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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Terradrift Guide to Bruges

Alisha McDarris

Right off the bat, lets make sure we get the pronunciation of this Belgian city correct, on the off-chance you haven't seen the Movie In Bruges. It’s pronounced broozsh. Or broo-guh, if you’re using the same name for the city as the locals, which I could never quite wrap my head around. Why don’t we all call cities by the same name? I get that we probably have to spell them differently, especially in languages without Roman alphabets like Chinese or Russian, but why don’t we pronounce them the same? Why is it broozsh in English but broo-guh in Dutch? Why is it Florence for us but Firenze for Italians? Why do Australians allow Americans to mispronounce  Melbourne (it’s Melbuhn, thanks very much)? And by an opposing twist in logic, why does it always seem to be New York or Chicago no matter what language you speak?

But I’m getting off topic. Bruges. Whether you loved or hated the movie where Colin Ferrel pulls off a magnificent Irish accent, this is a city you should visit (whether or not you want to pay for the “privilege” of climbing 366 stairs to reach the top of the famous belfry). It’s a beautiful city of circular canals and medieval architecture and it was definitely one of the loveliest stops on our two-month European excursion, hands down.

Canals and willows. Who could ask for more?

But Amsterdam has canals! You say. Bah. They don’t hold a candle to Bruges. There’s just something about verdant weeping willows dangling over quiet waterways, colorful bikes resting against ancient stone buildings, Gothic spires jutting up into the sky from the tops of churches hundreds of years old, that makes it terribly inviting. Add to it dozens of canal-side restaurants and cafes, swans lazily meandering around the park, and a history brimming with trickery and intrigue, and you’ve got yourself a pretty interesting place.

Swans resting in Minnewaterpark.

However, it is a compact place, and the two and a half days we spent there were perhaps half a day too long. If you’re not taking every meal at one of those canal-side cafes or paying for entry to the handful of museums in the old town (like the Archeological Museum, €4, or quirky Fries Museum, €7), you’re going to burn through the sites pretty fast. But a single day certainly isn’t long enough to be able to relax and take in the calm of the city.

The architecture in Bruges is simply stunning

We arrived early via BlaBla Car from Brussels and hit the ground running, as we do. We stashed our bags in the hostel locker room (sans rain jackets and umbrella, which we would need on and off all day), and before we did anything else, sat down with a map and a coffee (instant, of course, with a carton of soy milk that probably should have been refrigerated, but oh well, we’re still alive). We circled some interesting attractions, noted the time of the next free walking tour, then went into the center to join up with that group.

We learned some of the city’s history, about the blood of Jesus, which is on display in a magic vial in The Basilica of the Holy Blood, saw the aforementioned magic vial of holy blood, and nodded at several sites used in the filming of In Bruges. Interesting. We also took a brief pit stop at one of the only two breweries left in old town where just about everybody got a beer but us. I’m used to this because I don’t drink, but Josh squirmed a bit at not partaking with everyone else. Reason being, 1.) we had been warned not to pay over 3 for a beer or we were being ripped off and 2.) I don’t appreciate being coerced into spending money, like, say, on a free tour where they parade everyone into a bar and expect you to drop 3.60 on a drink when, it seems to me, like everyone on a free tour would not be keen to do. (Don’t worry, Josh tried that same beer for .60 less at another bar not on the tourist trail. We’re clever like that.)

The Grote Markt is the center of the action in Bruges.

After that it was just a matter of retracing our steps to revisit the more tantalizing points of interest from the tour over the next two days. We discovered we would not be mounting the famous belfry as it cost €10 per person to do so and I do not pay to climb stairs for 15 minutes. If anything, they should be paying me for all that physical exertion. Instead we meandered through one-lane streets with narrow sidewalks, not consulting a map, accepting the notion that we would get lost. We peeked into art galleries, interesting local home goods stores, stumbled upon a small hidden park, Hof De Jonghe, that contained apple trees and sheep, of all things. We crossed bridges, took photos, stared up at windmills, visited the garden of the original feminists, the Begijnhof, and saw the country’s oldest bar, Cafe Vlissinghe.

Bruges' famous Belfry, or Belfort.

Tilting at windmills in Bruges.

And ate. But not well. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was disappointed at the state (and price) of vegan food in the city. I mean, it is a pretty small place, but after the lack of cheap, original offerings in Brussels I was hoping for something better. All we found was Vero Caffe that made a tasty soy latte and had one kind of vegan cake.

I love a good cafe that doesn't charge extra for soy milk!

Of course, this is really unfair to Bruges. There were other options, but they were pricey or uninspiring (think falafel) and as we were still feeling the price gouging of Iceland from not even a week before, we were loath to pay 25 for a meal. So the supermarket it was. Fortunately, we managed to get our hands on staples like bread, fruit, museli and hummus, though even finding tofu or ramen was tricky. Needless to say, we put the hostel microwave to work every night and mostly ate sandwiches for lunch. Classic Terradrift.

We opted for another free tour at night that claimed to show a “different” side of Bruges. I’m not sure how different it was, but it wasn’t the same as the afternoon tour and you got free beer at the end, so what’s to lose? Actually, Josh got several free beers in Bruges. Both tours offered tickets for free house beers at local bars and, as I don’t drink, he got two each time. One was a trappist beer that he said was much better than the overpriced brew they market to tourists and was served in Le Trappiste, an underground tavern that had Josh planning our own future medieval cave in our next tiny house. The other was actually from our own hostel bar at St. Christopher's Inn at the Bauhaus (which had extraordinarily cheap beer, especially at happy hour), so that was convenient. We got to hang out front with some of the other folks on the tour, one of whom had shared a room with us one night, the other whom convinced us that we absolutely must go to Romania this trip (which we did end up planning). Of all the things I often don’t like about hostels, the ones that do it right have this in common: they make it very difficult not to socialize with other travelers.

And I do like to socialize with other travelers.

But we also like it to just be the two of us. So we didn’t invite anyone to join us when we went to 27 B Flat Bar for an evening of live Chicago blues that was simply divine. And free. Minus the cost of the cheapest beer on the menu.  Because Josh. Wandering through the various markets on weekend mornings is also free and might offer an opportunity for a cheap snack, so hit up one of those, too. And don't miss the windmills standing on the edge of the old town, right along the canal. Those are free to gaze upon, but if you want to go into the one still in operation as a mill, it’ll cost you a couple euros.

27 B Flat is a cozy bar with hot music.

Would we go back to Bruges? Definitely. Maybe in the summer next time so we don't get rained on every day. Was it touristy? Yeah, but not too bad. However, next time I’ll plan ahead and bring a stockpile of vegan staples along.

Even when it's overcast the beauty of Bruges shines through.

Tips for Visiting Bruges:

  1. The city is extremely walkable and public transit is available but hardly necessary. Bring your comfy walking shoes!
  2. The cobblestone streets can be a pain, especially for rolling suitcases. Backpacks or duffles are your best bet.
  3. Bruges is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North.” If you fancy a motorized boat trip on the canal, it’ll only set you back about 9, a lot less than in Venice.
  4. Shops and many restaurants, including supermarkets, often close early (like 5-7:00) and don’t open at all on Sunday, so plan accordingly.
  5. If you’re under 26, you can get into many museums for a lot less; sometimes for as little as 1.50.
  6. If you want locally made Belgian chocolate, look for the word “handmade” on the door or inside the shop. There are scores of them.
  7. Beer is cheap in bars, but it’s even cheaper in the supermarket. Stock up there and you’ll pay something like .80 for a can or bottle.
  8. Revisit the city at night; it’s just as beautiful as during the day.
  9. The main language spoken is Flemish (similar to Dutch), but just about everyone speaks English, too.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Free things to do in Brussels

Alisha McDarris

Ah, Belgium. Home to chocolate, beer and waffles. Also fries. Bet you didn't know Belgium had a thing for fries. And not French fries, mind you. Belgian fries. And Brussels is choc full of all of them and deserves at least a couple of days of exploring.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Alisha McDarris

Iceland is freaking expensive. Like, really freaking expensive. We didn’t realize this when we booked a seven day stay on our way to Europe (don’t be like us). It’s so expensive you might show up and consider selling your firstborn (if you have one) just to pay for your lodging.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Day Trip on Iceland's South Coast: Route 1 to Vík

Alisha McDarris

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Iceland is expensive. And one of the most expensive things to do is a tour. You know, one of those deals where you get on a giant coach with 35 other people and are shuttled from one tourist attraction to the next, rushed in and out of gift shops and hustled up and down stairs to viewpoints... You We don't like tours. Not most of the time, anyway (there are always exceptions). But Iceland is no exception. If you want to see some of this country's vast beauty, we recommend skipping the tour bus and renting a car instead. If there are more than one of you (as there are more than one of us), it's cheaper, even with fuel added in, and you have the freedom to go and do as you please at your own pace. We recommend the Golden Circle one day and then taking Route 1 south to Vík another. Because there's no such thing as too many waterfalls. So if you're worried you might miss something as you venture out on your own, here are the top 5 highlights and attractions on Route 1, Iceland's southern road.

1. Seljalandsfoss

Waterfalls are great, hey? I don't care how many you've seen, they're great. And Iceland's are impressive. Seljalandsfoss is the first stop after leaving Reykjavík, and you get two waterfalls for the price of one here because Gljúfrabúi is just a short walk around the bend (but be sure not to miss it because it's the most fun and there aren't as many tourists hovering). Seljalandsfoss is big and powerful and you can take a stroll behind it (though you will get wet). But our fave was Gljúfrabúi, a tall, slender giant of which you could wade through a pool to reach the base or climb (and I do mean climb, scurry, scramble) to a lookout near it's middle where you get a killer view. Those climbing shoes I bought for hiking really showed their mettle on this one. Parking is 700 krn ($7), but there is a free gravel lot right next to the road that is only a 5 minute stroll away.

2. Skógafoss

This is the second and last waterfall stop of the drive. Less impressive from below, choose to take the (seemingly endless) stairs to the top for a view of not only water plummeting downward, but the winding rapids leading up to the plummeting water. There's a trail, too, if you want to walk alongside the river for a bit. Parking is free, but if you have to pee it'll cost you 200 kr or so.

3. DC 3 Plane

Just down the road a couple minutes away from Skógafoss is a large unmarked lot where you can park the car and take a walk to the skeleton of an American DC 3 airplane that crashed in the 70's. It's a long walk. A really long walk. A long walk made longer by the fact that there is nothing to look at on the whole way there. It's just a flat, black gravel track with no changing scenery that goes for 2.5 miles. It took us 45 minutes and all I can say is that unless you're really into old plane wreckage, maybe just skip this one. It wasn't that exciting. Also we couldn't get a single decent photo of it because one tourist decided they should climb on top and then all the other tourists, like a flock of lemmings, decided they did, too. Face-palm!

4. Vík

The small village of Vík wasn't our last stop, but it's clustered within a couple miles of the last two and we wanted coffee and a snack, so we stopped there next. The town itself is unimpressive. We stopped at the visitor's center and the employee told us there were three places to get coffee: the gas station, the supermarket, and the cafe next door. We tried the latter. But alas, no milk alternatives. Didn't even bother checking with the gas station and super market. Other than that there's pretty much just the little church at the top of the hill that, while picturesque, looks pretty much the same as every other little church in the country, so... There is also a hike that supposedly leads to some pretty nice views, but as I said, we were tired and hungry and maybe still a little sore from the previous day's hike at Reykjudalur, (and this hike is about 1.5 hours) so we passed.

5. Reynisdrangar Beach and Reynisfjara

I believe Reynisdrangar is the beach and Reynisfjara are the basalt sea stacks viewable from the beach, but they're both right there, so we'll call them one and the same. In any case, it is unique because it is a black sand beach with huge, crazy, geometric basalt rock formations jutting out of the earth. They are insane. So go, take lots of pictures, walk into the big caverns, make a throne of them, just stay away from the water. Like, far away from the water. Several of the 12 tourists who got themselves killed in Iceland just so far this year died here because they underestimated the power and size of the waves and the current. And they weren't even swimming! So resist the urge to dip your toes in or wade down the beach, K?

6. Puffins!

Puffins would have to be last because what else would matter after you saw puffins? I'm going to warn you, though: you're going to need a serious telephoto lens and/or some top notch binoculars cause they aren't going to just fly up and say hello and pose for a photo. And if they do for you, I don't want to hear about it because there will be no limit to my jealousy. First you'll probably want to go up the winding dirt road on the right to see Dyrhólaey, which is lovely. But when you realize there are no puffins there, you're gonna wanna drive right back down to the paved road to the parking lot and head out to look out over the cliffs. We saw then furiously flapping their wings, zipping out over the ocean from about 8:00 pm, but finally saw two or three resting on the cliffs jutting up from the beach at about 8:30-9:00, and all without paying those hefty puffin-spotting tour prices. We were lucky to see any as nesting season was pretty much over when we were there at the very end of August. Summer is prime puffin-spotting season.

That enough to fill your day with wonder? Of course, there is plenty of wild and impressive landscape along the way, including the famous Eyjafjallajökull (Ay-ya-fiat-la-yoh-cool), so there won't be a dull moment. It's certainly a country for road trips! And if you go, share your fave stops below!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Drive around Iceland's Golden Circle

Alisha McDarris

The "Golden Circle" is so dubbed because it is a route with some of the most popular attractions for visitors near Reykjavik. Fortunately, since most of these are natural attractions, they don't cost anything (or don't cost much)! There are plenty of companies that offer Golden Circle tours, but they are expensive at around $99 per person for a day trip. That's a lot of money. Plus, we generally don't like tours as they don't allow a lot of flexibility or time at each attraction. Also the buses are filled with tourists (not always a bad thing, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason). So if you want to break away from the pack and have your own adventure, then rent a car for the day -- or get together with some fellow travelers who did and have spare seats -- and start driving the Golden Circle yourself.

First step: Find transportation

The cheapest rental company we found was SadCars at about $70 for two days (no insurance included), but we found some pretty hairy reviews, so we went with the second cheapest, Budget, which was $108 for two days. Their rental office was only a ten minute walk from our AirBnB, too, so that was convenient. And since we knew a day or two in advance that we were going to do this, we posted an event on and offered to let two other travelers come along if they helped pay for fuel. And just like that we had a full car and no fuel costs for the day (which came to about $35).

On the flip side, you could do what our new French friends, Alexis and Andrea, did and use to find a ride. You might be able to hook up with someone with a car and an open backseat and get a full day of adventure for less than $35 or so.

The Stops

þingvellir National Park

We started out from Reykyavik at 9:00 with a bag full of food and a few extra layers and headed to þingvellir national park. It was overcast and a little drizzly, but we just put up our hoods and marched onward. The park is the site of Iceland's first parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries and sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault. On the site are also the Þingvellir Church (very picturesque) and old stone shelters. We spent about 45-60 minutes walking the trails, taking photos, marveling at the waterfall and getting to know each other. It was lovely. It's free to enter the park, but there's a 500 kr (approximately $5 USD) parking fee. It's honor system as there are no window tickets or space numbers, but considering U.S. state parks are more like $25 for entry, $5 seemed like a steal. Plus it helps keep up the park. It's also 200 kr ($2) to use the bathroom, but there are port-a-potties at the bottom of the trail that are free.


It's no Old Faithful, but this one does go off more frequently. Like every couple of minutes. Sometimes it's bigger than others. (So many "that's what she said" setups, I know!) And actually, it's not even Geysir that erupts anymore, it's Strokkur. And surrounding it are various other bubbling pools that will burn your skin off if you touch them. So refrain. It was a cold day, so after we watched hot water shoot into the air a few times, we went across the road to Glimr Cafe to use the free bathrooms and get some expensive coffee. It was 550 kr ($5.50) for a latte, but they didn't charge extra for soy milk. Between that and the latte art, I was pretty stoked for a good espresso, but alas, it was more like espresso-flavored soy milk than a latte. So it goes. There were vegan soup options at Supa, also in that building, but it was 1500 kr ($15) a bowl.


Iceland's most photographed waterfall was next. And it. Was. Serious. I've been to Niagara Falls, and it's huge, bigger in breadth than Gullfoss, but what it lacks in width it makes up for in power. It's a three tier fall, though only two are readily apparent, and it kicks up some serious spray. We got a little soggy when we walked the boardwalk to the top. Free and impressive. Can't beat that.

Icelandic Horses

This was less of an official stop than Josh looking out the window and yelling, "horses!" but it was a stop none the less. There were a handful of Icelandic horses in a pen near the road with a parking lot and a box of "horse candy" you could buy for 200 kr ($2). We petted the smallish, fluffy, long haired horses, snapped a few photos, and left when a minibus of tourists arrived and all wanted horse selfies.

Skálholt Cathedral

"Cathredral" is a bit of a misnomer, here, as it's really just a small country church that looks pretty much the same as every other small country church. However, there were some nice views of the countryside surrounding it and a cool underground tunnel to nowhere beneath the church. It was also where an important bishop lived ages ago.


This is a volcanic crater lake on the way back to Reykjavik. You can walk along the top ridge or on a path along the rim of the lake. It's pretty cool, actually, even with the 400 kr ($4) per person entrance fee. It's a small manned booth that accepts your money, so a less honest individual could probably sneak right by, but it's a natural wonder and with all the tourists coming to visit all of a sudden, it takes money to maintain the paths and safety ropes, so I don't mind paying.

Reykjadalur Hot Springs

Now this is a hike. We were a bit tight a day or two after this one. It's about 3.5 km (a little over 2 miles), but it sure feels like more as nearly all of it is up. The hike takes about an hour (one way) to complete and on the way you'll get an eyeful of mountains, waterfalls, roaming sheep, rivers, and steam rising up through fissures in the ground. It's beautiful. And the payoff at the end is a hot spring you can soak in. Bring a swimsuit and a towel the size of your modesty because there are no changing rooms and people all over are getting creative with ways to change without exposing themselves. Then find a comfortable spot and step in! We relaxed in the hot water for about an hour before reluctantly climbing back out into the cold air and hastily drying off, holding up towels for each other, and changing back into dry clothes. Totally worth it. Also there's a tiny little cafe at the entrance that has milk alternatives and one type of raw vegan cake (expensive cake, though, at 950 kr or $9.50).

Moral of the story

Skip the tour bus and drive yourself. You'll see more, do more, experience more, and besides, those host springs aren't on tour bus itineraries! Enjoy!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vegan Dining at Quincy Market

Alisha McDarris

Eating vegan in Boston is easy. Eating vegan in the midst of a group of omnivores? That's harder. The larger the group the more difficult it is to agree on a spot for lunch. But there's always Faneuil Hall Marketplace, right? Well, sort of. While Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market do have a plethora of dining options, choices for vegans are limited. So what's a vegan to do? Lucky for you, we've compiled a list of the places where vegans can eat (and what they can eat) in and around Quincy Market. How sweet is that?

Where vegans can eat in Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace:

Bagelville: A veggie bagel sandwich

El Paso Enchiladas: Burritos, nachos, tacos, enchiladas (may have to order without cheese, sour cream, etc.)

Gourmet India: Three entrees with basmati rice are vegan, but not the naan

Ueno Sushi: Several vegetable rolls are available

Boston Pretzel: Pretzels

The Monkey Bar: Smoothies (some contain dairy but are clearly marked)

Sprinkles Ice Cream: At least one flavor of sorbet or smoothie

Berry Twist: More sorbet

Boston Cafe: Various types of candy and coffee

North York Deli: Fruit cup

Prime Shoppe: More fruit cups

And if you're planning on dining with the whole family, look into pre-purchasing vouchers from Faneuil Hall Marketplace's Food Voucher Program, which are good for snacks or meals any time of the day at over 2 dozen eateries. That way, instead of dolling out wads of cash, you can just give everybody a slip of paper and let them decide what suits their fancy. We used them when we went with some friends, and despite all of our different diets, it couldn't have been easier for all of us to get exactly what we wanted (chana masala for Josh and me, a corn dog and cheesy fries for them). Plus, they have a list on their website of what's gluten free, nut free and kosher. But they don't list what's vegan; that's why you need us!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Should you use a travel agent?

Alisha McDarris
We never used travel agents. We always booked all of our own accommodations and activities after spending hours upon hours scouring the internet for the best deal or highest rated activities. And then we went to Mexico with the help of Molly, an experienced travel agent, and had a distinct light bulb moment: using a travel agent was awesome! It didn't seem in the beginning like she was doing that much -- just booking a few flights and a couple nights' accommodation -- but when it came time to travel and I didn't have to scour my email archives to find flight confirmations, print out sheets of directions and phone numbers or call to confirm airport pick-ups or hotel transfers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even for the little things, I quite liked having someone take care of all the details for me. So the question became, should I use a travel agent? Is a travel agent for me? Well check out this interview with Molly to find out when it's time to use a travel agent (and when not to bother)! You might just be surprised!

Terradrift: What does a travel agent do, exactly? I picture them behind a desk with a headset surrounded by maps of far away places helping tourists book all-inclusive resorts.

Molly: Travel Agents are continuously in training for various worldwide destinations, traveling to visit resorts and cruise lines, and learning on their own time to be able to give recommendations for any given vacation option. We start by talking with you to understand what you are looking for, then we send a few options based on your requirements and desires. We price match various companies before booking to make sure we are getting the best possible price, then when it is time to book, we handle all the details. Restaurant reservations, seat assignments, preferred room types, frequent flyer reservations, you name it, we can handle it. Many agencies have a concierge that has contacts all over the world and together we help book tours and cruise shore excursions, and give our recommendations. The other added benefit is that when something goes wrong (which is rare, but can happen), we are behind you as your advocate. Some companies even offer 24-hour emergency services when you book through them.

Terradrift: OK, that seems like a lot, but couldn't I do most of that myself?

Molly: You could go online and spend hours searching reviews of resorts, or you could come to us and we would already know or could find out much easier, saving you time, money, and stress. Sometimes we even have access to discounts or specials through corporate affiliations that are not open to the public. You could do it yourself, but why would you want to when you could have an expert helping ensure you get a great vacation? An online website will not ensure your happiness, and if you have a complaint, good luck trying to reach a real person, especially when you have to call the airlines!

Terradrift: So what's the real benefit of using a travel agent?

Molly: The main reasons most people use a travel agent is to know you are getting the best price, be guaranteed a great vacation, and always be able to contact us with questions or issues. It is all about peace of mind. Do you want to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation that Tripadvisor is telling you is 4 stars but not really know anyone that has gone there or seen it first hand? There are so many details, especially with more intricate European and other global destinations, that if you have never been there before, you would not be aware of. We know those ins and outs. We know that taxi drivers in Rome will rip off tourists by taking you the long way unless you tell them the most direct route and say you have been here before. We know that in Mexico at public beaches you will need pesos in order to have toilet paper. Booking online will not get you the insider tips unless you spend hours and hours researching websites (of which half are opinions and not fact). Also for special occasions we will always offer an added gift or amenity when possible.

Terradrift: So do travel agents charge a fee? How do they make money?

Molly: Some companies charge don't charge anything extra for their services, but others might charge a nominal fee, perhaps around $35, for basic reservations such as cruises, all-inclusive resorts, or hotel, flight, and car reservations. If it will be a vacation that is much more detailed, such as an independent booking in Europe where we have to set up each transfer, flight, train, hotel, tour, etc. individually, then this might come with a higher fee due to the amount of time involved. In addition to that, most resorts, cruises and hotels will offer our company commissions for using them. Commissions vary, but this is normally the bulk of profit for a travel agency (which the travel agent, depending on the company, may only make a small percentage of). For airfare only, the airlines do not offer any commissions to the travel agent, so for airline tickets might charge a little extra per person for bookings. But when your flight is delayed or cancelled, we are automatically notified and are working on your behalf before you can get through that line at the airport to be rebooked. We usually get the last seats on the next flight much faster than the people in front of you in line, so that is a great benefit to using an agent. The cruise lines, hotels, and resorts will just keep this commission amount for themselves if you don't use an agent, so you are basically paying for one whether you use one or not!

Terradrift: Is there a situation when I shouldn't bother using a travel agent?

Molly: Honestly, for a condo or home rental, we don't get any discounts for these types of vacations, so it's usually best to book these on your own. The individual renters do not work with travel agents and want to work directly with the renter, so it can be tricky in helping with these reservations (i.e. AirBnB).

Terradrift: What's your favorite kind of travel to book for clients?

Molly: My favorite travel is the vacations that I do for people in the British Isles and Europe. I love doing the independent trips that are customized for each individual. They do take much more time, but in the end I love how they turn out!

Terradrift: Then what's your least favorite?

Molly: My least favorite would be Myrtle Beach trips; there is so much more out there to see besides Myrtle Beach! Especially when I can get you a better rate at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or a Caribbean Island!

Terradrift: How is a person supposed to know if they've found a good travel agent?

Molly: You should know right off the bat whether you've found a good agent. Always check to see how long they have been in the business, or if they have not been in it long, how much travel they have done on their own. Also, if they have the designation of "CTA" which means Certified Travel Associate, this means they have been in the business for at least 2 years and have gone through rigorous geography and destination courses. There are several other designations as well, so you can always ask them if they are a specialist in your given destination or cruise line! Another main factor is how responsive they are to you, how knowledgeable they are about the requirements (passports, visas, etc.) for various destinations, and how well they know each product they are offering.

Terradrift: So how do you know if you've found a bad one?

Molly: If the agent does not listen to your needs and only tries to sell you their "preferred" suppliers, this is not an agent you want. Also, if they do not tell you about all of the requirements and warnings for a given travel area, then you should look elsewhere. If they are not enthusiastic and passionate about everything they do for you, then they are most likely not a great agent!

Terradrift: What's the one biggest misconception people have about travel agents?

Molly: The biggest misconception is probably that you do not need an agent because everything is online now. I think everything being online has actually made it harder and more stressful to book a vacation because you don't know which websites to trust and which resorts out of the thousands are actually a great deal. A website such as Cheap Caribbean can have some rock bottom prices, but what are you really getting for that rate? No personal service, no assistance in an emergency, and no guarantee that you are getting a decent property. Always check with an agent; If they charge a fee you won't pay unless you book so you can always talk with an agent to get an idea!

Have a big trip coming up? What have you got to lose? Try a travel agent on for size and see if you like the fit! If you've used a travel agent before, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

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