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Worry Free Wanderlust

Modern Travel Agents Make a Comeback



The signature royal blue hues and tall palms surround Le Jardin Majorelle at the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Morocco. A market dazzles in Marrakech.

Photo by Elisa Brown Travel

There was a time when you wouldn’t dare book a vacation without a travel agent. Fast forward 30 years and times have changed. Now everyone is his own expert and we’re relying on complete strangers to tell us where to vacation.

If you’ve ever been burned booking a trip online, you know the value of doing your research on top of what anyone tells you. That’s why people are seeking help from local experts like Elisa Carbone Brown, a Weston resident and a luxury travel expert for Passported, a boutique agency based in Tribeca. “Anyone can book a hotel online,” explains Brown, who also writes content for her agency’s web site, passported.com. “Where we add value is through ‘destination insight’ and our access to insider perks like food, beverage and spa credits, upgrades, and complimentary breakfast.”

Insider tips, coupled with the strong relationships agents have with hoteliers and tour operators, are each travel agent’s proverbial “special sauce.” It’s this information that can transform a vacation into an unforgettable experience—and is certainly not something one can glean from an online travel Website.

These days, travel agents get paid by hotels, cruises and tour operators. Rather than charge a flat fee, most agents bill clients for certain “concierge” levels of service. If the client requests an itinerary outlining daily activities, tours and restaurant reservations, for example, that’s an additional cost.

During our interview, Brown attended to client requests. She booked a private boat ride on Lake Powell at Utah’s sought after property Amangiri, and secured a room at Nobu Ryokan, an exclusive oceanfront boutique hotel in Malibu, right next door to its namesake sushi restaurant. “You might not be able to get a reservation at the hottest new hotel or restaurant, but there’s a good chance I can make it happen,” explains Brown. “I don’t give up easily.”

Brown’s Instagram feed would make anyone envious. Already in 2018, she’s “glamped” in the Moroccan desert, swam with the Swimming Pigs in the Bahamas, and taken a dip in Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Trips to Greece, Italy, Japan, and Vietnam are in the works. 

While outsiders might think a travel agent’s life is all fun and games, the reality is that it’s a full-time job and then some.

“I’m working around the clock scouting new hotels, restaurants, spas, shops, local landmarks and epic adventures to compile location-specific insider tips,” explains Brown. “I’m away from my family for days at a time, which is difficult, but I am passionate about my work and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Finding Something for Everyone on Vacation

Another woman who knows a thing or two about travel is Lauren Raps, a Fairfield mother to three boys under twelve. Raps recently traded her 15 plus year career to start her own company, Travel Prospect.

A former NBC News executive, she routinely traveled the globe for work. Raps would spend three weeks on the ground in Olympic host cities, ingraining herself in the local community. Here she identified trusted “on-the-ground” contacts—a huge advantage for obvious reasons. Her travel experience, coupled with the influence of her mother who was also a travel agent, fueled the switch. “I thought I knew everything, but the job involves constant training and research,” explains Raps. “You’re constantly learning and evolving for the next generation of travelers.”

While Raps has planned everything from honeymoons in Hawaii to “friendsgivings” in Maine, planning family vacations are her favorite challenge. Sometimes destinations that cater to kids can leave parents feeling underwhelmed. However, Raps believes that everyone can have an amazing experience.

“Luxury doesn’t always mean money,” believes Raps. “It’s all about authentic experiences that are tailor made for your family.”

Most recently, she took her family to Nicaragua to see if it’s the hotspot everyone has been buzzing about. According to Raps, Nicaragua is what Costa Rica used to be. “The people are lovely, it’s extremely safe and full of adventures—all at a great price point.”

Raps’ honesty about traveling with toddlers is refreshing. She truly understands that meltdowns are possible and promises to have you covered. “Consider me your family travel guardian angel,” offers Raps. “I pride myself on knowing the best family-friendly resorts and kids clubs for any age or interest.”

Recently, she planned a surprise trip for her client’s daughters to London, complete with exclusive Harry Potter activities and a behind-the-scenes changing of the guard tour— an experience only Raps can book.

For Raps, traveling solo with her children is a total luxury. Last summer, she took her middle son to Europe to research a new cruise experience on the Danube River, which she is now offering exclusively to her clients.

“Travel is an investment I don’t take lightly,” suggests Raps. “Clients share intimate information with me about budget and their family’s personal preferences. It’s a fun and collaborative process.”

Raps is currently packing her bags for spring break in Sicily, then to Bermuda and a cruise up the Rhine with her eldest son this summer.

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