Travel agents can save you money and time, but you shouldn't take every bit of advice they give at face value.
Here are 10 of the worst tips we've heard from travel agents — and how to steer clear of this bad advice.
1. Assume That ...
As my grandmother used to say, "Never assume, as you can make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.'" Just because your travel agent assumes something doesn't mean it's true. Get all the details, terms and conditions of your trip in writing.
2. You'll Love It
Well ... maybe or maybe not. Yes, your travel agent and a host of his or her clients might love a particular destination, hotel or restaurant, but it's not a given that you will, too. Do some of your own research about your agent's recommendations to be sure they fit with your picture of a dream vacation.
3. They Take Credit Cards
Even in this technology-driven age, credit cards aren't accepted everywhere. What's more, using your cards abroad can result in all kinds of fees. Research which credit cards offer the best terms, and plan on having them as part of a mix that includes a few U.S. dollars, a little of the local currency, some travelers checks and your ATM card.
4. Everyone Speaks English
Everyone? Really? Probably not. If you're traveling abroad, it never hurts to brush up on a few niceties in the local language. Or get with the 21st century by downloading iTranslate, a free app available at the iTunes Store and Google Play. It automatically translates whatever you say into your smartphone.
5. It's Perfectly Safe
Famous last words. Check out what the U.S. Department of State has to say before you travel. Its website will give you up-to-date information on safety, crime, health and other concerns.
6. There's No Need to Reserve a Hotel Room
If you're traveling in the high season or during local holidays or major events, you could be left out in the cold. Plus, you're not likely to get the best rates, regardless of when you travel. Research — or have your travel agent research — hotels and rates, and book ahead of time.
7. It's Included in the Price
Oh really? This ties in with Bad Tip No. 1 (Assume That ... ). Have your travel agent verify and clarify what is and isn't included in your itinerary. Get what is included in writing, and bring a printed copy with you.
8. It's Cheap to Travel There
Sure, you might get a good deal on airfare or an air/hotel package. But what's the exchange rate, and how much do things cost? To get a better sense of the total vacation price tag, research tipping protocols and the prices of things like a cup of coffee, a hamburger, cab or public transportation fares, and museum admissions.
9. Your Health Insurance Will Cover You If You're Sick or Hurt
Did you know that your Medicare (and Medicare supplement) isn't recognized in some countries? Find out from your health insurance carrier what is covered. If needed, get a medical travel insurance policy.
10. See and Do as Much as Possible
Though your agent might think that he or she is simply encouraging you to get your money's worth, packing in too much is a fatal mistake. Slower-paced itineraries allow for downtime and the chance to linger somewhere if you like.