Monday, November 1, 2010

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 1: The Travel Agent In My World

MY WORLD consists of recovering from an illness that appeared soon after my husband and I returned from our vacation to Europe. As my health improves, I look forward to sharing details about our journey and the fascinating places we visited. Meanwhile, I begin with the pre-trip.

Booking our first trip to Europe was exciting, puzzling and a little scary. When you don’t know what to expect, even the most common travel destinations can be intimidating. We relied on personal stories, online information, advertising and our BCAA recommended travel agent when deciding on a bus tour with Insight Vacations to Italy, Switzerland & France this October.

The initial friendly manner drew me in but once the deal was struck and deposits made, my travel agent’s impatience and abrupt manner were unmistakable when at some point he said, “How about not wasting our time … if you’re not serious about taking a trip?!” I suppose he thought I was waffling but I was actually confused due to the fluidity of the situation.

Not only had the original Insight travel dates changed, the cost had increased and the flight details to Europe became different. Our travel agent came to understand that although we were traveling economy, seating arrangements for the long flight were still very important to us, particularly since my husband was wearing a leg brace so would have difficulty in tight quarters.

Before setting off on a journey the link between you and your destination is often the representative behind the travel agency door. That person is sometimes selling insurance on commission or could have other agendas unknown to you. His/her travel expertise, ethical standards and ability to explain complicated issues can aid in making your holiday great or a disaster, especially if you're new to traveling overseas or have special needs.

I was emotionally attached to the trip and our money had been taken when all the Insight changes were being relayed to me by the travel agent who tried to be helpful in the end. I relied on efficiency and timely coordination between the travel agent, Insight and Lufthansa to produce the promised airplane seating which were in rows of two rather than four or more for the long return flight home. Unfortunately, according to Insight our travel agent must have received the itinerary some two weeks before my husband and I actually had it in hand to see that the wrong seats had been booked.

Lufthansa pointed to Insight Vacations, saying Insight delayed confirming the expected seats and that is why they were no longer available. Because of our misplaced trust in all these agencies and the late date, it became virtually impossible to find two standalone seats or to cancel the trip. Our travel insurance with its many exclusions would definitely not cover this situation. Another bogus seating reservation was made that seemed acceptable but turned out to be the worst seats possible and included a sick child nearby.

Despite the problems, we are thrilled to have joined the throng on European soil and to touch historical icons such as the Trevi Fountain in Rome pictured here. I learned in hindsight, however, that travelers need to follow up with all parties immediately to ensure what was promised has been implemented. But as my next article will show ... even this isn't a sure thing when booking on a Lufthansa plane that has no intention of getting off the ground!

Mix ups and discomforts are common when traveling great distances. But it would have been nice if my fictional character, Penelope Puddle, could have tapped her "magic" umbrella and landed us in Europe by simply saying "puddle-poof". I thought of Penelope when I saw a bold orange umbrella waving at us from a street in Rome as if to say, hooray, you made it!

Online travelers can explore the globe from home at My World.

25 comments:

  1. Hmmm. I'm sorry your trip had such a difficult start!

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  2. Oh, I'm so sorry you had such a lot of trouble. And to come home sick, too, was a terrible drag.
    How was Bill's leg? How was your foot? Where on the plane were your absolutely worst seats? I'm dying of curiosity. I think I'd better phone.
    Glad you're home and now well enough for writing. Your photos are gorgeous and I'm looking forward to seeing more.
    Luv, K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

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  3. Very interesting experience. Shots are beautiful.

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  4. I am glad that you were able to take this trip. Soon it will be good memories. Thanks for sharing your photos and your experiences for all of us to learn from.

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  5. Wonderful shots from your trip but I am so sorry you had so many issues with the travel agent etc. That kind of thing really puts a damper on any trip. I hope you are recovered from being sick.

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  6. Sorry you and you husband had so much trouble.. it's a shame 'Penelope wasn't able to make it all better with her handy dandy umbrella.
    At least you had a good time and shot some great photos.

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  7. So sorry to hear about the bogus travel arrangements. But hurray for making it over to Europe and visiting some of our amazing countries.

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  8. Sorry to hear of your miserable arrangements and re-arrangements - all too common, I'm afraid. At least your providers didn't go bust and leave you stranded - or did they?

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  9. what a lovely post. trevi fountain is always crowded.

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  10. I should add that Bill and I are fine now. I don’t want to give the impression everything was terrible because we had awesome times in Europe and have no regrets about going. For information's sake, I will post about our Lufthansa experience and the Insight bus tour before I detail all the wonderful things we saw and did on our journey. :))

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  11. Things people eat will dissapear, yet things seen and felt remain - wishing you only happy memories between the difficulties.

    Please have a good Tuesday.

    daily athens

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  12. good to know both of you managed to have great time together in Europe. I went to the Trevi Fountain in March this year and it was beautiful.

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  13. how awful....it always makes sense on these types of trips to double and sometimes triple check...i usually work with travel consolidators so you have to be very diligent about follow ups...but hopefully the trip itself redeemed the inconvenience.

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  14. Getting off the ground can sure be challenging. I am glad you got there and took in so much that is wonderful.

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  15. Despite the troubles, that still looks like an amazing trip. I'd love to travel to Europe again some time, I grew up there but have hardly been back.

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  16. Dear Penelope. Thank you for visiting me at my blog - big thank you! How exciting that you both went to Europe -what a wonderful experience, apart from the mishaps. The travel agent should not have been rude - big no no. I am sure you will look back on this experience as a positive one. Travelling has to be one of the greatest adventures in the world. Have fun and see you soon! All the best. Michelle

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  17. glad to read that you and your husband managed to enjoy your European trip despite the setbacks. i booked hotels on line when i went to Europe a few years ago...they were a bit disappointing but it was all part of the experience.:p

    get well soon!

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  18. I am so curious whatever made you sick during your vacation.

    Hope you are feeling better now.

    Take care.

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  19. Penelope, how wonderful you and your husband were to experience Europe despite a difficult start of the trip. Wonderful photos. Looking forward to reading more of your trip.

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  20. So sorry to hear of your misadventures. We have been lucky to have a really good travel agent for many years who felt challenged when we wanted to book tickets to out of the way places and co-ordinate flights which then gave you a free stopover in places like Tahiti.

    For the beginner things can be quite a challenge. I am glad you got there in the end.

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  21. Lovely shots from your trip. I´m so sorry that you had such a trouble with the travel agent. Hope you are are better now.

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  22. Sometimes a bad beginning can still be the start of something beautiful. Hope it ended being a great trip.

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  23. I am relieved to see this post, Penelope, and delighted that you and Bill have seen parts of the world I have dreamed about and hope one day to visit. I'll know who to come to for advice, because you surely have been through the mill with travel arrangements. I'm so sorry you became ill, but hope that this post means you are now on the mend. (I am trying to get a post together, but am wading through a backlog of photos and still overwhelmed with work.) Your first picture of this post is very significant to me, first for its beauty, and second, for a memory of my mother, who loved flying and above all, loved to see the clouds beneath her. I also enjoyed seeing the photo of you and Bill, so clearly thrilled to be in front of the awe-inspiring Trevi Fountain.

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  24. Carol, so glad you stopped by and that the cloud picture brought back memories of your mom. She would have loved Switzerland. Bill and I took a gondola high up the mountains above the clouds to where the mountain peaks looked like islands amid fluffy white waters. It was mystical and a favorite part of our journey. I look forward to posting pictures of this in the near future as well as seeing one of your posts when you have time.:)

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