A funny thing happened to me on Tuesday afternoon, when I tried to check in for my 8:00 Wednesday flight home from Chicago: The United Airlines app I was using returned an error message informing me that I was unable to complete the transaction because I was too early.
That’s when I looked more carefully at my travel itinerary and discovered that my flight was scheduled for 8:00 PM, not AM.
“Did you mess up?” my husband asked.
No. Now I remembered how difficult it was to find a round trip from LAX to O’Hare that was convenient AND affordable, and I concluded I couldn’t have both. Choosing an earlier flight out of the city would cost me a couple of hundred dollars per ticket. I booked it such a long time ago that I forgot that inconvenient little detail.
By the time I booked my airport shuttle for our return trip, the flight had been re-scheduled to 8:42 PM. This guaranteed that we would not walk in through our front door until after midnight (Pacific time).
And so last night, as my daughter and I stood outside our hotel awaiting the shuttle, I realized:
I don’t want to do this any more.
Don’t get me wrong: I still get a kick out of exploring a new city and revisiting the places I’ve enjoyed in the past. But actual travel — the act of booking a flight and hotel room and packing a bag and figuring out the logistics of getting from A to B, and keeping my cool through the airport and security checks and trying to stay comfortable in cramped economy seating, and trying to do it all without spending a fortune…
… The thrill is gone.
Especially this year, which included an epic road trip from Washington, DC to upstate New York to Boston — and back again — so we could scope out the colleges that had accepted my daughter… followed with another whirlwind trip to Chicago and back for the same purpose. It took me DAYS to put each of those itineraries together: comparing flights and hotels, balancing cost with location and convenience, and scheduling tour dates.
At least, I already had the date for this trip – but I still had to find a flight and hotel that made sense, and it wasn’t without some difficulty: As I was gathering all the confirmations the week before we embarked, I discovered that I never received one from Expedia, which charged me $350 for two nights in a hotel.
I’m just grateful that our destination was a city with over 100,000 hotel rooms – we found one at the four-star Rafaello boutique hotel for a little less than what we were paying through Expedia. And when we arrived, we were greeted with the sweetest words a traveler can hear: “You’ve been upgraded to a suite.”
We had a comfortable stay, but now it was over. And I realized I have to start the process all over again for my daughter’s August move-in (just as soon as my husband figures out the dates he can take off from work). And I found myself wondering if there wasn’t an easier way.
And I realized that there is: It’s called hiring a travel agent. It’s how I used to plan my trips in prehistoric times before the Internet made it possible to see flights and hotel deals on my own. Doing it myself worked for me for a long time, but changes in the travel industry have made it a really grueling task. These include carrier consolidation, hotel mergers and so many different websites to check that it’s no wonder I think of booking a trip as a job.
And since it’s a job, maybe it’s time I allowed a professional to do it.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has come to that conclusion. While corporations continued to employ travel agencies and specialists, the agency bookings for the leisure market are starting to trend up. And you know something? I find that comforting. I am not the only one who started taking travel booking into my own hands when the Internet gave us the tools to make that possible, and so the travel agency business was hit hard. That’s sad, because that’s one of the professions that traditionally accepted women who needed part time hours so they could raise families. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it once again becomes a popular choice again? (It just won’t include ME.)