides lifetime admission to the parks.
While Disneyland has become too expensive for some folks to visit, California has many other desirable destinations, such as Santa Cruz, Hearst Castle, the Skunk Train, Fort Bragg and Palm Springs, which is a bargain during summer months and offers many interesting attractions for all ages.
Internationally, she suggests travelers check with professionals about visitor-pass programs that several European countries offer. Senn also recommends cruises, which she said offer excellent value because they are inclusive, packaging transportation, accommodations, meals, entertainment and sightseeing in one rate.
For additional information, contact Linda Cicala, Travel Partners, at 925-634-7988. Alexandra Ghiozzi, Cruise One, at 925-240-0932, Marilyn Senn, Travel Spot, at 925-297-7477.