ASK A TRAVEL AGENT: The Question Every Traveler Wants to Know...

Don't you wish you had a travel expert who could help you plan the experience of lifetime?  Someone who knows the best way to get off the beaten trail, has insider's information on the best places to eat, stay, sail, fly, have adventures, relax?  A pro who can tell you what to miss, skip, what's not worth your time and money?  The most wallet-friendly way to get away from it all?

Get your travel planning questions ready! Answering your queries in our new ASK A TRAVEL AGENT column is, Susan Kelly, a 25-year veteran travel agent, who has spent the better part of her life helping travelers plan memorable journeys and discover the world. 

She has her finger on the pulse of worldwide travel, has access to exclusive deals for our readers, and we are thrilled that Susan is bringing her expertise and passion to our YourLifeIsATrip family.

We’ve experienced first-hand how Susan’s attention to detail, global resources, and industry connections can save you money, time, and emotional distress, but thought we'd start the dialogue with the question everyone is asking these days…

WHY DO I NEED A TRAVEL AGENT? Hasn't the Internet made them obsolete?


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No Trains, Planes or Buses Required

words + illustration by K. Michael Crawford


I can’t believe the day is finally here. After months of keeping my head to the grindstone to finish my latest book, I am getting a vacation.  So now, I can gather up my finest vacation wear and head out the door for a little fun in the sun or maybe a Shirley Temple on the beach. Wherever this vacation goes, I will follow.

Before I head out the door, I know that every good vacation needs the essentials. So, with first things first, I forge through my closet to make sure I have the perfect vacation clothing. You have to look just right, part “world traveler” and part “oh yeah, I don’t stand out too much and look like an idiot.” To select the right look, I put on a slightly wrinkled top with comfortable wrinkled pants. Next, comfortable sneakers are always my choice of shoes for getting away from it all. Besides being great for walking, they are great with the “airline only lets me have one bag now” look.  The last thing I do, as far as my appearance goes, is put my hair up for easy maneuvering through new and exotic places. 

Now, for the add-ons. Everyone knows that you need a big wamping camera to announce to the locals, “Come and get me. I am just waiting to be mugged.” So I place my Hubble Telescope camera around my neck, followed by a straw hat large enough to house a small family. The hat is also used to shield any type of ray from the sun two universes over and prevent any orbiting satellites from identifying that it’s me in the photo.

Any good tourist knows what goes in their backpack or satchel is the most important element to enjoying that fun-filled vacation. You never know what you will stumble upon, so you want to be prepared for the unexpected, or in my case most of the time, the unexplained.

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A Backup Plan: Don’t Leave Home Without One

words + photos by Elyn Aviva

At last the long-awaited day arrived. Our kids (Jesse and Yui) and Sophie, our adorable granddaughter (two years and eight months old), were flying from California to visit us in Spain. My husband, Gary, and I took the train to Madrid on Wednesday, the day before they were supposed to arrive, and spent the day exploring museums and sipping espresso at outdoor cafés. It was a lull in the middle of Holy Week, which runs from Palm Sunday through Easter.

That night, just before we went to bed, the cell phone rang. It was Jesse, my son, calling to say their flight had been cancelled and they would update us when they knew more. Two hours later, another call. Jesse again. They’d managed to be rebooked, but instead of arriving at Barajas Airport at 11 a.m. on Thursday, they would be arriving at 7 p.m. No problem, we assured them. We were relieved they were still arriving the same day.

The initial plan had been to drive north on Thursday to Sahagún de Campos, the small town where Jesse and I had lived for a year in 1982. Jesse was hoping to reunite with schoolmates he hadn’t seen in 28 years. These friends were returning to their pueblo, Sahagún, to celebrate Holy Week. We realized that if the kids arrived at 7 p.m., by the time they got their luggage and we picked up the rental car, it would be too late to drive all the way to Sahagún. So Gary went online (we had free wifi at our hotel) and booked two rooms in a hotel in Segovia, en route to Sahagún. We knew that Jesse and Yui wanted to see Segovia, so we figured that would make the best of the situation.

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Trip Tips for Coming Home

by Judith Fein

The worst part of travel isn’t the security checkpoints with prison-issue wands, puffs of air blowing in your face or gloved agents pawing through your belongings. It’s not the airline seats with their lumbar supports that spear your spine or the $2.25 you pay for a small bottle of filtered tap water at airport restaurants.  It’s not the jetlag—which can be so brutal that your left foot doesn’t know where your right foot is walking—or the suitcase that vanished with the travel clothes, gadgets and gear you have spent half a decade assembling.

The worst part of travel is actually coming home. One day you are in Peru, gaping at Machu Picchu or in Quebec City, learning about why the English and the French both coveted the area. Maybe you’ve been cycling in Italy, trekking in Nepal, cruising down the Nile in Egypt, or sauna hopping in Finland. The next day, you open the door to your digs and…chaos.

The answering machine is blinking, there are hundreds or thousands of emails, the snail mail spills over the edge of a huge tub and stares at you from the floor.  There are bills to be paid, deadlines to be met, appointments to be kept. Your hair needs new highlights, your car is due for servicing, there’s a leak in your office, you forgot to send your sister-in-law a birthday gift. The exotic fades as you slip into the quotidian and start trouble-shooting, catching up, returning calls, and squirming in the dentist’s chair.  Hooray! You are home.

I have not yet figured out how to make homecoming a celebration.  But I have a few tips if you are as overwhelmed as I am when you step over your own welcome mat.

1) Even if you are committed to NOT being wired when you travel, try to check your email at least once before the big return.

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