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Why Use a Travel Agent? Here’s 6 Reasons They Beat the Internet.

By Marley Braun | Travel Tips

"Why would I use a Travel Agent when I could just book online myself?"

For the longest time, I spent hours planning trips for myself.  I loved every second of it, and I honestly thought a Travel Agent could not plan my trips as perfectly, or as economically as I could.  

When I finally decided to ask a travel agent for help, I realized how was awesome to have someone take my ideas, and build an itinerary around them.  Not only did I get a fantastic cruise through the Mediterranean, I came back with a job offer I couldn’t resist.  Now I'm a travel agent, and I get to do what I love every day."

So, I get asked a lot:  Why do people still use travel agents?
Here are my top 6 reasons.

Travel Agents are the experts, and they have the information at their fingertips.

Just because you can find it on the internet doesn’t mean it is easy to find.  There is a lot of information out there, and some of it is incorrect or is misleading. My job is to keep up with the latest information, and I have the backing and resources of American Express travel services.    

Travel Agents are educated specifically on travel, and have personal experience.

Going on a honeymoon? I have planned many and know the best locations.  

Need a cruise that grandma will also enjoy? I know who to use (and who NOT to use).

Going to island XYZ, and not sure if it is safe to drive around yourself?  I know the answer, or I can find you first hand knowledge from one of the thousands of Cruise Planners agents that have been there.    

Travel Agents have first-hand knowledge of the best deals available.

I have access to daily deals sent straight to my inbox.  I can get you international airfares at consolidator rates that are WAY better than anything you can find on the internet.  

Travel Agents will give you insider tips and advice.

My job is to travel. (Tough, I know).  By focusing on travel, I can give you honest advice.

I won’t tell you what you want to hear.  I will listen, and then give you best travel advice and tips to help you make the best decision for you.  

Let your travel agent do the work, and save you time.

I spend between 8 and 15 hours planning the perfect trips for my clients.  You're most valuable asset you own is your personal time. Spend it doing something other than getting lost on the internet.  My services are at no cost to you. I value your time.

Lastly, your travel agent is there for you.  They are your biggest advocate!!

This one is a biggie.  No one on the internet is looking out for you.

You’re delayed, stranded, or your hotel room is not as promised-- who are you going to reach out to?  I am here to be your travel advocate, and make your trip my number one priority. 

See how to use the Splitwise app for sharing travel costs with friends.

The #1 App You Need for Traveling with Friends

By Hayley Braun | Travel Tips

Love traveling with friends, but hate when the time comes to split the bill?  Try using Splitwise!

Splitwise is one of the best non-travel apps that I have ever downloaded for travel.  It's a simple, but super powerful way to track shared expenses on vacation.  No more worrying about the awkward "who owes who" conversation!

What is Splitwise?

Splitwise is a free tool for easily tracking expenses, and keeping all of your shared bills in one place.  When it's time to pay each other back, Splitwise will calculate the "IOU" amount for you!  

The app can be accessed through an iPhone, Android, or the web.

Splitwise can be accessed from a phone application or via the web.

Splitwise accessed on the web

Splitwise for Travel Expenses

I got Splitwise to share expenses between my roommates, but it didn't take me long to realize how useful it is for travel.  Here's just a few of the many times where it can help you out when traveling in a group:

  • Splitting the bill at a restaurant. It's pretty uncommon outside of the U.S. to find a restaurant that'll split your table's tab four ways. 
  • Dividing up gas or other transportation costs (taxis, Ubers, etc). 
  • Shared hotel or accommodation costs.  (BONUS TIP:  Check out Splitwise's Travel "Fairness Calculator" to decide how to split costs when each person has a different # of nights stay.)
  • Groceries and other supplies (paper towels, trash bags, toilet paper, etc) if you're staying in a rented home. 
  • Shared alcohol. Bring on the beer buckets! But really, a shared bottle of wine to watch the sunset is a must. 
  • Buying tickets in a group. This way you can get seats together at all the best events, and make the whole ticket-buying process easier. 
  • Loaning money. Maybe this is just me, but in Europe we would "spot each-other 10 euros" all the time when there were no ATMs around. 
  • ...and more!

How to Use Splitwise

1.  Download the Splitwise App

Download the Splitwise app on iOS, Android, or visit the website here.  

Get set up by creating a group, and inviting your travel companions to join Splitwise. 

Some basic menu options in the Splitwise app are shown below:

The main menu on Splitwise and how to use some of the app features.

2.  Start adding your expenses

To add a new bill or expense, click "plus" icon in the bottom middle of the screen.

On the next screen (shown below), you can add your bill.

How to switch the currency and payment type using the Splitwise app.

Two of my favorite things that you can do when adding a new bill in Splitwise:

  • Switch the currency type.  This is SUPER helpful to keep track when the currency owed keeps changing. (For example: when you pay for a hostel with a credit card in U.S. Dollars, then use the local currency at dinner or a market).
  • Decide how a cost should be split among the group.  With this feature, you can choose to split a bill with just 3 of 4 people, or specify if one person owes less than the others. (You know, for your one friend who swears they didn't have a bite of the appetizer)

3.  "Settle Up" with cash or Venmo

How to Settle Up using the Splitwise App.

When it comes time to pay each other back, find the "Settle Up" button.

The "Settle Up" screen will then give you the option to either record a cash payment to clear your debts, or send a payment via Venmo.  Easy as that!

Favorite Feature:  Simplify Debts

One of the options when using Splitwise is the debt simplifications, or "Simplify Debts" feature (found under Advanced Settings).  This feature was implemented to reduce redundant payments, and can really simplify your pay-back train in bigger groups.

For example, if I owe my dad $5, and he owes my brother $5, I would just pay the $5 debt directly to my brother.  Just another way that this app leaves less time worrying about finances, and more time enjoying your trip!

What are your other must-have apps for traveling with friends? 

Flight Cancelled? Here’s what to do next.

By Marley Braun | Travel Tips


I don’t know about you, but every time I fly, I NEVER assume my flight is actually going to take off on time until I feel the plane taxiing down the runway.  

Not sitting on the runaway, but TAXIING down it!  We hope for on-time, we hold our breathe for delayed, and we curse under our breathe when we hear the words cancelled. 

So, here are 5 important things to remember next time your flight gets cancelled:

First, take a deep breathe...

Being nice goes a long way. I have seen people cry and scream in line at the airport, and it does not make a difference.  These airline agents are not the cause of your cancelled flight and there is only so much they can do.  Remember, kindness goes a long way.

Then, get on the phone.

Have your airline on speed dial (unless you are prepared to throw yourself at the ticket counter ahead of the hundreds of others whose flight was also cancelled). 


I'll personally dial the airlines number and stay on hold, while I am also standing in line at the ticket counter. It doesn’t hurt to cover all of your bases! 


The agents at the airport will try and book you on their next departure.  The agent on the phone can help you rebook as well, and can help you find an alternate flight.  In some cases, you can rebook on the airline’s app, so make sure you have that downloaded ahead of time just in case. 

Remember, it never hurts to ask!

If you remember my kindness rule, you might find an agent willing to put you on alternative airline carrier.  They are not required to do this but if you ask nicely, you never know what might happen.  What do you have to lose?  


 

Always know your passenger rights.

If your flight is cancelled due to bad weather, the airlines are not required to do anything for you other than help you rebook your flight.


If the cancelled flight is due to the airline having an issue such as a mechanical failure, you are entitled to compensation if the replacement flight delays your arrival time by more than two hours.   The European Union requires compensation if flights are delayed more than three hours.  If you are booked in first or premium class and then rebooked into coach, you are entitled to a partial refund. 


 

Lastly, save all boarding passes and receipts.

If you have travel insurance, you will need these to prove what expenses you incurred due to your cancelled flight.  I also include these as attachments when I write the airline’s customer service department once I get home.  


ALWAYS send an email letting them know what they did right and what they did wrong. It may get you nowhere or you may receive something.  You won’t know until you kindly ask!

Carnival Cruise Drink Packages: Are they worth the money?

By Hayley Braun | Travel Tips

Now that I'm over 21, my mom and I have a big decision when we cruise as a family: do we get the drink package?!

Every cruise line is different, and every group of travelers is different, so the answer is it depends. We broke down the Carnival Cruise drink package so you can decide if it's the right fit for you!

What is the Drink Package on Carnival Cruise Lines?

  • CHEERS! is Carnival's main all-inclusive beverage program.
  • This program includes both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages (up to 15 per day) for a flat rate. The pricing is on a per person, per day basis. Check out our Quick Pricing Calculator below!
  • The program is for guests 21+ years of age.
  • There's also an unlimited soda program (Bottomless Bubbles) if you aren't interested in alcoholic drinks.

REMEMBER:

If you decide to purchase the drink program, be aware that anyone age 21+ staying in the same stateroom will be required to purchase the program as well (no exceptions).

Quick Pricing Calculator

What's included in the "CHEERS!" drink package?

Here's a summarized list of all of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages included in the drink package:

  • All spirits, including cocktails (with a $20 USD or lower menu price per serving)
  • All beer, wine, and champagne by the glass (with a $20 USD or lower menu price per serving)
  • 25% off the menu price for any spirit, cocktail or wine by the glass, costing above $20 USD per serving
  • 25% off the menu price for wine and champagne by the bottle
  • Sodas, virgin cocktails or smoothies, milkshakes, and juices
  • Specialty coffees (regular coffee is available for free at the buffet)
  • Other non-alcoholic bottled drinks and water bottles
  • Additionally, 25% off beverage seminars and classes

    This is a condensed and summarized list based on Carnival's CHEERS! Beverage Program FAQ. Double check their website for more inclusions and restrictions before making a final choice!

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    More Important Info

    A beer bucket on the last Carnival Cruise we went on as a family.

    One of the reasons we chose not to get the Carnival drink package:  My dad and I LOVE an ice cold beer bucket, but you are not able to order it on the drink package due to the 1-drink-at-a-time limit. 

    • Remember, you must be 21+ for the Carnival Cruise drink package, and everyone staying in the same stateroom must purchase the drink package if one of you does.
    • There's no day-by-day option, so you must purchase the package for the entire duration of the cruise.
    • The package is non-transferable and sharing is not permitted.  You can only order 1 drink at a time.
    • You're allowed up to 15 alcoholic drinks per 24 hour period.

    FYI - Other Restrictions

    • The drink package is only for on-board purchases.
    • Cruises leaving from New York and Texas have different laws - check Carnival's website for more info!
    • 2 day cruises, charter cruises, and Carnival cruises from Australia do not have the option for a drink package.

    So... Is Carnival's drink package WORTH IT?

    At first glance, the Carnival Cruise drink package definitely seems like it's worth the money. However, it depends on the people in your party, and how much you plan on drinking each day!

    At first glance:  See the math

    The problem with the drink package is, this equation only makes sense if you're drinking that much EVERY day of the cruise, and only accounting for drinking ON BOARD the ship.

    WE KNOW YOU'RE AMBITIOUS, BUT...

    If you have a lot of excursion days, you may not be day-drinking nearly as much as you think.

    Also, a lot of ports have bars on-shore that you might choose to hang out at instead of drinking on the ship.

    Lastly, if you're drinking the max 15 alcoholic drinks a day, then trust me- you'll want to account for a hangover day too.

    After 1 "Missed Day":  See the math

    As you can see, the second you aren't drinking at "max capacity" for the entire duration of your cruise, this equation flips upside-down fast! This is why we typically chose NOT to purchase the drink package as a family. But again, it totally depends on your party's situation!

    THE VERDICT:  The drink package is usually not worth it when cruising as a family. 

    • If you still think you can drink $50 worth of alcohol, for 7 days straight, not including what you'll drink off the ship and not accounting for time spent at excursions... then the drink package might be for you!  Also, remember, this has to apply to everyone age 21+ that is staying in the same room as you.
    • We spend most port days enjoying the bars on-land, which are not included in the drink package.
    • No matter how determined I am to get the 15 drinks/day max value... there's always at least one hangover that gets in the way of that.
    • Beer buckets, full wine/champagne bottles, large fish-bowl cocktails, and other fun-to-share drinks are not included in the package (because it exceeds 1 drink at a time).
    • When cruising with friends and family, even if you would get value out of the package alone, it may not always make sense financially for the rest of the group. 

    Bringing your Dog on a Road Trip? Here’s Everything you Need to Know!

    By Hayley Braun | Travel Tips

    As anyone with a pet knows, your dog is a part of the family. And when it comes to travel with family, your dog might even be the most tolerable family-member to road trip with!

    So, here's everything you need to know 
    for your next road trip with your dog - from what to pack all the way to where to stop, we got you covered!

    Pack your pup's road trip essentials

    THE BASICS

    • Water bowl & your dog's regular food
    • Any medications
    • Leash, and collar with tags
    • Poop bags
    • Grooming supplies and a towel
    • Crate/Kennel, dog bed, or blankets
    • Favorite Toy
    • TREATS!

    JUST IN CASE

    • Keep a dog first aid kit, and download Red Cross's Pet First Aid app
    • A recent photo of your dog  (and if you're like me, you already have hundreds of these)
    • Vaccination Records
    • List of nearby Vet Clinics (or access to Google!)

    OTHER TIPS & TRICKS

    • For a lot of the "Just in Case" or other Emergency items, I have documentation saved in my Google Drive. That way no matter what, I can access my pet's (or my own) vaccination records from anywhere if needed!
    • Download a few more pet-friendly apps to help you along the way.
    • Try a less-smelly treat for the car to keep BOTH of you happy. Maggy loves these dental chews.
    • Lastly, get your dog their own "suitcase" to keep treats and supplies organized. A lot of these also come with portable food & water bowls!

    Make sure your dog is comfy & safe

    Even though, let's be honest, they can get comfy ANYWHERE.

    • Always use a pet seat belt
    • This is great for keeping your pup safely restrained while riding windows down! It'll also keep them from trying to jump in the driver's seat with you (as Maggy loves to do).
    • Don't let your dog roam around. It's safer for them and the driver!
    • Consider keeping your pet in their crate for the drive. A lot of pets even sleep better in a crate, and consider it a safe place.
    • Put a dog bed or blanket over the seat so they're cozy
    • Or, do it all with a "car seat"!

    We just got this for road trips with Maggy, and it's incredible. My other (dog) friend Bogey rides around in one and loves it, so we had to try.

    This dog "car seat", or dog hammock will keep your dog from roaming around, and even comes with a pet seat belt! It'll also keep your seats clean for your less-furry, human friends.

    You can find a ton of these on Amazon. We use the one pictured here, and it's been great!

    What if my pet gets anxious or car sick?

    (If you're lucky enough to have a dog that jumps at the opportunity to "GO FOR RIDE?" then you can skip this section!)

    This is super common in dogs, and nothing to be worried about! Our dog Polly used to get car sick on every road trip. A lot of puppies grow out of this, but if your adult dog gets motion sick, it's usually due to anxiety.

    Luckily, there's a few ways you can help:

    • Try not to feed them for a few hours before you leave.
    • Take your dog on a lot of short rides before attempting a road longer road trip. Also drive your dog to places that are fun for them, not just the vet! Dogs that only associate "car = vet" may get stressed or anxious easily on road trips.
    • Keep a cool and calm environment in the car.
    • Check out this article from VCA Hospitals for other signs your pet may be getting anxious, and how to help them!
    • If nothing else works, try medication.
      • A lot of human nausea meds actually work for dogs too. Talk to your vet to discuss what options may be best!

    Where to stop along the way

    • Keep an eye out for rest areas with a dog park. This is becoming more and more common, and you and your dog can both get a much-needed break from the car.
    • Check out BringFido.com for everywhere you can bring your dog. They have lists of hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, and tons of other dog friendly places! This is a great app to have on your phone as well.

    Good Luck, and Happy Road Tripping!

    We'd love to see your own road trip pictures with your dog - because who doesn't love cute puppy pics? Drop them in the comments below, and let us know if you have any more tips for planning a road trip with your dog!

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