Use this guide to discover the travel specialist of your dreams.

Christopher Tkaczyk
September 02, 2017

With an estimated 100,000 travel agents in the U.S., finding the right one to plan your next vacation can seem like a daunting task.

Here are a few tips to help you begin your quest to find the best advisor to suit your needs.

Find an agent in advance.

“The travel business is about experiences and relationships. If you don’t have a travel advisor, establish a relationship before you really need them,” said cruising specialist Mary Ann Ramsey, a 40-year industry veteran and owner of Betty Maclean Travel. Once you find a great travel agent, you’ll want to hold on to them for life.

Ask for references.

Finding an agent who lives in your destination of choice is often a great (and in some cases, very affordable) idea, but be sure to vet them before you send any money. You should always ask the agent for client references who you can reach out to directly to ask about their experience.

When traveling to remote or undeveloped areas, Cheri Briggs, founder of Explore Inc. and a specialist for Africa, suggests using an agent “from your country of residence so you have legal recourse if something goes awry.” If you get scammed, you might not be able to get a refund.

Shop around.

“Don’t just call one tour operator or agent. Call a few to find the best match,” said Kota Tabuchi, managing director at Travel Beyond. “This person can guide you through the process and direct you towards destinations and product that will fit within your parameters (budget, wish list of things to see and do, etc.). The key is finding someone truly independent and unbiased in what they sell — someone who will be looking out for your best interest.”

Look for a specialist.

Most travel agents can book any type of trip, but the best ones have experience with and knowledge about a specific destination. If you’re looking to book a cruise or safari, search for an agent who specializes in them. Each year, Travel + Leisure’s editors compile the A-List, a curated selection of the world’s best travel agents and destination specialists that is organized by regions as well as specialty trips, such as fly-fishing, scuba diving, and honeymoons.

“Shopping for a safari consultant can be likened to finding an attorney or financial advisor; trust is paramount. During the initial consultation, ask a lot of questions, which a good consultant should be reciprocating,” said Tabuchi. “If you don’t know how to find an independent safari consultant, you can also work through a trusted travel agent who may know some safari specialists that they can collaborate with.{

Know your budget.

Some agents will only work with clients who are willing to spend a minimum amount per day—it’s an industry metric that most agents use to determine the total cost of a trip. Stating your budget upfront will give your consultant some parameters to work with.

Find out their fee.

Because travel agents don’t always have the same fee structures, ask in advance what they charge, and whether or not their fee can be applied to the cost of your trip. Also read: How Travel Agent Fees Work

Be open-minded.

A good travel consultant will ask about your interests and fitness abilities before they pitch you any ideas for an itinerary. They might make suggestions for activities or sights that you didn’t have in mind. Listen to their advice — they’re the experts.

As a rule of thumb, the more options you’ll have, the better the experience. The main reason we travel is to develop a better understanding of the world and to appreciate its variety. Remain open to surprises and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. The most memorable and rewarding experiences are often the unexpected.

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