Let me be upfront. For me, a huge perk of working in travel is that there’s a bunch of super enthusiastic consultants willing to plan my next trip, and that's where this post begins.
I love my job so these days when I take a trip, I'm already relaxed. In fact by day 3, I've normally forgotten I have a job. Like many people, I've previously schlepped my way around the world on the cheapest flights and an itinerary built off out-of-date guidebook advice. Until recently, I thought I enjoyed planning and revelling in the knowledge that I’d found that hotel, that bargain flight or tour, all by myself. But a few years ago that changed.
I found a flat and job that didn't make me want to run away and I knew my travel needs were changing. Working in digital, I spend my whole day in front of a web browser. In reality, the last thing I feel like doing every evening at home is researching every detail of my own holiday online, but I kept forcing myself to do it. I had to, because the alternative was the fear of missing out (‘FOMO’).
For years I thought I had just two travel options: 1) travel independently (but I’d have to do it with a backpack; 2) if I could afford it, I'd go for an organised trip from one of those expensive agents in the colour supplements. I couldn't really work out how to do a trip independently yet affordably. Cue Travel Nation.
Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking: plug for my employer (which it is). But I'm cynical and only a truly great holiday could begin to dispel my cynicism…
When I started planning my Japan trip, one of our consultants helped me pull together some ideas. We discussed how long I wanted to stay, my budget, how I'd like to get around and what my travel style was. By ‘style’, she wanted to gauge whether I was after hostels/backpacker places, mid-range hotels, a bit of luxury or something more boutique. The beauty is; I actually ended up with all four in one trip.
For example, in Tokyo I started with a hostel and then moved on to a capsule hotel - a unique experience which I absolutely loved. For the rest of the trip, my consultant arranged mid-range hotels, interspersed with traditional ryokans (Japanese inns). I'm not sure I would have known where to find a decent ryokan (or even that I should be looking for one) but with her help I ended up with an authentic Japanese experience I'll never forget. No ‘FOMO’ at all. I loved knowing that I wasn't missing out on something this good.
2 years later, still high on the success of my Japan holiday, I went for a similarly tailor-made experience and this time planned a 3 week itinerary in Malaysia.
As soon as we landed in Kuala Lumpur, we reaped the benefits of our arrangements as we were met by a driver. Normally I'd have researched trains and buses and found my own way to the hotel. That's all well and good; but in 35 degree heat, being met by a driver with an air conditioned car and complimentary bottles of water is a little luxury you quickly become accustomed to.
My next tailor-made win was our hotel in Kuala Lumpur. If I'd planned this trip by myself I’d probably have chosen an upmarket chain hotel, just to be on the safe-side, expectation-wise.
This time I took Travel Nation's recommendation and stayed at Hotel Maya and I was impressed from the moment I walked in. Every detail I'd requested was nailed from the start; a great breakfast buffet (my #1 obsession), reliable in-room WIFI (my #2 obsession) AND spectacular views over the Petronas Towers opposite. Winning.
Booking a room through an agent who knows their onions paid off. Add into the mix their local knowledge and you're guaranteed a super room with a view. FYI - the Petronas Towers actually kept me awake at night, the view from my bed was so incredible; I didn’t want to go to sleep.
My satisfaction with all this was definitely heightened by knowing I hadn't had to endure soul-destroying hours sifting through troll-ish Trip Advisor reviews to find a hotel this good. Every hotel recommended to me fitted my expectations; including a Langkawi beach hotel with a jealousy-inducing infinity pool and a colonial property in the heart of Melaka.
In terms of transport, I think I've also earned my stripes. I enjoy a long, cheap bus journey as much as the next person (which is not very much). I once endured a draining 36-hour bus journey across Venezuela and my memory of it is still raw. My long-suffering best friend needed absolutely no convincing to let the professionals loose on our transport arrangements in Malaysia.
We settled on a private car and driver throughout Malaysia. Lazy you say? Asia is so cheap that once you've tried it there is no going back. I'm thinking of employing a chauffeur at home. Maybe later.
What I gained from ditching buses was a bit more time and a lot more relaxation. No waiting for buses, no frustration that the bus is cancelled/driver didn't turn up/monsoons interrupted the schedule. We had a friendly local driver called Raymond who did some light tour-guiding along the way and I loved talking to him about what we were seeing and learning more about Malaysia itself.
Peace of mind is invaluable. For us, booking hotels and transfers ahead was a massive time saver. I could rock up and book everything on arrival, but why spend time haggling for a price I could have guaranteed if I'd pre-booked?
I was also glad they pre-booked my Petronas Towers tickets which meant a) no early morning queues and b) more time to enjoy my leisurely breakfast cooked by someone else. The treats kept coming.
Another underrated aspect of a tailor-made holiday is that most of your expenditure is covered before you leave home. Flights can be booked up to 11 months in advance to secure the very best possible prices. In a tailor-made holiday that includes flights and hotels/tours, it’s worth knowing that only the flights are payable immediately. You’re left with plenty of time to save for the bulk of your trip after you pay the deposit.
If you pre-book arrangements, your spending on the trip will be mostly food and souvenirs. That makes the post-holiday credit card bill far less fearsome. So laid back was I in Malaysia that I often found I'd run out of cash as most things were pre-paid!
When I think of the hours I've spent scouring aggregator sites trying to decide where a hotel's provision of "Internet" exists on the spectrum from free in-room WIFI to a Windows 95 notebook tethered to the reception desk, I now laugh. Back at the briefing stage of this trip I requested minimum 4* hotels with breakfast and free in-room WIFI. Shazam. Every hotel matched my brief. Because the consultant planning my trip made it so.
Now for the boring bit that no one really understands until something goes wrong. The sad truth about financial protection is that you don't know the value until it's too late.
The technical need-to-know is that if you book flights and accommodation via an agent, your entire trip will be financially protected. If any of the airlines, hotels or tour operators go out of business or can’t provide the service, you won’t lose out.
If something unexpected befalls you (like a car accident on one of the transfers); if you booked with Travel Nation, as your agent they are actually liable, not the local driver. If you'd booked that transfer locally yourself and were involved in a similar accident, you'd find yourself doing battle with a local supplier on your own as we can't get involved. Accidents do happen, so the security of knowing that your UK agent is ultimately financially responsible is a safeguard certainly worth knowing about.
I think people at work were annoyed by my lack of productivity the week I got returned from my holiday. Even after a week, my post-holiday relaxation hadn’t worn off. Being driven everywhere was an absolute blessing. I drive a lot back home so this gave me more time to enjoy each destination and genuinely let go. I feel like I saw more, understood more and missed out less.
If you’re feeling like you want to travel but you don’t have the energy to research something unique - get in touch for some options and we’ll make sure you don’t miss out. To get some ideas of what's possible, see our tailor-made holidays.
All of the consultants at Travel Nation are travel geeks – they’re so widely travelled that someone will have good experience of the place you want to visit and will be able to provide that oh-so-helpful personal recommendation.
Call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email to start getting some ideas. Or, if you’re in Brighton, drop in for a coffee – plenty of customers do!