Tag Archives: tours

What it’s Like Using a Travel Agent

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Willamette Intl Travel is a travel agency based in Portland, Oregon.
Thought about using a Travel Agent to book your next trip, but not sure what that might entail? According to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), 85% of all cruises and 70% of all tours are finalized through travel agencies. Agents are invaluable resources who work tirelessly to provide you with excellent service before, during and after your trip.
 
But what does working with a travel agent entail, exactly? Particularly one of our awesome travel agents at Willamette Intl Travel? Let’s take a look!
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HAVE A CHAT

The first step involves sitting down with one of our qualified travel agents and discussing the potential trip. Sometimes clients have an exact itinerary already in mind, sometimes they have just a general idea. Your travel agent, with their years of experience and information, can help you narrow down your ideal trip.
This is the time to get a sense of your travel style, your needs, preferences, and budget, in order to plan the perfect package for you and your family. Your travel needs are the most important factor to us. We don’t try to upsell you or push an itinerary or destination when it obviously doesn’t work for you. We’ll find one that fits you best.
 
Agents typically ask for passport names and ages at this point, which will be necessary down the line to hold space on airlines, hotels or cruises.
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ENCYCLOPEDIC RESOURCES

Swimming through the endless volume of options on the internet can be a headache–that’s where the agent comes in. Travel agents do all the legwork for you, and draw from their vast, firsthand experiences in the industry. They know which tour guides to recommend and which cruise ship best fits your style and budget.
If you want a romantic week away, maybe a resort on Maui. More the adventurous type? We’ll recommend Costa Rica over, say, the Bahamas. If you want something new and luxurious—why not try river-cruising in Myanmar? We keep in mind travel trends and plan accordingly.
 
At this point, we communicate with you mostly by email and phone. Some clients prefer to return to the office to discuss the details of the trip further but it’s not absolutely necessary.
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DISCOUNTS AND PERKS

Next, we look into discounts and perks. We have access to offers and special packages that are sometimes exclusive to travel agents, or even to our particular agency. We might know which travel guide might be a perfect fit for you, and other times we supply a couple options to choose from. The industry is constantly changing, and as travel agents, we keep abreast of all changes.
 
This on-the-feet, out-of-the-box thinking especially comes in handy for a tailored or unusual trip, such as a cruise to Svalbard, vacation to Hokkaido, hike through the Dolomites, or safari in Namibia or Indonesia. We know how much a relief it is to speak to someone face-to-face who knows so much about the destination and has probably been there.
 
We work daily with global software platforms, which gives us backend access to air, hotel, car or other travel services worldwide, and compare prices and routes, to get you the most value for your price point.
 
We also assist with groups, such as wedding parties to Cancun, multigenerational trips to Disneyland, or educational programs to Lagos. We know it’s a headache to coordinate everyone’s plane, hotel, cars–and it’s our pleasure to do it for you.
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PROPOSALS

Once we come up with a plan, or even a few plans to choose from, we send our proposals your way. What’s more, we’ll advise you of any foreign travel requirements to your destination: travel advisories, required documents, weather conditions. We’ll answer any questions you might have. We always include any special terms and conditions, and notify you if something is nonrefundable.

RESERVATIONS

Once you give approval, depending on the trip, we may put a deposit or full payment down at this point. We never make deposits without checking with you first. Many tour guides or cruises require a deposit, with gradual payments or full payment required closer to departure. In some cases, tour guides require full payment upfront. If this is the case, we advise you accordingly.
Once first deposit is made, we recommend a travel insurance plan that is right for you. (Read more reasons why we love travel insurance.)

PERKS

Where it’s possible, we call in all the connections we’ve solidified over decades in the business. We contact the Sales Rep at the hotel or resort, and plan a special something at your hotel. Whether it’s a room upgrade, fee waiver, or popular but unattainable tour reservations–we’ll do our best to draw in all the perks. 
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DURING YOUR TRIP

Once you depart, our live phone service is available 24/7 for booked clients, to reach in case of emergency. If your flight is delayed and you miss your airport pickup, we’ll make the call. We work as a team, keeping extensive files on all of our clients, so if the agent with whom you booked is not available for some reason, another agent can fully assist you in an emergency. This type of personalized attention just simply isn’t available when you book through an online travel site. If some mishap happens, if your room is unacceptable or your ferry is delayed, you can call your travel agent and we’ll do our best to serve. 

AFTER YOUR TRIP

Welcome back! We’re thrilled that you booked with us. If there are any loose ends with any of your arrangements that we can help out with, we’ll happily address them.

willamette intl travel: expert trip curators and counselors

Are you in the Portland area? Give us a call! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, North America, South America

Video: Top 5 Unique Tours in Iceland

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We’ve prepared a fun little video for you this week! To see more of these, Like Us on Facebook! We’ll be publishing them every now and then on our Facebook Page. Enjoy!

Planning a Summer or Fall trip to Iceland? It’s important to book hotels and tours early to this wildly popular destination. Give us a call! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Filed under Europe, Iceland, Icelandair

Conscientious Traveler: Caravan-Serai

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This Month: Caravan-Serai

Welcome back to Conscientious Traveler–-our monthly series in which we showcase a fantastic travel organization that supports humanitarian and/or environmental work. This month is all about Caravan-Serai!

Caravan Serai is a Seattle-based tour operator that guides clients through the Middle East and North Africa, as well as parts of Iran, Caucasus, Cuba and now even an Arctic Adventure Cruise (ask WIT for deets). They are our go-to affordable experts in the Middle East, and we’re proud to feature them as one of our top recommended vendors. Travel with them include reputable guides, accommodation, most meals, and some flight connections.

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Salaam Culture Museum: A Way to Give Back

So where does the Conscientious Traveler come in? Rita Zawaideh, owner of Caravan-Serai, is also the Founder of Salaam Cultural Museum. The SCM is based out of Seattle and they regularly host a variety of educational exhibits, lectures, publications, seminars and folklore evenings. Stop by if you’re in the Pacific Northwest! (3806 Whitman Ave. N., Seattle 98103)

Through her work running tours and the museum, Rita has always aimed to promote cultural understanding of the Arab World. Over the years, the museum has refocused its efforts as a humanitarian organization. The philanthropic SCM Medical Missions is dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to people affected by disaster within Middle East and North Africa.

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In the past few months, SCM have shipped out blankets and school supplies to Syrian refugees; run clothing drives in partnership with Value Village thrift store; volunteered at refugee camps in Greece. In 2013, SCM opened up the Malki Children’s Center in Amman, educating refugee children ages 6 to 12 who have been traumatized by war.

Their program for Humanitarian Goods involves a team of volunteers who knit warm clothing and make arrangements to ship them to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Click here to learn more or to donate. You can also volunteer to assist in clothing drives or even as an humanitarian volunteer in Greece.

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Winter Recipes: Shushbarak

Every year, Caravan-Serai shares unique holiday recipes from the Middle East that we love. Here is a special dish from this winter’s roundup.

 

All photos courtesy of Caravan-Serai
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Cuba in 2016!

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Cuba is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for US travelers. And our agents at Willamette Intl Travel are uniquely qualified in that we have sent our clients to the island for years. Over that time, we have built a solid foundation with a few excellent tour companies. Read on to see who we recommend and why.

Book a Tour

As the Obama administration opens up commercial travel between the two countries, airlines are already gearing up to go. However, before you jump on a plane, remember: many restrictions still apply to US passport holders. You need to be confirmed on a tour with a licensed tour operator to enter the country legally.

Fortunately, we have a few top recommendations for you:

Alexander & Roberts

Alexander & Roberts has been leading exceptional yet small groups to the island for years. Pick from four different tours of varying length and focus:

– 5-Day Weekend in Havana: the City in Depth

– 8-Day Legendary Cuba: Old Havana, Pinar del Rio and Vinales Valley

– 9-Day Classic Cuba: Art & Culture in Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad

– 13-Day Undiscovered Cuba: Vibrant Journey from Havana to Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba

A&R also offers a 11-day cruise from Miami that circumnavigates Cuba. Explore 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the cities of Havana, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, and two national parks from the intimate ms Saint Laurent.

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International Expeditions

This company offers up to 10-Day tours (some of which are already sold out for 2016!), which engage participants in meaningful, immersive interactions with individuals in Cuba.

Yalla Tours and Caravan Serai

Both offer independent itineraries tailored to your preference.

Globus

Globus’ People-to-People Programs offer a culturally immersive experience within the comfort of a large group.

Seats and cabins on Cuba tours in 2016 are quickly selling out! Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to find out more and reserve a space to this fascinating country!

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Filed under Caribbean, Cuba

Vexplore Travel: Unique Itineraries

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We recommend Vexplore Travel to our clients heading to SE Asia looking for unique, personalized and down-to-earth trips. Vexplore provides everything from cultural culinary packages to golf getaways to adventures off the beaten path.

WIT Blogger Wailana went on a trip with Vexplore last year, and attests to the friendly and professional service from their team. Her 9-day trip took her to Bangkok, the night market at Chiang Mai, peaceful Luang Prabang and the diverse villages along the Mekong. Email her at wailanak@wittravel.com for more information about this region and all Vexplore has to offer.

Check out her photos from the trip in our Gallery: Thailand and Laos.

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Vexplore can personalize any trip according to your tastes. But check out some of their small group itineraries on schedule:

10-Day Myanmar Discovery

Yangon > Bagan > Heho > Inle Lake > lake villages > Yangon

Marvel at Myanmar’s spectacular monuments, including thousand year stupas and pagodas. Browse local markets, trek through villages and sail overnight in Inle Lake. Discover the rich history of this country, just blossoming into its own.

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7-Day Nha Trang Scuba Diving

Ho Chi Minh > Nha Trang > Ho Chi Minh

Embark on an adventure of a lifetime and learn how to scuba in Vietnam. When you’re not touring the cities for some rich cultural sightseeing, you’re swimming, jet skiing, windsurfing and scuba diving at the laid-back, white-sand city of Nha Trang. Uncertified and certified divers both welcome.

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10-Day Path of Vietnam Culinary

Hanoi > Halong > Hanoi > Hue > Ho Chi Minh > Mekong Delta > Hanoi

This trip’s all about the food—explore Vietnam’s rich culinary traditions while sightseeing in Vietnam’s main cities. Cooking opportunities await you at Hoi An’s Red Bridge cooking school. You’ll purchase your own ingredients at the local market and learn from expert chefs. At Cai Be on the Mekong you’ll visit the floating market, learn about traditional candy-making, and sample local favorites like rice paper, coconut candy and popped-rice cake. And of course—the junk cruise on Halong Bay is not to be missed!

Call your agent at Willamette Intl Travel to find out more about unique trips to SE Asia. Contact 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

photos courtesy of Vexplore Travel

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On the Ground in Dubai!

Last January 2013, WIT Agent Pam Davis took the nonstop flight from Seattle on Emirates Airlines to the luxury city of Dubai. With the airline expanding new ports all over the world, it’s not uncommon that your trip to Russia or Africa is going to have a forced overnight in Dubai! Why not attach an extension on your trip to explore the Arab World? Check out the details in our On the Ground with Pam.

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Dubai is a fascinating destination. The country is part of the United Arab Emirates—there are seven different emirates which have banded together. The largest of these are Abu Dhabi, the capital, and Dubai. Abu Dhabi has more oil resources while the economy of Dubai is based more on business and tourism.

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Dubai is a country of superlatives. They have the largest shopping mall in the world (complete with an indoor ski slope!), and the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world (I went to the top in the fastest elevator in the world – it took 30 seconds to climb 125 floors to an observation tower). Everything seems over-the-top. Hotels are opulent, and Dubai 962construction seems to be going on everywhere. I stayed at the Atlantis Hotel, located at the top end of Palm Island,a man-made series of sand islands that jut out into the gulf and from the air look like a palm tree. Even the public transportation is luxurious—the metro line has first and second class cars; the first class cars have leather seats, and each train has a separate car designated for women and children only. There are special pink taxis with women drivers, also designated for women and children.

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The population of the emirate is now 75% expatriate—local citizens represent only 25% of the population. Most of the people are workers who come from India and the Philippines, with some Europeans and Americans who work for foreign companies. The locals have some extraordinary benefits— free housing (and it looks very nice), free education (even at foreign schools), and no income tax. No wonder they love Sheik Mohammed, the hereditary ruler. While the resort hotels accept Western-style dress, much of the country is still somewhat conservative. Men wear traditional white robes, and women wear black burkas which are basically robes covering street clothing when out in public. Inside the shopping malls are uniformed women who patrol the corridors, passing out dress code requests for women whose skirts or sleeves are deemed too short.

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Dubai is on the edge of the desert, and while there I was able to go 4-wheeling in the desert dunes, a Dubai 935popular pastime for tourists and a good contrast to the city and beaches. The service on Emirates Airlines was excellent, and they have an extensive route system connecting their Seattle gateway with the Middle East, Asia and Africa. They also have some good stopover packages—with a 3 or 4 night stay en route to another destination, you can experience much of what Dubai has to offer.

WIT Agent Pam would love to share with you more of her firsthand tips from Dubai! Call her at 503-224-0180 for more information on Dubai or Emirates. 

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Filed under Airlines, Emirates, Middle East, UAE

WIT Agent’s Insider Look: West Fjords

This week we’re taking a close look at WIT Agent Wailana’s trip to Iceland in early October. Today we continue on the Ring Road to the fabled West Fjords.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

A bit removed from the Ring Road track, I recommend the West Fjords only if you have at least 10 days in Iceland or you’ve been there before. The West Fjords are known for their rugged austerity and countless deep fjords.

Your first stop entering by car or bus will be the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Hólmavík. The West Fjords have a long history steeped in witchcraft and magic.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

The unofficial capital of the fjords is Ísafjörður, with one of the largest fisheries in Iceland—also the cultural and musical center of the region. You may be lucky enough to be in town during one of the region’s various festivals celebrating skiing, music, sports, and theatre. It’s also home to the annual European Swampsoccer Championships.

There are many other activities to enjoy in the fjords, from learning local fishing, dipping in a natural hot spring, or go on a sailing tour. Travellers can also take the ferry from Stykkisholmur in the summertime to Brjánslækur.

Stop in Súðavík to see the Arctic Fox Center or Bíldudalur and its Sea Monster Museum. Visit Látrabjarg, the famous peninsula that is home to millions of birds: puffins, northern gannets, guillemots, razorbills. Drive to Rauðasandur, a red sand beach that stretches out 10 km.

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Don’t miss Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the northernmost point of Iceland. Hornstrandir is a lonely place. The few settlements and farms have been mostly abandoned for decades, and the few that remain are typically utilized as summer houses by local families. Most travelers visiting the area enjoy the solitude, hiking trails and magnificent cliffs. It’s a great destination for nature lovers—home to about 260 species of flowering plants, arctic foxes, seals, and more than 30 species of birds. The cliff known as the Western Horn is one of the best places to spot seafowl. The area is accessible by boats from Ísafjörður.

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Stay Tuned for Next Time: Snæfellsnes

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more insider tips about traveling to Iceland!

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Filed under Europe, Iceland, News, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?