Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

When to travel on your own and when to use professional help to plan and arrange vacations?

In the well over 80 comments we have had so far the question of whether to do your own travel planning and arranging or use professional help is one of the most frequent themes.

This does not come as a surprise.  If the shared belief of the participants in this blog is that Vacation Time is Precious, then it figures that wisdom about  how to plan and arrange vacations will be a recurring theme.

For a start, if you have not done so already, I suggest you read Max Waugh’s very perceptive account of the pros and cons of the  different ways that he plans his trips. Since Max has covered this so well I am going to write about some general concepts that I have found to be helpful no matter whether you are planning and arranging on your own or using professional help.

Despite the fact that I have spent a  good deal of time pondering  how to plan and arrange vacation both for our guests and for Yolanda and me, I still find that my thinking on this topic continues to evolve.  One thing that does seem clear is that there are no pat one size fits all answers.

The short answer to questions on how you should plan your vacation is that it depends on who you are.  That said, I have found that it helps to break down thinking about vacation planning into four concepts:  Time, Trust Tolerance and Goals.

Time: How much time do you have to plan and how much time will you be traveling for.  If you’re vacation is 3 months losing a 2 or 3 days because of imperfect planning is a lot less critical  than if your vacation is 3 days.

Trust: If you are planning a vacation on your own determining what information you can trust is vital.  Using professional help to plan and arrange your holiday makes no sense if you cannot trust the planner.

Tolerance: Tolerance for things going wrong and tolerance for worrying about things going wrong.  This brings us back to trust.  If you have a high tolerance for things going wrong, it is not that important to be able to trust that the hotel reservation you made directly with  a small independent hotel will actually be honored.

If you do not have a high tolerance for worrying about things going wrong, using a trustworthy professional to plan and arrange your trip makes sense, but it is not enough.  You have to trust that the planner is trustworthy.  Another way to look at it is that one of the most important benefits you should receive when using  professionals for your vacation is  peace of mind.

Goals: The old saying goes, “If you do not know where you are going you probably will not get there.”  What if your idea of the perfect vacation is to show up somewhere with no plans and let what happens happen?  Then spontaneity is your goal and the old saying still apples. Since vacations are largely about time, and time, especially vacation time is largely about memories, perhaps the most helpful perspective on vacation goals I have found goes like this: “Looking back 6 months from the end of your holiday, what would have had to happen for you to say that this vacation had been the time of your life?”*

For sure many people have wonderful holidays without consciously thinking in terms of these concepts.  On the other hand many disappointing vacations could have been avoided and perfectly acceptable vacations improved if these ideas had been taken into account.

Since tolerance seems to be the least understood concept, in my next post I am going tell you about one of Yolanda’s and my biking vacations to illustrate why how much  tolerance you have for uncertainty should be an important factor in deciding how to plan your leisure travel.

In the meantime, Please let me know if this way of thinking makes sense to you and share accounts of your vacations. Did time, trust, tolerance and goals come into play?

For a moving and eloquent look at vacation goals, if you have not done so already, I suggest you read Patty’s account of, among other things, her trip to China with her mother.

* I first heard this idea expressed in a somewhat different manner in a brilliant presentation by Don Sullivan at Virtuoso Travel Mart in 2003.

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6 Comments and 1 Replies

  • At January 24, 2010
    9:14:50 pm
    Patty said:

    My husband and I always planned our own trips, drawing on the advice of friends’ past experiences and more recently, websites like Trip Advisor. We like seeing things from either a native’s point of view (whenever we get an offer to visit someone who lives in another country we try to plan our trips around it), or by going a little off the beaten track and seeing what unexpected things we might happen across – little cafes, interesting views. But that has changed a bit now that we have children. Now, it’s more important that we don’t get lost, that we’re near medical facilities if necessary, that we don’t let language barriers keep us from finding a child-friendly place to stay. So we used CRE for a trip to Costa Rica with our 5 year old, and it was the best of both worlds, because it was so well planned and executed, we didn’t have to worry about anything but enjoying ourselves, yet at the same time it was an authentic experience of Costa Rica, off the beaten track, and led by guides who made us feel like we were there visiting friends the whole time. I would be happy to use similar travel companies for future trips – as soon as our youngest is old enough to walk longer than 3 blocks without complaining!

    • Why do we consider travel a basic desire nowadays? In 2008, only 30 percent of trips over 50 miles were done for business – the rest- for pure pleasure. Work is nerve-racking, the family needs to be fed and money is and will always be a problem. Meanwhile, there are hot deals on flights, romance is in the air in Paris no matter the season and life is still waiting for you at the corner

      • The World is a different place today than it was just a short time ago in the 90s … technologically speaking. With the faster Internet connections, the ability to reduce calling costs using VoIP a/o Skype, and the affordability of navigating devices like Garmin, traveling is so much simpler.

        Take a moment and the following web page my wife and I put together after our trip to Costa Rica to explore, get married and celebrate our honeymoon:
        http://www.jazznsax.com/JustMarried/Karen_and_Alan_Got_Married.html

        This entire trip was arranged completely by us, mostly via the Internet, and with the freedom that a Garmin navigator empowered us to explore w/o getting lost – in the dark – on the way back from distant places.

        So, the tools are there for you to plan your entire trip on your own. The simple question is: Do you have the time to devote to research AND the confidence to plan your own trip?

        • At January 10, 2010
          5:57:59 pm
          Michael Kaye replied
          to Alan Braunstein:

          Alan, you make very good points. Advances in technology make it much easier to get information and use it to plan your own vacations.

          By the same token the advances in technology also makes it easier for us to share conversations as we are in this blog. Travelers can learn both the capabilities of the technology and make informed decisions when and when not to use professional travel services. Service providers can learn more about travelers wants and needs.

          You end you comment saying, “So, the tools are there for you to plan your entire trip on your own. The simple question is: Do you have the time to devote to research AND the confidence to plan your own trip?”

          To a great extent I agree. Time as I said in the post is a key determinant. Confidence combines trust and tolerance.

          I do think you left out goals. I read your blog with great interest. Though you never directly stated them, your goals for the trip are quite obvious, and clearly given your goals, your honeymoon was a great success, in part because of your savvy use of the available technology.

          On the other hand, had your goals been different, say achieve a deep understanding of Costa Rican culture or ecology, then the way you planned and arranged your honeymoon might have been different.

          Actually a lot of couples come to us for honeymoons and I must admit that a deep understanding of Costa Rican culture or ecology is not a very common goal for honeymooners.

          How them do we add value for honeymoon couples?

          It depends on the couple.

        • At January 06, 2010
          9:20:38 am
          LaRaye said:

          Michael, I’m really sorry but I’m going to have to unsubscribe from your site. As a busy professional, wife and mother, I need information delivered in a concise and easy to use form. The blog entries and the emails I’ve been receiving are simply too philosophical — and too long — to be useful to me.

          One size never fits all, and in this case we just don’t have a good fit.

          Best wishes.

          • At January 05, 2010
            11:10:15 pm
            LIsa Poppleton said:

            Deciding whether to plan a trip independently or with the guidance of a professional company has depended in my experience on factors such as the destination, travel companions, and my stage in life (which has influenced how much money and time I have to travel). I have traveled independently and lived in western and eastern Europe, but have used the services of a travel company to trek in Nepal and explore the diverse eco-systems of Costa Rica. I really appreciated the services of CRE and the trekking company in Nepal. In these cases, I used their advice and booking service to plan a custom travel experience: to plan the itinerary, arrange transportation, lodging, and guides for myself and one other person. This is absolutely my favorite way to travel now. I feel that it facilitates communication with local people, fascinating cultural insights that an independent traveler may not pick up on, and in the case of Costa Rica, optimal opportunities to view the incredible wildlife and learn about rainforest and cloudforest environments – an experience that I found more amazing than the Himalaya. I would love to hear from other members of the blog about regionally based companies that provide the same quality of custom travel service as CRE, but in, for example, Mongolia, Bali, Patagonia, Iceland, Tasmania… Yes, travel is liberating in one sense, but I also travel to try to connect with local people and natural habitats, and often this involves unfamiliar boundaries where it is so valuable to have trusted guidance. P.S. I love the idea of sharing great reads in travel literature and fiction.

            • At January 05, 2010
              4:45:40 pm
              Shannon Borrego said:

              I love the breakdown of time, trust and tolerance when deciding on how best to plan a vacation! Because each adventure is different and the goals may be different, asking these 3 questions at the beginning of planning seems like an excellent way to go. May I also add that safety might be an issue depending on who is traveling and where. As a woman I find that I am treated very differently when I travel with my husband than when I travel with my girlfriend or another female. A woman alone may be perceived as “fair game” in certain situations. I will never forget the horror and embarrassment I experienced in Egypt once when an Egyptian man thought I was a prostitute at a touristy nightclub show (booked by our travel agent)because I was with my high school age daughter and we were not accompanied by a man. In retrospect, had we asked our guide to come with us, there would not have been a problem. The cultural conventions and mores, as well as the dangers of launching out on one’s own should be taken into account when deciding whether to travel alone, plan on one’s own, or travel with a guide.