What to know before you hire a pro.

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Thanks to a number of apps, travel guides, and an entire internet of information waiting at your fingertips, it’s never been easier to plan a vacation to even the most remote corners of the world. But some who are truly looking to embark on the trip of a lifetime enlist travel advisors to help. Don’t let the antiquated image of yesteryear’s old-school travel agents cloud your judgment: Today’s pros aren’t just in-demand, but they’re also carefully crafting luxury experiences for the modern-day jetsetter. (Remember: These are travel advisors, not agents.)

“Travel advisors are investing time and money into their experiences to drive business and provide the security and piece of mind to their clients that they are in trusted hands,” explains Taylor Gandy, a luxury travel advisor in the Bay Area. “They’re inspecting hotels and their service delivery level, understanding the logistics of getting through customs, time it takes to get to hotel, and other elements of quality control.” 

Travel advisors might be “in,” but how do you know if you should hire one for your next vacation? Below, two travel experts shared the key questions you should ask yourself in order to find out.

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“What Does the Travel Advisor Know That I Don’t?”

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For Justin Smith, owner of a luxury travel company in Beverly Hills called The Evolved Traveler, an advisor’s value lies in the unknown. 

“A travel advisor’s expertise and guidance start with the initial planning stages and continue until you’re safely back home,” he says. “Their knowledge will span from the practical like visa requirements to the strategic, such as selecting the optimal days for visiting specific locations, the best times for certain activities, or visiting specific sites.” 

Think about how much you know (and don’t know) about your upcoming trip. While embarking on an African safari for the very first time might have a lot of unknowns—in which case a professional could be very helpful—jetting off to London for the twelfth time might leave less room for error. On the flip-side, Smith says that travel advisors are able to “recommend hidden gems or create some unexpected ‘wow’ moments” that’ll help you see your routine respite with fresh eyes.

“Am I Leaving the Country?”

While they might have access to preferred hotel rates and great amenities, most pros will agree that travel advisors aren’t always necessary for domestic travel. “If you are making a simple hotel booking or purchasing a domestic air ticket, it is certainly easy enough to do that on your own,” Smith explains. Between foreign languages and time differences, international travel has enough intricacies that might make it worthwhile to enlist an advisor. 

An exception to the international-only rule: Cruises. (Yes, even if you’re taking a ship to Alaska, a travel advisor can still be helpful.) “An experienced advisor will have insight as to the cruise lines that will be best suited to clients or where the best cabins are located—they know the nuances that will make a difference,” Smith says.

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“How Familiar Is The Travel Advisor with My Destination?”

Just because a travel advisor plans trips for a living doesn’t necessarily mean they know every single corner of the world like the back of their hand. Some professionals specialize in certain destinations—be it cities, countries, continents, or a hyper-specific location like Disney World—so you’ll want to make sure their expertise lines up with your itinerary. “Specific destination knowledge is paramount,” Smith says. “It underpins the advice and recommendations we offer.”

When chatting with a potential travel advisor, ask them how familiar they are with your destination. Have they planned trips there previously or scouted out the area themselves? Can they share a sample itinerary? A travel advisor’s readiness to show off their expertise will prove that they have in-depth knowledge of your dream destination.

“Do I Feel Comfortable with This Travel Advisor?”

This is arguably the most important question you can ask yourself—and for good reason. A vacation is your time to clock out of your demanding job, kick back, relax, and live, so placing your fun and safety in another person’s hands requires a lot of trust. “Working with a travel advisor will always be best when it is a collaborative process—your travel will be better for it,” Smith says. “Are they listening to you and asking questions based on the information you are providing, and subsequently, making recommendations based on it?”

Not only should an advisor listen to your list of must-do activities, but Smith says they should also be familiar with planning for specific communities such as LGBTQ+ and BIPOC travelers or those with disabilities. He says: “Their understanding and sensitivity to the unique needs of a group can be incredibly valuable.”

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“Can I Afford It?”

Some hotels and cruise lines might offer a complimentary travel advisor, but those who are planning their trip from scratch will need to pay for a professional out-of-pocket. So, how much will it cost? Well, that depends. “Some advisors base their services on commission and charge no fees,” Gandy explains. “Some advisors will only charge a fee that represents a percent of the overall trip cost. For example: A trip costs $10,000 all in, so the advisor charges five percent of the total trip cost as a trip planning fee.” Yes, hiring a travel advisor is yet another line item to add to your vacation expenses. However, depending on how you answered the above questions, the peace of mind and sheer simplicity of a travel advisor might be well worth the investment.