A Case for Do-it-Yourself Travel
By Susan Kerr

I’ve traveled for years, and have ventured both the travel agent and the book-it-yourself route. Although I'm no computer whiz, I have become a huge fan of self-booking. I’ve successfully arranged trips for my family and myself to faraway places as Asia and Europe and as close as Hollywood with no travel agent involved.

If you’ve never booked a trip on your own, don’t worry! Here are 10 great reasons to point and click, or even pick up the phone, and be on your way.

1) Travel agents are people, too . This might sound like a good reason to use them but the reality is they can be just as prone to mistakes as you are. A travel agent, supposedly an expert in European travel, helped book a month-long trip to Spain for me. As it turned out, she never gave us the prepaid receipts for our stays in the Spanish castles. Without the receipts, we had no proof, which ended up creating a month of incredible problems.

2) Do you want to spend your time dealing with another person?
While agents are supposed to make your life easier, they can only do that if you are extremely clear about when, where, and how you want to travel. Expect calls asking for clarification, price checks, etc. Personally, I’d rather spend my time gaining insights into where I’m going and finding out for myself what the best prices are. An informed, alert consumer makes a good traveler.

3) You have the same technology at your disposal as does the travel agent
. Not long ago, you had to call each airline to compare rates. No more. Log on to such sites as Expedia.com, Priceline.com or Travelocity.com or even individual airline sites such as United.com, and you instantly have all the information at your fingertips.

4) You want opinions? You can get opinions!
One of my favorite sites is Fodors.com, the online arm of the famous travel guidebook company. Here, in addition to the "official" Fodors reviews of hotels, are user ratings and comments. This has saved me numerous times from a booking mistake. For example, this past summer I read how one super posh hotel I was tempted to stay at in Southern California actually was across the highway from the beach, not right on it as I preferred.

5) Discounts and bargains are just as available to you!
Frequently going on line to an airline site brings home savings. United and other airlines often have cheaper rates if you reserve it yourself via the web than if you call them directly. Plus, if you hoard airline miles (a sin I am guilty of) you’ll get a bonus for self booking.

6) Speed and accuracy
. When you’re in charge, you see what you get right away. You can pick your own seats on the airplane or train. The big all-inclusive sites now list the total cost of your rental car, including those extra gotcha fees and taxes that you never knew about before until you turned in your car.

7) Choice, choice and more choice . According to the New York Times, Expedia.com and Hotels.com are tied into at least 20,000 hotels each. You can look at detailed photos of each property plus maps of the surrounding area. If I see a hotel I like, I will follow up with a phone call to its reservation desk. It’s a good way to inquire about unadvertised specials or to make a special request (such as wanting to be on an upper floor, wanting a particular view, etc.). By going online, you’ll find a huge number of options.

8) Tie-ins galore
. Most travel agents will advertise themselves as vendors providing an all-around experience--that is, not just booking your air, but also your car, hotel, restaurants and tours. Increasingly, on-line sites do the same. When you log into sites such as Expedia.com, the first box allows you to choose a hotel, air and car package all in one. Likewise, extras such as tours or theater tickets are now the norm, not the exception.

9) Information on just about anything at your fingertips!
Don’t like to fly? The web’s not there for plane travel alone. You AAA members can go online to AAAmaps.com and get all the information you need. Likewise, even Hotel.com now has a "road trip" section. You have the freedom to pick, choose, and experiment in custom designing your trip.

10) 'If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me' reason!
Increasingly, large corporations are telling employees to book their own business trips on line. These companies could pick whatever travel agency they want, but they’re seeing the benefit of doing it themselves. Likewise, we little guys are discovering the same advantages.

So, are you ready to book? Travel agents may be an endangered species but they still have their place. A good niche for them may be high-end, exotic or luxurious travel such as safaris or around-the-world cruises where special, personal contacts with the outfits come in handy. But for trips ranging from a quick flight even to a several-weeks-long trip in Europe, you can do it yourself. Instead of "getting there being half the fun" change it to "clicking your way there is half the fun!"

San Francisco-based writer Susan Kerr books all her trips online for herself and her family.

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