Deciding where to go is one thing. Deciding on how to go or what to do is another story. Personally, creating an itinerary is an exciting task, but very time consuming as well – considering the research, canvassing, up to polishing everything. Which is a very common reason why travel agencies as a business is booming.
So there are basically two services these agencies can offer you – 1) they can help you book your transportation, accommodation and sometimes, even restaurant reservations; 2) they can organize a whole trip for you from itinerary proposals, to bookings, fees, food, etc. All you need, literally, is to be there at the exact time agreed…and of course, pay them. Imaging skipping looong lines at the booking office, the amount of time spent for research just to come up with a one-day itinerary, not to mention the energy and courage to face the heavy traffic. Signing up with agencies is indeed easy, comfy, and hassle-free. But what are the pros and cons?
I summarized here some dark and bright sides of traveling as a joiner hoping I could help you, guys, especially the ones who has no idea how this thing works, and those who just recently decided to collect experiences from traveling.
C O S T
■ Yes, there are discounts from the regular fees and rates. Here’s a secret everyone is aware but rarely talk about. Operators and organizers, get huge if not enough discounts for mass booking. Combining these savings, plus availments from travel memberships, booking with agencies may cost you less than what you might spend for DIYs.
■ Let’s admit there are hoaxes and scams. In contrary to the first Pro item, I know they’re not all the same. Some agencies also take advantage of this to earn more income. So my advise – be wise. Many people a.k.a bloggers share everything about a trio – sponsored or not. And if they’re not, they share as many information as they can. Compare DIY rates vs package rates, and decide if the difference is worth it.
M E A L S, A C C O M M, T R A N S P O
■ Meals, accommodation, and transportation are most often part of the package. Unless you wish to exclude them (I mean, isn’t it one of the reasons why we hire agencies?), these basic travel needs are the main items in a travel agency’s rate. Want to avoid hassle and spend more time recognizing the full worth of those tourist spots? Your travel agent’s your best friend!
■ You usually don’t have control on the hotel accommodations and dining options. Though most of the places your travel operators choose are spots where good quality hotels and inns and restaurants for you, we don’t have the same tastes on almost everything. In this case, you won’t be able to change your hotel if it does not live up to your expectations. You can instead go out and look for other options.
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T I M E
■ Being a tour joiner honestly puts out the hassle in our minds. You almost don’t need to research too much, inquire different hotels and restos and tourist spots, you don’t need to book for any ride – because your travel agent will do it for you. Yep. #ChillKaLang
■ Access to destinations. Especially with local tourist guides, they can sneak you to wonderful places you didn’t expect to see. They have their own little ways to strategically arrange your itinerary with great timing.
■ You don’t have control over your time. We usually go out to see and have time to appreciate more than what we see everyday, especially those travelers coming from the cities. If you want to spend the most of your days staring at a painting in a museum, or skinny dipping in a beautiful beach, skip the joining the tour package.
There are two kinds of travelers: the one who’s chill and wants to spend more time at a place where they can enjoy more and; the one who loves to maximize their time and willing to explore more. Expand this box for some tips to help you maximize your time while traveling.
◘ Create your own #BucketList to help you know where to start your research and actual itinerary.
◘ Book your tickets and tours in advance, if you have the option to.
◘ Bring just enough cash – food, entrance fees, environmental fees, and a bit for miscellaneous.
◘ Pack light!
◘ Get an early start each day.
◘ Visit the more popular attractions right at opening time.
◘ Skip the boring stuff, and prioritize the places you want to see.
◘ Though you have your bucket list, do not be a slave to that tiny little paper. There’s so much more to explore than what we usually see on social media!
■ Crowd. Crowd. And more crowd. While other people see the convenience of having an access to great tourist spots, I also see the cons to it. If your travel agency has a promo for a usual travel destination, expect huuuuge crowd or loooong lines when you get there. Unlike when you do a DIY off peak, you can actually get an island to yourselves and enjoy the sun!
A R R A N G E M E N T S
■ Convenience provided by your trusted travel agents. This may not be necessary for DIYs, but it is one of the most important thing when you join a group or even avail a particular tour activity. Also, some places and tourist spots require visitors to have at least one guide per, let’s say, 5 persons. When booking with a travel agency, a professional fee for tour guides are usually part of the package.
If you get the right travel agency, you will surely have a smooth transaction and you will definitely find the fun and safety you are actually looking for. Expand this box for some of my tips on what to look for when choosing a travel agency.
◘ Make sure the business is legitimate. It’s sad, but we all are aware that there are travel agencies who do their business in a not-so-legal and not-so-safe way. Always bear in mind that it’s’ okay to be skeptical and look into the agency’s certifications and even your driver’s and tour guide’s license.
◘ Read and consider reviews. The internet is such a wonderful world if we make good use of it. Blogging and review industries are actually booming today. Of course, there are polished articles online, but there are tons of honest feedbacks available 24/7. I just re-activated my TripAdvisor account. We can connect there, too!
◘ Good (to great) customer service. Good customer service is usually the key to a successful service company. How to tell? Your queries, even stupid obvious questions, are answered by the appropriate personnel politely. They also update you for when you need information or assistance relative to your travel/trip. Now, this is really my pet peeve – break up when they start to bombard you with promos or follow-ups, just to make you book.
◘ It has to be 24/7 available.
Why is this important?
It is important because you might encounter some problems while you are already on travel.
If they are available 24/7, you could contact them to help you with your problem. Then, it would ease your worries and you will have a great time again.
You’ll never know when a problem arises. That is why you need a travel agency that can address your needs all the time.
A travel agency should have an after hours emergency number or there should be people handling the customer service line all the time.
◘ Mind the rates. I don’t usually look at the rates, honestly. I look at if the itinerary is worth the price. Is the itinerary for a day realistic as per schedule? Are the places we’ll be going to are worth the shot? Are meals included? Travel Insurance? You might even be lucky to find a good deal or a promo.
◘ Know what they offer.
These people know what they can and what they cannot offer you. They have their own ways to adjustments. They know how to market. Now here’s some secret: some travel agencies that are intentionally making their itineraries full-packed, while it’s actually impossible to complete. 15 islands in one day of island hopping? Pretty much impossible. So research. Your best friends? Google and Google Map.
◘ Assess their travel agents.
The travel agents assigend to you are the most important person when you’re going on a trip. Not only they are assigned to arrange everything you need, they also have your personal information – full name, contact number, identification numbers, ticket numbers, and possibly, credit/debit card numbers. Know your rights, and the limitations of what people may ask from you. Here’s a link to the Philippine Data Privacy Act for more good reads >> As a customer though, you can ask to see a copy of the travel agency’s or travel agent’s certificate or license before you agree to pay for their services. Those papers are not issued just to keep their walls and wallets decorated, they’re to identify them as authorized business entities.
■ You always need to rely on your agent. Meaning, you get limited control of what you want to do. For example, begin the first one to trek to a hill’s peak so you go back down waiting for your 12 co-joiners to finish their turn. That would be more than two hours which, if you have the boat privately, is the same travel time to the next island. Bummer.
I N S U R A N C E
■ Most travel agencies offer travel insurance and some actually automatically include it in a tour or travel package unless you wish to exclude them. You may apply for a separate travel insurance, though, especially if you travel 90% of your year. Agencies offer them, too.
In case travel insurance is not included in your package (more usual for quick domestic trip) or if you choose to travel with a DIY itinerary, I strongly suggest to invest in a travel insurance just to secure yourself financially whatever happens. Here are some guide questions to help you decide and find the right travel insurance plan.
◘ What type of trip are you taking?
If you are going up the road to visit Grandma this holiday season, you are most likely not going to need a travel insurance plan. However, if you are flying at any point during this trip to see Grandma, say across the country or to a neighboring region, you should strongly consider insurance. Trips that involve flights increase the risk of travel mishaps, such as delays and lost baggage, which can end up costing you money. Comprehensive plans offer benefits to help reimburse costs associated with covered travel and baggage delays as well as lost or damaged baggage.
If you are going on a weekend road trip with the kids and staying in a refundable hotel room, you are not really looking at any trip costs that would need to be insured. But if your weekend trip with the kids involves a quick flight to the city where you are you are staying two nights and going to see an expensive show, you may want to consider insuring your investment.
Regardless of the trip, you can insure any trip you are taking more than 100 miles away from home which includes pre-paid expenses that are subject to cancellation penalties. If you are worried about the possibility of losing money due to unexpected changes or travel mishaps, insure the trip!
◘ How much of your trip is pre-paid and non-refundable?
Travel insurance is only going to cover trip costs that are paid prior to your departure which is subject to cancellation penalties. Any pre-paid expense that would not be fully refundable in the event you have to cancel or interrupt your trip needs to be insured, or it may invalidate some coverages on the plans. Before you purchase a travel insurance plan, consider your trip costs. Add up all the costs that are non-refundable to determine the insurable amount.
Typically, travelers will insure flights, hotel stays, all-inclusive vacation packages, tour packages and even event tickets at their destination. While some of these things can sometimes be refundable, many times they aren’t. The key is to know that travel insurance will only cover anything pre-paid and non-refundable. You’ll only be reimbursed for the money that you lose.
◘ Have you fully compared plans before purchasing?
We don’t recommend just picking the first travel insurance plan listed in your quote results – first, figure out what your main concerns are, what your budget will allow and select the plans that fit those criteria. Our site is built to allow travelers to pick several plans to compare all at once. Take advantage of that! You can filter and compare based on the benefits that mean the most to you.
Most comprehensive travel insurance plans will be similar – offering coverage for trip cancellation up to 100% and trip interruption up to 100-150% of your pre-paid non-refundable trip cost. But when you start looking at travel delay benefits, baggage protection limits and emergency medical coverage, you will see that there is a wide range of benefit limits.
By using the comparing engine with InsureMyTrip, you can truly find the right travel insurance plan for you and your traveling companions.
◘ Is this price right for what I’m purchasing?
Every plan, whether comprehensive, travel medical or something else, comes with their own unique coverage that affects the premium. Also, it’s important to recognize that not only the cost of your trip but the age of the travelers, the destination and the length of the trip often affects the premium as well. A lot goes into the price of the travel insurance plan you chose.
Credits: Insure My Trip
There’s no “con” in travel insurances! Just make sure you’re in good hands. Here’s a list of trusted companies offering great service and travel insurance in the Philippines.
◘ World Nomads
Service coverage: Worldwide
Prices start at: $38 for Standard Plan; $42 for Explorer Plan
Policy coverage: Emergency medical support, evacuation assistance, trip cancellation, and even include coverage for adventure sports and activities (which is not usually provided by other insurance companies).
◘ AXA iON – Smart Traveler
Service coverage: Worldwide
Prices start at: Php 990 (Essential Plan)
– Personal accident
– Medical Expenses
– Emergency Medical Evacuation and Repatriation
– Travel Inconveniences
– Personal Belongings
– Other Benefits (Personal liability, hijacking, kidnapping, funeral and burial expenses)
◘ AIG Travel Guard
Service coverage: Worldwide
Prices start at: Php 400 (1 to 4 days)
– Medical expense
– Medical evacuation
– Repatriation expense
– Personal accident
– Child Guard
– Compassionate visit
– Baggage delay
– Trip cancellation
– Trip termination
– Baggage and personal effects
– Flight delay
– Loss of travel documents
– Personal liability
View more options and learn more about travel insurances here: Grit PH / Travel Insurance
S O C I A L
■ Biiiiiiig social opportunities – Meeting new people is part of the fun. Though not too usual here in the Philippines, I hear some tour packages include social activities that are very much interesting. Put in mind that we are traveling not just to explore places, but to learn new cultures and communicate with other people, make new friends. Growing your network is always a fun task.
■ You can never get rid of personality conflicts – I know, right?! Having new people around is interesting, but may be a cause for headache, as well.
Knowing new people and learning more about different cultures may be a lot of fun. But there still are rooms for maximizing your experience and enjoy your vacay more. Expand this box for some tips for when you’re joining a public tour.
◘ Read the guidelines sent to you BEFORE the tour proper. Getting yourself organized starts with knowing what to bring, when/where to meet, etc. All of these are information that are sent out (usually) days before the tour. Read up and save yourself the trouble of bringing unnecessary clothes or going to the wrong meet-up point. Who needs the stress, really?
◘ Stick to the schedule. Nothing annoys more the coordinator and the group than having that one person who arrives late or makes people wait as she takes gazillion selfies on a spot. Your companions may be too polite to call you out on this but remember that you are all supposed to follow one schedule only. Wasting people’s time is disrespectful.
◘ Be a team player. The quality of a tour doesn’t just depend on the organizer nor the guide. You can have the most cheerful coordinator/ courteous driver/ funny guide but if you refuse to engage with the rest of the team (company or fellow guests), you are practically short changing yourself of a good experience. Offer to take someone’s photo or share your sandwich. Yes, sometimes it involves laughing at someone’s corny joke. Sure, it wasn’t really funny but it does the job of breaking the ice. Maybe that person will offer to take your photo, too. Trust us, mingling won’t hurt you.
◘ Be sensitive to other people’s space. You’re probably in the mood to listen to some Dralke or Taylor Swift but some may not even be a fan of them or just want to snooze in the bus before the start. Keep your music to yourself (wear a head phone). We also understand that you’d want to catch up with your friends during the tour, but there is no justifiable reason to share your stories of your horrible boss or your sad break-up to strangers. There is a time and space for everything. Also, if you are traveling with children, please keep an eye on them. They may be cute and cuddly but don’t go assuming that your seatmate would like to play yaya to your kiddos.
◘ Practice good hygiene. Yes, yes we understand that some of you have been backpacking for months now and have been using both sides of your shirt. But please do the group a favor and take a shower before going. The Philippines is a tropical country and the humidity here is really high. Sweating is a fact of life here in the islands. Acquaint yourself with a deodorant.
◘ Put the phone down. Another pet peeve of ours – the person who just can’t stop taking/making business calls while on a hike. You are supposed to be having a break. If you really need to be in touch with your company, have the courtesy to place your phone on silent/mute and excuse yourself when you need to be on the phone. Talking loudly over the phone distracts everyone and takes away that zone of fun everyone was already. Don’t be a spoilsport or you might end up being left behind by your group mates.
◘ Respect personal boundaries. Pleasantries are okay. Hi’s, hellos’ and where-are-you-from’s are cool. But it can be off-putting to some people if they get asked of their salary, why they are travelling alone, if they have a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. If during the tour break they decide not to join the group for lunch or coffee, respect their decision and refrain from taking it personally.
◘ Keep your cool. As much as we want for all travels to be perfect, there is just no guarantee. Vehicles break down, the weather doesn’t cooperate and yes, someone is taking his/her sweet time taking that selfie (why, oh why?). We’re pretty sure that your guide is doing his/her best to make things work and it won’t help him/her if you start getting mad. Tap into your happy self.
Bottom line, tourist groups and being a joiner actually depends on people’s tolerance – your budget, your time allowances, and how do you feel about people. I’ve been always seeing myself in the middle of being an introvert and extrovert. In any way, I can always blend (or not). For me, it really depends on my budget and safety. If I don’t have any familiarity around the area, I hire tour guides, I join groups. If the place is known as a safe place for solo travelers, I go for DIYs.
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