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Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

Chicago, Illinois
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Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

I decided for the first time in my life to try a travel agent. 4 of us (parents and 2 adult children in the low 20's) are planning a trip to Athens and some islands. I’m the one doing all the planning, as everyone else has work and school, and I’m self employed, so have more flexibility and time (or so they think). I have planned all our previous trips, but as I get older, I am having a rough time with logistics: keeping it all straight in my head. Maybe I’m ADD?! As 4 people traveling together, if something goes wrong, it’s all my responsibility.

I tentatively picked Mykonos and Santorini. No particular reason, just have heard about them, and so many trips seem to go there, I figured there must be a reason. Studied the later briefly in art history. I did just get a book on the Cyclades, though, so will be able to make a more informed choice soon.

So I consulted a travel agent. He has put together a package for us. But it is way, way, too expensive. Not counting airfare, it’s costing $320 per day, per person. This is 2 rooms, with 2 of us in each room. This is just hotels and local transport (ferries, pick up from ferry). I find it hard to believe we need to pay that much. I looked up the hotels, they run $150 to $250 for a double room. Still not $320 per person, per day. That would be over $600 for a shared room. We never stay in such $$ places here. We are not hostel people, but we are not luxury 4 * hotel people either. We are happy with a basic hotel: we will only be there to sleep anyway. I asked, can this price be cut? He got back to me with 1 hotel change and $200 less per person over the whole trip.

I understand that agents need to make money too. But if I am going to second guess all his choices, there’s no point in using one.

So I ask: is this what it will really cost, with hotel and ferry + local transport? If I do this on my own, and get a much cheaper hotel (or even a small apartment, for 4 people: I did that in Rome) is it going to be so far away from the action, that I will regret it? Will we be hunting for a taxi every time we want to go somewhere? We would prefer to be in a city/village, near where activities are, not on a beach. It will be too cold in late May for a beach, and not what we want anyway. Is there such a thing as a 2* hotel (or even 1*, if it’s not a dump) in a prime area? I’m focused, for right now, on Naxos as a hub, with day trips to Santorini and Mykonos, or flying straight to Santorini upon arrival in Greece, and using that as a base.

Sorry for going on so long. My husband asked, “How hard can it be?” But then he says, “I don’t know what to do, you’re the one who always does this. ” I am trying to simplify this, and it does not seem very simple, no matter what I do. Thanks!

Taunton, United...
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1. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

do it yourself and save yourselves loads of money is my advice,...We travel to Naxos for 18 days and two nights in Athens........20 euros per day for the accom in Naxos and 350 euros for 2 nights in a 5 star hotel in Athens .You can do it far more cheaply than your TA is saying

*price per room not per person*

Edited: 11 April 2012, 16:42
nc usa
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2. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

I agree- do it on your own. Greece is so easy to navigate and you'll save a ton of money. And please consider looking at other islands besides Mykonos and Santorini- those are the two most expensive and most touristy islands there.

nyc
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3. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

Hi there,

Don't stress out. Planing a large trip is tough but very doable. :)

I do all of the planning and booking myself. I like to contact the hotels, create a relationship with the front desk persons. I ask for advice on the TA forums and search the web for hotels and info and pics. I have itineraries and excel info sheet on the hotels, names, numbers, flights and ferries, times city etc. Sometimes this does take long but if you have the time, it is good to research the places you are going to. I have friends that are going away and when I asked them questions, they had no clue as to any details about their travel. Nothing. Because a travel agent did eveything for them. Agents are wonderful but it is good to do some research on your own so you know what to do in each location, in my opinon. I also consult with Dolphin Hellas Travel, as they help with ferry schedules and give good advice. Uli is wonderful and has answered many questions and booked tickets for me.

Look at maps of each island, find the main towns and beaches then look at hotels in that area.

3 years ago...Millhouse Suites in Santorini was wonderful as was the Kamari Hotel in Mykonos.

New York City, New...
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for Skopelos
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4. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

Hey and welcome linnea56:-) I know it probably looks daunting at the start.. but doing it yourself will certainly save you some greenbacks..as well as giving you the satisfaction of going and doing what you guys want..on your schedule and budget;-)

Having said that..I think your thought of a flight straight out to Santorini upon landing in Athens is a great start.. take a look at both www.olympiciar.com/ www.aegeanair.com/ The latter oftentime has some great deals;-)IMO, Santorini is a must see in a lifetime;-) From Santorini..you can ferry to Naxos..keep an eye out at the ferry sites.. www.gtp.gr/ www.openseas.gr/ and note oftentimes Santorini is referred to as 'Thira' or 'Thera';-) FWIW, basing and daytripping to other isles is not an easy venture since you're relying on ferry schedules which oftentimes don't cooperate..or leave you very little time on the isle before having to hop on a ferry back! On the other hand, there are excursion boats from Naxos where you can visit Mykonos/Delos for the day..you need to check for schedule locally but believe it runs at least a couple of times a week! Nonetheless, from Naxos, you can then either ferry or fly back to Athens..which makes for a great finale as well as ensuring that return flight home;-)

For best advise/suggestions on hotels..places to stay on each..best to post in each isle's dedicated forum for best exposure to our pro's here;-) You can do this;-) Give it a try..we're here to help! Happy planning..and EnjOY

Edited: 11 April 2012, 17:07
Seattle, Washington
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5. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

Hi Linnea - I know exactly how you feel! I've been planning our trip for a year, and several times have wanted to throw in the towel and turn it over to an agent. And like you, I did it all myself (perhaps when we get there I'll actually get a pat on the back from my family, lol). Like Luca did, I kept a spreadsheet and recorded absolutely everything - and then started doing the math. Since we couldn't get rates or dates for air that far in advance, we just picked a date after my son's school year ended, and went from there. Then I spent what seemed like weeks on vrbo.com looking for housing - printed out all the houses we were interested in staying in, and started comparing rates and checking dates. We've been doing vrbo for stateside accommodations for years, as we prefer houses over hotels, so having that option for Europe was fabulous. We also used Matt Barrett's amazing website on the Greek islands to decide which islands to go to. Our trip originally consisted of Santorini for 4 weeks with a short stint in Athens on the way home, but grew to include Crete and Sifnos and whatever else we might be able to fit in while we're there.

Our biggest obstacle at the time we booked our housing was not knowing if the ferries were going to accommodate the dates we had chosen for each particular island. We booked Sifnos before we learned there was no longer a daily ferry from Santorini. Needless to say it's been several stressful months while we waited to see if the schedules would work. Well the ferry schedule came out a few days ago and so far so good - every trip we have planned has a ferry available. What a relief!

I'm not cheap, but I'm frugal - I will search high and low for the best prices on everything. And because we booked our housing so early we ended up getting really good deals. It's a lot of hard work, but will be totally worth it when you get there and open that first bottle of wine.

As for your question about the cost - I haven't figured out what it is costing us per person, but it's less than what you were quoted, and is quoted as price per room, not per person. And I got affordable housing in some great spots - in Crete we have a private villa with a pool and a view of the sea just outside Chania (last week of June so got low season rate), in Oia we got a caldera-view villa right in the heart of everything (E130/night discounted for early booking), Sifnos we're right on the beach ($110/night for family suite, we did do a hotel here based on it's location) and in Athens we got an apartment in the Plaka with a view of the Acropolis ($95/night). So yes, you can find great places that are exactly where you want to be and for great rates too. The worst of everything was planning air. Fares were scary high, so I tried going to the UK first to try to get one of those cheap flights everyone seems to use, taking overnight ferries, you name it, I tried to get it to work. Connections didn't work and fares just weren't budging. An agent might have been able to help out in that area, but then I would have had to pay them a fee per ticket, so finally caved and purchased those last week.

And finally, thank goodness for TripAdvisor - I swear I have planned most of my trip based on advice offered by many of the posters. And that included an answer to an embarassing question about whether or not I'd need to bring my own ketchup for my son! I feel like I need to buy everyone a round of drinks.

Happy planning!

Edited: 11 April 2012, 18:46
New York City, New...
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for Skopelos
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6. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

..I'll have a glass (or 2) of red RedheadedGardenLady:-) How did I miss that ketchup question..lol;-) Good one though..you won't find it a common condiment..although most will have a plastic dusty bottle of it somewhere in their kitchens;-) Dead giveaway you're an American if you ask fot it..along with the 'accent'..LOL!! FWIW, you will find local brands as well as Heinz in the supermarkets..but it doesn't taste anything like the ketchup here! On another note, when I was in England and ordered fries..looked for ketchup..lo and behold, the condiement of choice for fries was vinegar..go figure;-) Keep enjoyin' all!

Texas
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7. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

Booking your own saves a ton of money and gives you the freedom to make changes if you need. My number one rule: Book directly with the provider. I do not use any of the "big name hotel advertisers" where they take 15% to 20% from the service provider. I want to be able to pay directly to the provider and know who has my money. I spend hours on planning and I love learning and knowing. However, many (most) people seem to want to buy a package. So everyone gets a choice for what fits them. Many people are evidently are not price conscious but are time conscious. I often use a spread sheet and a big notebook to keep track of information. I buy every guide book published for my destination and several maps. Not many people are into all these details. I am travelling to learn but many people seem to go to Greece to party, eat and drink in one destination. So there is something for everyone.

TA contributors have kept me from making some real big errors and have given great information on how to make some tricky connections in difficult locations. It would be impossible to book these intricate trips without TA contributor help. Thanks to all the people who make TA work.

8. Re: Travel agent for islands vs. figuring it out on my own.

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