A vacation is supposed to be a break, a time for rest and relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of the real world. But when it comes to planning a trip, that break can easily turn into its own stressor, weighing on your mind and eating up your time. Depending on your destination, coordinating all the moving parts involved in planning a trip — hotels, transportation, itineraries, tours, etc. — can be a huge hassle. That’s where travel agents like Jim Anastos come in.
Anastos is an agent at Trips with George, one of the oldest gay-owned businesses in Atlanta with more than 25 years in operation. Anastos is an LGBTQ travel expert, with 50 countries, over 20 gay cruises, and countless cities under his belt.
The big question is: Why use a travel agent when you can plan your own trip for free? If you’re passionate about planning, an expert on your destination, and have ample time and money to spend, go for it! But if you’re not — and, let’s be honest, most of us aren’t — a travel agent makes traveling more convenient, straightforward, and cost-effective, with expertise to make your trip a great one.
Agents like Anastos transform what can be up to 10 different points of contact across providers into just one, streamlining the planning process and making it easier on the client.
“If you’re booking, let’s say, an extensive trip to Europe, you’re going to be dealing with at least three — and maybe as many as six or seven — different providers: you’re going to get with an airline, a hotel, you’re going to deal with airport transfers, and then you’re going to deal with tour companies, car rentals, insurance policies,” he said. “When you really add it up, it could be as many as ten different providers. With me, you get a single point of contact. You get one phone call, one email, and you get everything done for you. The time-saving is incredible.”
Because of their exclusive access to unpublished discounts from hotel chains and airlines, travel agents can also end up saving travelers money.
“As an agent, I can build a package for you and I can give you one total package price that includes airfare, hotels, transfers, and maybe even your tours,” Anastos said. “You actually don’t see a breakdown of how much of that [package price] is the airfare. That’s the intention; they don’t want you to see that, because they’re discounting. If they publish that [publicly], now they’re in trouble with their regular retail customers and people are going to say, ‘Well, how come I can’t get that fare?’ Sometimes it can save thousands; I saved one client $14,000 on some first-class airline tickets to South Africa.”
There’s also the obvious benefit of experience; chances are, your agent has visited your destination and therefore has tips for the places to visit (and avoid), suggestions for fun things to do, and helpful hints about getting around.
When hiring a travel agent with an LGBTQ focus, this expertise is even more valuable to LGBTQ clients. An agent like Anastos can offer information on the safety and comfort LGBTQ people can expect in the city, country, or even resort where they’re staying, and they have helpful insight into navigating to one’s destination and finding like-minded people.
Anastos offered the location of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as an example of how his expertise helps LGBTQ clients.
“Most people, when they go online and look at hotels, there’s this big, beautiful hotel resort zone,” he said. “That’s typically where people will pick [to stay]. Well, it’s like coming to Atlanta and booking a hotel next to the airport. Who wants to stay there? Nobody. But people don’t realize from looking at the websites where they’re going to be. The gay travelers really need to be staying in Zona Romantica. That’s like staying in Midtown Atlanta.”
As for his favorite destinations, Anastos never misses a summer in Provincetown and a winter in Puerto Vallarta and says Mediterranean cruises, particularly to the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, are the best. Other cities he loves include Sydney, Istanbul, Cairo, and Barcelona.
Anastos concluded by saying that traveling the world has the ability to change mindsets about the LGBTQ community, quoting author Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views … cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
To learn more about Trips with George, visit tripswithgeorge.com.