Archive for Argentina Destination
How Vacation Time is Precious is different from Trip Advisors and the other Mass Travel Review Sites
Finding the right balance between independent and "planned" or "guided" travel is always a struggle for me. I have a history of enjoying planning my own trips and winging it to an extent. However, the more trips I plan around my photography and the more remote my destinations get, the more I find myself relying on others (travel agents, companies and guides). This doesn´t always work well, but in many cases there is no other choice. My perspective has been skewed a bit by my background, which means that my travel goals are often centered on getting to remote areas to find wildlife, such as Corcovado´s Sirena Station. I have also learned the value over the years of hiring a good local guide to explore some of these areas. Not only is the knowledge and insight you get from these guides often unmatched by solo exploration or guided group tours, but there´s more freedom when you are able to work on your own with a guide. My first trip to Costa Rica was more on the independent side. We booked a stay at the Corcovado Tent Camp lodge with CRE´s help, but planned the rest of the trip on our own. When I decided to return to the Osa a few years later, I remembered the difficulty we had taking care of the park permits and Sirena booking on our own. That and the fact that I wanted to hire a guide for my stay led me to hand over all the planning to CRE. It was much easier getting the transport taken care of, the guide arranged and the Sirena stay booked. Overall, my interactions with CRE have been extremely positive, but I´ve found that this is not always the case when handing over planning and booking responsibilities to agents or other companies. My wife and I are already experiencing such issues during our current trip in Argentina. So what are the positives and negatives to using "professional help to plan and arrange vacations?" In my mind these are some of the things to consider: Positives: -Obviously it takes much less work for you to let someone else plan things ;) -They can arrange for guides or stays at locations that otherwise may not be accessible to you. -Hurdles that may be causes by language barriers, poor international communication, etc. are easier to hurdle with a local company´s help. Negatives: -By handing over planning responsibilities to someone else, you are ceding control of your trìp, which is often an uncomfortable prospect to independent travelers. You cannot be 100% sure of what´s going on beforehand, since you are not personally making arrangements. -Something may inevitably be lost in translation/communication. I don´t know how many times I was expecting an arranged tour to be one thing, and it turned out to be entirely different. -It´s often more expensive. Agents and travel companies have to make their money somehow, right? ;) I´m sure there are more... those are a few considerations off the top of my head. The choice between independent travel and enlisting help may ultimately come down to what you want to see and do, where in the world you´re going and your budget.
I've had a few tipping adventures over the years. Something that I noticed earlier this year down in Argentina was the mistake I was making when leaving a perceived tip on a credit card receipt. Being used to the US method of entering the tip amount after the card has been run and the receipt returned, I would take the slip of paper the waiter gave me and would enter an amount in the "No." space at the bottom below the price of the meal. Of course, what they really want in the "No." space is some sort of identification number, presumably a passport or phone. Once the card has been run they don't go back and add the tip later. It was only halfway through the trip that I realized I should have been asking them to add the tip before running the card, or just leaving cash as a tip afterward. D'oh! So, if you're into tipping, it probably makes sense to get a sense of the system (if not the etiquette) beforehand, whether it comes to credit card receipts or staff tips boxes.
Once again, you've touched on some points that related to my recent not-so-successful Argentina trip. We went with a smaller less-publicized outfit mainly for their supposed history working with a successful wildlife photographer, thinking that they could cater a trip to our needs that would run smoothly. Unfortunately, things were not smooth. Several times during the trip vendors, hotels and agencies did not have any record that we had already paid for everything. They were used to working with larger outfits that operated on the voucher system (much as CRE does), whereas our small trip planning agency did all their reservations via email. While seemingly more practical in the 21st century, the email method obviously failed on many levels. So would a larger company have been a bit more competent? It's hard to say, but I have a feeling things would have been a bit better organized and less-stressful to deal with. Nobody wants to performance "maintenance" on their trip arrangements during the actual trip! As it turned out, the successful wildlife photographer these people had worked with in the past was the brother of one of the company owners, and ultimately, they failed to suggest and arrange an optimal itinerary for us. Perhaps with a few more tries and after they have more experience under their belts, they'll be able to work out the kinks and achieve greater success with future clients. Max