use a travel agent or "wing it"?

A recent question on the Europe Forum on fodors.com was written by a traveler going to Italy for the first time. Her question: should I use a travel agent or "wing it" on my own? ... What are the pros and cons?

Virtually every response offered the advice to plan the trip herself. In fact, Fodors exists as a resource for do-it-yourself trip planners and it serves as an excellent source of information. For a lot of travelers, researching and planning an itinerary can be an incredibly enjoyable experience, but this is not the answer for everyone. Here's the answer I posted (slightly edited):

No one has addressed the other side of the question... It can be invaluable to work with a travel consultant with expertise on Italy, to have an experienced professional ask about the kind of experience you'd like to have, clarify the kind of accommodations you like (and dislike), and brainstorm the attractions you'd like to visit. Working with a travel consultant will save you many hours of research - as well as the hassle of communicating with multiple hotels. You'll get a well-planned itinerary that makes sense for you and that works, given the timing and constraints of your trip. You can also arrange some unique experiences not available to the general public.

A good travel advisor will charge you a trip planning fee — perhaps $150 for a one-week trip or $300 for a two-week trip — to compensate for the significant amount of time this professional will spend working on your trip. A planning fee paid to the right travel advisor will be the best investment you may make. In return, you will receive an attractive, well-designed, totally customized itinerary with all the essential details of your trip documented.

While you can certainly book your own hotels, a travel consultant can book the same hotels, and you won't pay a penny more. The travel agent will be commissioned by the hotel (not paid by you), and you will be free of looking after all the details yourself. And, in the case of many luxury hotels that are members of Virtuoso, a Virtuoso travel advisor will provide you with complimentary amenities such as free breakfasts, upgrades, and even lunches or dinners. You get the benefit of the buying power of the world's largest luxury network.

The bias on Fodors is to "do it yourself," and that's fine. My point is a simple one: the right travel consultant can save you time and money and add so much to your trip to Italy. There are some real Italy experts out there who are worth their weight in gold. One recommendation? Ellen Craig, my friend and colleague with Brownell Travel.

Virtuoso travel advisor (search here on Google)

copyright (c) 2010 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

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