True Life: I'm a Millennial Who Uses a Travel Agent
When you hear the term “travel agent,” you probably envision somebody who helps septuagenarians book cruises out of the Florida port near their retirement community. Before this year, that’s certainly what I pictured… I assumed that travel agencies were a relic of that past rendered unnecessary by the internet, like phone books, paper maps, and spending time outdoors.
That was before the stress of organizing a wedding completely zapped me of the motivation to plan anything ever again — including a honeymoon. By the time our amazing-but-totally-exhausting big day was done and dusted, I was sick of making decisions. All I wanted was to enjoy being relieved of what felt like a second full-time job and finally go back to lounging around, reading books on my nights & weekends instead of updating spreadsheets, overthinking seating charts, and belatedly responding to countless emails.
Though Christopher and I made it as far as purchasing our flight tickets to and from France — with credit card reward miles, thanks to several wedding costs charged to a high-earnings Chase Sapphire card — one day of laboring in front of TripAdvisor was all it took to convince me that I needed outside assistance or I’d lose my mind over this trip.
Which neighborhood should we stay in? How should we navigate the rail system? How should we book tours to ensure that we weren’t being ripped off? How can we avoid tourist traps and actually enjoy worthwhile experiences if we don’t speak the language? How much money should we realistically expect to drop on 2+ weeks in France? These thoughts wouldn’t usually intimidate me, but after exerting so much energy on the wedding, nothing stressed me out more than the research it would take for me to attempt answering them.
So I started Googling variations of “travel agency for young people,” eventually stumbling across an article that assured me that no, I’m not the only twentysomething to seek the expertise of a travel professional. (Since then, even more think-pieces have been published exploring this trend.) Newly confident that I could work with an agency to build a trip that didn’t feel like a 90th birthday celebration, more poking around online led me to a travel agency network called Virtuoso, where I came across Jessica Hart of Travel by Hart.
The Planning Process
I was hesitant when reaching out to Jessica because I knew that she specializes in luxury travel, but figured: “What the heck. Even if she’s not the right pick for us, she can probably point us in a good direction.” She got back to me promptly and cheerily to ask a few questions about our hopes for the trip, then we set up an introductory phone call for all three of us.
When we expressed concerns about our target budget for the trip, Jessica was flexible and understanding. She assured us that, while we might not be in five-star hotels for the entire trip, she could definitely work to plan our perfect honeymoon within our constraints. At the end of our call, she sent over a few things to help her in planning our trip: any dreams or desires for our time in France, an extensive profile / Q&A about our travel habits, and an in-depth personality quiz to determine our travel style. (For the record, our mutual result was “The Cultural Connoisseur,” which I took to mean that we like food. And art. But mostly local food.)
From there, Jessica was able to plot out our entire trip, suggest (then book) tours and hotels, secure our train tickets, lend her expert guidance on things like travel insurance, and even send us comprehensive lists of personalized food recommendations for the days when we didn’t have restaurant reservations. The amount of detail that she was able to provide for us was incredible, and every step of the trip was mapped out for us without any stress on our end.
Jessica made sure that we felt entirely confident about every element of our trip, and emphasized that she was available for anything we needed, at any point, for the entirety of our travels. And let me tell ya, friends — she wasn’t kidding. I’ll get into that in a bit, but never in my life have I experienced such swift action and attentive service from a professional in any capacity. Working with a travel agent was worth it for this aspect of the trip alone.
Ya Know… Money Stuff
We paid half of the total cost for tours, hotels, and any additional travel upon confirming them with Jessica, then paid the remaining half about a month before we left for the honeymoon — and because we opted for insurance, we had full confidence that we’d be reimbursed if any issues arose. It was nice going into our honeymoon without the impending threat of debt looming over us; all we had to worry about while on our trip was food, shopping, and anything spontaneous. (We requested an even mix of free days and organized ones, allowing us the structure of tours and reservations but also giving us the freedom to explore on our own, dining wherever looked tasty or popping into whichever museums we fancied.)
Jessica’s personal fees were extremely reasonable, especially considering the total ease on our end — it made me wonder why more people don’t do this for every major vacation.
The Travel Experience
Before embarking on our trip, Jessica provided us with a holistic travel itinerary — both digital and physical. (We downloaded the whole thing on an app that worked offline, but we also received a fancy printed copy from the concierge at our first hotel. It was dope.) The itinerary included any travel information — departure times, confirmation codes, and tickets — along with emergency contact info, suggestions for things that Jessica couldn’t arrange for us in advance (cabs, Ubers, and walking directions), and even backup copies of our essential documents (passport scans, receipts). The packet also included tour information, vouchers, and summaries of what to expect during each one.
Jessica checked in with us throughout our trip, ensuring that everything was going smoothly without feeling overbearing. In the rare event of anything not going according to plan, she basically swooped in like a speedy, professional wizard and solved it before we had the chance to even register what was happening. More on that in the next section.
But all in all, to make a 17-day-long story quite short: the trip exceeded our wildest expectations. Each hotel was more perfect than the last, the tours were exactly up our alley, and the amount of thought that went into each detail of the trip was apparent at every turn.
No joke, there were several times throughout the trip when Christopher and I looked at each other and said something along the lines of: “God, Jessica is the absolute best. If she ever decides to found a cult* or something, let’s join it.”
*Important disclaimer: I’d like to note that I highly doubt Jessica will ever found a cult. But if she decides to try her hand at a boutique hotel or buys her own cruise ship on a whim, you’d best believe I’ll be first in line to patronize said business.
Why It Was Worthwhile
There are so many reasons why working with a travel pro was worthwhile for us, but I’ll try to put it succinctly in a few points.
So. Many. Upgrades. We checked into four different hotels while in France, and each one had some sort of surprise in store for us. Whether it was a full-on upgrade from “partial ocean view” to “full-fledged oceanfront suite — yeah, newlywed b*tches, you read that right” in Nice, or a fresh bouquet of flowers and a chilled bottle of top-shelf champagne waiting for us on the bed in Aix-en-Provence, Jessica managed to utilize her personal relationships with all of the properties to ensure that we received the best possible treatment at every turn.
Stress-free planning. Basically, all we had to do was say “yay” or “nay” to anything Jessica proposed during the planning process. It was… frighteningly easy. It felt like we were getting away with a crime for it to be so easy.
Professional insight & personal experience. Not only is Jessica a general travel pro who could vouch for every suggested item on our custom itinerary, but she also lived in France for a while. When we mentioned the things we wanted to do in France, she was able to give us her opinions both as a travel agent and as a former French resident. In short, she was a double confidence whammy.
On-demand assistance. Despite a nine-hour time difference between us, Jessica was incredibly prompt with any questions or concerns we threw her way via email. When I nonchalantly emailed a question about a tour voucher around 5 A.M. her time, Jessica had not only personally solved our issue within the hour, but we also received immediate calls from both our hotel concierge and the tour company to assure us that everything was being resolved right away. Our small problem was solved faster than I could say “Pardon, je ne parle pas français.”
Above and beyond service. During the course of our trip, both Christopher and I experienced moments where we felt under the weather. For me, it was a case of sudden food poisoning in Bayeux; for him, it was a general crappy feeling and exhaustion on our last day in Paris. When she found out, Jessica contacted us straightaway, offering to arrange a private doctor visit to our hotel room for any necessary treatment. Blessedly, we didn’t need to take her up on this offer either time… but the offer blew us away.
So, Will We Do It Again?
I feel like I don’t even need to say it, but YES! Now that I’ve planned a vacation this way, I never want to go back to my home-brewed travel itineraries. We’ll definitely be contacting Jessica when wanderlust strikes next, and I have full confidence that our experience working with her will improve with every vacation as she learns even more about our travel quirks and preferences.
When it comes to working with a pro like Jessica to plan a vacation, I wholeheartedly recommend it for anybody who has the option. I couldn’t be more pleased with our honeymoon, and it makes me antsy to see the rest of the world!
Do you have any personal experience with a travel agency? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!