The old-fashioned travel agent did a lot of the legwork for you; they knew a destination to some extent or researched it extensively and then made all the bookings. But in the age of information, easy international communication and cross-border payment systems, it is hard to justify paying someone to do what you can do yourself online for free. That doesn’t mean that travel agents are obsolete, but it does mean you should carefully choose one.
Start by searching for local experts on trip-planning platforms that connect you with agents who specialize in the destinations you are interested in visiting. Then, do a little research on your own to find out more about the individual agents. Read their client reviews and look at their scores on our Ratings Tables for “doing service properly.” Specifically, you want an agent who stays on top of the details, keeps in close contact with you until your itinerary is firmly set, and works with the same diligence when planning a vacation for a single person as when planning a group trip to Jordan or Sri Lanka.
You should also ask prospective agents about their service fees and what other costs you will encounter. Some agencies charge a flat fee for their services while others charge for researching particular trips, and some have special programs for destination-specific itineraries. Check for certification from the Travel Institute or for agents who have specialized training in specific destinations or niche markets (golf, honeymoons). Ask for an itemized breakdown of costs and fees before you book to make sure that they are reasonable.