Hey, Internet, I need advice!

For her 60th birthday, I’m taking my mom on a trip, and she picked the Loire Valley in France. Great! Awesome! She is armed with many guidebooks and we have more or less figured to use Chinon as a base of operations, spend a few days checking out castles (woohoo, research trip!) and old leper colonies and whatnot. There’s a few other places we want to hit if possible, like Chartres.

This is not the problem. Please, please do not suggest more places in France that we HAVE to see, because as far as I can tell, you cannot swing a dead chat in France without hitting something historic or nifty, and we have had a hard time just narrowing it down to these!

But now that we have a vague idea what we’d like to see, what do I do to make this happen?

Do people still use travel agents?

If so, how do I find a travel agent that isn’t awful?

Should I just book flights and hotels on-line and pray?

I’ve never done a long vacation in a foreign country before, and I’m not sure how I go about it. If any of you know a really good on-line travel agent, I would be delighted to hear it, if, on the other hand, we now all just use Travelocity and pray a lot, I would love to hear that, too.

(We’re shooting for some time in September…which reminds me, I have to deal with my passport thing this week…)

Anyway, advice on how to set this up welcome!

  • reply Amy ,

    My parents used a travel agent when they made the trip from Louisiana to Scotland this month. While it made my mother’s (sometimes) inner control freak twitchy, the agent was able to get better deals than we could find online and took care of booking almost all of the things in advance. This is comforting from a planning ahead perspective, and the lady convinced my mother to get the first class reserved seats on the train which were well worth the higher price.

    How to find a reliable one? I’m afraid I can’t much help you there. Word of mouth is the only way we’ve found a good one. Does Kevin’s employer do all of his travel through an agent? Or your publisher?

    • reply Rose ,

      You should check out UnTours, see if they’re running a tour in the area you want to go to. It’s basically a tour for people who know how to read a guidebook: they help you (or take care of for you) a lot of the little picky bits of travelling abroad: finding lodging, renting a car, knowing what papers, vaccinations, etc. you might need, but then basically just let you go do your own thing once you get there.

      My grandparents did a bunch of tours with them. I went along once to Italy, and it was neat. They arranged maybe one dinner and a tour of a local olive oil factory and other than that we just did whatever we (read: my grandmother) wanted.

      • reply Kris ,

        We’ve used travel agents for family trips a few times and it’s very useful for making sure everything in confirmed beforehand and when problems like last minute flight changes crop up.

        As for finding a reliable agent, we’ve always used AAA. They have travel agents and discounts available for members. Not sure if the agents take non-member clients, though.

        • reply Tara ,

          I use TripAdvsor for checking out the general area and getting reccomendations (sp?!) on places to stay. I used Expedia to look for flight tickets.
          I spent 3 weeks in Denmark recently and booked it all myself online. Easy peasy. But if you want peaces of mind or to make all the minutiae of travelling Someone Else’s Problem, get an agent 🙂

          • reply P, Kirby ,

            Not counting a trip to London more than twenty years ago, I’ve only been overseas once–New Zealand. We traveled with my in-laws who frequently go overseas. That trip and all their others–most recently– Scotland, were booked online. And my in-laws are in their late sixties, so technically NOT the demographic that you would expect to be at ease online. In general, they don’t spend that much time online, otherwise. I don’t recall them having any significant problems with their travel arrangements.

            In my limited experience–Hawaii, usually–Expedia is good for airline tickets, but you can usually get better rates contacting the hotels directly.

            But I imagine it just depends on how much you want to fiddle around online.

            • reply nekomata ,

              Sorry, unable to help you there, but September is a great time to visit the Loire region. There aren’t too many tourists, the weather is usually fine without being too warm (and this year, the beginning of summer has been so crappy that it has to be better in the autumn) and you may even see beautiful landscapes with red leaves.

              Have a fun time !

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