When it comes to the best vacation deals and cheapest flights, many people turn to travel agents for their vast network of connections and flight options. Mochi talked to several experts about what these agents do and got some insider tips for our wonderful readers.
Steve Howard, the creator of ASIA Travel Tips and former publisher of ASIA Travel Tradeand Frequent Traveler, used to travel every week of the year and visited at least five hotels each day. Because he was scoping out each country so meticulously, either by meeting the general managers of these hotels or doing site inspections, people would often go to him for advice on choosing the best travel destinations.
Howard’s extensive experience has made him one of the top experts in the Asian travel industry. He advises tourists to shop around and explore different channels, such as travel agents or online resources, for flight and hotel packages. He personally prefers to book directly through an airline’s website, which can allow for more flexibility if you need to change your ticket, but only when he has verified that there is not a much lower priced flight available elsewhere.
He said, “It’s also important to stay informed, watch the news and look out for promotions. Low-cost airlines, for example, are only really low-cost if you book a long way in advance or are lucky enough to find a promotion just as it is being launched. The rest of the time, they can be even more expensive than full-fare airlines and tend to have a lot more restrictions with regards to luggage—both check-in and carry-on—as well as for changing tickets.”
“Another thing to consider,” he added, “is the age of the aircraft and its in-flight amenities. Singapore Airlines is undoubtedly one of the best airlines in the world, but on some routes the aircraft is old and does not even have a modern in-flight entertainment system where you can stop and start the movie.”
Teerapole Vongput, a travel expert who edits Circle of Asia and created a website catering to sustainable travel and tourism in Asia, suggests contacting a travel agent at least three months in advance. He also advises going directly for budget airlines that offer significantly lower prices and says that cheaper airplane tickets with several stops are only worth the extra hassle when they add more mileage to a traveler’s frequent flyer membership. As a word of caution, he added, “Some people may not enjoy getting on and off planes and waiting for hours before the next flight.”
When it comes to packing, Howard and Vongput both agree that no matter how long one stays in Asia, preparation is key to an enjoyable vacation. Vongput recommends reading up on a variety of destinations before making plans to book a ticket. He said, “Information about food, culture and climate will help you pack wisely. Never forget to bring along your medication, a photocopy of your passport and emergency contact numbers in the host country. If you go to a tropical country like Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar, you may need to bring mosquito or insect repellant.”
Howard added that he finds traveling with a multi-socket or outlet plug, preferably with surge protection, an absolute must on all trips. Any private information or emergency numbers, he advises, can be stored in one’s laptop, phone or USB memory stick.
Once there, those who are unfamiliar with a foreign country or are visiting for the first time may often turn to tour guides for a sense of direction. According to Vongput, travelers do not usually meet their tour guides until they arrive at the airport. For better or worse, this usually means that landing a good tour guide is more a matter of luck than experience. He said, “If you book your tour through a travel agency, I suggest you tell them what you expect from your guide. Some of our clients are interested in photography. Some tourists like architecture. Others want firsthand experience of the way of life of the locals. Generally, travel agencies will try to find a guide that meets the client’s requirements.”
Now that we’ve shared how to travel smartly and make the most of your trip, you’ve got no excuse not to start reading up on destinations and searching for cheap flights.