Growing up, I remember my parents being sat in front of the computer, spending hours looking up holiday destinations and flights for our family vacation. Eventually, when they found something they liked, we’d sit around and look at the photos together and then mark the days off on our calendar until we went.
It seemed simple, so sure enough, as I began solo travelling, I booked everything myself: flights, accommodations, local transport and visas. There were some cancelled flights, and nearly missed visa appointments throughout the years, but it always worked out just fine.
The first time I used a travel agent was last year in Bournemouth, on two separate occasions:
- To purchase my Australian Working Holiday Visa, along with travel insurance
- To book a week-long tour through the Rocky Mountains in Canada
Matt and I did everything through STA Travel last year, and I cannot recommend them enough! The girls in the shop are hilarious and so knowledgeable; they made me feel comfortable right away and let me ask all the stupid questions I could think of.
When I applied for my Working Holiday Visa to the UK (back in 2013), I completed all the paperwork on my own from Canada… while it seemed straightforward, there were a ton of small important details that could have easily been missed and it was terribly time-consuming (like when I had to venture into Toronto to give biometric data which took all of 5 minutes, and that time the UK consulate had me send my passport away for 3 weeks). Thankfully, I did everything right and the visa was granted, but it took a bunch of tears and stress to get through it.
While it would have been possible to apply for the Australian Working Holiday Visa by ourselves, STA Travel was willing to do all the leg work and throw in some sweet extras for the same price! In addition to completing and filing our application, they would help us open an Australian bank account in advance with 3 FREE money transfers from the UK, apply for our Tax File Number and Superannuation accounts so we could start working almost immediately and gave us a personal contact in Australia who could answer further questions for us. I know – incredible! We hit the jackpot with this one, as it helped us adjust to our new lives down under with ease. It was the same price to apply for the visa online (through the Australian Government website), and yet we received a full package deal.
Now, the tour through the Rockies wasn’t planned; We desperately wanted to road trip from Toronto to Vancouver, but we didn’t have a car or any clue where to start. When STA had a ‘CANADA SALE’ for Canada 150, we booked our Moose Travel Network ‘Caribou Tour‘ through them, and saved a couple hundred dollars. STA gave us the same exceptional service while booking this tour, taking the time to explain where it would go, what was included and making sure it fit into our travel plans. After we booked, the following day, Moose Travel Network contacted us directly to handle everything further.
The recommendation for ‘Caribou’ came from one of the girls at STA Travel in Bournemouth who had already done it, and she was spot on – to date, it is still the best tour I’ve been on (have you seen the photos??).
At this point, it’s safe to say these two positive experiences had opened my eyes to the benefits of using travel agents for the incredible extra services they could offer when booking something through them and helping me to save money. Did I stop booking things for myself? Of course not, but I had more confidence in these decisions when given personal recommendations from an agent, also knowing there was someone I could speak to when I had questions or issues.
A few months later, we arrived in Australia, and our only real plan was to travel along the East Coast up to Cairns. Matt had done half the coast (as far as Brisbane) on a trip back in 2013, but I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to stop, what was worth seeing and the best way of getting there. Although there is a ton of information available online, (backpacker Facebook groups are especially helpful) it can still be overwhelming.
As we were walking through the streets of Sydney, on our very first day in Australia, we bumped into Lauren from Happy Travels. She was friendly, asked us where we were from and what our plans were in Australia. She offered to give us some more information on trips along the East Coast, and we ended talking for a few hours. She had taken the time to get to know the kind of travellers we are, what we wanted to see, and from that, she built us a custom itinerary. It was perfect, and it not only works within our budget, but it matched the amount of time we wanted to give ourselves for this trip. We instantly booked, happy having a plan in mind and knowing what our daily budget would be after everything we wanted to do was confirmed.
What I loved most about this experience was that Lauren made it feel personal, and afterwards, she gave us a card with her contact details so we could get in touch regarding any questions or concerns. She took care of everything from start to finish. Also, did I mention she offered us a discount because we booked so many tours at once with Happy Travels (like our 241 skydive on Valentine’s Day)?
From that day, I told Matt that was the kind of job I wanted – helping fellow backpackers and travellers to plan their perfect trip to Australia… and that’s exactly what I did. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been working with Happy Travels in Cairns since late March! More on that soon…