For me, planning a journey is as much a part of the trip as the actual travel. Preparation gets the anticipation juices going. In addition to researching a destination online, I love the now antiquated exercise of going to the library and borrowing as many travel books as possible to map out that next dream trip. Yes, I am a travel geek.
Normally, I don’t take advantage of travel agents. But, travel agencies do serve a useful purpose. Take Mann Travels, a large travel agency headquartered in Charlotte, NC. They saved me the cost of ridiculous bank fees when I needed dollars exchanged for Chilean pesos for a trip to Easter Island (Money, Money, Money)
Because of that experience, my curiosity is piqued when I see numerous ads promoting a Mann upcoming travel show. On a chilly Sunday in January, I drag my husband along to check it out promising we’ll stay no more than one hour.
We walk in and it’s like all the brochures in the travel agent’s office have gone from being a piece of wood to becoming Pinocchio. Instead of being inanimate objects, they have come alive and alluring.
First stop is the Norwegian Cruise Lines display showing off its exclusive enclave called The Haven. The Haven is a cluster of suites at the top of certain ships that has a private courtyard and 24-hour butler service. We hear so much about the mega ships but not so much about amenities like this. So this is how the other half is living! A bit rich for me at the moment, but good to know for when our ship comes in.
We globetrot from booth to booth through several rooms. There is something for everyone. Representatives from the major cruise lines, tour operators and even Park’N Go, an inexpensive off-site airport parking lot company, are giving away brochures, bags and baubles. We pick up notepads from Trafalgar, camera lens cleaners from Cardinal Camera and what will become new reusable grocery bags from the Charleston SC Convention and Visitors Bureau.
We sit smugly in the Mori Luggage seminar on how to pack a suitcase. The crowd is horrified when the presenter talks about traveling for a week with just a backpack. For us, it’s an affirmation of what we have been doing for years.
When I shop for “luggage,” I’m always looking for the lightest but most durable backpack I can find. But I must say, I do sit up and take notice of the sleek hard sided polycarbonate spinners she’s demonstrating. These rolling suitcases can change direction on a dime and easily glide down a tight airplane or train aisle.
Packing cubes are the new twist for us. We haven’t used them but they make sense. If a bag is searched, the see-thru cubes are what’s being touched, not the see-thru unmentionables that might be in your bag. Who wants a TSA agent pawing your panties with a queue full of passengers peering on? Cubes are definitely worth considering.
This also starts me wondering – what else can today’s travel agent do for me? I am a relentless planner but I’m guessing a good professional has the clout to open more doors for me than I can do on my own. They have access to package deals that might save time, money or headaches. With a wealth of real-time feedback from clients they know things the indie traveler might not be aware of. And finally, they are a possible advocate when flights or hotel bookings go wonky.
Oh, and that promise to my husband of staying for just one hour? I break it. We wind up staying for three.