Hi Friends! Today I’m SO excited to share all about our family’s experience using a travel agent for the first time as we planned our trip to Iceland! But first, let me back-up and give you a bit of background on our travel history and how this all came about. Because a year ago I would have told you that a travel agent was absolutely NOT for me, and now I’ve totally changed my tune. Here’s why:
First things first, I am someone who loves to plan trips. I’ve always been the trip planner in our family – I planned our pre-baby trip to Italy all on my own, I planned a trip to Spain with my mom and cousin while in college, and have always been the coordinator of all our family vacations in the states. I love finding a great hotel and all the details that go into planning a great trip.
That said, as we looked up against our family’s trip to Iceland and how busy work and life had become I didn’t feel excited to plan our trip, I felt daunted by coordinating a trip with two littles to a country I had never been while also trying to juggle all my work and life responsibilities. I started crowd-sourcing suggestions on Instagram and Facebook, and that’s when Heather of Heather Christopher Travel reached out to me about outsourcing my trip planning to her and her amazing team!
I nearly said “no!” but then the busy, overwhelmed side of me thought it would be really nice to give Heather our travel dates, budget, and hopes for the trip and let her do the rest. And you know what? I’m SO glad that I did! I have never felt more relieved to hand something over to someone who is an expert in her field and had real-life experience in the country we were going to travel to. Going forward, I can say without a doubt that I would hands-down use Heather again for any larger trip we plan to take as a family.
I asked Heather if she would share a little bit more about how she got to where she is today and why you, too, might want to consider using her services for your own trip!
BONUS: There is a great deal on Heather’s trip-planning services at the bottom of this post just for Espresso and Cream readers!
Q: Hi Heather! Can you tell me a little bit about your background, company and how you got started with you company, Heather Christopher Travel?
A: The short version is that my family used a travel agent growing up and I was always a driving force behind our family vacation plans alongside my dad!
I lost my dad to cancer my senior year of high school and had a dream before he passed that I became a travel agent (crazy, right?!) so I woke up that following morning, immediately researched schools and within a week had changed my college plans. My future was sped up even faster by my then boyfriend-now husband being in the Marine Corps so when I decided the traditional college route was not for me, I got a travel agent diploma online (I even learned to handwrite airline tickets #thisdoesntexistanymore), got married and found a job at a brick & mortar travel agency in Woodbridge, VA all in six months! I spent ten years working there; I earned awards, traveled and managed the agency before having our second daughter. We then decided to move closer to our families near Gettysburg, PA in ‘15. I opened my own agency on May 15, 2016 and here we are three years later!
Our goal is to help time-starved couples and families plan seamless vacations!
Q: What is the value to a couple/family in hiring a travel agent like yourself vs. doing it themselves?
This could be a ten-page paper so I’ll point out the highlights:
- Stress-Free Travel: Imagine not having to google 5000 things and get 10,000 results. Along with knowing that someone, an actual human you know, has your back in case things go wrong.
- Trusted Advisor: We all love to crowdsource via the ‘gram or Facebook but then you’re getting an answer that reflects that person’s experience, not necessarily the one you want to have or fits your needs/budget/time of year. Travel advisors literally travel and plan trips for a living – we are in the “trenches” day in and day out versus your well-meaning family & friends who plan one or two trips on average a year or every other. We’re getting industry related e-mails on a daily basis to keep us up to date on what’s open, what’s closed, and what’s changing in the world of travel!
- Time-Saving: This goes hand in hand with the first one, but most of our clients are busy professionals and/or parents that don’t have the time or energy to dedicate to planning their vacations.
- Value-Added: The travel industry is the business of people – it’s all in who you know. We spend a lot of time with hotels from around the world and their sales teams, meeting guides, trying out transportation companies, learning about new companies as we’re trying to match up you to the right on the ground partner! With that we get other value-added amenities at a lot of hotels – that means comped breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out (all subject to availability + property policy, of course).
Q: How much do your services cost? Do you find people get more bang for their buck when working with you even though you have a planning fee for your services?
A: Our services range from $350 – $500 on average. We charge $350 for trips a week or less and $500 for trips longer than a week or anything within 30 days of departure. Our loyal clients pay even lower fees or nothing depending on their needs.
And yes! Our partnerships mean our clients are treated like gold and everything is taken care of so a lot less money spent on the ground because you were prepared and/or had everything pre-paid. Also, we rarely remember how much we spent on a trip unless something goes wrong, right? Most Americans take one vacation a year, so we focus a lot on how our clients feel because it’s got to hold them for an entire year, if not longer and we want you to remember how great it was!
I do want to mention that if you are a bargain hunter then working with an advisor is likely not the best fit. We want the best value for your budget, but use resources that we trust and have worked with versus just finding the least expensive price somewhere on the world wide web.
Q: Have you personally traveled to all the locations that you plan trips for?
A: 95.6% of the trips I plan, I have been there, but if not, I work with destination management companies (DMC as we call them) to plan vacations for places I haven’t been…it’s rare for me to be truly stumped on a location because of my colleagues. That being said, it is why I avoid planning trips to China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. I haven’t been and don’t have a driving desire to see those locations so I hand it off to a colleague who knows and loves it <3
Q: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see families with little kids making when deciding to take a larger trip?
Love this question! Trying to fit it all in! It’s really common, in general, for Americans to think I want to see Paris, Rome, Prague + Athens all in 10 days! We try to remind you that, you wouldn’t try to see Boston, New York, Philly + DC in 10 days – same deal in other locations. Take your list and cut 50% of it in most situations.
Going back to the above mentioned idea of memories + how you’ll feel, you don’t want to need a vacation from your vacation, especially when traveling with the littles! Room for grace is essential!
Q: What is your best piece of advice for traveling internationally with very little kids?
Snacks + low expectations! Expect the worst and I’m sure you’ll end up pleasantly surprised 😉
Q: Favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
This is like picking a favorite child 😉
But the answer is always Hawaii. I adore, ADORE Australia and New Zealand and can always go back to Greece and Italy, and I’ve loved every experience for a different reason, but Hawaii is my place of peace.
With over a decade of travel planning experience I have probably seen or heard what you’re asking for, I love nothing more than a couple or family saying “You made this so easy. It was amazing!”
Your vacation time and dollars are so precious and we’re appreciative of your trust with them!
SPECIAL DEAL FOR ESPRESSO AND CREAM READERS:
Heather has graciously agreed to offer all Espresso and Cream readers $100 off her trip planning fees for any trips booked between now and June 30th, 2019. Just reach out to her via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and mention that you read about her on Espresso and Cream!