My significant other and I are thinking about a trip from the US to Australia and New Zealand. But we’ve never traveled internationally before.
I’ve heard that travel agents (like wedding planners) can save you money overall in planning a long, international trip.
Does anyone have any advice on using travel agents, or on how to get the most bang-for-buck from a trip like this? -Alexcansmile
Though I’ve never used a travel agent, I’ve travelled through multiple countries with everything meticulously planned, and I’ve travelled through multiple countries not knowing where I was going to sleep until the day-of. If you’re the type who likes to plan it all ahead of time, that’s totally doable without a travel agent. And if you like to fly by the seat of your pants, a travel agent is probably not for you. Here are some resources to get you going, so you can feel out whether or not you need a travel agent…
There are tons of good options for finding the best deal for flights online. Open an incognito browser window and check out Kayak to compare flights from many different carriers at once. Check out this article about the “magic number” of days before your trip, when the price should be the lowest. Tuesdays and Wednesday are usually the cheapest days to fly, so try to plan you trip around those days. Check back a few times before settling on a ticket (some sites even let you “watch” a price, and will email you if it drops). But don’t stress too much — as long as you’re not booking last minute, you don’t stand to save too too much by obsessing over the best price anyway!
Don’t forget to check out the travel options wherever you are, too. I know you’re travelling to Australia and New Zealand; Google “cheapest way from Wellington to Sydney” (or whatever) and check out the forums that pop up. Websites like Lonely Planet often have forums where travellers share tips on the best ways to get around in-country or between countries. You’re not the first to try this trip on the cheap!
In places like Europe, travelling between countries can be cheaper by air with discount airlines; or it could be cheaper to get a train pass, depending on which countries you want to visit, and how long you’ll be staying. Busses are another option, of course; and then there are ridesharing websites like CarpoolWorld where you can see if other travellers are renting vehicles to get between cities, and would like more people to split costs. Obviously that option comes with its “discretion advised” label.
I am a HUGE fan of AirBnB. I’ve stayed in AirBnBs in Paris, Prague, Seattle, Budapest, Rome, Athens, Edinburgh… the list goes on. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, we have an entire AirBnB tag to help you get familiar with the idea, and I wrote a post that lets you know how sweet it is for the guest. Often you stay with locals in their spare bedroom, which means it’s less expensive than a hotel, and your host can help you find your way around!
I’ve written about CouchSurfing before, too, which is like a free version of AirBnB. Some people aren’t comfortable with the idea, and that’s okay. But it could be perfect for you.
If you’d rather stay in hostels, there are great options worldwide with reputable companies like Hostelworld making sure the hostels are up to par. I’ve had great experiences with hostels around the globe, too.
We even have a post about doing a home exchange, where someone comes and house sits for you while you house sit for them. You both get the local’s experience in a new place, and it’s free!
If you’d rather go for the hotel experience, remember that hotels have sell-off sites, too. The same rules apply as for the airfare sites. But be warned: sometimes I’ve gotten a better deal through the hotel’s website itself. The general rule is that if you’re shopping closer to the date, a sell-off site will be better (the hotel is trying to get rid of that room). But if you’re planning far in advance, be sure to check the hotel’s website, too.
TripAdvisor is a network where people can leave reviews for hotels, hostels, restaurants, tourist sites, and more. It’s a fantastic resource when planning your trip. That hotel on the sell-off site is a fantastic price, and it’s 3 stars! Wait… the TripAdvisor reviews are all abysmal. But this 2 star one that I was going to skip has glowing reviews. Decision made!
If it’s too much — talk to an agent
This info is all available online for free — no travel agent needed. It just takes some time and energy to find. If you don’t have that time or energy, or if it’s just not something you enjoy, paying a professional to help you plan a trip could be (ahem) just the ticket. Travel agents have behind-the-scenes knowledge of a lot of destinations, and have access to. They could save you hours of Googling and reading reviews, and they could save you money, too. They will also go to bat for you if something were to happen with a flight cancellation, for example. In my opinion, a travel agent works best for you if you don’t have the time or inclination to plan the trip yourself, and if the trip you’re planning is less off-the-beaten-path. Don’t be afraid to give it a go yourself first; it’s not as hard as it may seem. And since your introduction to international travel is countries where English is the first language, it’s the perfect entry-level experience on which to cut your travel-planning teeth.
Homies, do you use travel agents? Have I been missing out? What are your biggest international trip planning tips?