DIY Travel on a Budget

The Sydney Morning Herald’s The Backpacker blog asked if travel agents are really necessary?

A few years ago, the predictions were dire. Flight Centre and its ilk were said to be going the way of Ansett, crushed under the weight of a competitor they couldn’t possibly match: in travel agents’ case, the internet. If everything travel-related can be researched, booked and paid for over the internet, why bother going to a travel agent?

And adding …

[F]or most holidays, especially short ones, I wouldn’t bother. (I don’t say this to bag agents – they’ve got a job to do, and pretty tough targets to hit. Plus they have to wear those uniforms.)

For starters, unless you know your travel agent well, you’re probably going to be paying more than you should be for flights, definitely more for accommodation, and way more for insurance. In return, you get everything booked, and a nice printed itinerary in a neato little satchel.

Finally declaring …

But really, travel agent’s aren’t necessary. In the world of travel, Google is your new best friend – check out the flights on the net, sort your visa applications online, find and book some accommodation, make sure you know the right numbers to call in the event of a stuff-up, and you should be okay.

Yet after all that, my well-travelled fellow blogger makes one concession. For a multi-stop circumnavigation of the planet, he “just couldn’t be arsed figuring it all out” for himself. And fair enough.

In my case I made no use of travel agents. Though to be fair my trip is a short and simple one, stopping over in places along the well-established tourism routes with, furthermore, the “benefit” of budget airlines to shuttle one quite quickly from one port to the next. And if not by air, Europe’s rail system, at least from I hear anyway, is quite reliable – not to mention, speedy. The Backpacker was spot on: Google is definitely the itinerant’s new best friend. I found everything – hostels, hotels, rail and air tickets – on the internet.

If nothing else doing a little extra legwork yourself (well, OK, “fingerwork”) adds extra fun to the whole journey. Bargain hunters, especially, will, I think, get a buzz from spotting cheapo airfares. For days – the only flight available, on the day and times I wanted, from Prague to Paris, was a AUD$300 (€167) ticket on British Airways. The route included a short stopover at London’s Heathrow. Too dear, I thought, for a distance of not more than 1000 kilometres!

But a quick check on the Which Budget website saved a small fortune. Two firms fly between Prague and Paris – Smart Wings and Sky Europe. While both offer the usual budget fares, only the latter had the flights for the day and time I wanted. So, instead of that BA flight, I found a much cheaper AUD$90 (€50) ticket on Sky Europe, a thankfully direct hop from Prague to Paris Orly.

That’s not all. Buying insurance online can save you big. I bought my cover from Travel Insurance Direct, costing me just $237 (€130) for my particular policy. A similar policy from a standard vendor like your usual bank, for example, will set you back nearly double that! So the choice is easy.

All in all, a DIY approach can and does cut your travel costs. But there are downsides. As The Backpacker says, if something goes wrong, then at least by using an agent you’ve always got someone to call and, in some cases, even blame! Moreover, doing your own research, despite the easy access of information, can be taxing on your time.

In my next post, we’ll cover the handful of websites I used and which I found to be quite useful. I’ll tell you what makes them good, and also what makes them bad. Stay tuned.

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