Monday, December 7, 2015

Guest Post: Find Real Pleasure in Your Vietnam Travel

** This is a guest blog post. The views in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Operation Relax.**

If you are interested in cheap travel deals to Vietnam you are not alone. This is a destination that many people are interested in visiting. No matter if you live close by or far away, when you travel to this country you are in position to have the time of your life. There is so much to do in Vietnam that you know you will always be busy.

Are you worried about missing out on something big on your trip? If so, you should learn more about tours in Vietnam. This will allow you to see the area with the help of somebody who knows exactly what you are looking for. After all, if you have never been to Vietnam and have no idea of where you are going you will need a local to show you the way.

Before you begin your search for Cheap Travel Deals to Vietnam, make sure you take the time to learn more about what you should and should not be doing on your trip. After all, you only have so much time at your disposal. You need to be careful of how you setup your schedule. This will ensure that you have a good time, from the day that you arrive until the day that you leave.

As you begin your search for cheap deals, make sure you have a budget in mind. Remember, what you consider to be cheap may not be the same to the next person. This is why you need to know your budget from the start. When you book cheap travel arrangements, you know that you will have more money for spending when you finally arrive at your destination - and that is something that you will enjoy.

The best way to find cheap travel deals to Vietnam is online. This is by far the best place to search if you are interested in saving money. There are a lot of online deals, some of which are better than others. As long as you take your time, you know that you are going to find deals that you are happy with.

Before you ever leave for your Vietnam trip, you should think about setting up a tour. This way you have the time to plan your entire trip. This also makes it easier for you to budget your money. 

When searching for a tour guide, make sure you find somebody with knowledge of the area. And of course, you want to hire a company that is known for offering high quality and safe tours of the country.

There is a lot that goes into planning a trip to Vietnam. What are you waiting for? This can be more affordable than many people believe. In fact, a lot of travelers soon find that this country is more affordable than many others.

A good travel operator can play a major role in the success of your Vietnam holidays, especially if you are a foreigner. Besides planning your Vietnam Tour Package, there are many other things that a reputed travel operator can do for you. An experienced agent will help you obtain important documents to enter the country, obtain competitive prices for flight and accommodation bookings and ensure that all entry tickets to sightseeing destinations and holiday activities are booked much in advance so you don't waste time doing it yourself on arrival.

Now that you know more about cheap travel deals and tours, you can begin planning your trip to Vietnam. Are you ready to have the time of your life?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Notes from Travel Talk - Let's Talk About Scuba!

It was great to be back in decent enough health to put on another Travel Talk! November's travel talk was hosted by Diventures and was all about Scuba - what it takes to get certified, the various types of scuba, and recommendations on where to dive.

Ethan told us that there are 4 phases to scuba certification at Diventures. During these phases, you are able to get all of your equipment fitted exactly to you so that you are as comfortable as possible. Classes are offered all year round with various time options. You can also sign up for private sessions. Once you are certified, you can add additional special certifications, including but not limited to underwater photography, boat diving, and stress and rescue.

Diventures believes that the best places to dive are:
- Grand Cayan
- Australia
- Cozumel **This one is the most popular spot in the world!**
- Thailand
- Curacao
- Bonaire
There is a difference between the Atlantic and Pacific, Caribbean and Asia so they recommend checking out more than one spot!

If you're not sure you want to "dive right in" to a scuba certification, Diventures offers a "Try Scuba" class on Sundays. It is all ages and only $75. If you decide after that class that you do want to get scuba certified, they'll apply $50 of the class fee to your next Scuba class!

You do need to be able to swim and to get medical clearance from a doctor, but most people are able to get certified.

Diventures has an attached retail store with a variety of diving gear, and a pool that goes to 14ft deep for plenty of practice. They also offer some group trips to various diving destinations, and you can find flyers for those trips in the retail store.

If you prefer to scuba without the group, or would like to set up your own group, please don't hesitate to contact Operation Relax!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Gum Wall - Germy or Genius?

If you've ever visited Seattle and wandered downtown, you may have noticed an unusual bit of art on the wall of the Pike Place Market Theater.

Well, ok, "art" is a subjective term - some people think it's art, still others (myself included) find it to be a disgusting wall of germs and nasty.

Whether you see it as germy or genius, one thing is certain - the Gum Wall is coming down. What started as probably a bit of nasty vandalism by a theater patron who mistakenly felt that it was totally acceptable to leave their chewing gum stuck to a public wall back in 1993 found itself being added to by more and more people. Despite the poor theater workers trying to go after it and scrape it off, the gum kept accumulating and in 1999 the market officials deemed it a "tourist attraction" so the theater just gave up.

Apprarently, it has garnered a lot of attention, including being used as backdrop for wedding photos (really? ew!) and also appearing in the film "Love Happens." It was also rated the 2nd germiest tourist attraction in 2009 (not sure that's something to be proud of, Seattle!) - and was still on the list in 2013.

This week, the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority announced that they have hired a company to power wash all the gum off the wall once and for all. The move was because they were worried about how the gum (which we all know has sugar and all kinds of other weird additives) was eroding the bricks on the building.

The cleaning will begin on November 10th, so I suppose anyone who is worried that they can't have the happiest day of their lives memorialized in front of an estimated 1 million pieces of sticky and saliva better get over there fast. ;) The cleaning is expected to take a couple of days at a cost of around $4,000.

What will happen to the gum? The PPMPDA (because I didn't want to type their long name again lol) will have it weighed - because that's apparently a vital piece of information to have - and then they will just throw it into the garbage where it will sit for all eternity, because gum doesn't compost.

It is predicted that after the walls are scrubbed clean, people will restart the wall with new gum, which makes it feel a little futile.

What do you think - is the gum wall worth rebuilding, or should people keep their masticated rubber and spit to themselves?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Collect Memories, Not Things: Honeymoon Registries

Earlier today, I posted what has to be one of my favorite travel memes:

Obviously as a travel agent, one of the biggest priorities in my financial life is finding money for travel! ;) I don't usually go for gadgets (heck, I still use a Note 2 and they have already come out with a Note 5), and a couple of years ago my husband and I actually decided to downsize to try to live a more simple life.

While our lifestyle isn't for everyone, one thing that most people can agree on is that when it comes to wedding gifts, it's often the experiences that are treasured and not necessarily the toaster or wine glasses. I can't tell you what all I received from my guests at my reception, but I can tell you that I cherished the conversations and the gathering of so many people I loved - and I can tell you that without my loved ones, we would never have been able to take a honeymoon!! Back when we got married, there weren't really a lot of options to give the gift of travel without shelling out significant money, but we were blessed by an outpouring of gift cards and the donation of some hotel nights as we left our reception straight for our moving trailer and moved several states away!

Thankfully, giving the gift of travel is so much easier these days thanks to a genius idea called a honeymoon registry. Similar to a wedding registry you might find at a big box store, a honeymoon registry is a place where you can purchase different experiences for the bride and groom, picked out by the couple themselves! You can chip in toward airfare, resort fees, a romantic candlelight dinner on the beach, or even a couples massage.

At Operation Relax, we have partnered with Honeyfund to help couples create fantastic honeymoon registries, and help guests provide the perfect memories for their loved ones. The couple has total control over their registry and chooses what they add to the registry and how they want to handle payments. Honeyfund is a FREE platform, but it does offer some upgraded enhancements for a small fee. Couples can choose to book their travel prior to setting up the registry and then apply payments as they come in from guests, or can choose to wait to book their honeymoon until they see what kinds of funds they have been able to raise to cover some or all of the costs.

Overall, a honeymoon registry can be a wonderful experience for both the couple starting their new lives together and the guests who are celebrating their love! Feel free to contact Operation Relax to set up your honeymoon registry at any time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Make your Technology Travel Savvy

Let's be real - most of us are unable to "unplug" from our technology these days, even while on vacation. Some people even get anxious about having less-than-stellar connections on their devices, to the extent that there are certain types of vacations and/or destinations that they refuse to even consider!

So, how can you make your technology less stressful while on vacation? Here's a few travel tips for your technology:

1)  Leave it at home!!
Yeah, ok, I probably wouldn't follow that one either. BUT, remind yourself that you do deserve to have some downtime, and make a rule that you can only use your technology devices for a certain amount of time per day. Then get out there and enjoy your vacation!

2) Know the costs involved.
Most of us don't have international plans, so before you leave check with your service providers to find out how much it might cost to check your email or send texts while overseas. Do a little research or ask your travel agent about wifi options at your resort or destination - many places these days realize how connected we are and are providing wifi at a cost or free.

3) Keep your devices safe.
When you aren't using your device, utilize your in-room safe if you have one. If not, or if you'd rather keep your device on you, make sure you pack clothing with big pockets! ;) Or you could purchase a HipKlip from me - it's a clippable pocket with enough room for your cellphone, ID, and keys. Just remember to always keep an eye on your device if you have it with you at the pool or other crowded place where it could be easily stolen.

4) Plug it in.
Don't forget your charger! But also, don't forget that not all countries have the same electrical outlets, so it's a good idea to invest in an adapter or converter if you like to travel frequently. Some rooms may not have a lot of outlet space, so if you have a little extra room in your luggage bring along a power strip too.

5) Get familiar with your device.
Devices can be a little complicated these days, so make sure you take the time to learn how to turn on the airplane mode, what it looks like when it's picking up a roaming signal, etc. It can help you to avoid unwanted charges.

6) Don't do data-heavy work.
Yes, sometimes emails are important to answer immediately. But you shouldn't plan on watching live-streaming services like Hulu or Netflix, or downloading huge files. While these may still work some places, most of the time international roaming or free wifi can lead to slower or lower quality connections that can make these things impossible.

As you can see, it is still possible to stay "plugged in" while on vacation if you choose - just plan ahead!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

It's National Plan a Cruise Vacation Month!

It's October, which means it's one of my favorite times of the year - Fall! :)

Ok, ok, it's not just fall that makes it my favorite (although it is my fave season), it's also National Plan a Cruise Vacation Month! One of my favorite types of vacations is a cruise vacation, and I love helping others discover how fun it can be. Using a travel agent to book a cruise continues to be the most popular way to book a cruise (which makes me happy)! In fact, go here to read 5 great reasons to book your cruise with a travel agent.

This is one of the BEST times of the year to book your cruise, because just about every cruise line out there has a special going on. Not only that, but you can also enter to win a FREE CRUISE by participating in the #CruiseSmile contest! All you have to do is go to and follow the instructions to be entered to win the daily cruise giveaway. You can get extra entries by posting your "Cruise Smile" photo on Twitter or Instragram using #cruisesmile and #sweepstakes (sadly, not on Facebook, for those of you like me who prefer that over the other two). And don't worry - you just have to upload a pic of you smiling, not necessarily one of you on a ship, so if you haven't cruised before you can still enter to win!! You can upload a new picture every day.

Even if you don't win one of the free daily cruise giveaways, you can still get some INCREDIBLE cruise deals! Here's a list of some of the deals that I can get you when you book with Operation Relax:

- Ama Waterways: $100 off per person ($200 off per stateroom) on ALL cruises - and when you book with me, you also get a $50 onboard credit! This offer DOES combine with all other current offers with this cruise line!

- American Cruise Lines: $1,000 off  their holiday river cruises on the Independence and American Eagle!

- Avalon Waterways: Save $1500 per couple on select 2016 river cruises!

- Azamara Club Cruises: Up to $500 onboard spending money on select 2016 sailings!

- Carnival: Special Early Saver rates plus a $50 per stateroom onboard credit for 2016 to April 2017 cruise bookings, PLUS a $100 per stateroom onboard credit for select Carnival Vista 2016 European sailings! Carnival is also offering a GROUP SPECIAL - you can earn one FREE berth for every 10 full fares paid, rather than the usual 15 full fares!

- Celebrity: 50% reduced deposits plus up to $300 onboard credit on select 4 night or longer 2016 cruises!

- Costa: Take a 7 Day Eastern or Western Mediterranean cruise starting from only $595 per person, and Balconies start at $995 per person, PLUS up to $400 onboard credit AND 50% reduced deposit!

- Cunard: $150 reduced deposit plus FREE upgrades on 2016 transatlantic and Mediterranean voyages!

- Holland America: Get the "Explore 4" offers with select January 2016 to April 2017 cruises! Explore 4 includes: a FREE Signature Beverage Package, FREE Pinnacle Grill dinner for two, reduced cruise fares for 3rd and 4th guests in cabin, and 50% reduced deposits!

- MSC Cruises: Book a Caribbean 2016 or 2017 cruise and receive up to $600 in shipboard credit PLUS a beverage package and dinner for 2 in a specialty restaurant! PLUS, you can combine this with Kids Sail Free for select dates, AND you get a free 5x7 onboard photo!

- Norwegian: Book any 2015 cruise and choose one of the following offers: FREE unlimited beverage package, FREE specialty dining, FREE WiFi, or FREE Shore Excursions! PLUS, book a suite or above category and get ALL FOUR OFFERS!

- Princess: 3 for FREE promotion on select 6 day cruises Summer 2016 to Spring 2017, where you can get the following: FREE stateroom location upgrade, FREE gratuities for the first 2 guests in a stateroom, and FREE specialty dining for 2! PLUS, book a Mini-Suite or Suite and get a FREE bottle of wine! PLUS, deposits have been lowered to only $100 per person!

- Royal Caribbean: Buy one guest, get the second 50% off PLUS FREE upgrades and FREE gratuities on select sailings!

- Windstar: Save up to 59% PLUS get 2 FREE hotel nights to use pre- or post-cruise PLUS get a $100 onboard credit PER PERSON on select sailings!

So what are you waiting for? If you love to cruise, or have always wanted to try one, NOW is definitely the time to get "onboard" and book a cruise with your travel agent! ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Dirty Little Secret About the Travel Industry - and 8 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent Instead of Booking Direct!

Recently, I was inspired to write a blog post regarding why I choose to charge a small, refundable Plan to Go Fee (you can check out that post here). It touches on a few things that many people don't know about the travel industry, like how airlines just plain hate everyone in equal measure.

But I think it's time to reveal a little more.

First, let's face it - we are an online society and love to do as much online as possible. That's cool, I totally get it (and not just because I fall into the "Milllenial" age range, though admittedly at the upper end of it). So where do a lot of people go to book vacations - Expedia? Orbitz? Travelocity? Directly with the resort/cruise line/hotel/etc?


Oh, because they say they have the lowest price? They GUARANTEE they have the lowest price? Huh. Well, that might be true - but it's not the whole truth. See, they do have the best price - but so does Operation Relax, any other booking engine, or any other travel agent.


True story, we all have access to the same prices 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time it might just be that we aren't comparing apples to apples (for example, you found a great hotel deal online and assumed air was included - it wasn't - so our quote looks higher but only because we included air) or because the hotel/cruise line/resort/whatever is being douche-y and trying to make travel agents look bad (and yes, that does happen sometimes. In that case, we usually are up front and honest with you about it). Why would they do that? Well, when you book direct, they pocket the commission that would normally go to us, so it's kinda like they get paid a little bit more for you doing all the work of booking yourself rather than having us do it for you.

Let's think about that a little more - they get paid for YOU doing the work? Wow. That's kind of like performing your own professional dental cleaning and then still paying the dental bill when it comes in the mail.

So what about booking with a travel agent? Well, that means WE do the work for you, and then THEY pay us. Not you. There is a little misunderstanding that by using a travel agent you are paying us directly. Most of the time, that's not true (the caveat being that sometimes there might be a refundable Plan to Go Fee like Operation Relax charges, or you might be booking something - like airfare only - that doesn't pay commission and thus we'd have to charge you if we wanted to get paid to work, which is perfectly reasonable right?). So by booking with a travel agent like me, you are paying someone to do the work, and helping to support a small business!

In case that's not enough of a reason for you, here are eight more reasons:

1)  When it comes to travel, I'm smarter than you. 

That might sound mean, but it's true. See, I actually take classes on travel. I think about travel every day. I spend hours reading travel magazines and books, watching travel webinars, and randomly surfing Pinterest for pictures of travel destinations that I think are something I should learn more about. I'm not alone in this - all good travel agents spend their time doing the same things! We also go to conferences, visit places on educational familiarization trips, and even do resort inspections where we often spend hours walking all over a resort and seeing EVERY TYPE OF ROOM in the resort along with all of the common areas just so we can specifically know whether or not a Beachfront Tiki Bombtastic Room is worth an upgrade from the Beachfront Tiki SortaCool Room.

Here's a great example - let's say you found a great deal for a trip to Jamaica in October. You're feeling pretty great about it, until I remind you that it's hurricane season and that Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are usually the worst hit by hurricanes. Then I can guide you to places that are usually less affected by hurricanes, like St. Lucia or Grenada.

Or let's say you want to go to the Cancun area for a vacation. So you head over to Expedia and you do a search for Cancun and... HOLY SMOKES! There are over 250 options. So you think - no problem, let me narrow it down to all-inclusive resorts. BOOM! That brings you to 55. That seems great,until you find yourself still elbow-deep in Trip Advisor reviews several hours later with no real idea as to which resort would give you the best spot to just hang in a hammock all day because that's not actually an option on Expedia for narrowing things down and no one on Trip Advisor has talked about it... argh!

Yeah, no worries, I got this. I've been to the area, can show you a picture of a spot where I've hung out in a hammock, I have a great relationship with the resort and just lined you up a free drink package, and I've just saved you hours of stress-eating. Just sayin'.

2)  Along that line - we get perks for our clients.

Part of the reason we spend so much of our time (and money) visiting resorts, taking their tours, and going to conferences is to build relationships with them. Not only that, but because of our volume, they are more likely to give us little luxuries that we can share with you. These aren't things that you can get when you book with Orbitz or Travelocity.

I don't want to mislead you - we can't ALWAYS get you goodies. But I can guarantee you that we always ask!

3)  There's a good chance I've been there.

Or there. Or there. Travel agents go a lot of places and see a lot of things. Often even when we "vacation," we line up multiple resort inspections to do "on the side" - for example, when I was in Negril I didn't just go to Sandals, I also checked out Beaches and Grand Pineapple. Resorts want agents to sell them, so they often invite us to come check them out. In 2015 so far, I have been to 3 countries with over 7 destination stops. In a previous year, I took 3 cruises - yep, in ONE YEAR. What can I say - not only do I love to sell travel, but I love to travel myself!

4) And if I haven't been there, I know someone that has.

I won't lie and say I've been everywhere - there's only so much travel time I can do (and only so much money I can spend on it). But I know people - LOTS of people. And a lot of the people I know are other travel agents! So maybe I won't know the best place to get lunch in Paris since Europe isn't really my "thing" right now, but I can guarantee that I know someone that not only knows the best place but also what time to get there and who to ask for. I'm part of a network of over 2,100 travel agents all over the world. If we all average sending out clients on about 14 trips per month, that means so far this year we've booked 176,400 trips. So yeah, that's a lot!

Not to mention, I keep tabs on my clients' travel experiences. I check in with them after travel and ask them to share their experiences, and I keep those in mind for future clients. I have clients that are braver than me - for example, the one that went skydiving in Vegas - or have different interests than me - for example, the one that went deep sea fishing and caught a SHARK - and I use those experiences to help me create a more comprehensive look at each destination.

5) My reviews are always honest.

If you follow my Facebook page or watch my YouTube tours, you'll see that I leave nothing out. If it smells, I tell you. If the beach isn't really up to par, I'll tell you that too. I'll also let you know when I place is so indescribably beautiful that you really have to go see it yourself (like here).

Have you looked at Trip Advisor reviews before? Some of them aren't even legitimately decent - for example, one couple who DIDN'T EVEN GO TO A RESORT was complaining about a resort and gave them a bad review. Seriously. Or sometimes people write glowing reviews for a resort because they are given a free upgrade if they do it.

Unless you know the person writing the review, and think they are an honest reviewer, you probably won't get much off of third party review sites. While it is true that sometimes resorts ask me to come stay for free, they are always told that I'm going to be honest with my clients when it comes to reviewing the resort.

6) I actually AM glad to get your call, or email!

It's not just something forced upon me by a telemarketing script. Honestly, hearing from prospective travelers and helping them plan trips often causes me to break out in my happy dance and subsequently terrify my cats (true story).

I LOVE working in the travel industry. This isn't just a "job" for me, but a way of life. I feel amazing getting to send travelers out into the world and see all of their pictures and experiences.

Similarly, when things go bad, I care and I feel sadness and anger on your behalf, and I fight for you. It's not something I "have" to do, but something I want to do. Recently, I had a client come back from a stay at a resort with a terrible experience. She was honest with me and showed me pictures of the problems. I took those pictures and her complaints and brought them directly to the top of the hierarchy and made the company aware of the problems. She didn't ask me to get anything for her, and probably didn't expect me to do more than listen to her complain. But my work on her behalf, and some additional followup, granted me the opportunity to obtain for her a formal apology plus a future travel credit! It made me feel like a fat white Oprah. ;) Does that always happen? No. Sometimes I bring forth the complaints and nothing happens, but you better believe I am always in your corner.

7) And as seen above, when it comes to resorts we are VIPs. 

This kind of ties back in with the perks things - resorts realize how much power travel agents have, and they often make sure to keep us happy. They want me to sell them, and I won't sell them if I think they have mistreated a client. So if I call or email a resort, they listen and usually answer. Can you say that about BookIt?

Here's a personal story - before I was a travel agent, I went to visit my sis in Chicago and booked a hotel. I chose one that had a kitchen so I could cook my own food (having food allergies makes you aware of things like that) and chose a nonsmoking room. It's a bit of a drive from Omaha to Chicago - 8 hours - so we arrived at check in later in the evening, around 7pm. They gave us a room key and sent us on our way. We got in the room, and I was immediately wheezing from the smoke! So we turned right back around and went to the front desk and explained the problem, even showing them where we had booked a nonsmoking room (through an online booking engine that rhymes with "sex media"). Their response? "Sorry, we don't have any nonsmoking rooms available. We can check again tomorrow but you'll have to stay there tonight." Um, NO. I couldn't breathe, so there was no way that was going to work. So we tried calling that super special online booking site. After being transferred a few times, we found someone that could "help" us - they said they'd book us a room elsewhere and we'd still have to pay for it, and then in 10 business days we'd have our refund from the other room. WHAT?!? You want me to pay for ANOTHER hotel without even having the money back from this one yet? By the way, it was almost 10pm by then. Long story short - we ended up crashing at my sister's for the night, then having to pay out of pocket for a different room while we waited 10 business days for a refund for the first room. At no time did anyone apologize or think it was unusual - see, apparently if you book via an online booking engine you are a "non priority" client (it's in their fine print) so you aren't actually guaranteed what you booked.

Now that I'm a travel agent, things tend to go a little better than that. ;)

8) I work for YOU.

So if all of these examples haven't made it clear enough: I work for YOU. Why go it alone and hope everything works out when you can work with someone who knows what they are doing and can make it easier? One of Operation Relax's primary goals is making travel as stress-free as possible for our clients. It doesn't cost you anything extra to work with me, and I can help you nab the vacation that makes all of your friends drool over your pictures and stories.

Ready to get going? Stop by or contact Jess at 402-590-2012 to start your booking.

This post was inspired by my fellow travel agent at Vacationisms Worldwide Travel. You can find her post here .

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Notes from Travel Talk - Let's Talk About Our Favorite Places

This month's travel talk was an open forum discussion on our favorite places - basically, it was a type of "show and tell" and we exchanged stories on places we loved visiting.

The group was small but hearty! ;) Here are the two places we talked about:

- The Azores
-- are 9 volcanic islands halfway between Boston, MA and Lisbon, Portugal
-- have an incredible array of hiking trails, wildlife, and rural settings including mountains and lakes
-- more rustic than "resort"
-- have a great mild climate year round and are known for their great whale and dolphin watching
-- one of their primary businesses is growing tea and pineapple, and making flavored liquors

- New Zealand
-- has a small population overall (about 4 million) but most are located in Auckland
-- were originally settled by the Maori people from the Pacific Islands, not aborigines like in Australia
-- includes unique geographic settings, which can go from beach to forest to plain all within walking distance
-- more rustic than resort, but has some resort options
-- home to one of the world's greatest surfing schools
-- used by many popular filmmakers because of it's unique geography

Hopefully this sparked your imagination and added some new items to your "must visit" list!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Notes from Travel Talk: Let's Talk About Group Travel

Operation Relax was so excited and proud to host our first ever travel talk on Tuesday June 16th. If you weren't able to make the meeting, we wanted to make sure you still got an abbreviated look at what was discussed! :)

Let's Talk About... Group Travel

- What is a group?
-- Open to the public or closed
-- Recurring or one time
-- Traditional or Flexible

- Always work with a travel agent!
-- Perks for leaders
-- Perks for group members
-- They take care of lining everything up
-- Knowledge of places that offer group specials

- Ideas and planning
-- Plan early (9-12 months)
-- Try to avoid having final payments due in December/January
-- Types of groups (including business, family, schools, special interest)
-- Group idea tree (see the Groups page on the Operation Relax website for a template and instructions)

- Executing
--Narrow your idea tree
-- Set it up with your travel agent
-- Start booking
-- Advertise

- Upcoming Operation Relax Trips
-- Mexico in August 2015
-- Alaska cruise in June 2016

Monday, May 25, 2015

Plan to Go Fees - What They Are and Why You Pay Them

As a travel agent who does several conventions and shows throughout the year, I often hear people tell me that they can't afford to do business with a travel agent. There seems to be some misunderstanding on two major points - 1) how travel agents get paid; and 2) what fees (if any) are charged by travel agents.

The first answer is fairly simple - for most types of travel, to most areas of the world, travel agents are paid a commission rate or fee from the supplier at no extra cost to you. Often if you find a rate listed online - for example, a hotel in Omaha at $199/night - you can contact us and we can book the same room for the exact same price, with the only difference being that the hotel pays us 10% of the rate rather than pocketing it for themselves. There are some exceptions - highly complex itineraries, for example, may warrant a charge on behalf of the additional time and difficulty of the work - but most of the time we receive our pay directly from our suppliers and not from the client. 

The second answer takes a little more explaining.

Years ago (prior to September 11,2001), airlines used to pay commission to travel agents of about 10% of the cost of the air tickets. This benefited the airlines for the new business, and the travel agent was able to add just air-only bookings to their repertoire. This also meant the airlines didn't need to hire as many staff members to run their phone lines, and it meant travel agents had a way to make consistent earnings no matter if they sold a small trip, large trip, business trip, or any other type of trip.

That all changed as airlines moved more toward online booking engines - they began capping commissions, then just flat out got rid of them. Travel agents could still sell air travel, but the only way they would be paid is to charge for a fee - and only some clients felt that the advice and guidance from a travel agent was worth an extra charge.

Other travel industry suppliers followed suit by lowering the commission amounts paid on travel, or by adding in non-commissionable items to their travel packages. For example, a cruise may have a base rate of $299 that the travel agent would be paid 10% on, but then they still have another $200 of taxes and fees that the travel agent does not earn commission on, and they also won't earn commission on the airfare to get to and from the cruise port. 

This has led to travel agents, especially those with smaller and/or home-based travel agencies, to charge fees. Some charge flat fees just on air purchases, others choose not to sell air-only travel, while still others who may or may not charge for air-only travel charge what are commonly referred to as Plan to Go fees - refundable fees that cover the time it takes for a travel agent to research and put together a quote for a client. This fee is used toward the travel package if purchased, or retained by the travel agent for time rendered on services if the client purchases elsewhere. 

As Operation Relax chooses to decline selling air-only travel, we will only address the topic of the Plan to Go Fee. We have one (currently an incredibly low $15 fee that is refunded once you book your travel with us) and feel that it adds to the quality of our service.

The reason behind a Plan to Go Fee is simple - while many travelers are honorable and loyal to a particular travel agent, many others consider using any means necessary to get the lowest price point - including getting a travel agent to build a customized travel itinerary, then going directly to the travel supplier(s) involved and seeing if they can talk them down in price by booking direct (thus meaning the hotel/resort/etc doesn't have to pay a commission to the travel agent). This fee is designed to maintain the integrity of the relationship between the client and the travel agent. It covers our time in the research and planning stages of your vacation, much in the same way you would compensate other professionals (attorneys, accountants, etc). This fee is often refundable or able to be applied directly to your vacation if you choose to book with the travel agent, but is retained if you choose to take your business elsewhere. 

So called "friends" can be the worst enemy of a travel agent. They often ask for advice or even itineraries but often don't follow through in booking as they either change their mind or find a slightly cheaper rate elsewhere. While most people wouldn't consider calling up their doctor or attorney to ask for advice without expecting to pay, those same people often assume that they can do this with travel agents even though travel agents also spend hours and hours to become experts in their field. Most likely it isn't done out of malice or specific dislike for the travel agent, so much as a general lack of knowledge as to how much work is put in by the travel agent and an overall bargain-hunting mindset. 

I could give plenty of examples from many travel agents of instances where they wish they had charged a Plan to Go Fee but didn't and it cost them time (and sometimes money) - but suffice it to say, while most of us in the travel profession truly do see it as a labor of love, we still do need to get paid for what we do. No business can stay open doing work for free. So it's often one of the only ways we can ensure that our time is being devoted to those who are devoted to us. 

I've been asked a few times why I have a Plan To Go Agreement with a $15 refundable Plan to Go Fee. The easy answer is this: I want to make sure that my time can be focused on my clients who are serious about purchasing a vacation, or who have already booked and need additional assistance. Any trip research, if done correctly, takes a large amount of time and energy. If the client chooses not to book, I have no way to recoup the time and energy I spent on their travel request (which took away from the time and energy I could have given to someone else).Thus, my fee helps to cover my time if you choose not to book, or is refunded back to you if you do book with me. I give personal care and attention to all of my clients, usually an average of 10-20 hours per vacation or more! Doesn't that sound worth $15?  
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We understand that our Plan to Go Fee is low in comparison to the industry average of about $100. We felt that being native Midwesterners and understanding the lower wages in this area that we wanted to have a fee that wasn't prohibitive, especially if you are shopping other agents who also charge Plan to Go Fees. We appreciate your understanding and hope that our blog today has created a better understanding of how your travel agents are paid! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Seen it all in Orlando? Think again!

Have you been to Orlando lately? Even if you have, you might want to take a second look as Orlando continues to expand its offerings for tourists of all ages!

So what else is there to do besides the "big three" theme parks (Disney, Universal, and Seaworld)? Lots, and many of them are right along the major tourism road International Drive! You probably already know about some of them, like Legoland and the Orange County Convention Center, but here are a few that are either opening soon or have just recently opened:

-  Orlando Eye: Yep, just like London, Orlando is getting an "Eye"! It will be a whopping 400 feet tall, making it the tallest observation wheel in the Eastern U.S. The compartments will be air-conditioned and able to hold up to 15 passengers. Before you board, you'll be able to attend a 4D theater experience showcasing Florida landmarks.
- The StarFlyer: Want to have a different viewing experience that keeps you out in the open? The StarFlyer will be a 420-foot swing, the tallest StarFlyer in the world! It's like your favorite carnival ride, just much much taller.
- The Skyscraper: 420 feet isn't tall enough for you? How about a 570-foot roller coaster? The Skyscraper is being described as the world's tallest roller coaster, climbing up past 50 stories and then plummeting at speeds up to 65 miles per hour - yipes! There will be an observation deck for those of you like me who'd rather just allow their loved ones to ride, along with several other ride options in an indoor theme park called the Sky-Plex.
- Madame Tussauds: The world-famous wax museum is setting up a new shop in Orlando, and just like its sisters and brothers around the world, it's sure to be amazing! Never been to one? Check out this quick video I made at the Madame Tussauds in Vegas:

- Sea Life Aquarium: Great for young visitors, this educational Aquarium will feature more than 5,000 sea creatures throughout numerous types of displays, including 180-degree underwater tunnels.
- I-Drive Nascar: This attraction opened in December 2014 and is THE place to go for indoor karting, with electric karts that can go up to 45 miles per hour. There is also bowling and an arcade available for those who don't like to kart.
- Escapeology: Another attraction that opened in December, this themed attraction involves teams of 2 to 5 who must work together to find clues and solve puzzles that allow them to escape a room within 60 minutes. If you love puzzles, crime shows, or just want to do some family bonding, this is a great option for you! Fall in love but run out of themes? Travel to nearby Winter Park (just outside of Orlando) and visit It's A Trap, which hosts similar games but with a more video-game theme.
- Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts: Catch a show and rest your feet after a long day at one of the theme parks at this new community space taking up a full two city blocks.

So, next time you visit Orlando, make sure to ask your travel agent to add on one of these amazing new attractions and add some extra flair to your trip! Don't have a travel agent? We're always happy to take on new clients at Operation Relax! Visit us online at and start planning your next vacation.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why I'm So Excited About the Quantum of the Seas (and her sister ship, the Anthem)

As a travel agent, I see a lot of cool and exciting places and ships. But none of them has excited me as much as the arrival of Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas!

Ever since the ship was announced a couple of years ago, I've eagerly gobbled up every tidbit of information, each mock design, and all videos discussing what was happening with the build and release.

Then to top that off - they picked none other than Kristin Chenowith to be the Godmother of the ship! :)

So what is it about the Quantum of the Seas (and her identical sister Anthem of the Seas, which will debut in November) that has this travel agent in a tizzy?

1) The Quantum of the Seas is the world's first "smart" ship! It's chock full of technology, from the fastest internet at sea to the Royal IQ app (where you can book dinner reservations, spa appointments, and excursions) to faster boarding by pre-uploading your passport and information to ... wait for it... ROBOTIC BARTENDERS!!! Yep, you can get your favorite shaken and stirred beverage from a cool futuristic robot-thingy.

2) The Quantum of the Seas has SOOOO MUCH TO DO! Sure, it has the features that many of the newer Royal Caribbean ships have, such as a climbing wall and the Flow Rider surf simulator. But now there's also the North Star, which is this orb that rotates out over the ocean with amazing views; the RipCord, an indoor sky diving simulator; and bumper cars - and a slew of other activities within the same area, including skating in a roller skating rink, and a circus training school with a trapeze. There's so many great choices for people of all ages and skill levels.

3) The Quantum of the Seas brings Broadway to the sea! Ok ok, so Royal Caribbean already offers that on other ships, but it will be awesome in the new theater But one offering that the Quantum will have that is new is the Earth Harp, which is the coolest thing to see but impossible to describe. However, I found a video that should help.

4) The Quantum of the Seas has Dynamic Dining - no giant main dining room! Instead, there are four smaller themed dining areas that are still free of charge. There are still restaurants that charge a fee, but you are no longer confined to one area to eat.

5) The Quantum of the Seas is chock full of the best rooms - balconies! In fact, 90 percent of the ship features balconies. And of the rooms that don't have a "real" balcony, many of them have "virtual" balconies - video screens live streaming the ocean that make you feel like you have a floor to ceiling window!

Can you blame me for being excited to get to experience this ship in April?!? It's going to be great! Just a heads up - the Quantum is leaving the US for Asia in May, so if you miss the chance to sail on her you'll have to wait for the Anthem to arrive in November.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The World from your Couch

These days, a TV is a regular staple of our homes. In fact, the average American home has at least 2 TVs, and the average American watching a whopping 5 hours of television each day (which, when considering that most of us work at least 8 hours per day, is a bit ridiculous - it's like watching tv is our part time job on the side!)!

So this means that you have most likely stumbled upon a show that had travel at it's core - maybe The Amazing Race or Bizarre Foods or Rick Steve's Europe. Perhaps you caught a documentary, or a fictionalized movie that got your mind blurring what is real and not real.

Either way, there's one truth - television can help to make the world seem a lot smaller.

However, that comes with a catch - when you watch these shows, you may see many fascinating places, but you aren't really getting the full experience. For example, you can always watch one of my travel videos (like the one below from my visit to Furnas, in Sao Miguel in the Azores), but you won't be able to experience the smoke burning your eyes or have the stench of sulfur choke you while you bravely try to pretend like it's not so bad.

True, that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I think you understand what I am illustrating - there is often no substitute for getting out and experiencing the world yourself. You may discover that the world is actually a big place filled with fascinating people and extraordinary phenomena, some of which may not be around much longer with the way the climate has been changing.

My challenge to you is to try to get in at least one international trip in your lifetime. It can be something relatively simple - such as a cruise down to the Bahamas where you can try conch fritters for the first time while enjoying island music - or something relatively complicated - like a trip around Europe via rail and car. You can do this with a travel agent (my completely biased first pick for you lol) or maybe turn in your credit card points or book something yourself.

The world really is bigger when you go out and see it firsthand - it's much more fun than settling in for a night on the couch!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Upcoming Show Schedule for 2015 - Come Meet Jess!

Who's that girl? It's Jess! :) Ok, seriously though, have you ever wanted to put a face to the name and meet the owner of Operation Relax? Well, you have several chances to see Jess in person all over Nebraska in 2015!

Operation Relax is proud to be participating in many great shows and events throughout the area this year, providing free travel brochures while selling our travel accessory products (currently HipKlips and Mighty Wallets). Even if you don't want to buy a product, feel free to stop in for a free travel brochure or to talk travel with Jess at any of these shows.

You can also find a continuously updating list on our website: . We update the list every two weeks or so with new additions or changes to our schedule.

Hope to see you there!

Show Schedule 2015 (as of 2-4-15): 
- Feb 15  Norfolk Bridal & Prom Extravaganza, Norfolk, NE
- Feb 20-22  Abate Bike Show, Lincoln, NE
- Mar 1  Lincoln Pius X Spring Fling, Lincoln, NE
- Mar 15  Omaha Bridal Showcase, Omaha, NE
- Mar 20-22  Husker Lawn & Leisure Show, Lincoln, NE
- Mar 29  Nebraska Bridal Show, York, NE
- Apr 3-4  Mother of All Garage Sales, Lincoln, NE
- Apr 11  St Wenceslaus Spring Bowtique, Omaha, NE
- Apr 25  West O Spring Boutique, Omaha, NE
- May 8-10  ConStellation 6, Lincoln, NE
- May 16  Woofstock, North Platte, NE
- May 29-31  O! Comic Con, Omaha, NE
- June 12-14  Wizard World, Des Moines, IA
- July 4  Seward 4th of July Celebration, Seward, NE
- July 10-12  John C Fremont Days, Fremont, NE
- Aug 28-Sept 7  Nebraska State Fair, Grand Island, NE
- Sept 18-20 AppleJack Festival, Nebraska City, NE
- Sept 26  Bryan High School Fall Craft Show, Bellevue, NE
- Oct 3  Harvest Arts & Crafts Boutique, Gretna, NE
- Oct 24  St Wenceslaus Fall Bowtique, Omaha, NE
- Nov 6-8  Anime NebrasKon, Omaha, NE
- Nov 21-22  Norfolk Yuletide Market, Norfolk, NE

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Traveling with Food Allergies

Before I even became a travel agent, I was already dealing with one important aspect of vacation planning - traveling with food allergies! I'd find myself spending hours ahead of time finding eating options along the route or in the destinations, and even avoided some areas just because I was afraid I wouldn't find anything to eat.

It's actually one big reason I promote working with a travel agent - we can help you find ways to make it work, contact resorts ahead of time with instructions, and may even be able to line up something special! We also know which resorts and cruises are better at handling food allergies than others. While not all travel agents have food allergies, all travel agents should be able to help you navigate the travel landscape to make sure that you can enjoy what you eat while on vacation.

I also recommend looking into helpful apps to enhance your dining experiences while on the road. For example, I have a gluten allergy, so I frequently reference two great apps - Find Me Gluten Free, and Gluten Free Registry. While they are not always up to date and it's still worth calling ahead, they still make finding a last minute option much easier (and keep me from just relying on 1-2 national chains that I quickly get tired of). For your particular food allergy, just do a Google search to see if there are apps available.

As you may know if you are also a fan of my Facebook page, I LOVE to cruise - and it has been getting easier to eat onboard every year! Many of the cruise lines will set you up with a specific dining room attendant or server who can help you pre-plan your meals, and Royal Caribbean even has several main allergens clearly marked on their menus and buffet descriptions.

Resorts are also getting much better, even despite the language barrier. My personal preferences are the Karisma resorts (such as El Dorado Maroma), Disney, and Sandals/Beaches. Here is a video I took of my quick informal meeting with the culinary concierge at Sandals Whitehouse - it's a free service available to all guests where you can meet to discuss dietary restrictions, allergy concerns, or anything else that needs to be examined when it comes to food.
What cruise lines/resorts have YOU found to be the most accommodating when it comes to food allergies?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Must-Have Vacation Accessories for a Stress-Free Vacation

Maybe you've been planning for months, or maybe you've just booked on a whim, but regardless you now find yourself getting ready to pack for your dream vacation. You know all the usual things to bring - clothes, sunblock, bug spray, medications, etc - but are there other accessories that could enhance your vacation experience?

My answer is: YES!

I'm not "stuff-centric", and definitely don't have "stuff-itis" - in fact, I tend to live with as little stuff as possible so that I can travel more! :) But there are some items that I definitely feel are worth investing in to help make your vacation experience more stress-free so you can really enjoy yourself.

First (and I'm a little biased on this one), I just can't live without my HipKlips! HipKlips are AMAZING clippable pockets that are PERFECT for when you want to be out enjoying your vacation without lugging a full purse everywhere. They clip to any waistband, or even to the bottom of coats or vests. These little pockets boasts Klips that can handle up to 100lbs of force, making them very very difficult to steal! Plus, if you're really still worried about it, just Klip them inside your clothing (under your pants seam, or even to your bra). They hold the essentials you'll want with you - cash/credit, ID, Passport, and cellphone - and come in every color you could think of. I also keep chapstick in mine. My HipKlips have been to Jamaica, Portugal, and all over the US and I've never had a problem with them. I love this product SO MUCH that I actually got a reseller's license just to be able to sell them at trade shows! So if you want to know more, pop over to my website and watch the video. Cost: $17 - $28

Next, you'll want luggage that can hold up. Ever look outside the plane window prior to takeoff and watch the luggage handlers throwing bags around, or bags getting soaked through in the pouring rain? Yup, it happens all the time, and I've seen many travelers end up with ruined items along with their luggage getting ruined. While some travel insurance will cover damage (you always want to check your policy details to see), most won't and you'll end up with soggy clothes and ripped (and leaking) bags. I'm a big fan of hard-sided luggage - most brands aren't actually that much heavier than cloth bags, and they still come in every size from carry on to super large. I personally have this set from Rockland. I purchased it after buying one of their pieces individually and my husband commandeered it for his business travel - he's gone about 70% of the year, and used the piece the entire time (including hauling super heavy tools in it) and while scratched and stickered a bit it's still in great shape!

Plane rides are never super comfortable (ok, maybe on those luxury plane lines with beds in first class, but that's an exception rather than a rule) but there are two items that can make it much more bearable - a comfy neck pillow, and a sleep mask! If you aren't already wearing de-pressurizing ear plugs (like EarPlanes) you might also want to consider noise-cancelling headphones. These items can help you to "zen out" for a bit, or even just ignore the chatterbox passenger next to you by pretending to sleep. ;) I use a neck pillow that has memory foam, while my hubby prefers a bead-filled one.

Finally, sometimes travel can disrupt your... well... bathroom habits. Especially if you, like me, have food allergies. To keep the romance alive, or keep your friends from giving you an undesirable nickname like "Stinky Pete," I recommend Poo-Pourri. Their product REALLY WORKS, and the price is reasonable. They even have a tiny travel size! Not to mention, their videos are HILARIOUS so that right there makes me want to be a customer. :) All kidding aside, it DOES work (even for the nastiest of food poisoning, which we found out recently on our last cruise) and it's especially good for tight quarters like cruise ship cabins or teeny hotel rooms or airplane lavatories.

What is something YOU can't live without while vacationing?  Post it in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

From volcanos and bombs to hidden beach - a look at Marietas Islands in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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Tucked away on the Western coast of Mexico lies the area of Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit. While perhaps not as commonly well-known as the resort towns of Cancun and Cabo San Lucas, this area is actually a burgeoning tourist destination with plenty to offer, including one of the most iconic beaches in the world - known as Playa Del Amor, Playa Escondida, or more simply, the Hidden Beach.

(taken from )

This beach is located within the Marietas Islands just off the coast, which are uninhabited by humans but boast an abundance of wildlife. These islands were formed as the result of volcanic activity, but that's not what created the gem of the beach above. Back in the 1900's, the government of Mexico used these islands to conduct military tests including testing bombs. This created a series of caves and tunnels throughout the islands, as well as this incredible beach that is accessible only by swimming or kayaking through a water tunnel during lower tides.
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In the 1960's, Jacques Cousteau led a movement to stop the destruction of the various ecosystems of these islands, and thankfully (and finally) in 2005 the government agreed to stop and instead turned them into a national park. This not only stopped any destruction, but also prevented damage by human habitation, fishing, or hunting.

So, how do you get to this amazing world of wonder? Well, first of all, you need to visit the Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit region. Next, you need to find a certified tour company who is able to lead a group on to this popular and high-demand spot, as the government only allows companies with specific permits to visit in order to avoid leaving too large of a destructive footprint in this pristine area. A lot of these companies also take their role as a conservator seriously by giving back, so it's a great way to support not just a local Mexican business but also keep the area beautiful! Then it's as simple as heading in through the water tunnel via swimming or kayaking, and marveling at the sights! This is a VERY popular tour, in the top 20 sites to see in the area, so it is important to book it in advance.
(taken from )

As a travel agent, I am often finding myself spending hours on the internet looking at all of the various places I hope to visit - and with a picture this stunning, who could resist? So I am proud to announce that my yearly group trip (open to the public) will be heading to the fantastic Sheraton Buganvilias Resort & Convention Center in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and will include a chance to head out and see this Hidden Beach in person!! The trip will be the first week of August, with chances to add more days if desired.

More details will be posted within the next few weeks, but if you are interested in receiving more information as it becomes available, please join our Facebook Event or subscribe to our email list on our website.